How To Write A Proposal

Dickie Bush & Nicolas Cole

Ultimate Guide Table of Contents

In this week’s Deep Dive, we want to talk about how to write a proposal.

As an online creator or writer, at some point in your journey you will likely have to sell your services in writing. Whether it's for a project, for funding, or just to pitch an idea, a good proposal can be the difference between getting your foot in the door or having the door slammed in your face.

Here’s the problem:

Most proposals are boring, gimmicky, poorly written, and overly self-promotional.

Dear Sir/Madam:

I am an experienced professional and I am confident that I am qualified to do this project. I will use my skills and experience to complete this project. I am committed to providing high-quality work and meeting deadlines.

Thank you for considering my proposal.

Yea, no thank you. Next!

  • No one cares about your “experience.”
  • No one cares about your "qualifications."
  • No one cares what your company "is based on."

What customers do care about is how well you understand them. And a well-crafted proposal showcases how you're DIFFERENT from the competition, not how awesome you are.

But even if you do everything right, there are still no guarantees that your proposal will be accepted. So how do you know what to do?

Let’s dive in.

What Is A Proposal In Writing?

A proposal is a written offer to solve a problem.

  • It’s not an ad.
  • It’s not a contract.
  • It’s not a list of features.

It's a plan for how you'll solve your customer's problem.

Unlike other sales tools, which may focus on persuading the customer to make a purchase, a written proposal provides a reasoned argument for why the plan being proposed is the best option. And by presenting a clear and specific plan of action, a written proposal can help you demonstrate the value and benefits of your solution and show why it is worth investing in.

No sales pitch.

Just education on your new way forward for them.

The Importance Of Learning How To Start Writing a Proposal Correctly

A well-crafted proposal can mean money in the bank.

Just like a headline is a proposal to readers trying to "hook" their attention and convince them what you've written is worth their time, a business proposal is about convincing the customer that the thing you're proposing is worth their time, energy, and money.

For example, a business owner who needs funds to expand operations might write a proposal that outlines:

  • The growth potential of the business
  • The benefits of an expansion to the local community
  • All the steps that will be taken to achieve the desired outcomes

If the proposal is compelling, it can convince the potential funders that the project is worth investing in.

If you want to get paid for your work, then being able to write a proposal that conveys what you do and why people should open up their wallets is critical.

How To Write A Proposal: Step-By-Step Guide to Getting Started

The number one goal of your proposal is to help the customer make a decision.

And to help them take the next step, they need to have a clear view of the problem you are solving, how your solution solves that problem, and a price tag that is a fraction of the impact you expect to have for the customer, but is much bigger than your costs.

The second goal is to help the customer see that you are the right choice for them.

The easiest way to stand out is by having a different point of view.

Conventional wisdom says “the best proposal wins.” As a result, creators over-invest in the details being careful to highlight how and where they are better than the competition. This is a mistake. Write your proposal as if you have no competition. Educate the customer on your different point of view and don’t get caught in the better trap.

Your point of view IS your proposal.

It should make the customer STOP, tilt their head, and immediately wonder, “This is for something different. Do I need this?”

Step 1: Frame A Different Problem

The goal is to create a distinction between old and new, same and different.

  • Include a brief description of the problem
  • Highlight the significance of the problem
  • Provide relevant background information

Here is an example of how you might frame the problem of buying clothes:

Busy people don’t have time to shop for clothes.

And when they do shop they struggle to find nice clothes that fit their unique style.

They end up spending a lot of time and energy shopping in order to find something that fits and looks good. This can be frustrating, time-consuming, and a never ending battle of keeping up with tastes and trends. As a result, people end up settling for clothes that they don't love or that don't fit well, leading to a feeling of frustration.

Step 2: Evangelize A Different Future

Show the customer a different future, and how life could be if that different future already existed today.

  • Think about your customer and the problem they have
  • What would life be like if that problem didn't exist?
  • Show them that life in your proposal

In order for anyone else to accept your idea, they have to be able to see it and touch it and understand how it works. This is your solution.

Continuing with the example from above:

We propose an online personal styling service that helps people find clothes that they love, without having to spend all their time shopping.

This service would include a consultation with a personal stylist, who would help the customer to identify their personal style and preferences. The stylist would then curate a selection of clothes that are tailored to the customer's needs and preferences, and help them to find the perfect fit. This would save the customer time and energy, and would help them to feel more confident and stylish in their clothing choices.

Step 3: Explain How Your Solution Bridges The Gap From The Problem To A Different Future

What is the radically different benefit you are offering the customer?

The customer wants to know what benefit(s) they’ll receive.

Not what features they’ll receive, which is what 99% of what proposals include. The customer is never buying “the thing” your product or service does. They’re buying the outcome or result of using “the thing.”

Tell the customer exactly what you're offering them.

  • I will help you overcome Y.
  • I will teach you how to do X.
  • I will show you, step-by-step, how I did Z.

For example:

Keep the clothes you like, and return what you don’t.

The benefit of your product or service is not the sum of its features. It’s the transformation it unlocks in the customer as a result.

Step 4: Figure Out Pricing

How you price your proposal determines how people perceive the quality work you do.

Low and mid-tier hourly rates tell customers “I’m cheap and I do cheap work.” Ditching hourly and charging premiums per project tells customers you know your value and work with people who pay for it.

Writers in particular make this mistake all the time. You'll never make meaningful money charging per word.

Instead, charge per:

  • Asset (landing page, email campaign, article)
  • Project (multiple assets in a fixed timeframe)
  • Outcome (revenue growth, subscriber growth)

Step 5: Help The Customer Trust You

Customers want to know that you're the real deal, and social proof helps them feel confident that they'll be working with someone who knows what they're doing.

You need to answer the question “Why me?”

  • Share your most impressive wins
  • Include customer testimonials or quotes
  • Showcase the results and performance of your work

Sharing your credibility helps you stand out among a sea of amateurs.

Step 6: Provide A Plan For Your Customer To Work With You

The customer needs the steps that show them exactly how to move forward.

  • This is how we do business
  • This is how easy it is to get started
  • All you have to do to do business with us is X

You want them to say, oh this is easy, I can do it.

The plan should be as detailed and actionable as possible. Include a list of the necessary steps to complete the project. Provide a timeline with milestones, so your customer knows when to expect what. Give them the information they need about how they can contact you along the way.

When Do You Need to Write a Proposal?

When someone asks for one, like an RFP (request for proposal), or when you are trying to generate a new business opportunity.

Situations like:

  • When you are trying to differentiate yourself from competitors
  • When you are proposing a plan or solution to a problem or challenge
  • When you are trying to secure funding or agreement for a specific project or job

Generally, a proposal is needed to convince someone to accept your ideas or plans and move forward with a project or solution.

Template on How to Write a Proposal

Here is a template you can use to “Prep The Page” for your next proposal:

  • Title: Write a clear and descriptive title for your proposal.
  • Problem: Provide an overview of the problem or challenge being addressed. Identify who you are writing the proposal for, and describe their needs and wants.
  • Solution: Outline your plan or solution in detail, including any supporting evidence or examples. Explain the benefits, and how it will address the problem or challenge being faced.
  • Pricing: Provide information about the costs and budget associated with your plan or solution, including any funding or support that will be required.
  • Plan: Outline a plan for implementing your solution, including a timeline and any necessary resources.
  • Credibility: Provide information about your qualifications and experience, and include examples of your past work.
  • Next Steps: Summarize the key points of your proposal, and explain how the customer can get started.

Customize the template to fit your specific needs and the needs of your target audience.

Submitting A Proposal After Writing It To Perfection: Our Advice

But before you hit send, here are a few final tips to make sure your pitch gets the attention it deserves:

  • Compress: Make sure you're addressing the customer’s problem in a clear, concise way. Double-check for wordiness. Just get to the point.
  • Edit: Make sure it is free of typos, grammatical errors, and other mistakes. Pay attention to the details, such as dates, names, and figures.
  • Follow submission guidelines for RFPs: Make sure you understand the requirements for submitting the proposal, such as the format, length, and any required supporting materials.
  • Follow up: If you have not received a response to your proposal, follow up with the organization or individual to inquire about the status of your proposal.
  • Rehearse: Practice talking through your proposal. You will likely need to walk your customer through the details in a meeting.

That’s a wrap!

You've now got the tools you need to start writing a proposal that gets you what you want.

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