Nothing speaks to a customer’s direct needs like a well-written proposal.
But how do you make sure that your proposal is engaging to every potential client?
We analyzed 1.8 million proposals sent through the PandaDoc platform for insights on what works best and what doesn’t.
Here’s what we learned about writing proposals:
The basic structure of your proposal
What is a business proposal?
Business proposals are used across a variety of industries and company sizes. A business proposal is a statement in writing submitted by a seller or supplier to a potential customer. They can be delivered either requested or unsolicited, with the goal of winning a project or securing a new client.
Essentially, business proposals are similar to sales documents in the sense that they include an overview of how the business can help the client, a value proposition, scope of work, pricing estimates, expected completion dates, and project costs.
When drafting your business proposal, make sure you take the time to understand the details of your potential client’s business problem and needs so you can craft a proposal that demonstrates exactly how your product or service can add value
The basic structure of your proposal
Building a 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 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. [Jump to: About Us & Testimonials]
- 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. [Jump to: Proposals & Solutions]
- 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. [Jump to: Pricing]
In the next section, we’ll take you through how to draft a 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 proposal — no matter how complex they might be.
Here are the 10 elements of a proposal, and what to include in each section.
01. Title 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 title page.
Unlike the rest of your document, a title 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.
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.
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.
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 32% 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 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.
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.
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 & 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.
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 & 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 brainstorming 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.
This is the section where clarity and specifics are key.
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 & 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 & CTA
Depending on your 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.
10. Improve your proposal writing skills
To create a proposal that engages your potential client and helps them easily find the information they’re looking for, try these quick tips:
- Go visual. Help your reader stay engaged by including team member headshots in your About Us section, photos of your work, infographics, block quotes, bulleted lists, and more..
- Include quantitative data. Consider these two phrases: “Our customers love us!” and “We’ve helped more than 700 companies increase their sales by 35% to date!” Which sounds better? Which is more compelling? Numbers and figures catch the eye and help build trust.
- Embrace the digital age. Nobody likes getting thick envelopes in the mail. By sending your proposal electronically, you can include videos about your product or service (these are a great addition to your services section), easily annotate and edit, and give the ability to sign your document electronically.
- Read and re-read. 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. Be sure to proofread every passage for errors before you send it to prospective clients or save it as a template.
- Keep an eye on costs. Creating customized, professional proposals can take hours of research, consultation, and preparation — all with no guarantee of success. Savvy companies do everything they can to lower the cost of proposal preparation by generating specialized templates to expedite the process. 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.
Templates to get started
Ready to get started but don’t know where to begin? PandaDoc can help.
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 top performers 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|
And 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.
It’s just that easy.
Ultimately, your 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 published October 6, 2016, updated May 10, 2021