Selling yourself on paper is one of the hardest things to do. You might be great in person, but unlike face-to-face there is no immediate feedback or body language to read to help you figure out if you are on the right track and bringing your prospective client on board with your vision for their business. Clients are increasingly asking would-be service providers to create written proposals, which might be anything from a 2 to 3-page explanation letter to a thirty plus page document. Below are 10 tips on writing winning proposals and avoid the most perilous pitfalls.

  1. The tough stuff – If you don’t feel comfortable writing a proposal and therefore keep putting it off until the last minute when your time is squeezed then you will often do a less than good job to meet the deadline or worse miss the deadline.  Writing good proposals takes time to master, it’s a skill you have to learn, but if you hate writing proposals then get an expert to help you create a proposal structure and then work with them or a copy writer to help produce your best work.  The more you learn what good proposals look like the more you will become comfortable writing them.
  2. Plan – don’t leave it to the last minute – really think about what needs to go into the document to make it stand out. Some people will write elements of their proposal in advance as they know there are common essentials that will always appear in a proposal e.g. your biography, T&Cs, pricing, background on your company. However, don’t let your proposal become a sales template where all you have to do is change the name of the company and send it out of the door.
  3. Audience centric – sometimes writers forget their audience and their writing fails to engage the reader.  Remember to talk about how you are going to solve their problems and the benefits to the client. Answer all their questions, give suggestions and recommendations.
  4. Content – Your proposal should never introduce anything totally unexpected but if in conversation with your prospective client you talked about a number of issues related to the main theme of the proposal you can include these aspects in an appendix. For example, if the proposal is for telemarketing but in conversation the client advised that they needed to revamp their web content, then providing this is something you can offer then you should consider including it in your proposal.
  5. Length of your proposals – This can be a tricky one as you need to strike the right balance. You need to write enough to demonstrate that you know your stuff while at the same time keeping it concise, succinct and effortlessly clear. If your proposal is too long you will lose your reader.  However, sometimes proposals are long because you are following the format the client has requested. If it’s going to be quite lengthy then make sure you put an executive summary of no longer than two pages at the beginning.
  6. Benefits – People buy emotional benefits not features of a product/service – fill you proposal with these elements and you will stand a great chance of progressing to the next stage. Remember you are helping the buyer to buy rather than you to sell.
  7. Plain English – the worse proposals are the ones that are full of jargon or are too technical – there is a lot to be said for keeping it simple, especially when time is at such a premium and people want to grasp the essence of what you are proposing as quickly and efficiently as possible. If in doubt get a proof reader to review it and ask them to highlight anything that is not in plain English.
  8. Getting the basics right – having your proposal well laid out and signposted is a must as it helps the reader to negotiate your document.  Spelling and grammar has to be perfect. You might be quite relaxed about the odd typo or a forgotten semi-colon but that doesn’t mean to say your client will be and they could read into it that you are a sloppy worker. Remember your document is selling you.
  9. Testimonials – include client quotes in your proposal and it will stand head and shoulders above the competition. Very few people do this but it brings the proposal to life and provides third party endorsement. It tells the reader that you know what you are doing.
  10. Call to action – this is an opportunity for you to go back and move the relationship forward and it could be signing a contract. It takes a lot of time to write a good proposal and you need to have a proactive call to action to make the most of your hard work. Stating that you will call them in a few days time to discuss the next step e.g. discuss the proposal itself, arrange a meeting, see if you have got to the next stage of the selection process.  You have to be bold and go for it because this could be future business.

Put these tips into place and you will soon be writing winning proposals.

Good luck everyone.

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