As a small business owner, I’ve run across instances where I needed a proposal and where an estimate would work. What’s the difference? Simply stated, an estimate provides the product or service and its cost including any labor, taxes, or other fees. You normally provide an estimate for a customer or potential customer that has asked to know how much it would cost for your product or service. On the other hand, a proposal is more of a sales document – an estimate on steroids to convince the potential customer that you have the right solution to meet their needs.
While you can easily come up with an estimate, a proposal requires a bit more effort to succeed. Sometimes potential clients will submit a “Request for Proposal” which is an official document requesting businesses to “bid” on solutions to their problem. But many times, a potential customer may simply request a proposal from you and you might not even know they have asked other businesses for the same thing.
Since a proposal needs to convince the potential customer that your solution is the one to solve their problem, you need to plan your proposal by following the steps outlined below. Even if your proposal is only a couple pages, following the basic plan and doing your research may make the difference between getting the job and losing to the competition.
- Carefully study the requirements or the customer’s “issue”
It’s critical to clearly understand your customer’s “issue” and what’s important to your customer. In evaluating the issue, also make it a point to understand the underlying causes of the issue or problem and if any other solutions have been tried before. Did these solutions work or fail? Why did the issue arise again? Is there a cause that is being overlooked? Is there an attribute that this customer is looking for that other companies aren’t understanding?
- Research and understand the customer
To be able to ensure that your solution not only solves the problem at hand, but satisfies the customer’s needs and wants, you will have to find out more about your potential customer. Is cost most important to the customer? Or is quality or a warranty more important? Or is customer service the most important? Researching these customer needs may take some investigation such as asking other companies that may have worked for this customer previously in another industry. You can also ask the customer or their employees’ questions that will help you develop an understanding of the customer.
- Develop your approach
You know how to solve the problem, but you need to sculpt your solution to meet the expectations that you researched in 1 and 2 above. Use the information you identified to develop the wording, pricing, and scheduling for your definition of the problem and discussion of the solution.
- Evaluate your solution
Test drive your solution against steps 1, 2, and 3 above and make sure you are the solution the customer is looking for based on your findings. If there is any doubt, re-evaluate your approach and fine tune your solution.
- Know your competition
Make sure you research your competition. Even if you don’t know if other businesses will be submitting proposals, it’s best to see if any other companies have solutions and how yours compares. If you find that the competition offers a better value to the customer, evaluate if your solution offers more value, or if you can adjust your solution to provide more value.
- Write it
Your proposal should include an executive summary which includes: a) a summary of the basic issue(s); b) a succinct description of the proposed solution; c) the expected results including the goal, the expected outcome, the solution overview, and a call to action (to choose you). In the body of the proposal you will expand upon these sections and provide facts and proof why your solution works and why it is the best choice for this customer.
- Edit it
Ruthlessly edit your proposal. Even if you have to ask a friend or employee to assist you. It’s amazing how much power a misspelled word or improper grammar can have on a customer’s decision even if your solution is superior to the competition.
The method of submittal for your proposal is normally described in the “Request for Proposal” (RFP). However, if there was no RFP, use your research regarding the customer to determine the most effective way to submit your proposal. This additional touch will help show that you understand your customer and what they are looking for.
Mahalo and much success,
Clayton, S. (1996, January 31). 7 Steps To A Winning Business Proposal. Retrieved from Entrepreneur: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/21834
How to Write a Proposal. (2015). Retrieved from wikiHow: http://www.wikihow.com/Write-a-Proposal
James, G. (2014, February 26). How to Write a Winning Proposal. Retrieved from Inc.: http://www.inc.com/geoffrey-james/how-to-write-a-winning-proposal.html
Turak, A. (2013, February 18). How to Write a Plan or Proposal That Rocks. Retrieved from Forbes: http://www.forbes.com/sites/augustturak/2013/02/18/how-to-write-a-plan-or-proposal-that-rocks/