If you’re a service-based business owner — and particularly if your clients fall in the realm of traditional companies — the ability to write a strong business proposal is paramount to bringing in new business consistently and easily. Yet, if you’re not careful, you can end up spending a lot of time putting together proposals that never go any farther than your outbox.

That’s why my first bit of advice is to be selective in when you agree to write a proposal to begin with. In many ways, this is just something you learn over time. But most consultants find out rather quickly that some potential clients are happy to say, “Hey, why don’t you put together a proposal for me?” when in fact they have no intention of ever hiring you — and are instead just curious to find out how much “something like that” would cost.

That’s why I’ll only write a detailed proposal after I’ve had a serious conversation with the client, and once they’ve expressed genuine interest in working with us even when we talk about a ballpark figure.

My second piece of advice is to put together a reusable framework for the two or three types of engagements you work on. I know. I know. “Every project is different.” But is it really? My guess is that while the specifics change, what you do at the end of the day (consult? write? project manage? train? coach? account?) is relatively the same from one gig to the next. So save yourself a lot of time and heartache and create a template that you can use again and again.

Third, and most importantly, you want to make sure that the time you do invest in writing a proposal is going to pay off by bringing in a new client. With that in mind, here are some key elements you’ll want to include in every new business proposal in order to increase your close rate.

Give it a compelling title. Don’t just name your proposal “Acme Proposal.” Grab your prospective client’s attention from the start by using a title that immediately implies a benefit to them. For example, you could call it “Leadership Success Program for ACME Human Resources,” or “ACME’s 5-Phase Plan for Guaranteed Increased Sales.”

Open with a testimonial. Begin to establish your credibility and hook your reader immediately by opening with a short, results-based testimonial. If possible, use a testimonial from a client who hired you to do similar type of work for them. But at the very least, make sure the client testimonial focuses on what you brought to the project and the end results they experienced. For example, did you reduce their costs? Help them earn more money? Save them time? Improve customer satisfaction? Lower their stress? You get the idea.

Provide an objective statement: Show your potential client you truly “heard” their needs by clearly and concisely outlining the primary goal or objective that they want to achieve. Don’t try to be clever. Name this section something like “Primary Goal: To…” or “Key Objective: To…” Be sure to use as much of the client’s own language, terminology and key words as possible so they know you’re on the same page.

Build the business case. Why is this project important? What will happen if they don’t follow through on it? Do some quick research on the Internet to see if you can find statistics or other proof points that build a business case reinforcing the importance of the effort. For example, if you’re an executive coach, incorporate statistics from studies that show professionals who work with a coach earn more and are promoted faster. Or, if you’re a sleep consultant, incorporate data that shows the health benefits of sleep.

Outline the key deliverables. Next, you need to tell your potential client specifically what they’re going to receive as part of your services. But here’s where a lot of proposals go wrong by becoming either muddled or overly detailed. You want to be clear and concise. Package the components of the proposal into bite-size nuggets so you don’t overwhelm the client. Also, as a general rule of thumb, if you’re proposal includes multiple options, limit it to only two or three at most. Part of your job as the outside expert is to recommend what you feel best meets the client’s needs — not to give them a menu of limitless options for them to sort through.

Summarize the investment. Notice I said investment and not price. The client will receive value in exchange for the price they are paying. Therefore, it is an investment in their business or themselves — not a cost (i.e. loss) to their business. We typically like to offer clients two investment options — one for pay in full in advance (at a discount) and one for pay as you go (full price). There may be other incentives or bonuses that you can incorporate as well. People like to feel like they are getting a “deal.” So if you are providing any type of discount or bonus for them, be sure to show how the math adds up in their favor.

Reinforce the return. Now that they’ve just seen the investment price, it’s important to have a Return on Investment section directly below that summarizes the benefits once again. Remind your potential new client what the value is that they are receiving in exchange for that investment. I like to incorporate three types of returns — time, money and performance.

Close with credibility. You’ll want to wrap up your proposal by reaffirming your credibility and why YOU are the best person/company to deliver these benefits to the client. Here’s where you’ll want to include things like your bio, your client list, awards you’ve received, your certifications, trainings and degrees, and any additional testimonials from clients. As much as possible, avoid long paragraphs of text and instead use bulleted lists. The client is more likely to actually read it.

And here’s one last tip for good measure. Whenever you send a proposal to a client, be sure to set yourself up for success by:

Saying thank you for the opportunity to present this proposal
Acknowledging that it is a worthwhile/important/exciting project
Telling them that you WANT to work with them on it (yes, explicitly TELL them you want the job!)
Stating that you believe you are the best person/company to help them achieve their goal
Offering to answer any questions they have
Together, these components will make for a very strong new business proposal that puts you head and shoulders ahead of your competition.

Author's Bio: 

Known as The Corporate Agent, Angelique Rewers, ABC, APR, teaches micro business owners and solopreneurs around the world how to grow their small business by working with Big Business. Get her FREE CD and articles at www.TheCorporateAgent.com.