The Consulting Proposal: A Guide to What It Can and Can’t Do

Proposal Writing Consultants

Over the years I’ve found that many consultants misunderstand the real purpose and place of a consulting proposal.

The consulting proposal’s job isn’t to ‘win’ the client, you should have already ‘sold’ the client on your services before submitting the proposal.

In this article I plan to shed light on eight of the most common misunderstandings around proposals and provide guidance and best-practices that you can use in your business.

(If you enjoy this article and know anyone that uses proposals as part of their work why not share it with them by clicking the share buttons on the left.)

1) Purpose
You submit a proposal to summarize all the key points of agreement that you and your client have been discussing. The consulting proposal’s job isn’t to ‘win’ the client, you should have already ‘sold’ the client on your services before submitting the proposal.

2) Timing
A consulting proposal should only be submitted right before the work is to begin. Don’t make the common mistake of submitting your proposal too early in the process and before you’ve established that you are the right person for the project.

3) True Buyer
Who is the real, true buyer of your services? The best proposal in the world won’t win you business if you’ve been talking to the wrong person all along. In your discussions before submitting a proposal make sure you’re talking directly with the person that makes the decisions and can write you a check. That’s the true buyer and no one else.

4) Credibility
As with the True Buyer, your proposal isn’t meant to establish your credibility. Your marketing activities, including all forms of thought leadership, and relationship building should have taken care of this before you send your proposal.

An amateur mistake is not including a clear explanation of the value and return on investment the client will receive from your services.

5) New Information
This is another big ‘no-no’. As mentioned above, your proposal’s purpose is to re-state the points of agreement that you and your client have discussed previously. Entering new information in your proposal is like placing a roadblock for your client, because they now have to come back to you to clarify the new information. And in the proposal process, where getting your clients signature and check is the ultimate goal, any disruptions in the flow of this process should be avoided.

6) Simple Language
Whether your consulting proposal is in English or another language, the best proposals are the ones written in plain simple language. The proposal templates I’ve provided in the Consulting Proposal Guide use clear and easy to understand English. The language in your proposal should be no different than how you’ve spoken to your client during your discussions. You really don’t need a lawyer to create a fancy contract for you filled with legalese. It complicates things instead of clarifying them.

7) Value and ROI
An amateur mistake is not including a clear explanation of the value and return on investment the client will receive from your services. If you can’t articulate what the value of your services is, how can you confidently offer them? Just as important, without this understanding you’ll likely be leaving tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars on the table by under pricing your services and not aligning them to the value and ROI you will provide.

8) Options
Do you like vanilla ice cream? Maybe you do, maybe you don’t. Chocolate may be your preference. If one ice cream vendor offered you only vanilla, and another offered you vanilla or chocolate, which do you think would win your business? Answer: the second vendor. It’s the same with consulting proposals. Every proposal should provide the buyer with options of varying value and level of services. By only giving the buyer one option you’re pretty much saying to them “take it or leave it” and if they decide to ‘leave it’ you’ve lost the business. By providing options you increase your chances of getting client acceptance on the project, and often, make far more money when your client chooses a higher priced option.

For proposal templates and a detailed explanation of all elements of a successful consulting proposal, see the Consulting Proposal Guide.

  • George An

    Most definitely one of the best pieces I’ve read on the consulting proposal process. Thank you and look forward to more articles.

    • Thanks George, glad you found this article helpful. I’ll be writing more on proposals soon.

  • NF

    Great tips Michael, thank you. All of them especially point 7 on value and ROI is a crucial factor new folk like me in the business often forget!

    • NF – my pleasure and welcome to the community here 🙂 ROI is a critical point so I’m glad you took notice on it.

  • Dave

    Great article and an incredibly fitting title image! I just sent off a proposal and I think I hit on most of these points, but will be reviewing them again before my next proposal.

  • Alex B.

    Good tips. I would add to this that one must have the budget parameters before submitting the proposal. Don’t fall for the “you tell us how much it might cost.” You will be shooting yourself in the foot if you provide them a thorough and extensive proposal of work and the price exceeds what they think is reasonable…they won’t get past reading the price tag to consider how valuable the work done so well might be. Best to have that discussion in person up front so that the proposal’s scope and cost will align with expectations.

    • Alex – Thanks for the comment! Exactly, you want to have covered all the key points of the project before you start working on the proposal.

  • Just sent out a bid proposal today – before I read this.
    I think I unknowingly managed to hit dead on with every point – AND the bid was accccepted, with only minor price-point negotiations.

    • Tom welcome to the community here and congratulations on your proposal!

  • Dave

    Do you have any advice on when to follow up after you have sent a proposal? I sent 1 3 days ago and have not heard back. I was thinking of calling Monday to see if they had any questions.

    • Dave – you should follow up. Next time I suggest that you have a date set with your client that you’ll call then to review or check in if you haven’t heard from them arranged in the proposal or the letter you attach to it when you send it. That way if you need to follow up it’s an agreed to action that doesn’t come with the downsides of having to ‘chase’ the client. But follow up is key.