The Nine Tips for Writing Strong Proposals

There are good and bad proposals.

When Lior started his first freelancing gig, he totally bombed it. The project took six months instead of two. He worked much harder than he ever thought he would, and, in the end, he was working for less than $7 an hour. All this because of a poorly written business proposal.

In this article, you will learn nine tips how to write great proposals, so you don’t end up like Lior.

1. Understand the audience

People care first and foremost about their own needs, so the crucial first step is to understand the reader’s expectations.

Who are the readers? What do they know about the industry and about the problem you propose to solve? How much background information should you include? What do they want to hear? How can you help them understand what you are trying to say? Answering these questions will help you frame the proposal.

Learn about the requirements. Do you have a template you could use? Are there any formal requirements, or is it an informal document? Do the readers have any expectations about the structure of the proposal?

2. It’s about them

Everybody hates people who only talk about themselves. Avoid being such person. The readers think about themselves and want to solve their problems. Why should they be interested in ten pages long ode to your company?

Focus on them and how can you help them with your resources and experience. Keep thinking “It’s not about me!” while you are writing.

3. Define the issue and solution

You do understand what the issue is. But do the readers? And do they believe that you really know what you are talking about? A Proper definition of the issue serves two purposes: Frame the context for your solution, and show that you know enough that they can trust you.

Use evidence and explanations to back up your assertions. Don’t write a summary that’s obvious to anyone in the field. Rather show that you’ve conducted an in-depth research and you understand the issue.

Defining the solution should be relatively straightforward. Once you have set the issue you are addressing, what do you propose to solve it? Keep it as narrow and doable as possible.

4. Sell the benefit

Many proposal writers make the mistake of writing about how wonderful their companies are. They forget to emphasize how it impacts the reader. Many people hate this “fluff” and tend to skip it altogether, often discarding the whole solution.

Selling the benefit is a simple concept. Unfortunately, it’s somewhat harder when you are actually writing the proposal. The readers need to get a clear understanding of what they gain from the solution you are promoting.

You can check this concept with the so-what test. Picture yourself as a grumpy old engineer reading your proposal. After reading each paragraph, ask yourself “so what?”

For instance: “XYZ construction has been in business for 50 years.” So what?

A better approach would be: “Using all we learned during our 50 years of experience designing high-rise buildings, we will ensure your design is technically correct, constructible, and cost effective.”

5. Be specific

What’s more engaging?

“Let’s do a party next week. We’ll go to a nice restaurant and then maybe out dancing.”

“I’m in the city next Thursday. Let’s party! I’d love to go to Corleone, the favorite Italian restaurant in the center. Then let’s go to the exclusive club Golden Tree, where we can dance the night away, or chill out in a VIP lounge.”

6. Include schedule and budget

Including the schedule and budget is part of being specific, but it’s so important that it warrants it’s own point. What you don’t have in writing will turn against you.

You should break the schedule and budget into concrete steps and items, so you can eventually discuss them individually. Moreover, it shows your attention to detail, something that every reader appreciates.

7. Keep it brief

Venture capitalists, managers, teachers, or whoever you write for probably read a lot of other proposals. They will probably want to spend as little time with your work as they can. Therefore, your goal is to convey the information as efficiently as possible.

Don’t be too brief, though. Make sure to cover all the benefits and requirements. People will not bother read content that’s too long. However, they are suspicious of content that’s too short.

Many clients ask for a significant amount of information. How to meet their expectations without writing a thousand-pages novel? There are a few tips:

  • Use bullet lists. Bullet or numbered lists are easier to absorb, they convey the same information in fewer words, and help to emphasize important points.
  • Charts, graphs, and pictures. A picture is worth a thousand words. It can show a complicated concept or process that would take many words to explain.
  • Proofread the proposal and delete unnecessary words.

8. Focus on the action

Sentences written in the passive voice seem weaker and are harder to read. In the active voice, the subject of the sentence performs the action. You should write in active voice when you can. But focusing on the action is about more than just the active voice.

Who is the hero of this sentence? “Mark assisted Pamona County with inspection during the $365M reconstruction on Pamona Bridge, in Audibon, NJ.”

Yes, Mark was performing the inspections. But he seems like a secondary player in the story. What about this? “Mark inspected the general contractor’s work during the $365M reconstruction of Pamona Bridge, in Audibon, NJ.”

9. Be Direct

Make it easy to follow your writing, format the content as the client laid it out, use sub-headers.

Lead the reader to the conclusion. People want their information quickly and easily. People don’t want to figure out things for themselves. Make sure to include the conclusion in the content directly.

Include a call-to-action. What are the next steps for the reader? What should he or she do right now?


When you are writing your next proposal, you can incorporate these tips. You will be at ease, knowing that you are doing it right. And your proposal will meet with entirely different reaction from the reader.

When did you write a proposal last time? Did it have success? Share your story in the comments!

Besides writing proposals, another common challenge all managers face is doing great presentations. Get a free, comprehensive guide by subscribing to our mailing list now.

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