“Help. Quick. I’ve got to write a proposal to support somebody’s FGB.” That’s the text message I received last night.
Two thoughts raced through my mind: “Who are you?” and “What is an FGB when it’s at home?”
So although I didn’t know who I was talking to or what the proposal was about, my first response was “focus on the benefits they’ll get from working with you”.
How to write your first business proposal
However it got me thinking … there must be other mums in business out there writing their first ever business proposal. I learned how to write an effective business proposal when I worked in a law firm for more than 10 years. You can be sure that every proposal that goes out from a Top 10 law firm has had every single (and I mean every single) word reviewed and analysed several times over.
A winning proposal needs to look professional, outline the facts, be persuasive, and arrive on time.
If you are writing your first business proposal, here are the basics to get you off to a great start, that I share with all my business owner clients.
Start with fact finding
Before you put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, you need to do your fact finding. Without the facts, you are shooting in the dark. I believe this is THE most important part in the whole process. It is essential to have clarity on what the potential client wants and needs (not always the same). You need to understand the challenge the client faces and the results they expect from using your services. This topic warrants its own post.
You might do this over email, better in a telephone conversation and better still, in a face-to-face meeting. Whether the scale of the service warrants a face-to-face meeting is down to you. However you do your fact finding it is important to ask open questions. Note the specific phrases and words that are used. Make sure you are absolutely clear on their requirements. Do background research e.g. on the company website, LinkedIn, social media and in industry specific press.
If this is not an industry sector you’ve worked with before, pay attention to the language used. For example if you work in one of the big law firms, you can tell an ‘outsider’ straight away because they refer to “the company” instead of “the firm”.
Next the structure
Once you have the facts, you are ready to start creating your proposal structure. These are the headings that I use in my winning proposals:
How you came to meet with them, what you understand about them – see example below (client sensitive data blacked out):
This is where replay the issue and challenges to them, ideally using their language i.e. the words and phrases that they have used. Include what they want to solve and what they want THE RESULT to be their language (phrases, words they’ve used). See example below:
Make clear any assumptions e.g. if you are assuming this work is for one office only or x number of employees or that the onsite work will be limited to x location; or you will require specific personnel to be available on certain days.
- APPROACH or METHODOLOGY
Set out how you will tackle the challenge; explain the approach you are taking or the methodology you use.
- The PROPOSAL
Make it clear what they’re committing to in terms of time and resources.
- WHY USE US
You have reminded them that they have a problem and that it could be fixed. Now demonstrate why you are the answer to the problem.
- The INVESTMENT
I much prefer to use ‘investment’ rather than ‘cost’ or ‘costings’. You could use fees instead.
- Break down the different parts of the investment and what each part includes.
- Make clear if you are offering at a reduced rate or any extras you are including free of charge.
- Show your normal rate and your discounted rate.
- Any extras, state clearly the value.
- Then show the TOTAL investment.
A summary of the benefits.
- TESTIMONIALS or REFERENCES
Always always ensure that if you include a former client or employer as a reference that you clear it with that person first. If you haven’t been in touch for a while, consider giving them a quick call or email to remind them that they agreed to be a referee. Be certain that you have the correct details e.g. telephone number or email address (or whatever the referee prefers you to offer).You may want to include wording along the lines of “You haven’t had the chance to work with us yet, but it may be useful to know how some of our clients have viewed our services in the past”.
Finally just get started
As I’m fond of telling my clients, imperfect action is so much more powerful than perfect inaction. Just get started. Take these headings and jot notes under each one. Before you send your first business proposal, ask somebody else to read and review. Even if you have a keen eye for detail and spelling mistakes, when you have been looking at the document for hours on end, it’s amazing what you can miss.
Good luck with writing that first business proposal.
Oh and if you’re still wondering … FGB is a Full Governing Board – in this case for a school. School governors provide strategic leadership and accountability in UK schools.
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