Writing Business Proposals
Content by Claudia Brady, Converted for web by Amanda Haislip
(printable version here)
The purpose of a business proposal is to convince the reader to see the world in the same way that you do. Your main goal when writing a business proposal is to persuade the reader to make a change that will make your proposed idea a reality.
To learn how to do this effectively, take a look at numerous resources available on this website.
In the words of Bill Rainey, author of "Proposal Writing - A Neglected Area of Instruction"...
"Thus a proposal...is truly a sales document, persuasive to a degree, but depending heavily on its factual information for its competitive success" (31).
Components of a Business Proposal:
Plan of Work
Qualifications and Experience
A business proposal is composed of numerous parts, all of which should be backed up by factual information. When beginning a new section of your business proposal, use a heading to indicate that you are moving on to the next idea.
Here, the problem must be introduced to the reader.
- Why is the current situation inadequate?
- Why does it need to be changed, in your opinion?
You should also introduce any context or background information.
- Did someone ask you to write this proposal?
- How did you get involved with this project?
- What solutions have previously been attempted?
You should explain any key terms or phrases you will use consistently throughout your proposal. Business writing has some specialized jargon that may be inscrutable to outside readers - define your terms to avoid sounding "phony or insincere" (Cullick and Zawacki, D-18). However, if you are responding to an RFP (request for proposal), you should try to include some of the key terms that were included in that document. Doing so shows the reader that you have thoroughly examined the RFP and that you take the project seriously.
Finally, you should provide the reader with an overview of the sections that will follow the introduction.
2. Plan of Work
In this section of your business proposal, the purpose is to specifically explain what you want to do to solve the problem mentioned in the introduction. Remember to relate your solution back to the issue at hand.
In the words of Laura Reave, "the best solutions address the true cause of the problem" (14). You should list the benefits of your proposed project here - you can do so in a bulleted list.
It is particularly important in this section to justify all of your claims with evidence. In this section, "every word you say - or don't say - will give your readers evidence on which to base their decision" (Markel, 450). Before writing your proposal, you should have done a substantial amount of research on the subject area that you are writing about. Show your readers that you have done your homework in this section:
- reference related studies
- quote individuals that are prominent in the field
- provide statistics
- remember to cite all of your sources.
If you know that there is still research to be done, tell your readers in this section, but be sure to follow through on all research that you intend to do.
3. Qualifications and Experience
Now that your readers know what you want to do, tell them why you are the person to get the job done.
- What experiences do you have that qualify you to carry out this proposal effectively?
- If you are not personally qualified, who will you bring onto the project that is?
If you plan on using outside personnel, explain why they would be competent. Some literature suggests including the resumes of those individuals who will play a large role in the project in this section.
Also, explain why the reader is the right person to be receiving this proposal.
- How have their past experiences brought them to where they are today?
- What about the individual, or company, makes you want to propose this project to them?
It may be a good idea to describe similar projects that the company has taken on in the past to show why you believe this specific firm is the right fit for this project.
This section outlines the budget and gives the reader an estimation of what your proposed project will cost. This section of your proposal could take a lot of time, so do not wait until the last minute to think about what kinds of costs your project will incur.
Be sure to think about both direct and indirect costs that could be associated with the project.
- Direct costs may include employee salaries or cost of materials
- Indirect costs could be rent or legal fees
The budget is one of the most important aspects of your proposal - it could be the section that convinces your reader to take on your project or move onto the next proposal.
5. Task Schedule
A task schedule lays out an estimation of the timing of different aspects of your project. For example, you may estimate that construction on a new store will begin in August and that the store will be ready for business in March. It is important to be as specific as you can in this section.
It is important to acknowledge possible opposition that your project may face. Your readers will want to know any liabilities they may take on or problems they may have to face if they accept your project.
Reave suggests taking a three-step approach to this section: summary, concession, rebuttal (16). For each anticipated problem, you should summarize the potential issue, explain what the possibility of the issue arising is, and argue why the benefits of the project will outweigh any opposition that faces it.
End your proposal by restating the benefits of your proposal. By the time the reader reaches this section of the proposal, they should know what you want them to do. You can restate your request for action in the conclusion. It may also be a good idea to include a deadline in your request for action. If you do provide a deadline to the reader, give them a reason why you chose that specific date. The reader is more likely to cooperate if they understand why you need the action by the specific date (Reave, 17).
Reave, Laura. "Promoting Innovation in the Workplace: The Internal Proposal." Business Communication Quarterly 65.4 (2002): 8-21. Business Source Complete. Web. 21 Apr. 2012.
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