10 Points for Winning Proposals

A business presentation is the physical manifestation of a written proposal. You are in effect delivering your proposal in the flesh. Instead of a PDF document, the client gets you, in person with an array of paraphernalia in tow – your voice, visuals, charts, pictures, text, thirst, hunger, bladder and other logistical requirements, whilst demanding their undivided attention for the duration of your presentation. This is regardless of whether their share price is plummeting or factory burning – you’d like them to listen to you and watch your slides.

In contrast, your PDF’d proposal can be perused, at their leisure, when it suits them – or ignored. So let’s ensure that when you do present your proposal in written format rather than in person, that it warrants the attention – and action of your reader.

Before we get to some guidelines, please consider the following. In business you’re never going to close every sale. By the same token, even the worst salesman sometimes picks up a sale, no matter how good or bad the approach, pitch or proposal. We’re aiming for the ones in the middle, that vast ocean of undecided folk who need a degree of persuasion to get them to act.

Here are a few simple guidelines to preparing a compelling written business proposal:

  1. Firstly, what exactly do you hope to achieve? That’s a great place to start. As a result of reading your proposal what exactly do you want your prospect to do? You need to have a very clear objective.
  2. Do your research. Your first paragraph serves as your introduction and should create context. Preferably show an understanding of the client’s business and identify the problem/issue that your proposal will address.
  3. The body of your proposal should outline in clear but simple terms the nature of the clients problem/opportunity, show that you understand what needs to be done to solve the problem or capitalise on the opportunity, and outline how your solution can meet that need.
  4. Only provide the information that the client needs to facilitate a decision – and no more!. Most people do not have time to wade through extensive detail. They can get this from your website, or if necessary you can attach an addendum.
  5. Your conclusion can summarize the main points of your proposal, but should clearly state what should happen next, how and when you will follow up.
  6. For purposes of credibility your signature/letterhead should contain all relevant contact details including your company registration number, relevant accreditations and website address.
  7. A proposal must have clear terms and conditions (including payment terms) explaining cancellation clauses and consequences. This protects you in the event of the “goalposts being moved”. Contrary to commonly held fears, this will not antagonize the client since they expect this information in your proposal. T&C’s also ensure that the client takes you seriously, and gives you something to fall back on if a sale is concluded.
  8. Get someone else in your office to cast an eye over your proposal. They might notice and error or opportunity that you missed, thus enhancing the power of your proposal.
  9. PDF (portable document format) your proposal so that it can’t be copied and changes can not be made.
  10. In your covering email request acknowledgement of receipt. If this is not forthcoming within 48 hours, enquire, either by email or telephone whether the proposal has been received. An unread proposal is a waste of your precious time and energy.

A well thought out proposal will give you the best chance of winning the business on terms that are favourable to you. Follow these 10 simple guidelines, and you will give yourself that chance.

One last tip: Too many proposals never receive a firm outcome. This is discourteous as the proposal involved your time, effort and resources. If a proposal was requested, you have every right to expect an answer at some stage. Find out when a decision is due to be made, and if no communication is received by that date, you should follow up.

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