Whether responding to an RFP or close contact, a business proposal is often needed to formalize the collaboration and enter into a contract negotiation. These ten steps are essential for any business proposal you’re creating!
Writing a business proposal in response to a request for proposal (RFP) can be daunting, especially if you’re a nonprofit consultant. But by following a few key steps, you can create a proposal that demonstrates your capabilities and helps you stand out above the competition.
Our team has pulled from its years of proposal writing experience and spoken with dozens of sales executives and business leaders to develop an essential 10-step checklist, broken out into a three-stage process, to drafting a business proposal for any client.
If you’re looking for proposal templates, check out this recently uploaded blog on the top free business proposal templates!
It doesn’t matter if the proposal is because you received an RFP or a personalized email asking you and only you for a proposal – go through the original request with a fine comb!
Of course, this means rereading the scope of work, deliverables, timeline, and other requirements. It also means considering the intent behind the wording and goals. We’re not all great writers, and sometimes we write in a hurry, so it’s best to consider the intention of the request, not just what’s written on paper.
If this is an organization you’ve never worked with before and don’t have deep contacts, start with a Google search. Go through their website, earned media, and social media, paying close attention to the mission, goals, and target audience to better understand how your proposal can meet their needs.
If you’re familiar with the organization, review its programs and key personnel with an eye toward whom you think will be working on the project. You can also request a meeting with the point of contact. By identifying the project's key stakeholders and decision-makers, you can start thinking about how your proposal will address their concerns and needs.
Once you have a deeper understanding of the organization, personnel, and needs, return to the RFP or original ask to see if you can’t uncover some new information. This is a great way to close the research stage and begin working on your proposal.
Consider your, your team’s, and your company’s experience and qualifications and how they align with your client's needs. Have you done this before for someone else? Has someone on your team done something similar elsewhere?
Thinking about this sets you up for some references and case studies later on but also helps you to start determining the scope of your proposal, including the specific services or solutions you will provide, the timeline for completion, and the budget and resources required. Read more about how to format case studies here.
The lack of text in this step is not a mistake or an irony. It might be where you spend most of the entire process, but it will vary for each client proposal.
Sketch a plan for how you will meet the project's requirements and present them in your proposal. You can pull from past proposals to build on, but your bid should be as customized as possible.
Turn your sketch into a complete outline, noting the overall strategy and tactical steps you will use to address your client's specific needs. This is the start of your proposal.
Before you embark on the budget, consider how much you want to earn over the entire project period. Not just the total revenue but your take-home after subtracting expenses like software or contractors. Consider the client's budget as well (if they didn’t make an effort to go back and ask).
With these critical inputs in mind, develop a budget outlining the project's costs. While some people opt for a detailed budget that shares the cost for labor, material, and other expenses, I prefer to put it under a flat project cost correlated to my hourly rate. If there is potential for more work, consider offering your prices in tiers with your ideal option settled in the Goldilocks middle tier – not too high, not too low. Here's how others have priced themselves in 2023.
Gather any additional documents or information that would benefit the client in preparation for your proposal. Include any relevant supporting documents, such as resumes, references, or case studies demonstrating your experience and qualifications.
If you are including references, don’t forget to reach out to them so they can be ready to respond to a call or email.
Write the proposal clearly, concisely, and in a well-organized manner, following any specific formatting requirements outlined in the RFP.
You can check out more specific resources and templates on the Prosal blog to improve your proposal writing and formatting.
Carefully review and proofread the proposal to ensure it is error-free and meets all requirements. The last thing you want is to send a proposal with the wrong salutation or organization name in the document.
If you have the time, ask someone that has yet to be involved in the proposal process to review it. While they may not have all the context of the project and research phase, they can provide a critical outsider’s perspective to share what makes sense and what doesn’t.
Send off that proposal in the best way possible! If there are instructions in the RFP, make sure to follow them.
Your message should be short, sweet, and to the point. You will be doing most of your talking and pitching in the proposal and follow-up interviews, so let them get through that email quickly.
The process doesn't end when you send the proposal. In fact, it's just getting started, and it’s ok to follow up! Sometimes life gets in the way, things get delayed, and a gentle nudge will get you more information than you thought.
Moreover, if you don’t get selected for the project for some unlucky reason, following up can help you receive a response and, more importantly, feedback on your proposal, giving you a better chance of winning your next bid.
It’s important to note that the specific requirements and expectations for a proposal may vary depending on the organization and the nature of the project. However, this checklist is a great reference point for beginner and veteran proposal writers.
Check out more of our agency and consultant resources on the Prosal blog!