In today’s globalised competitive business environment, as an entrepreneur, you get to understand to a certain extent of the existence of competitor’s that can actually handle a similar project more satisfactory and better than your company, and at a competitive price. Unfortunately, such company may not have the financial strength or rating standard to compete in terms of soliciting or given the opportunities to handle such project. The difference may lies in your ability to write convincing proposals.
Your ability to write powerful and purposeful proposal could mean the life or death of your business. Government parastatals, ministries or agencies often released Request For Proposal (RFP) to the public at a time they need to buy products or services from an outside source.
This is a formal document which outlines government needs and requirements, where members of corporate organisation that has the requisite competency and expertise are invited and requested to bid for the project. It is paramount on you to submit an official proposal which will detail how your company would meet the client’s needs and the expectation is on you to successfully convince the client to hire your company, instead of your competitor’s.
In my personal interaction to find out from a consultant friend of mine; on how he was able to accumulate the caliber of clients at his disposal? His respond to me was “that getting his first service contract was not a fluke, but through a concise, clear written professional proposal, in-depth in logic, well-articulated and thought out”.
Continuing, he had people with specific total requirement package and inclusive management experience with special focus on quality the principal company was looking for”. To give the reader a clear understanding of this subject, it is pertinent to have a working definition of what business proposal is all about.
What Is Business Proposal?
Unlike a business plan, which is written to run your company and raise capital, a business proposal is an unsolicited or solicited bid for business. There are two types of business proposal that can help you gain more business to grow your company.
Solicited Business Proposal
A solicited proposal is when the client asks for a proposal. Solicited proposals are usually sent to company who issue an RFP. When a customer wants something that is too complicated to pick up at the store or order from a vendor, they often write down a description of it and issue it as an RFP. There is a scenario you will make a suggestion to a potential customer and they request you to submit a proposal so that they can consider such suggestion. This also counts as a solicited proposal because they are expecting it and you have a chance to talk to the client and gain an understanding of their needs. A solicited proposal provides you with a description of what the organisation wants. Some also provide you with formatting instructions for your proposal and the evaluation criteria that will be used to make a selection.
Unsolicited Business Proposal
An unsolicited proposal is when you sent out a proposal to organization without official invitation or request, because you think they should buy from you or take some action. Unsolicited proposals must be especially convincing since the customer has not anticipated, planned, or budgeted for the proposal. With an unsolicited proposal you run the risk that the client won’t even bother to read it, since they didn’t ask for it. However, the lack of competitive pressure with an unsolicited proposal often makes up for the risk. On the other hand, according to Carl Dickson; “if you send the same unsolicited proposal to a bunch of customers, what you really have is a brochure and not a proposal. A proposal should take into consideration the client’s specific environment, needs, and concerns. Proposals have a much higher win rate than brochures, because they better align what you offer with what matters to the customer”.
What Business Proposal Is Not?
Some confusion arises as to what business proposal entails. To answer this question, let us discuss what a business proposal isn’t.
The most common misconception is to think a business proposal is the same as a business plan; the answer is they are not the same. While there is area of overlap between the two; such as the executive summary, the two are not the same. Having known that, you can actually take information from your business plan while writing your business proposal in fact, that’s gives you the basics to start. But don’t confuse the two; they are distinct and separate.
Why Business Proposal And Planning Are Not The Same?
Business proposal is a formal document release by an organisation to the public for a bid outlining their needs to prospective clients.
You’re trying to sell your prospective client on your product or service, not on business solely own and control by you. You’re not after funding, as you are with a business plan, but rather after their business.
A business proposal is also not an estimate; although you’ll likely touch on costs and outline these details in your business proposal, an estimate is much more informal and only treat a brief look at the costs, not the entire picture.
STEPS TO WRITE A CONVINCING BUSINESS PROPOSAL
In order not to leave your business success to chance, you need to follow the following steps to write winning proposals:
1. Research on client requirements: There is need to undertake intensive research that is strictly focusing on the unique needs and specification of the client. Marketing consultant Sharon Berman says that “doing your homework and making the required preparations can make all the difference.” This includes all relevant information about the institution that you’ll be pitching the proposal to. This requires thorough reading and understanding of the RFP. Ensure care is taking to answer these pertinent questions such as; to know the company’s goal? What are the expected roles to achieving that goal? What is the time frame? What is the budget requirement? What is the scope of work expected? If you are successful in getting the contract, does your company have the capacity, time, expertise and resources to complete the project?
POINT TO NOTE
No matter how attractive the prospect may look, you must decide whether you want to proceed, because to prepare this proposal will require a lot of time, effort in research, analysis of the client’s and resources on your part. After careful analysis of the opportunity cost, you may decides to wait for next opportunity.
Making reference to my personal interaction with a consultant above, he opine that “it is not every clients that asked for a proposal we responded to, because researching and writing a proposal is a fairly expensive process”, we have to be sure we are within resources to design a programe for them, also consider a project with potential and strategic, a kind of contract that requires continuing relationship and to a client capable of boosting the company networking credential and profile.
2. Understand the Client: There is need to pay attention to the client problem, if you don’t it is impossible to design a methodology that will solve the problem. In an extensive article by; written by “Entrepreneur”; Sherwin Freed, co-author of Writing Winning Business Proposals (McGraw-Hill). “Many times a client or potential client will say, ‘This is what we’re looking for.’ But when you start researching, you find out that isn’t what they’re looking for at all.”
It is advisable to engage the key decision makers in the organisation concerning their specific needs, their operation policies, management philosophy and corporate goals and objectives. These are some of the best ways to understand what your client really need. Having done that, refer to the RFP to crosscheck if your work matched with their requirements, try to find out what the organisation like and did not like about engaging consultants of your status and the specific yardsticks they will be using to evaluate your proposal.
Asking specific question will boost your chance of doing a satisfactory job as well as encourage the organisation to support you in releasing requested information that will aid your work and impact positively on the organisation. Questions like this will help you a great deal: How long has the company been in business? Who are their major decision maker’s? What are their main products or services? How is this company better or worse than its competitors? What is the company’s financial position?
If you are privilege to have an audience with your client senior management on key department for instance, you may pose a question like, “we understand your organisation goal was to attain high level of customer satisfaction”, in explaining this, they need to do that by a slight change in management and operation process.
In some real life scenario, the management may find it difficult for you to access such vital information for privacy purpose, in this case, embarked on some secondary research. Visit the library or check with colleagues who may have worked for the same organization; it’s worth the effort. This research may save you from proposing something that has already been tried or is unacceptable to the client for some other reason. You may also discover some underlying issues that weren’t defined in the RFP and need to be considered.
3. Develop a Methodology: Having clearly identified your client’s goals, it is time to embark on the steps that is required to attained that objectives which is also known as methodology. If you are having problems, use questionnaire, and other relevant survey method to get your facts. In fact there is no prescribed or unique standard or procedures to undertake, provided you are sure your method will give you the vital information you required.
Also take into consideration that the method that was successful with company A, may not give you the same results with company B. The ability to know this will enhance your performance. While one company is focusing on customer service, other may concentrate on cost savings for the organization, hence you will need to design a customise solution that will suit a particular needs; you need to take this into consideration. To ensure that your methodology is practical, analyze its costs and benefits, as well as the time and resources it will require.
4. Evaluate the Solution: Developing a methodology is one thing, ensuring your methodology bring about desire result is another thing. If your methodology is not acceptable by your client, there is need to find an alternative solution. The orientation and mind set of the decision maker’s should help you not to deviate. Knowing your client background and their expectation of the project at hand for instance will guard you. Your background knowledge will enable you to know whether the client is financially oriented or operational oriented. With the background knowledge, you will be able to put across the benefits of your solution in a way that will receive a beneficial evaluation from the decision maker’s.
Your solution should be tailored to the outlined criteria in the RFP. If for instance your proposal is being evaluated base on pricing and time of completion, you will know that an expensive and extensive solution will not win you the contract.
5. Outshine Your Competitors: You should not forget the fact that a proposal is a sale document, design to convince the client to appoint your company in place of your competitor’s. Ensure you reinforce your company’s strengths, capability and clear any potential doubts the client may have about engaging you for the project.
For instance, through asking for vital questions from the beginning, you may have the privilege of knowing the name of your competitor’s and who happens to be a larger company than yours; this is an added advantage for you to properly present your strengths, and work on your competitor’s abilities and weak point to gain competitive advantage of them.
6. Write the Proposal: If you are fortunate to scale through the first five steps, it means the major work has been done. What is remaining is to collate the information at your disposal into a proposal format. Here you will be making reference to the completed work on previous steps.
Make sure you pay special attention to the RFP specifications, especially on the format of your proposal; you need to follow exactly the specified format. Freed recommend the following headings:
A.Present Situation: You must be able to know the background or present circumstance that led the organisation to issue RFP. You will be able to do this from the background information that is itemised in the RFP and the research information gathered in step two above.
B. Objectives: There is need to clearly identify and explain the goals of your proposal. This will be made possible again from RFP and background understanding in step two above.
C. Designed Methodology: You need to extensively describe each of your recommendation process that was developed in step three above, which will enable the organisation to attain its goals.
D. Time and cost: You need to exhaustively explain the time and cost requirements sequentially in the methodology. This will be made possible from your calculation in step three above. It will also specify the billing method to the client and expected time of payment.
E. Qualifications: You must exhaustively describe the reasons your company is best suited to perform the task. This will be based on your competitive strengths and the evaluation criteria of the proposal developed in step five.
F. Benefits: It is assume the organisation is in need of benefits before issuing RFP.It is your duty to clearly outline these benefits your client stands to receive by implementing your recommendations. The identified benefits in step four will enable you to do this.
7. Apply the Finishing Touches: You need to carefully review the entire proposal to make sure it fulfills all the outlined requirements as enunciated in the RFP. In addition, ensure the information is structured and logically presented to address each of the decision maker’s concerns. Conclusively, have a capable and trusted colleague to proofread the proposal to take clear of punctuation, spellings and grammatical errors that may arise.
Many contracts are awarded based on quality and logical presentation of your proposal. Hence, care must be taken to avoid sloppiness or disjointed presentation of written information too ambiguous for your client to comprehend. If you are unable to present your thought in clear written form, you will give your client the excuses to question your work that is if you are unable to express yourself intelligently.
Getting a quality printing papers to print your work and have the final copy neatly and professionally bounded will push your proposed solution to action.
Your suggestions and comment is appreciated.
R.Freed, S. Freed & J. Romano ;( October 21, 2010), Writing Winning Business Proposals, Third Edition Paperback.
Sue Clayton. (February 1, 1996) 7 Steps To A Winning Business Proposal. Seven essential steps to guarantee you get the contract. Retrieved from: www.entrepreneur.com
What’s the Best Business Proposal Format? By Briana Morgaine.Retrieved from: www.articles.bplans.com
Steps to Writing a Business Proposal. By Michael Kerr, Demand Media. Retrieved from: www.smallbusiness.chron.com