To propose, or not to propose? Part II

The meaningful conversations have been had. You understand what’s going on in your client’s world and, you’ve discussed how you and your firm are able to attend to their issue / solve their problem. You’ve also discussed timelines, resources, and money. All that’s left to do is submit a proposal that formalises the content of your discussions and you’re good to go. When it comes to putting pen to paper, what are the most important aspects of your proposal in business development?

Most proposals are poorly written, include a lot of unnecessary information and are far too long. Remember, less is more! Busy decision makers spend as little as five minutes per proposal. So, what will they look at in those five minutes? Executives typically focus on just two sections of a proposal:

  1. Executive summary, and
  2. Fee structure.

The irony is these are often the two sections of a proposal that are left to the end and in many cases, involve the least amount of attention. So, I encourage you to put greater emphasis on your executive summary and fee structure.

Consider these points when writing your Executive Summary

  • This section gives decision-makers a quick overview of your proposal so they can decide whether or not to engage you.
  • It includes a short statement that addresses the problem you’ll solve, includes some background information, and a conclusion.
  • Generally, the length of this sections should be between five to 10 percent of the length of your entire proposal.
  • Know your audience, using language that is appropriate for the target audience.
  • Be clear about the need or the problem and why it must be addressed; next, recommend your solution as well as the value in you doing so.
  • Whatever you do, don’t add any additional information in the Executive Summary that is not related to the content of the proposal that follows.

The following are some questions to consider as you start to pull together your proposal:

Brief / Situation (Why?)

  • What help is the client requesting?
  • Why can’t they solve it themselves?
  • Is there a connection to previous client problem solved by your firm?
  • What are the stated and unstated needs?
  • What is at stake for the client? Consider value protection, risk, value extraction, growth?

Scope (What?)

  • What is in and out of scope?
  • What are the main boundaries?
  • What are the specific frameworks / models relevant to assist the client?
  • Why are these frameworks applicable?
  • How will they help address the client needs?

Approach (How?)

  • What will be our approach?
  • What are the required stages, including early quick wins?
  • What are the expected outcomes of each stage and link to value and/or risk?
  • What are the deliverables within each stage?
  • What activities are required to produce the deliverables?
  • Who needs to complete these activities (client and/or us)?

Schedule (When?)

  • What is the detailed schedule for each work package?
  • Does the client have any time constraints or deadlines to meet?
  • What delivery can be done in parallel?
  • Has an integrated schedule been produced showing key milestones?

Risks (What if?)
What implementation risks and controls do we wish to communicate and help position our capability?

Team (Who?)

  • Who is the client sponsor?
  • Who is the client lead(s)?
  • What capability is required to deliver?
  • How much capacity will be required given the schedule?
  • What client resources do we need embedded for capability uplift and to include in the proposal?
  • What experience, skills and attributes are required in the client resource to include?
  • Do we have a current one-page CV for the individuals being included in the team?

Differentiation (Why us?)

  • Could we include video biographies to differentiate our proposal?
  • How can we showcase our point of differences?
  • Who are we likely competing with and how do we best differentiate our value proposition?

Investment (How much?)

  • What is the anticipated ROI?
  • What value are we unlocking and is there a strong business case for this investment?
  • What are the main risks for us?
  • Have we allowed contingency in a fixed price proposal given the risks for us?
  • What investment options can we offer that the client might find useful?
  • What are the specific terms and conditions to state in the commercials?

Case studies (Reinforce the ‘who’)

  • What work have we done before like this to mention in the proposal?
  • What work have we done with this particular client (to build trusted partner status)?

Q & A

  • Has a principal reviewed the draft proposal and provided feedback?
    Has the formatting throughout been checked?
  • Is the template current? Colour pallet? Alignment of graphics? Best choice of words? Font size?
  • Spellcheck?


This checklist by Rain Group, is one I came across years ago and one I share with clients to help them in preparing their own proposals:

  • Do I focus on the client immediately?
  • Is the quality and image projected reflective of our firm quality and image?
  • Do I depict solutions graphically and verbally?
  • Do I emphasise our expertise without overwhelming them with content?
  • Will anything surprise the client?
  • Is the timing of this proposal right, or is it too early?
  • Do I communicate the value of the solution as well as I outline the features?
  • Is the fee structure clear?
  • Do I include a place for the client to sign?
  • Is my legal documentation and ‘back-matter’ a hindrance to the sale?
  • If I were the client, would I find this compelling and sign it?

Before you hit ‘send’ and submit the proposal, hit ‘pause’ and get a fresh set of eyes to review your proposal. I guarantee you’ll get some helpful feedback which will help you to put your best foot forward.