How to Write a Killer Business Proposal

Don't underestimate the crucial step of proofreading when preparing a business proposal.

Writing a business proposal
Reel in your next big contract with an expertly prepared business proposal.

Don’t underestimate the crucial step of proofreading when preparing a business proposal.

You’re sure you’ve got the resources, the experience and the know-how to reel in a big contract, but all of that won’t mean squat if you can’t prove it when it counts. For advice on responding successfully to a request for proposals, we consulted with Jim Bornholdt, director of supply chain management for the City of Vancouver; Vlad Konieczny, business writing instructor with SFU’s continuing education program; and Carol Hastie, director of clients and markets for McCarthy Tétrault LLP in Vancouver.


Read the fine print

Before you start drafting the mother of all proposals, take some time to carefully go through the RFP. “It seems very basic, but it’s amazing how many people don’t read it and don’t really know what it is they’re bidding on,” remarks Bornholdt, who adds that most RFPs will also spell out the evaluation criteria that will decide the winning bid. It takes time to pull together a proposal, and if your firm isn’t able to meet those requirements, you’re better off taking a pass. 


Prove your worth

It’s all very well to talk about what you can do, but make sure to prove that you’ve actually done it before – and done it well. Even if it’s not specified in the RFP, Hastie recommends tossing in some testimonials and references from previous clients. “That, to me, shows that you’re confident and that you can back up what you’re saying,” she points out. “If you can throw that in there in addition to what you’re saying you can do, it adds more credibility.”


Do your research

Proving you’re a perfect match for your prospective client starts with getting to know them. “Do some research on the prospect,” offers Hastie. “What’s their mission statement? What’s their approach to charitable giving or diversity?” If you can identify areas in which you and your target see eye to eye, it’ll help you make the case that you’re the perfect fit. “As one who reads proposals, I always tip my hat to the people who made that effort,” adds Bornholdt.

Throw in some extras

Everyone likes getting a bit more than they bargained for, so don’t be shy about adding a little something special into the mix. “Obviously, you want to articulate ways you can add value, additional things you can offer that you think would be beneficial to that prospect,” says Hastie. Just make sure they’re clearly spelled out as such. “Don’t add in things in the base price that weren’t asked for,” advises Bornholdt. 



It might seem unfair, but all the hours of work you’ve put into crafting the perfect bid can be destroyed by something as seemingly minor as a spelling error. “Credibility is critical to this, and credibility comes down to things like typos,” observes Konieczny. “Anything that detracts from your presentation is really important.” Bornholdt, who has seen proposals that have misspelled the client’s name, concurs: “If it’s unsophisticated and it’s full of typos and bad grammar, it’s like a bad smell in the room. You get turned off right away and you can’t get past it.”