How to Write and Deliver a Consulting Proposal (Guide)
As an independent contractor, proposals are a strategic tool you can use to find and retain new clients and projects.
Whether you decide to write your own or are responding to a more formal Request for Proposal (RFP) from a client, the ability to craft a standout proposal can help you clarify your company’s mission and vision, gain a better understanding of your competitors, improve the way you approach your service offerings, and ultimately win new business.
A strong proposal offers a clear solution to a client’s problem, addresses specific questions they ask, and provides them with insight into your skills and capabilities. In this guide, you’ll learn the best practices for writing, responding to, and evaluating a proposal.
In this guide, you will learn
How to prepare for the proposal
Before writing your proposal, it is essential to have a firm understanding of your client’s needs. You should be familiar with their business, challenges, and goals for the project.
There is nothing more frustrating than spending the time to write a proposal only to discover that the client’s needs to not align with your skills, they do not have the budget to hire you, or they were only seeking price comparisons to leverage a better deal from a current vendor.
A written proposal should validate the information you have already discussed with the client. Taking the time to interview the client before writing your proposal will set you apart from the competition and will help you to create a proposal that is targeted and specific.
Preparing a list of potential questions in advance of writing your proposal will ensure you have a clear understanding of the client’s needs and goals, and help avoid any misunderstanding.
A proposal should formalize in writing what has already been discussed and agreed upon.
YOUR POTENTIAL CLIENT SHOULD ALREADY:
- See the value in working with you
- Have access to a budget and a willingness to spend
- Be committed to making a decision within a given timeframe
PRE-PROPOSAL INTERVIEW QUESTIONS
Here are a few sample questions to use during a pre-proposal interview:
- What current challenge is your business is facing?
- What challenges are your industry facing?
- What goals do you want to achieve for this project? What would success look like for you?
- When did you first identify this business problem?
- What steps have you taken to address the problem? What was the outcome?
- What current information or resources does your company have to solve this problem?
- To ensure success, will my consultancy have full access to the stakeholders involved in this project?
- Are you only seeking recommendations or do you also want help executing those recommendations?
- What is your timeline for the project (start date, duration, etc.)?
- Do you foresee any obstacles that may impede proposed recommendations?
- Do you have a budget for the project?
- Who will be evaluating the proposals?
- Are there any other objectives that you want to achieve?
A discussion letter can help move you to the next step and validate your professionalism. However, if a client is unwilling to invest time to discuss the project, it is probably not worth the effort to write a discussion letter. A client that is committed to finding a solution is more likely to invest time in the process.
If your potential client wants to see something in writing in advance of a pre-proposal interview, consider sending a discussion letter.
In this letter:
- Summarize your understanding of the situation
- Outline the critical questions that must be answered before you can suggest a firm solution
- Provide a few possible approaches
- Remind them the next step is to figure out the best path for moving forward
How to avoid 10 proposal writing mistakes
Writing a proposal is a big investment of time and effort on your part. After gathering all of the details, information, and research you need, sitting down and putting everything in words can be challenging. When drafting a proposal, you want your writing to be clear, focused, and to-the-point. A great proposal should make a client excited about your recommended solution and leave them with a clear vision of what you have in mind. Take note of these 10 common writing mistakes to craft a stand-out proposal.
10 Writing mistakes to keep in mind
- Selling price rather than benefits: Sending a client a price quote as a response to a written or spoken request is a common mistake. Prices don’t sell; benefits sell.
- General information: Another common mistake is to utilize brochure copy or general sales information in your proposal. While some of this information may be appropriate to include, proposals should be written for a specific client. Your proposal needs to address their specific needs, problem, and how your
services can help.
- Failing to sell your services: Clearly articulate why the client should select you. The client may be evaluating multiple proposals and then choosing the best one. Does your proposal say why they should choose you?
- Writing to win: Too many proposals focus on presenting information in a pretty format without a clear focus on the end goal—winning the business. When writing a proposal, consider what it will take to win the business and ensure your proposal answers that question.
- Burying the lead: Many professionals will write in a linear manner, carefully crafting proof points that lead to a conclusion. In proposal writing, the reverse is preferable. Clients shouldn’t have to read through an entire proposal to get to the point. Begin with the result or benefit you will achieve, and then substantiate that conclusion. This allows the client to read the remainder of your document within the context of your overall goal.
- Corporate jargon: Even within the same industry, the client may not be familiar with the jargon you use. Ensure you use clear language that can be understood by anyone evaluating the proposal. Write to be understood, rather than to impress with your mastery of insider lingo.
- No call to action: What do you want your potential client to do after reviewing the proposal? Be sure to include a strong, clear call to action. You can include your call to action in your opening cover letter.
- It’s all about you: Your proposal should sell you as the best person for the job and that means owning your results. However, a proposal that is all about you will be an instant turn-off to the client. Instead, keep the focus on your potential client and how they will benefit from the solution you are offering. A good test is to print your proposal and highlight each occurrence of “I,” “We,” or the name of your consultancy. Then, reword these instances as needed to keep the focus on the client. For example, instead of “I will provide XYZ,” say “you will receive.” The goal is not to eliminate every personal reference, but simply to ensure that the proposal is not all about you.
- No contact information: After you’ve gone to the hard work of crafting a proposal, don’t forget to include your contact information.
- No clear solution: A common mistake is to present a lot of information without a clear demonstration of what you actually plan on doing to solve the client’s problem. Including a solid, well thought out presentation of how your consultancy can provide solutions is critical.
How to address pricing in your proposal
One of the key elements in your proposal is pricing. How will you charge your prospective client for the project? Hourly rates are not the only way to bill for services and, in some cases, can work against you.
In fact, charging an hourly rate can result in clients comparing competitive bids by price rather than by value. Instead, consider fixedrate pricing. With fixed-price work, you agree to deliver a defined scope of work for a specific duration or outcome for a definitive price.
There are advantages and disadvantages to every pricing strategy and you may find that a combination of approaches will work best for your consultancy. To help evaluate whether or not fixed-rate pricing is the right method for you, consider the following pros and cons.
One way to leverage the pros and minimize the risk of fixed-rate projects is to base payments on milestones and deliverables. This will help ensure you and the client are on the same page and allow for easier conversations and adjustments if the client wants to add in or change any requirements along the way. When determining a fixed-rate price, it is important to be transparent. Show the client how you arrived at the fixed rate, include your estimated number of hours, and take the time to create a plan for how to handle additional hours or out-of-scope requests.
How to evaluate the RFP
As an independent contractor, you may have the opportunity to respond to a RFP from a potential client. Whether you cultivate this opportunity or are invited to do so by the client, there are a few things to consider before responding.
The RFP process can be time consuming. Depending on the organization, there may be very specific requirements in the information you must provide and the format in which you must provide it.
However, the RFP process can be beneficial because it provides clear expectations about the project.
Consider the following key points to help evaluate whether or not you should bid on an RFP.
Size and scope: Consider the size and scope of the project. Is the project worth the time and costs involved in preparing your proposal response? Carefully weigh the costs and benefits to determine if your effort is worth the potential gain.
Real opportunity: There are times when companies use the RFP process as a Request for Information. In this case, the company may be reviewing services in the marketplace and not actually accepting bids. Some organizations may also use the RFP process to leverage a competitive price from their current vendor. Do
- Does the company already have a vendor in place? If so, is their contract up for renewal?
- Has the company undergone the RFP process in the past but stayed with the current vendor?
Open call: An open call for bids can result in hundreds of competitors submitting a bid, which can have a direct impact on your ability to close the deal and win the business. RFPs that invite a small group of select bidders are far more ideal.
Best fit: Before you submit a proposal, take time to evaluate if your specific skills truly are a match for the client. Can you realistically meet their needs, or will you need to partner with another independent or outsource certain tasks?
Value: Before taking the time to craft a proposal, assess how winning the business will impact you. Is it a business that would add to your portfolio? Will you be able to leverage the project for business in the future? Look beyond the dollar value and assess what it is worth for you. Clear guidelines and expectations: Are the RFP guidelines and expectations clearly outlined? If the RFP is vague or unclear, it will impact your ability to write a winning proposal.
Timing: It is important to consider the amount of time you have to invest in writing a proposal. Remember, responding to an RFP can be a labor-intensive process. Assess your current workload and schedule to ensure that you truly have the time needed to craft a response.
Proposals are a great way to secure new projects as an independent consultant and may even open the door to repeat business down the road. But remember, it is always important to first determine if the specific request is worth your effort. Writing a good proposal takes time, precision, and lots of editing. With practice, however, proposal writing will come more naturally and you will be able to find a process that works well within your industry and for your company. Soon you will be able to confidently identify the right opportunities, write strategically, and craft a proposal that will bring in new work to grow your business.
The following sample proposal is partially completed and intended to be used as a guide for creating your own.
100 Business Drive | Washington DC, 20010
T 202 · 000 · 1000
F 202 · 123 · 4567
XYZ Corporation Proposal for Mini-Site
Date Prepared: Month Day, Year
Prepared for: John Doe, ABC Corporation
Proposal Expires: 01/01/20XX
Dear [Client Name]:
Use this section as a short introduction to the proposal. Provide a high-level overview of the client problem and briefly describe what your proposal addresses.
ABC Consulting is pleased to present this proposal with the goal to increase media visibility with targeted media outlets, actively promote XYZ Company speaking events, and establish subject-matter expertise for software development.
The proposed process defined in the following pages includes public relations and media relations strategies, proposed timelines, and project pricing. Recognizing both the short proposal development and review windows, we have created a concise, direct proposal. Once you have had the opportunity to review, we look
forward to meeting with you to finalize next steps.
Use this section to describe your solution.
The project will begin with an in-person kickoff meeting attended by key members of the XYZ Company and ABC Consulting project teams. This meeting will introduce team members, build consensus around the focus of the project, and ensure that project objectives are clearly defined before work begins. The agenda for this meeting will include a discussion of project objectives, technical considerations, brand, user experience, audience segmentation, and information needs.
ABC Consulting will work with XYZ Company to develop media campaigns and pitch angles to reach target audiences with a specific focus on a key group of tier-one media outlets. ABC Consulting will be responsible for writing press releases and other press documents as appropriate.
PLAN AND MESSAGE DEVELOPMENT
XYZ Company and ABC Consulting will agree on public relations priorities and plans. ABC Consulting will refine company messaging with a focus on consumer media, bloggers, technology press, and business publications.
Use this section to present a timeline for your project. You can include key milestones and deliverables. The following timeline is intended to provide general direction for initial project planning.
The following estimated project cost of $22,000.00 represents a time and materials bid, and reflects a blended hourly rate of $175/hour per resource. The PR program will be funded between $10,000 to $15,000 per month to support a program that will include message refinement, planning, creative campaigns, and
media and influencer outreach. Additional costs for the formal launch or independent research will be jointly agreed upon. ABC Consulting will bill XYZ Company at the beginning of each month for services to be performed during that month. All invoices are payable to ABC Consulting on a net thirty (30) day basis.
EXPERIENCE AND QUALIFICATIONS
In this section, describe your experience and qualifications relevant to the client’s project. You may include a brief bio, resume, and samples or testimonials of past work.
ABOUT ABC CONSULTING
For the past 25 years, ABC Consulting has successfully helped clients achieve their public relations and media goals with a simple formula—we focus on working with clients where we can deliver results. XYZ Company will be an important part of our business, and would receive the direct attention of lifestyle PR veteran Jane Doe.
We can uniquely and cost-effectively serve XYZ Company’s needs by having senior-level consumer PR expertise working on your account daily. Our PR experts will be involved in everything from strategy to tactical implementation.
CLIENTS AND BRANDS
Since our founding in 1992, ABC Consulting has been fortunate enough to work with a number of clients and brands that we admire and respect. The following provides a small, representative sampling.
MEDIA EXPERIENCE AND EXPERTISE
ABC Consulting’s experience in journalism and PR allows us to regularly place stories in top tier consumer, business, technology, and lifestyle publications. Established media relationships include:
- National press, and consumer and business publications
- Top national broadcast media
- Lifestyle and consumer-oriented press
- Technology and IT press
Jane Doe: Jane has more than 16 years of marketing, communications, and public relations experience running core and strategic programs. She is results-oriented and media-savvy, leveraging new social mediums to continually secure interviews and coverage in multiple business, consumer, technology, and vertical
publications. Her thoughtful approach to communications and a “roll-up-your-sleeves” attitude have helped to land numerous young companies on the map.
ABC Consulting Account Director
Name: Jane Doe
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