8 Tips to Writing Effective Consulting Proposals that Win Business

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The consulting proposal is misunderstood. Consultants believe they understand what a ‘proposal’ should be yet their idea of one is ineffective and often results in losing the business they are after.

To help bridge this gap I’ve provided 8 tips to make your consulting proposals more effective.

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1. Don’t Count on It

The proposal isn’t meant to win the business. The business should have already been won before sending the proposal. Remember that. It’s an important distinction.

Don’t be lured into using some online legal form as a base for your proposal. Having a consulting proposal is very different from having an effective consulting proposal.

Now, before you want to shoot the messenger, let’s get clear. Until the buyer signs an agreement (or proposal) you haven’t won the business. That said; don’t count on your proposal to win you the business. That isn’t the role it plays.

You should only be sending a proposal to a buyer once you’ve engaged in a sales conversation with them and they’ve given you the go ahead. They’ve agreed that they do have an issue or opportunity that they’d like your help with.

Before sending them a proposal and once it’s clear that you can add significantly value to the buyer you simply ask “Great, since we agree on ______, why don’t I put together a proposal for you with some options of how we can work together and I’ll send it over for you to review on X day. Does that work for you?”

If they say “No” or hesitate, you need to focus on the conversation until they say “Yes”. Only after they’ve given you this agreement should offer and send your proposal.

Many consultants jump at the chance to send a proposal to a buyer that isn’t sold on hiring them. They wonder why they ‘lose’ so many opportunities – it’s because they never reached agreement before sending the proposal – the opportunity they thought they had simply didn’t exist.

2. Focus on the Buyer, Not on Your Business

You must resist the urge to tell the buyer all about your business in the proposal. This isn’t the place for it. This conversation should have happened already.

The proposal needs to be focused on your buyer and their business, not yours. Don’t tell them how long you’ve been in business and that you have this and that. Instead, use the opening of your proposal to re-establish the opportunity and challenge that you previously discussed with the buyer.

Longer proposals provide no extra value. They tend to talk more about YOU than they do about the buyer.

This opening (think executive summary) confirms for the buyer that you understand their business and situation and that you know how to get them from where they are now, to where they want to be.

3. Nothing New Here

Confusion leads to inaction. Make sense?

If your buyer is confused and if anything is unclear they won’t sign your proposal. That’s why you don’t want to introduce any new information in the proposal. Keep the content focus on the discussion that you had with the buyer.

Should you choose to include new information make sure it is positive – for example, maybe you’re listing all the benefits they should expect as a result of implementing your recommendations. Most of this information should have come up in the sales conversation however.

Anytime you want to add information that wasn’t discussed previously stop and ask “Is there value for my buyer to see this in the proposal now? ” and “Is this really necessary to include?” If not, cut it.

4. Structure it for Success

The most effective consulting proposals have a clear logical structure that supports the decision making process. Here is what you’ll often want to include:

  • Summary – As I wrote above this is where you summarize the challenge and opportunity and set the stage as a recap of the project as discussed with the buyer.
  • Goals – Often a list of bullet points that explain what results the buyer can expect. You can also include information on what type impact this will have for the buyer’s organization.
  • Project Details – This section is where you list project duration.
  • Responsibilities – List what you will provide and what you expect your buyer to provide to ensure the project moves forward as planned efficiently and results can be achieved.
  • Investment – Your pricing and offers.
  • Terms – How payment will be made and when, any other details regarding payment, invoicing, expenses, travel, etc.

This simple structure and approach has been proven year after year to work with consultants in all industries all around the world. If you’d like more details and guidance on writing a successful consulting proposal and to get access to proposal templates see the Consulting Success System

5. Keep it Short

A proposal is not an RFP. I don’t know any buyer that wants to receive a 30+ page proposal when they can simply get a 2-3 page one.

If your proposals are going over three pages you need to take a close look at what you’re including in them.

I’ve won $100,000+ projects with a two page proposal. Most consultants I work with and coach do the same.

Longer proposals provide no extra value. They tend to talk more about YOU than they do about the buyer.

And remember, the proposal isn’t meant to win the business. You should have already achieved agreement from the client before submitting the proposal.

The only reason you’d need to go much beyond 2-3 pages is because you’re trying to provide new information and to ‘win’ the project – if that’s you, stop. It’s unlikely offering any great benefit to your business.

6. ROI at the Front

If you want to make your proposal compelling for your buyer to take action on give them a reason to.

One of the best ways to do this is to show them how their investment will provide them with a significant return.

If your goal is to get a signed proposal in the shortest time possible keep your language clear and simple.

Focusing on value and ROI is so important. The other day I was speaking with a consultant in my coaching program and she was going to submit a proposal to a client for $60,000. She felt confident she’d win the business. She asked for my feedback and after reviewing her situation I uncovered that she was creating significantly more value than she thought. So much so that she could establish her fee at $200,000 to $250,000 and still give her client an extraordinary return.

The ROI you provide should be so great that your buyer has no qualms over your fee.

7. In vs Out

As I wrote about in Clients Want “Out”, Not “In” clients don’t want to hear all about what you’re going to do (inputs). They want to know what the end result will be (outputs).

If you’re spending too much time in your proposal talking about everything you’re going to do (and worse how you’re going to do it) you’re missing the point.

Clearly establish what your client is going to get. What can they expect? How will it benefit their business?

These are the types of questions your buyer will ask themselves. Take this chance to answer those questions for them again in the proposal so they can be confident they are making the right decision.

8. Not for Lawyers

“The company hereby employs the consultant to perform the following services in accordance with the terms and conditions set forth…” Yuck!

Seriously, that’s not how you talk, right? Certainly that’s not how most buyers talk either. Unless your goal is to confuse your client with jargon and legalese keep the legal terms and lawyer talk out of your proposal.

It doesn’t add anything except the buyer feeling like they should send your proposal to their lawyer or legal department to get their feedback on it before they sign. That’s not what you want?

If your goal is to get a signed proposal in the shortest time possible keep your language clear and simple.

Don’t be lured into using some online legal form as a base for your proposal. Having a consulting proposal is very different from having an effective consulting proposal.

One works. The other rarely does.

I hope you’ve found these 8 tips helpful. If you have please use the social media buttons to share this article.

Additional resource: The Consulting Success System now includes a complete guide on writing successful consulting proposals

Check out our fully updated Consulting Success System! Learn More and Buy Now.
  • tlmaurer

    Excellent points, Michael. Clients are interested in solutions, not processes that will be used to fix their problems and challenges. Everything is about them and their situations, not about us as consultants.

    • http://www.consultingsuccess.com Michael Zipursky

      Glad you found the post of value. Thanks for the comment.

  • Raja

    Valuable inputs, Michael, for a newbie to the consulting industry

    • http://www.consultingsuccess.com Michael Zipursky

      Welcome Raja – glad you found it valuable.

  • http://www.modelplay.ca Paul Frew

    A thought-provoking article Michael, thank you. As a business coach, I’m moving towards eliminating content from my proposals altogether. Sounds unusual, but I have found the proposal itself to be an incredibly valuable piece of work – outlining in detail the solution…for free. Doing so typically pits my proposal against 2 to 3 others, so I may have a 1-in-4 chance of winning. I believe a a better way is to become the unsurpassed expert in a particular niche, so there’s really nobody else viable for the client to go to. Sounds tough, and it is – so very much still a work in progress for my practice. But once that hard work of trust-building, positioning and brand development is established up front, along with the effective sales conversation you described, a portion of buyers will always only ever pick #1. And yes, then the proposal becomes much more of an afterthought confirming what has already been agreed to.