Providing general advice regarding how to write proposals for business purposes is not easy. This is because the type of proposal required can be diverse in terms of its purpose, size and the intended recipient.
For example, in terms of purpose there is a difference between a sales proposal and a proposal intended for internal use, which could relate to changes in processes or strategy. Similarly, there is a difference between preparing a product or service based proposal. The size and complexity of the proposal also needs to be considered, particularly in relation to the numbers of participants. A proposal for the development of a major project, such as the building of a new operations plant, would require involvement and input from a number of business experts from various departments, whereas a sales proposal being submitted to a single customer might be written by one person. Furthermore, the type of recipient may also influence the proposal content and style. A typical example of this is the variances between a proposal submitted to the private and public sectors.
However, there are areas of a written business proposal where the same rules would apply to all.
In many cases, the person or organization requesting the proposal will provide verbal or written instructions, which can be used as a guide for the proposal author. However, this is not always the case. In either situation, there is still a need for research. The purpose of research is to ensure that the author has availed himself or herself of the necessary level of knowledge to be able to address the issues in an efficient and effective manner.
This research may include further discussions with the recipient. The intention here is to make sure that there is a full and complete understanding of what is required, which may relate to such issues as quality, style, transportation, timing and price. Unless this knowledge is available, there is a potential risk of the implementation of the proposal failing to deliver the required solution.
Furthermore, research is required to ensure the proposal contains the latest and best practices and processes. An example of the importance of this can be seen within a marketing proposal. A recipient of such a proposal is hardly likely to be pleased if the marketing plan has not taken into account the latest Internet promotional opportunities, such as networking and websites. Similarly, a client would not be happy if the proposal they receive shows no sign of investigation into cost and other supply comparisons.
Competition is another area of research that is required. This area is of particularly concern when writing a sales proposal. If one does not have knowledge of competitors and how their businesses are operating in terms of price, quality and other processes, there is every chance that the proposal will not provide the business with a competitive advantage. The best-prepared proposal in the world will not succeed in its objectives if it is not competitive in terms of price, cost reduction, quality and purpose, as many failed businesses have found to their cost. Therefore, to ensure that the proposal is positioned correctly, knowledge of other market players and their processes is important.
LAYOUT AND DESIGN
The days of writing proposals on the back of cigarette packets or scraps of paper have long gone, if they ever existed. Yet still, even with the benefit of modern design, presentation and word processed proposals are being submitted in a condition where it is evident that the author has paid little attention to layout and design, despite the benefits of these programs.
Recipients of proposals want to receive a document that flows in a logical manner, is well designed in terms of layout and continuity and where attention to detail is evident. Simple errors such as grammar and spelling mistakes or lack of a logical flow of the information contained within the proposal are likely to raise concerns. If the proposal does not show evidence of attention to detail, the recipient may question whether the implementation and delivery will suffer from the same problems.
In some areas, advice upon the content of a proposal might be seen to overlap with the previous section. However, there are factors that need highlighting in this respect. The first of these factors relates to the logical progression of the proposal, which will ensure ease of reading and understanding. A document that is not properly structured is difficult to read and, more importantly, can lead to confusion in respect of what is being proposed, which can damage the eventual outcome of the project implementation.
In the author's opinion, the proposal should follow a logical sequence that covers the following points.
The introduction is intended to provide a brief overview of the project, including what it relates to, the client it is being prepared for and information about the person or organization that is submitting the proposal.
In the objective section, it is always advisable to commence this with a detailed understanding of the client or recipient's requirements. This approach limits the potential risk of future misunderstanding. Following on from here a more detailed analysis of the objectives can be provided.
3) Project plan
Within this section, a detailed plan of the performance of the project is required. Often on larger proposals this might include a Gantt chart that will indicate the various project milestones and timescales within which each part of the proposal will be implemented and delivered to the client.
4) Project resources
Providing the recipient with details of the resources being committed or required for the project is important. For example, the details of specialist equipment and numbers of human resources being assigned to the project will allow them to judge the level of realism applied to the project plan indicated in the previous section.
All recipients will want to know how competent the proposing person or organization is in terms of the type of project being referred to within the document. Therefore, it is always advantageous to incorporate within the proposal details of similar projects or sales levels that have been previously carried out and some indication of the expertise of the human resources that will be committed to the tasks identified.
6) Cost and contracts
Certainly from both the writer and recipient's viewpoint one of the most important aspect of the proposal will be the cost of the project, product or service being delivered. However, it is also important to include the terms and conditions that these costs apply to and any other issues that might affect the costing.
For example, there may be a penalty clause included for late delivery or payment. Similarly, costs might need to be qualified. If the price of supplies increased between the date of the proposal and its acceptance, there will be a need to add a proviso that allows for these increases. In addition, the cost of alteration to specifications needs to be addressed within this section.
Appendices can be useful for the inclusion of references relating to the conduct of previous projects or sales contracts and detailed resumes of the key personnel who will be involved with the performance of the contract. In addition, other relevant information that is considered to add value to the content of the proposal might also be included within this section.
Other sections that might need to be included within the proposal could include regulatory and legal conditions outside of the control of the person making the proposal but that need to be adhered to in the performance of the project.
Whatever type of written business proposal is being presented, as is apparent from the above, three of the most important areas that need to be considered are research, layout and design and content. If sufficient attention is not paid to these areas, and the results communicated effectively within the proposal, there is every chance that the proposal will be consigned to the nearest recycling bin. This will not only lead to the loss of the project being promoted within the proposal, but also reduce the chances of developing a future positive relationship with the recipient.