Drawn to Business: Writing Winning Service Proposals


As the owner and lead salesperson of a small services firm, I've learned the importance of a well designed and written proposal. It's frequently the differences in your proposal that will inevitably determine whether or not a potential client hires you or your competitor. At times it feels like the proposal itself is the most important part of your company. Fortunately, it may only take a few small tweaks to turn your proposal into a winner. Here are seven simple keys to a successful proposal that I've learned over the past fifteen years.

Regurgitate back exactly what your clients tell you. Writing a good proposal starts with listening. Ask lots of questions and listen carefully; your potential client is going to tell you exactly what they want to read in your proposal. Your first job is to listen and write down everything they say. Then you're going to write that back to them in your proposal. If a client says: "We want a highly interactive website." Your proposal should say: "Our solution for you is a highly interactive website."

Create templates and refine your message. When you sit down to write your first proposal, think of building a template. You're not going to want to write every proposal from scratch. Try to keep most of the sections generic enough so that you can reuse them with other clients.

Design your proposal. Your business documents are a representation of you! They should embody all the skills and professionalism that represent your firm. So take the time to make sure that the design of your proposal will sell your potential client as strongly as the content within it. Your proposal is your company's face. Make sure it looks amazing!

Ask for feedback on your proposals. After the potential client either selects your firm or doesn't, always ask for feedback. Keep a log of all the feedback you get on your proposals. When you see trends in the feedback, you'll know what's working and what's not. Adjust your proposal accordingly.

Give them a few exciting ideas. It's a well-known fact that people buy on impulse. There is a lot of emotion involved in why people buy. One way to sell a client is to get them excited. This can be easily accomplished by sharing a few of your ideas with a client. This should be done in just a sentence or two. Describe something exciting you want to do with your client's project. A clever idea can make the difference between you and your competitor.

Ask for a budget upfront. Knowing a client's budget up-front is critical to writing a winning proposal. Ask your potential client for a budget during your very first interaction with them. If they act coy and won't give you one, there are ways of extracting it (these tactics and many more in the forthcoming book).

Don't underbid the project. Another critical reason for asking for a budget is making sure that you're not underbidding the project. Believe it or not, underbidding a project can be as big of a reason why you might lose a project as overbidding it.

Visit the GoMediaZine for more advice on design and running a successful service firm. For more information on my forthcoming book Drawn to Business visit: Go Media's New Book. And if you're in need of excellent branding, print design or web development visit Go Media.

This blogger graduated from Goldman Sachs' 10,000 Small Businesses program. Goldman Sachs is a partner of the What Is Working: Small Businesses section.