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What is a proposal & how to write one.
A well-written proposal can help you win clients, sell products, and grow your company. Learn how to write a proposal and transform blank proposal templates into useful business tools.
What is a proposal?
A proposal, like a business or marketing proposal, is a document that persuades a client or customer to buy a product or service. This can result in new work streams or the sale of a physical product. Whatever your industry, and whether you’re at a start-up, a small business, or a Fortune 100 company, proposals are often a crucial step in a complex sales process.
When you need a proposal.
Proposals are influential documents tailored to specific clients’ problems, needs, or requests, so no two proposals should ever be the same. They also need to be written in a way that convinces the client to say yes. Proposals should show how your approach benefits the client by convincing them yours is the best proposed solution for their situation. Because of this, proposals are often long and include multiple sections that outline the in-depth research and reasoning.
You can also use proposals for specific projects or research requests. If you write a research proposal, you’ll need to consider how those findings will improve your client’s business or your understanding of their industry. If you write a specific project proposal, show how it will work in relation to the rest of their business plan.
Formal, solicited proposals are often created in response to a Request for Proposal (RFP). These requests usually come with clear instructions on what the client wants from a prospective vendor. This includes product and service requirements, qualifications, time frame, pricing, and examples of past work or success stories.
When you create a solicited proposal, the prospective client has already decided they need help for this project. They now must simply choose the best option available. This makes the proposal somewhat easier to write, since the client is already on board to agree.
Craft your solicited proposal as a more formal presentation, and include a slide deck with graphs, images, and case studies. A well-designed presentation will make your proposal stand out from the rest and help you present information in a clear, approachable manner.
When you run new ideas by your client, it’s considered an unsolicited, or informal, proposal. If your client, or potential client, expresses interest in the project, they may ask to see a full written proposal. An unsolicited proposal is more difficult to create, since you won’t receive specifications about deliverables from the client, and they may not have budgeted for a new line of work. Focus on the client’s needs and highlight concrete numbers to show key stakeholders how this project could benefit their bottom line.
An informal proposal can turn into a formal-looking deck, but you can also concisely convey your information in a clearly formatted Word document and a simple cover page. When you’re especially pressed for time, an informal proposal can even take the form of an email with key details highlighted in bullet points. Informal proposals can vary greatly based on the clients and the situation.
Research your industry.
Before you begin, gather proposal examples from your industry or your competitors. This will help you identify and apply typical structures and variables, so your proposal reflects industry standards. You can also use business proposal templates from Adobe Stock or examples from Adobe Spark to guide your writing.
Present different options.
Don’t offer only one solution. Instead, present a variety of tiered responses to a client’s situation. Show them three options, including a best-case scenario, a medium project, and a less expensive option. Put these scenarios in context of timeline, budget, and deliverables. When you provide options, you give control to your client and show them you’ve considered their project parameters. Even if your client chooses the lowest level, there could be room to upgrade the work mid-project.
Polish your proposal.
Write your proposal in active voice, to keep your sentences concise. You want your points to be clear and your proposal easy to read, so don’t use excessive, overly descriptive language or too many adjectives. Additionally, be sure to proofread your entire proposal before you send it to your client. Little typos and errors show a lack of attention to detail, and you don’t want your client to lose faith in you before you’ve even begun.
Include the company name or the name of the person to whom the proposal is submitted on the title page. You should also include the submission date and your contact information.
Table of contents
If the proposal is on the longer side, include a table of contents with page numbers for each of the following sections. This will help your client find the information they need without wading through other sections.
An important section of the proposal is the executive summary. It should outline the purpose of your proposal and highlight how your approach will meet your client needs. You don’t need to summarize everything in your proposal, but this page should tell your client what to expect.
Write a simple statement that shows you have a clear understanding of the client’s problem in the context of their business objectives.
Outline the general approach you’ll use to solve your client’s problem. Focus on the high-level strategy in this section.
Dive deeper into how you’ll execute the approach you’ve outlined. Include details and explain how you’ll address the client’s problems. But don’t get too granular here, as you don’t want to overwhelm your client with extraneous information.
Show how qualified you and your team members are to handle the project. This can also take the form of an “About Us” section that explains who you are and how you’re uniquely qualified. Highlight your work history, successful accomplishments, case studies, and testimonials that show why they should select you.
Outline your general schedule with callouts for milestones and key elements of the project. Instead of using a list, display this info on a timeline, and identify benchmarks that indicate successful progress.
Add a section to cover pricing, payment schedules, and legal information. Add specific pricing details that reflect the client’s expectations. If a legal team is involved, include that information, but if that gets too lengthy, give legal matters its own section.
Include a space for signatures when your proposal is accepted.
Get project approval with Adobe.
When your proposal is done, it’s time to send it to your client for signature. And now you can get faster responses using e-signatures with Adobe Acrobat and Acrobat Sign. You can also quickly send documents directly from within Microsoft 365, Box, Dropbox, and more. Make it easier for your new clients to say yes to your projects, and continue building your business with new proposals.