Say Yes: 8 Tips for Creating a Winning Proposal

Most of us have a love-hate relationship with writing proposal. When we’ve decided to start our own business we should be ready to communicate with clients.

On the one hand, we adore being asked. After all, proposals are the lifeblood of our business, so who doesn’t appreciate being wanted? On the other hand, we despise unknowns. And by their very nature, requests for proposals are full of them. They force us to make assumptions, pressure us to draw conclusions, and often propel us into chaos. No wonder proposals evoke feelings of doubt and vulnerability in even the most staid professional. winning proposalThen there’s that other thing. You know. The thing nobody talks about. The thing known as “proposal abyss,” whereby hours, days or even weeks of time get sucked away, unrequited and unrewarded with not so much as a courteous or even curt “thank you”—let alone that highly coveted “yes.” It’s no wonder proposals cause untold frustration and angst. But they don’t have to.

Here are 8 sure-fire tips for overcoming proposal anxiety—and winning.

1. Think, don’t write.

Of course, you’ll write the proposal. Eventually. First, though, spend time gathering information. Never take a request for proposal (RFP) at face value. Ask questions. What problem does the potential client want you to solve? Is that really the problem or is it something else in disguise? Where did the problem come from? How has it been tackled in the past? What happens if it isn’t resolved? Is there another, more pressing problem? Dig for information. Then dig some more.

2. Demonstrate stand-out value.

With dozens or even hundreds of others competing for the same business, you absolutely must differentiate yourself. What sets you apart? What do you have to offer that others don’t? How is your process different? What and how will you save money, generate leads, boost sales, etc.? Be sure to articulate your value two ways: first, in words that explain the value of doing business with you and second, in facts, figures or hard dollars that demonstrate how much you’ll add to the bottom line.

3. Develop the framework.

Note the word “framework,” not outline. This isn’t eighth-grade English, so don’t panic. Just map out each of the sections in your proposal. This will ensure you don’t forget anything. It also allows you to delegate some of the writing to others on your team, if necessary. Generally speaking, a winning proposal follows a framework similar to this:

  • Short Introduction
  • Project Details
    • Problem Overview
    • Objectives (How You’ll Solve the Problem)
    • Results (ROI)
    • Suggested Deliverables
    •  Milestones/Timeline
  • Fees/Costs
  • About
    • Contacts
    • Why Us/Value Statement
    • Experience/Expertise
    • Process/Methodology
  • Samples
  • References
  • Terms & Conditions

4. Focus on results.

While it’s important to include who you are, what you do and how you do it, the fact is, clients pick consultants for one or two reasons: (1) they know and like you and/or (2) you’re the answer to their problem. Make sure you give them the nitty-gritty on what you’ll do, as well as how and when.

5. Get clear on scope.

Scope creep. There’s no more dreaded phrase for consultants, so be very clear about what you will—and won’t—do for the client. Enough said.

6. Make proposal more readable.

Forget the notion that a proposal has to be formal and stuffy. Professional, yes. Organized, definitely. Stick to your framework, avoid jargon and buzzwords, and use subheads, bullet points and even imagery (judiciously, of course) to create visual interest. Say what needs to be said, but don’t be redundant and drone on and on. Channel Goldilocks, if you must, making the length just right: not too long, not too short.

7. Pump up the pizzazz.

For the client, part of the proposal process is getting to know you, your work habits and company culture. Infuse your personality into the proposal using your own personal brand, including language and style.

8. Finish early. Finish well.

Those who wait until the last minute usually look like they did. Buck the eleventh-hour trend. Complete your proposal in plenty of time to proofread it like crazy. That includes reading it out loud and sharing it with at least one other person. Then, set it aside for a few hours, overnight if possible.

Do you have any advice for writing proposals? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

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Yauhen Zaremba is a marketing manager of QuoteRoller, a cloud-based software as a service (SaaS) application that revolutionizes work on proposals, contracts and agreements. Quote Roller helps freelancers and sales personnel save time by improving the proposal process with paperless, interactive proposals, easy-to-sign-online agreements and contracts. Project has great number of proposal templates for many niches of business.

31 Comments (click here to leave a comment)

  1. I really feel that your tips are complete when it comes to writing proposals and probably the most important of them all is the “focus on results” one.

    • Yauhen Zaremba

      And the most difficult (if you don’t use proposal software) is “Develop the framework”. It takes really a lot of time!

  2. Hi Yauhen,

    Awesome post your 8 tips are very usefull and well explained. If you don’t mind let me add 3 more tips and i think it would be helpfull.

    -1 – Identify the Problem

    A proposal must show that the person or company submitting it clearly understands the problem that the prospective client is attempting to remedy. If the proposal cannot show right away, in the Executive Summary section, that you have a clear understanding of the problem, those reviewing it won’t feel confident that your company will be capable of properly and effectively dealing with it. They’ll see no reason to read beyond the Executive Summary section.

    2 – Identify the Proposed Solution

    The proposal must also clearly outline the manner in which the bidder will address this problem. Include here the personnel you will assign to the project and their resumes. Mention here the estimated timeline for completing the work outlined in the bid. Also show the anticipated costs and how they will be allocated. Don’t provide too much information about the proposed solution. You don’t want to give the proposed solution away for free!

    3- Make the Proposal Easy to Read

    If the proposal itself is difficult to comprehend, contains grammar or spelling mistakes or is carelessly prepared, the chance of it being selected are greatly diminished. It will be difficult to convince the reviewers that the proposed work will get done properly if the proposal itself appears thrown together. Remember, the proposal is oftentimes the only chance a business has of making a first impression. Don’t waste this valuable opportunity.


  3. It is utterly important to be able to infuse one’s personality to the written proposal. This is why the process requires more time in the making and requires a framework.

    Spatch MErlin
    How to Blog Guide

  4. Proposals have to be written with good points and personality. This article carefully points out how to write one the right way.

    Have structure to what you write, and like Spatch Merlin said, infuse your personality into it, but not overdoing it.

  5. Funny this post is written now. I just stayed up half the night working on a proposal. Some great tips here, I just read through mine and incorporated some of your tips into it. Thanks!

  6. Proposals are definitely tough…

    What is tough to convey in proposals is that there is almost always flexibility. Your standard cost might be X and their looking for X-2…

    And the worry is that you might lose the bid because you would be willing to do it for X-2 on certain conditions what-have-you…

    Great article!!

    Ryan H.

  7. Finally, do complete your proposal and send it as many times we find that we start on a idea and we have to abandon it in between due to lack of interest.

  8. finish early finish well, focus on results, get clear on scope, think don’t write these are really nice tips.
    thanks for such tips………….

  9. I like you 8 step process. It’s very professional. Particularly, I like your point about a proposal not simply being a school project. Creating a framework just has that air of professionalism that an outline doesn’t. It’s a really good point.

  10. Hey Yauhen!

    I am glam that I have came by and visited your post, cause I was looking for a good proposal and a good I saw your post in this site.

    I feels like it give me more confident to write a proposal and your tips really help me alot in writing a proposal, I like the way you categorized it.

  11. I often have problems conveying my personality through my proposals. I guess I’m scared my personality might offend people at times so I dumb down my proposals.

  12. Developing a frame work is something that I lack – big time. I’ll just sit down and write and then when I’m almost done, it’s so jumbled and out of control that I have to go back through and write it all over again. Hah. Talk about a time waster!

    Love your other tips and will definitely take them into advisement! :)

  13. definitely gathering information from different blogs will gives you more unique ideas about how to write review for particular product or anything. :)

  14. Your proposals are really helpful in such a way that it can help marketers to venture new kind of business for the future to come. These tips will help us become more successful. It rocks!

  15. People have their various preferences when it comes to getting their proposal. Your
    post such a great help for every business.

  16. My company is about to start going all over Texas and doing proposals to real estate brokerages. First time doing such a thing and I’m glad I came across this. Awesome tips!

  17. Dear Yauhen,

    Fantastic job detailing an actionable checklist to get ANYone on the right track when sitting to draft a proposal!

    I have found, more times than not, that people who are “stuck” are generally there due to a lack of pre-planning or strategy.

    Point #1 is undoubtedly the “unsexiest” of all the points for most people, but essential nonetheless. Til we have done our research, we are ill equipped to flesh out the details which will allow us to drive forward toward any viable objective. It’s just a fact of life!

    Once this is all sorted, it makes sense to develop that framework, structured around the objective as you mentioned. I love the checkpoints you shared – you truly simplified this down to the most user-friendly suggestions!

    Great job on this, Yauhen! I will be bookmarking for easy reference!

    Best regards,
    Cat Alexandra
    Alexandra Marketing Group

  18. Laying out a framework is absolutely essential; at least for me. Seeing what you want to do in writing takes pressure off your mind. You can now focus on the details of each bullet point instead of working not to forget to include them in your proposal. So in other words, these are great tips.

  19. I’m a little late here, but this is timely information because I am about to hit the ground running with my business. It is truly, truly appreciated!

  20. These are some really great tips I must say. Its true you don’t just write, you have to think first! I have some friends who just go on writing anything they wish and obviously the result will be a rejection. Blogging world is based on the same concept too.

  21. I like how you said in the beginning that we like to receive them, but to ask them to others, not so much. Can’t be farther from the truth right there.

    The first tip is the best. NO wonder it is number one. Think about what the proposal can solve, and others are more apt to accept solutions to any problem.

    All of the tips are going to help me succeed in this arena. Thanks

  22. Awesome ways for creating proposals and one of the most important aspect that a blogger or internet entrepreneur must ensure is to gain trust from the readers or clients. Trust is one of the major factor for standardizing the business.

    Thanks a lot for awesome article :)