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Proposal Writing for Small Businesses


“Did you spend hours and hours in the corporate world producing those long, glossy proposal documents to win new business?” 

This usually meant writing pages and pages that showcase what the company offers, what the project will entail, the breakdown of the investment…all of which is fine when the corporate world is paying for your time to produce it, and it’s what the client expects and wants. But do you still need to do that when you run your own business – or is there a better way to secure your ideal clients, and free up all that time into the bargain? 

At our August meeting, Dave Greenaway – our resident expert mentor in sales and marketing – shared his top tips for increasing sales and building powerful relationships with our clients. He also spoke about rethinking how you present a proposal when you’re a small business, and he shared his method for attracting the right clients and sealing those deals. 

Find the Right Clients

“If your respective expectations of cost and delivery are miles apart, then you can both look elsewhere pretty quickly.”

The first thing to consider is who you’re talking to – and you can whittle down those potential clients quite quickly if you set expectations early on. Get your pricing right and you will know where you’re pitching your services – which you can then communicate to potential clients. The easiest way to do this is to have standard service packages that you can reel off during a conversation or share with them via a link to your website. 

The other way – and this is particularly useful if you work on individual quotations – is to prepare a short account of a client you’ve helped before, as a way of illustrating what you can do for them, and a ballpark cost. 

“Communicate this early on,” says Dave, “and you will know at the earliest stage whether you’re the right fit for each other – particularly if they’re not looking to spend what you’ll be charging. If your respective expectations of cost and delivery are miles apart, then you can both look elsewhere pretty quickly; but if you’re on the same wavelength, it’s time to move on to the formal proposal process.”

Cut to the Chase 

“One of the first things I did was to take away the word proposal

“However long a proposal document is, and however glossy, you can guarantee that the first page your reader will turn to is the one with the final price on it. If that figure doesn’t fit with their broad expectation, it will colour how they read the rest – and how long they spend on looking through it. I would spend hours crafting, finessing, and presenting a proposal, and it frustrated me tremendously that this could be effort wasted – so I had to think about what was really needed. 

“One of the first things I did was to take away the word “proposal” and change it to “Discussion Document” – it became a thinned down version of conversations and questions I’ve answered when I’ve spoken with clients, and what we’ve covered. It includes the price of course, and the key elements of what’s included, but I purposely cut it from many pages of content to just a few because I don’t want that document to do the selling on my behalf. I sell me – and I do that in the second part of the proposals package.

Make Conversation Part of the Package

“By the time we get to the meeting, we both know where we’re coming from.”

Dave doesn’t send out the Discussion Document to anyone unless he’s got a date in the diary to discuss it, which must be within 48 hours of sending it out. “A client asks for a proposal, and my response will be, ‘I’ll do one better than that – let’s set a meeting for when we can talk about it, and you can ask any questions you’ve got – and I’ll send you a Discussion Document a couple of days beforehand.’”

Ahead of the meeting, draft up your Discussion Document and then send it no more than 48 hours before, at the same time as confirming the meeting. This reminds them of the appointment and presents them with everything they need to know before it starts. 

“By the time we get to the meeting, we both know where we’re coming from, and they’ve had a chance to come up with questions about their particular project – so we’re clear on what I’m asking from them, what they’re asking for from me, and whether it’s going to work for them or not. 

“I’ve crafted this approach over time and have found that most clients actually prefer it to receiving a detailed proposal document. The Meeting and Discussion Document approach is still a proposal, but with much less detail to cut through, and they have dedicated time to talk about specifics that apply to them. It also puts the ball in my court to answer questions and convince them of all the reasons we should work together, rather than leaving it all up to them to come back to me after reading the document. 

“This approach sets me apart from competitors as well. I’m offering clear information, in a short document that’s attached to a meeting – a conversation – where we’ll be talking specifics about them. There aren’t many businesses who don’t default to the corporate approach, whatever their business size.”

Give Dave’s approach a try for your own business – we’d love to hear your success stories! 

Our membership meetings are held twice a month, but we welcome non-members once a month at our Open Spa Guest Events. If you’d like to come along and see what it’s all about – and to share in the expertise of our associate coaches – we’d love to have you. 

Dave is also one of our associate coaches and we’re excited to be offering 6 months’ 1-1 coaching with him as part of our Indulgent Spa membership – get in touch for more information.