How to write a business proposal

How to write a business proposal

You’re trying to land a new customer. The potential customer wants a proposal. Now what? Writing proposals that land new customers and increase business doesn’t need to be painful. Writing proposals does take some up-front planning and organization.

Two keys to a successful proposal are a well-defined scope of work and accurate market knowledge. What do you know about your customer needs? What are your competitor’s offerings?

The text below covers the information most proposals should include. This provides a good starting point for unsolicited proposals or when the potential customer hasn’t provided detailed instructions. The format and level of detail you use depends on your audience and any instructions or requests the potential customer provides.


Tell the customer who you are, where you are located, who your current customers are, and the size of your company. Information in this section is intended to establish credibility. Show your potential customer that you are dependable and that you are not one of those fly-by-night companies. You’ll be around to complete the project, assure your customer is satisfied, and to provide follow-on work.

Scope of Work:

Tell the potential customer what you’ll do for them. If the customer has already defined the scope of work, including how you will complete the work. The schedule for completion of the work, or delivery of the product, can be included here or with the cost information. This section is where you sell yourself. Remember to turn features of your work or the approach you use into benefits for the customer.

Ability to Perform Scope:

Tell the potential customer why you can successfully complete the scope of work. This section can focus on the credentials of the people working for you and on past successful projects. This section may be titled Past Performance if your content is just past projects.


Tell the potential customer what they will get. Be specific about what you will provide. Whenever possible, provide a tangible physical product. This is particularly important if you are performing support services. Describe customer reviews, approvals, and any revision or change processes that are applicable. If there are specifications or regulatory requirements associated with the deliverables, tell the potential customer how those will be met and how compliance will be documented.

Cost Estimate:

Tell the customer what you will charge to perform the scope of work. The level of detail included in this section depends on the customer’s requirements. A clear scope of work will result in an accurate cost estimate. If you made assumptions when developing the estimate, be sure to include those in this section.

Proposals for products to the consumer or business market are usually just estimates or catalogs. Products sold to the government are often catalogs unless you are manufacturing the product or the product is used in a safety- or regulatory-required function. In this case, a description, and sometimes audit, of your quality assurance program is required.

Proposals that business owners find the most difficult is for services performed on a government contract. A key to winning proposals for government work is submitting a package compliant with all the requirements in the bid documents or request for proposal (RFP). You can’t win the work if your proposal doesn’t get evaluated because it doesn’t meet requirements.

Spending the time needed to put together a compliance matrix or checklist is worthwhile. The RFP will often contain a checklist listing all the forms and sections of the proposal package. However, you will have to identify content requirements for the proposal yourself. These will usually come from the statement of work, instructions to offerors, and evaluation criteria section of the RFP.

Plan enough time to complete your proposal. Organize your response to obviously meet all your customer’s proposal requirements. Check to be sure you have included all the required information and forms. Write to sell. Complete proposals that are well organized will get you new customers and increase your business.

Plan enough time

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