Nothing speaks to a customer’s direct needs like a well-written business proposal.
But how do you make sure that your proposal is engaging to every potential client?
This year, we analyzed nearly 570,000 proposals sent in 2021 through the PandaDoc platform for insights on what works best and what doesn’t.
Here’s what we learned about writing business proposals.
The basic structure of your business proposal
Building a business proposal is like building a house.
While there are certain elements that are always necessary — like the foundation — a house varies based on location and the architect or homeowner’s preferences.
In the same way, the components of a business proposal can vary based on industry, company size, and many other factors.
Just like writing anything else, a well-written proposal begins by gathering information and assessing the problems that your potential client is trying to solve.
With that in mind, the following items are what readers are looking to glean from your proposal. Think of these as the roof, walls, and foundation of your document:
- Information about your company. Your background, your qualifications, and why you’re a better fit than the rest of your competitors.
- Demonstrated knowledge of the problem. Proof that you’ve listened and done your research. You know what the client needs and you have a viable solution.
- Pricing and methodology. How you plan to solve the client’s problem, information about your proposed solution, and how much it’s going to cost.
In the next section, we’ll take you through how to draft a business proposal using our social media proposal template as an example.
If you’re not a social media company, don’t worry.
While the template we’re using is an example of a simple project proposal, the basic structure applies to nearly every business proposal — no matter how complex they might be.
You can download this proposal example and hundreds of other business proposal templates on our website.
Here are the nine elements of a business proposal, and what to include in each section.
Before you start, a quick note on length
Based on our analysis of proposals on our platform, we found that the average proposal length is about nine pages.
But, as several of our own account executives and sales team members were quick to point out, longer doesn’t always mean better.
“Short and sweet has a high conversion rate,” said Josh Gillespie, from Upmarket Sales. “Fewer pages and less fluff is better. Ideally, a proposal should be fewer than 10 pages for transactional proposals below $10,000, and never more than 50 pages.”
Artyom Voronetskiy, Account Executive with PandaDoc, agrees:
“Keep it short, on-point, and eye-catching. Do not write more than six to ten pages unless your product is extremely complicated.”
While you should make sure to include all relevant information that prospective clients will need in order to make a decision, take care to avoid overcrowding them with irrelevant details.
01. Cover page
This section includes basic information like your company’s name and contact information, your company logo, your client’s name, and contact information, the date, and a title.
A strong title page makes the project proposal look neat, organized, and well put together.
It’s also the very first thing that your prospective client will see when they open your proposal, and everyone knows how important that first impression can be.
Studies have shown that you have as little as 50 milliseconds to make a good first impression when designing visual content like websites.
The same holds true for your cover page.
Unlike the rest of your document, a cover page is a place where you can place graphics and visual content to set the tone before the reader dives into the meat of your proposal.
But don’t go overboard with complicated graphics and logos on this page. According to a study by Google, users love simple and familiar designs, especially at a first glance.
This is also a great way for you to stand out. Based on our data, only about 13% of proposals we see use cover pages. Take advantage of this missed opportunity and use it to stand out from your competitors.
02. Cover letter
You wouldn’t walk up to your potential client and dive into project specifics without introducing yourself, would you?
A cover letter is that introduction.
Include a one-liner about your company, short background information about how your company came to be, and a brief overview of what makes your company better than the rest.
Make it friendly and encourage your reader to reach out with any questions. Close it with a thank you and a signature.
Cover letters don’t have run on to the point of exhaustion. They can be simple, short, and sweet. In this example, the text is just over 100 words, but you could make it even easier to read by using bullet points.
Check this out:
Thank you for considering [Sender.Company] for your social media marketing needs.
Enclosed, you’ll find a proposal based on our understanding of your social media expectations. Briefly, we propose:
- An expanded social media strategy across currently unused platforms and channels
- A comprehensive distribution strategy designed to generate original and unique content
- Improved post automation for increased audience engagement during peak times
Our methods and procedures are based on extensive analysis, an intense study of social media trends, and the application of specifics unique to [Client.Company].
We are confident in delivering effective results within your social media channels.
Thanks again for considering us, and please don’t hesitate to get in touch with questions.
My contact information is below.
Your cover letter can take on many forms, and you can use those formats to make your proposal stand out from the crowd.
In our proposal example, note that we’ve also used an image to keep things fun and interesting.
This is critical throughout your proposal. In our research, we found that a proposal with media like photos and videos included is 34% more likely to close.
As you’re designing your proposal, don’t be afraid to add graphics and images to keep readers engaged. A winning business proposal is more than just black text on a white page.
As you’re designing your proposal, don’t be afraid to add graphics and images to keep readers engaged. A winning proposal is more than just black text on a white page.
03. Table of contents
Unless your proposal is very brief, include a table of contents that outlines the basic structure of your document.
A table of contents is an important, but often overlooked, part of any longer document because it helps the reader know what they can expect to find in the proposal.
Most word processors generate a table of contents automatically using the headings in your document. As you’re writing, take the time to set the formatting for your headings and then simply generate a table of contents from those headings.
A table of contents isn’t always necessary, but it can make any proposal much easier to parse as your document is passed around to all appropriate parties.
Remember: Proposal documents may not be read chronologically. Different decision-makers will care about different things and will check your proposal to see how it addresses their unique pain points.
Don’t lose a deal just because stakeholders couldn’t find what they were looking for!
04. Executive summary
Your executive summary sets the scene for the rest of your proposal by providing a high-level overview that summarizes the contents of future pages.
If you provided a few of these details in your cover letter (like the bullet-point example shown above) this is your opportunity to go into greater detail and summarize your overall strategy.
Using our example, our potential clients are primarily realtors in the greater Chicago area looking to reach new clients through social media marketing, so your executive summary might read like this:
This proposal outlines a coordinated plan crafted with the intent of building John’s Real Estate social media presence, primarily including Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Vine, and Twitter.
By engaging an audience through social media channels, our team will demonstrate the ability to generate awareness, widen your company’s potential reach within your target market, and contribute to driving more website traffic, which will ultimately result in top-line growth.
We help realtors identify, target, and communicate with their ideal clients through each of the following:
- Creating Engaging Social Content
- Posting Company-Related Updates
- Promotions & Social Campaigns
- Integrating Social Media Activity into Other Marketing Plans
While our competitors work to serve multiple industries and target audiences, we specialize in the real estate industry. Our co-founder Tom Lancaster also has a background in both social media and real estate, giving him a unique perspective on the needs of the market.
Your own executive summary will shift depending on the duties you’re performing for the client, and what kind of industry they’re in.
Your tone might also change. If you’re targeting a young travel startup run by college graduates, you might use a more casual tone peppered with industry jargon and humor.
Jump Social Media Marketing offers full-service social media services for the real estate industry. Our team ensures area realtors are targeting their core market with an authentic message across the best channels possible.
Jump Social Media Marketing will work to identify, target and market to your ideal customer through Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Vine, and Twitter channels. Our team estimates we will grow your social media followers from your combined 214 followers to over 5,000 in the next six months and generate additional leads for your business.
We know that today’s realtors are also tasked with marketing homes and their own real estate firms. With a background in real estate and social media, Jump Social Media understands the unique needs of your industry.
While writing, keep in mind that your executive summary isn’t designed to explain every detail or sell your entire RFP response by itself!
Don’t get lost describing deliverable logistics or strategic plans. Focus on the client’s needs and the outcomes they specifically wanted to address in their request for proposal.
Let your executive summary present a high-level overview and leave the other pages of the document to explain the details. This will prevent your summary from getting overcrowded or bogged down with specifics best handled elsewhere.
05. Proposal and solutions pages
The proposal section is a general overview of the custom-made solution your company has devised for your potential client.
This section gets into the specifics.
Anticipate their questions, and take them through the process so they know what they’re signing up for when they hire you.
As Josh points out, this section of the proposal is critical because it demonstrates the relevance of your product or service to a specific product.
“Quick delivery and relevance to your specific prospect are two of the most important items in any proposal,” he said. “Prospects need to know what you’re selling, how it will help them, and how long it will take them to get it.”
Describe exactly what deliverables they can expect and when they can expect them.
A timetable that pairs deliverables with their expected date can make your document more visually appealing, and your information more digestible.
You might also break down your main objectives even further by describing how you plan to execute a given strategy.
In our example, we touched on six key goals during our executive summary. Let’s expand on those here.
1. Creating engaging social content
Beginning with quick and thorough planning/preparation, our team will plan out a dynamic, ongoing social content calendar to guide you to your goals.
We will grow an increasing social audience and follower base using each of the following techniques:
- Hashtag campaigns
- Strong use of keywords
- Sharing/retweeting relevant news
- “Liking” posts
- Staying updated within the industry
- Contributing our own unique content to broaden reach.
2. Posting company related updates
Our plan is to engage your social media audience by sharing company news, press releases, events, employee spotlights, and more.
We will also pay attention to industry trends, and share them. This will help to gain exposure to your target market.
3. Promotions and social campaigns
We will utilize social channels to connect with your follower base and engage them with promotions to get them excited about both current events and the brand itself.
These campaigns may be as short as a day or run up to six months. We’ll analyze the results from each campaign, and then we will provide a report of its success.
Results of campaigns can be compared so the most effective promotions, offers, or contests can be replicated.
4. Integrating social media activity into other marketing plans
With clear communication and monthly brainstorm meetings, we’ll be able to consolidate the marketing initiatives to fit your goals and promotional material.
Campaigns via social media are more important than just sharing about giveaways, sales, contests, and/or promotions. We will agree on a schedule for a series of posts to keep up the exciting momentum for all prospective customers.
It is important to regularly maintain marketing activity for maximum growth.
We will continually monitor each channel and will respond to any questions, comments, and posts within a two-hour time period. Two hours will allow us to confirm that accurate information is relayed back to the person asking.
We will provide you with each of the following:
- Daily and weekly analytics. Follower growth, reach, demographics, comments, “likes”, shares, retweets, and additional metrics as provided by each platform and our own internal tracking data.
- Reporting. Summarizing various results and activities over each quarter.
We will also set up a monthly meeting to go over the results and then tweak our approach accordingly.
Your own content may look different than this depending on your proposal writing skills and services, but you can still use the example as a framework. Add in more details as needed.
For example, a cybersecurity company would need to include information on penetration testing and how often it would be done to look for possible intrusions and hacks.
Breaking up this section
While writing your proposal content, keep in mind that this section is both the most important and the most flexible section of all.
Your entire proposal doesn’t need to be bundled into a single, long section. It can easily be broken down into smaller sections such as:
- Strategic Assessment
- Goals & Outlook
There are other combinations you can try, depending on your proposal and how your solution should be explained.
If you’re offering a complex solution to a client problem, breaking your proposal into bite-sized chunks is a great way to ensure that readers understand your solution.
The importance of good data
Leveraging good data is critical when creating an effective business proposal.
Use details surrounding impact and ROI around your products and services to prove your worth and add value to your proposal.
Consider these two phrases:
“Our customers love us!”
“To date, our products and methodologies have helped more than 700 companies increase their sales by 35%!”
Which sounds better? Which is more compelling? Numbers and figures catch the eye and help readers build trust. By demonstrating a proven record of success, with numbers and data, you’re adding tangible details that help to justify your costs.
This is especially useful when competing with other solicited proposals, especially if you can include these data points as visual representations (charts, graphs, etc.) of your success within your proposal document.
This is the section where clarity and specifics are key — and nearly every member of our sales team agreed.
Create a pricing table that clearly identifies each product or service, and pair it with the most accurate pricing information you can provide.
Jump Social Media Marketing operates on a monthly billing cycle. Here’s a layout of the pricing and services for John’s Real Estate.
While building the proposal, all you’d need to do is set the price for the item and the quantity of distribution.
If you were sending an hourly contract, the quantity becomes the estimated number of hours invested at a predetermined rate.
For recurring payment schedules, you’ll need to structure the document in a way that reflects your monthly workflow.
Transparency is critical in this section. Potential customers want to know how you’re charging them, what they’re being charged for, and over what period they should expect to pay.
Be sure to include all details in a clear and accurate way.
07. About us
While you already said hello with the cover letter, this section is where you get to explain what makes your company unique.
If you’re a small business or a new company, get personal and give your potential client a chance to get to know you and your team members. Include brief bios and photos of the people they’ll be working with.
If your company has a unique backstory, a mission, or a cause that your company stands for, share that with readers. For example:
Too often in social media, good things come at a price. At Jump, paying for followers or favorable reviews of products is tantamount to criminal activity.
Authenticity is important in today’s online world, and Jump Social Media Marketing makes this our No. 1 priority in your social media space.
The information included on this page doesn’t have to be a stodgy company boilerplate or a cleverly designed sales pitch.
As the old saying goes: People buy from people — so don’t be afraid to let your team’s personality shine through.
08. Testimonials and social proof
No sales proposal is complete without information about your past successes, awards, and jobs well done.
Often, this comes in the form of social proof, such as client testimonials and short case studies.
Why do you need this? Because social proof matters!
According to data, 92% of customers are more likely to trust earned media, like recommendations from friends and family, above all other forms of advertising.
By including recommendations from satisfied customers and industry awards that prove your expertise, you can earn additional trust from prospective clients.
Here’s a good example of how Jump Social Media Marketing might leverage the accolades they’ve received:
Jump Social Media Marketing has received major public recognition for our work.
We’ve been named as Chicago’s Best Social Media Agency for Small Businesses by the Chicago Tribune for the past three years and have been recognized as a recommended partner by the National Association of Realtors.
We also grew the Chicago Real Estate Solutions Facebook page from 0 to 5,000 in six months, secured 250 new leads in that time frame, with 25% converting to sales.
You can also provide testimonials from past clients who can speak to your approach and how it worked for them, like so:
Lively and humorous testimonials like these can add additional personality to your company while building trust and rapport with potential clients.
However, keep your industry in mind when compiling testimonials and do your best to find user feedback that fits the mood.
If your industry has serious clients, a humorous approach may not be appropriate. If you’re working with a 3D manufacturing company with B2B clients, the messaging and tone they take with their own clients — and what they expect from the businesses they work with — may follow different expectations.
Be sure to plan accordingly.
09. Agreement and CTA
Depending on your business proposal, you may include an agreement, a call to action, and terms and conditions at the end of your document.
Your signature below indicates acceptance of this social media marketing proposal and entrance into a contractual agreement with Jump Social Media Marketing beginning on the signature date below:
Depending on your goals and your sales process, you need to be very careful in this section. In many jurisdictions, proposals are considered legally binding contracts if they meet the criteria for a contract.
By adding legal language and/or an electronic signature request at the bottom of your document, you might be entering into a contract earlier than expected.
This may not be ideal if your proposal is only intended to provide a rough estimate of costs or bring the client into further negotiations.
If you don’t intend to create a legally binding contract from your proposal, be sure to note that in your document and prompt the reader to contact you to move the process forward.
On the other hand, well-built proposals can double as complete contracts with all the terms and conditions necessary to start work immediately.
If you’re confident in the scope of work and you’re ready to take on the additional work, let the client know by promoting them for a signature.
How does a business proposal look?
First things first: We’re well past the turn of the century. Nobody likes getting thick envelopes in the mail.
Modern business proposals are sent electronically, and this is more convenient for both you and your potential customers.
While it’s possible to email a proposal created with a word processor like Microsoft Word, platforms like PandaDoc are a better fit. Our tools help you create a collaborative environment for negotiation, feedback, and electronic signature.
Regardless of how you choose to send your proposal, be sure to pay close attention to the look and feel of your document. Especially because your proposal may be your first impression with several key stakeholders, it’s essential that you follow expected formats and make a good impression.
If you search for business proposal examples online or take a look at our template library, you’ll find that most proposals rely on the structure described above to emphasize their value propositions.
Taking care to create a visually appealing proposal will help you communicate your ideas more easily. It’s also something that your competitors are doing and something that many clients are beginning to expect.
In our research, we found that roughly 80% of proposals included an image and 20% included a video. We also saw higher close rates when these multimedia tools were used compared to when they weren’t.
Exactly how a proposal is designed still has some flexibility, depending on your brand and what you’re trying to achieve, but keep in mind that it can have a big impact on success.
Proposals with pages of blocky text are much harder to navigate than proposals with charts, graphs, images, and bullet points.
It’s important to spend time beautifying your proposal,” points out Jared from PandaDoc Sales.
“A proposal that are can draw the eye directly to relevant content and keep the reader engaged is a powerful tool when trying to close a deal.”
Rather than writing a 1000-word About Us section, consider including team member headshots and a brief bio.
Rather than adding highly technical language about operational processes and leaving stakeholders to figure it out, provide visual aids that summarize the information in a clear and easy fashion.
Clearly defining your milestones isn’t the only reason to pay careful attention to how your proposal is written.
While there can be legal ramifications to poorly written proposal content, perhaps the most important consideration is the impression that your proposal leaves behind.
Your proposal introduces your client to the quality of work they can expect from your business. If it’s full of typos, spelling, and grammatical errors, or just seems sloppy, you’re unlikely to close the deal.
Read and re-read. Be sure to proofread every passage for errors before you send it to prospective clients or save it as a template.
You can also offset some of this tedium, especially on smaller deals, by focusing on creating a concise offering rather than a long-winded document.
As Quincy Berg, Enterprise Account Executive for PandaDoc points out,
If these aren’t assets that you have on your staff, consider hiring that skillset onto your team or hiring a freelancer to assist with proofreading and correction.
While many clients will overlook a stray typo or a misplaced comma, too many errors will land your proposal in the discard pile.
A word about costs
When you’re creating proposals, it’s easy for costs to add up. Costs for customized professional business proposals can take hours of research, consultation, and preparation — all with no guarantee of success.
That’s why savvy companies do everything they can to lower the cost of proposal preparation. Typically this is done by generating a template for business proposals — an outline or skeleton that someone can fill out quickly to save time and expedites internal company processes.
It’s an effective way to keep overhead low. Based on our research, an average of 20 documents are generated from each template you create.
That’s a huge time saver for any business.
After you hit ‘Send’
Once you’ve sent your proposal, your next step will depend on the process. Based on our information, about 65% of proposals containing a signature block close within 24 hours.
However, your mileage may vary. RFPs tend to be competitive processes, so you may have to wait until the submission window closes before you hear a response.
Don’t forget to follow up and ask your potential client if they have any questions. Based on the proposals we looked at, you are 30% more likely to close a deal if you send a series of reminders to keep your proposal top of mind.
PandaDoc and other proposal software tools can help you monitor your proposal using document analytics so that you know exactly when to reach out.
These tools let you know when your potential client viewed your proposal, how many times they opened it, and which sections they spent the most time on.
With these insights, you can anticipate their questions or objections and have your responses ready to go.
Free business proposal templates
Ready to get started but don’t know where to begin? PandaDoc can help with some great examples of business proposals.
In the proposals that we looked at, those created using our templates regularly created high-performing results for customers with minimal editing time.
Take a look at some of the metrics around the top professional business proposal templates currently in our template library.
|Proposal name||# of docs sent in 2021||Close rate||Avg. creation time (minutes)|
|Digital Marketing Proposal||4301||25%||40|
|Social Media Marketing Proposal||2416||19%||73|
|Web Design Proposal||2158||27%||26|
Once you’ve fitted an existing template to your personal needs, you can save it as a fresh template in your content library for even faster reuse.
In doing so, you can slim the entire business proposal design process down from hours to minutes or spend more time refining your proposal for maximum appeal.
To see the true power of the PandaDoc editor, be sure to check out our community gallery for expertly designed templates from real PandaDoc customers.
If you’re a PandaDoc user, you can eve swipe these proposals and load them directly into your PandaDoc editor with a single click.
It’s just that easy.
Ultimately, your business proposal should be focused on your client’s needs and how your business plans to fix them.
No matter how you choose to build your proposal, never lose sight of that goal.
The RFP you receive will have most of the information you need to build a great proposal.
Take things step-by-step, and use the opportunity to show your client that your business is the right fit for the job.
Originally was published in October 2016 and has been updated for comprehensiveness in February 2022
Frequently asked questions
Typically, the point of a business proposal is to describe in detail how your product or service will meet a client’s needs. Depending on those needs and the industry that you occupy, the content included in a standard proposal will fluctuate.
For example, at PandaDoc, many of our proposals are customized to fit the unique needs of enterprise-level organizations that are too big for our smaller plans.
If you were to compare our sales team to that of a construction company submitting a proposal to construct a building, the difference in requirements becomes clear. The proposal required for building construction is probably longer and may include far more business proposal topics than what our sales representatives would include when closing a deal.
However, despite the differences and industry requirements, each proposal will still follow the standard proposal format depicted above.
The traditional format of a business proposal is as follows:
- Title page
- Cover letter
- Table of contents
- Executive summary
- Proposal & solutions pages
- About us
- Testimonials & social proof
- Agreement & CTA
Based on our research into over 566,000 proposals created on our platform, most proposals are around nine pages in length.
To get a closer look a how to get started and how to bring your business proposal ideas to life using these sections, check out each section of this article.
Your business proposal should include everything you think you need in order to sell your product or service.
This includes all of the basic headings and subheadings you’ll see in a traditional proposal, as well as any supplemental documentation to justify your costs and reinforce your proposed approach to solving the client’s problem.
In addition to basic information about your product, you should also consider including the following:
- Contact information
- Value statements
- Pricing tables
- Client testimonials
- Examples of past work (case studies)
- Images, graphics, and related multimedia
If you’re sending your proposal electronically, you should also consider including an electronic signature block so that decisionmakers can quickly and easily seal the deal when they’re ready to proceed.
All business proposals are essentially the same, but your submittal method may vary depending on the type of business proposal you need to send.
Solicited proposals are proposals that a company has asked you to provide for their consideration. The potential customer has reached out to your business and requested a proposal. This usually falls into one of two categories:
Formally solicited proposals are typically competitive and follow a standardized (formal) process. The prospective client sends out an RFP detailing the scope of work and requests that your business formally submit a bid to complete that work.
Informally solicited proposals are typically created based on conversations between a prospective client and a vendor that they want to work with. There might not be any formal documentation, and there may be no competitive process. This work can often lead to a sole-source, non-competitive contract.
Unsolicited proposals are documents that your company sends to a prospective client who hasn’t asked for one. They are not submitted in response to an RFP or an information request. Such proposals are typically created based on a market opportunity — often one that the client is either unaware of or hasn’t yet acted upon.