Your guide to writing an effective consulting proposal
A step-by-step on how to write an effective proposal for your consulting projects and services.
18 May 2021 · 7 min read
No matter what consulting services you offer, you’ll need to master the art of creating a winning proposal. In his book ‘Persuasive Business Proposals,’ author Tom Sant aptly describes the value of a great proposal:
“… winning business is what writing proposals are all about. Although a great proposal by itself seldom wins a deal, a bad proposal will definitely lose one.”
In some ways, a consulting proposal may seem like something you do out of mere formality. After all, you already have a verbal agreement. In reality, however, this simple document can make or break your budding relationship with a prospective client.
A business consulting proposal outlines all the deliverables that the client can expect within a given time frame. Surely, you cannot afford to leave something so important hanging on a verbal agreement. Remember, even if the potential client already said “yes” over the phone, there’s no official deal until they’ve signed on the dotted line.
And the only way to get that coveted signature is through a well-crafted proposal that they can’t resist. That’s exactly what this guide will cover — a step-by-step on how to write an effective proposal for your consulting projects and services. Let’s dive in!
What’s a consulting proposal?
It’s a formal document that defines the working relationship between you (the consultant) and your potential client. Its main purpose is to kickstart the client-consultant relationship by aligning your consultancy services with the client’s end goals, as well as managing each party’s expectations. Your proposal is essentially the first official document that the prospective client receives from you.
In a way, a proposal is like a sales pitch. The main difference here is that your proposal should never feel like a hard sell. Instead, it should be personalized to tackle the client’s problems and persuasive enough that they immediately see the value you’re proposing.
A consulting proposal is also an outline of your skills and experiences that make you the best fit for meeting the client’s needs, whether short-term or long-term.
Before going any further, you should know that a consulting proposal is not the same as a business proposal.
They share certain similarities, but there is one fundamental difference. In a business proposal, the parties are expected to provide services of equal value to one another.
On the other hand, a consulting proposal primarily focuses on the potential client’s needs and how the consultant can fulfill them.
Why you need to write a consulting proposal
In any formal setting, most prospective clients will often ask you to provide a proposal before they append their signature on the dotted line. This is known as a formal request for proposal (RFP). A consultant can also submit a proposal following an informal conversation or briefing about the consulting project requirements.
Either way, it’s important to put some thought into the proposal writing process. This is one of those instances where you need to get it right the first time. Here’s why:
It sets the tone for your working relationship
How the prospective client sees you starts from the quality of your proposal. As a consultant, you want to start every working relationship with the client having complete confidence in your services.
When clients see you as the boss, they’re happy to adopt your proposed solutions, allowing you to complete the project faster or at least within the specified time frame. Additionally, it powers you to compete in the market based on your unique knowledge and expertise rather than price.
To fully understand and cover all requirements
When providing any form of commercial service, the client will have their set requirements. On the other hand, you, as the supplier, will fulfill them.
If you just use some consulting proposal template without taking the time to personalize it for your prospective client’s needs, there’s bound to be confusion down the line. Perhaps unforeseen circumstances come up and you need a different approach that may require additional payments, but because you used a generic template, there’s no provision for it.
To measure results and progress
Consultancy is never a simple affair. That’s why not everyone succeeds at it. A simple case can quickly turn litigious. By putting careful thought into your proposal, you can outline problems and the methods for solving them. More importantly, you can capture the entire process and outline milestones that allow you to measure and report on the progress of the project.
This way, everyone’s on the same page. Your proposal can also serve as supporting documentation of deliverables and project success, should your working relationship turn sour.
For procedural compliance
Large organizations and government agencies often have a rigid procedure for how tender offers for consulting services are addressed. In such cases, even after receiving informal instruction, the project may not be allocated to you or paid for if your paperwork is incomplete. A formal proposal is one of those pieces of paperwork that must be filed.
The structure of a winning consulting proposal
The key to writing an effective consulting proposal is making sure it has a clear, logical structure that ties into your potential client’s business goals. This applies whether you’re writing from scratch or using a consulting proposal template.
CEOs and business managers are always busy, so your project proposal must be detailed enough to help decide right away if what you’re proposing is something their organization actually needs. With that in mind, here’s what a winning consulting proposal typically includes:
- Clearly outlined goals — The goal(s) of the work you will be doing with the client and any relevant details surrounding it must be clearly stated. This is important because it eliminates confusion that may arise down the line from miscommunication and unclear expectations.
- Your expertise background — Of course, this doesn’t mean you should turn your proposal into a resume. But it’s important to include experiences and skill sets that are directly relevant to the project at hand. This shows the prospect that you truly understand their problems and that you have what it takes to solve them.
- A timeline of what to expect — Your proposal should include a section where you break down time frames for various deliverables, as well as an overall project duration. This helps manage the client’s expectations and prevent fallouts from unwanted surprises.
While it’s important to show the client that you can complete the work in the shortest time possible, remember to give yourself some wiggle room. This allows you to deal with unexpected complications that may come up in the course of your consultancy work.
- Clear terms and conditions — These include details like pricing information, when payments are due, how payments should be made, and so on.
Before writing your consulting proposal
There are a number of questions to first ask the prospective client if you’re going to put together a killer proposal. After all, the proposal is about them. It makes sense to get as much relevant information from them as possible so your proposal can strike close to home. Here are some of the questions:
- Has your company encountered this issue before?
- How was it addressed?
- How committed are you to solving this issue?
- Who in your company should be involved in the project? In what capacity?
- How would you define success for this project?
- What’s the absolute deadline for the project?
- Are there any constraints that can affect the project?
- Are there any competing views within your organization as to the proposed action plan?
Basically, you want a firm handle on whatever challenges the client is facing, including case studies. You also want to know the level of their dedication to solving the problem and what resources they’re willing to commit. Make a strong connection with them, so you know exactly how to structure your proposed solution(s) to meet their success criteria.
Writing a winning proposal for your consulting services
#1 Decide on what platform to use
There are literally dozens upon dozens of consulting proposal templates out there today. Just remember that you don’t have to try them all — you just need one that works. Some of the more popular options include:
- Better Proposals
Many of these consulting proposal templates offer additional functionalities, such as the ability to send them directly from the platform and e-signature capabilities to fast-track the signing process. Another benefit is that they can streamline the whole proposal writing process. All you’ll need to do is customize the template to include relevant information about the client and the project.
If you’d rather not use consulting proposal templates, you can simply use a regular editor tool like Microsoft Word or Google Docs. While the writing process might not be as fast, you have wider customization opportunities, which you can take advantage of for a more stellar first impression.
#2. Start with an attention-grabbing cover page
Begin your proposal with a short overview of what you want to do for the prospective client. Your cover page is like a formal letter. It should include the client’s name, company name, date of submission, and other relevant details. Include your brand colors and logo as well to give the page some pizazz.
It’s ok to adopt a warm and somewhat personal tone here. If you’ve known the client for some time, you could address them by their first name. But if not, be sure to include the right title (Mr., Ms, Mrs, Dr., etc.) when addressing them on your cover page. Even if you’re already on a first-name basis, be sure to remain professional.
#3. Write an executive summary
The executive summary covers the client’s needs in greater detail than the introduction/cover page. It’s still a summary, of course, but here, you want to shed more light on the specific project and how you plan to solve the problems at hand. You’ll also want to include quick snapshots on time frames and metrics or benchmarks for gauging success.
Use the executive summary to explain why your consulting services are needed in the first place. Let the client know why you’re coming to them and not their competitors. It should also contain a brief introduction about your company and why it is best placed to proffer these solutions. You’ll want to be specific about the project, but not so much that you dwell on precise details like payment terms and workflows. You have the rest of the proposal for that.
#4. Problem statement
However, don’t waste the client’s time by retelling them what the problem is — they already know. Instead, use this step to outline how these problems are impacting the client’s business. This shows the client that you’ve done your homework and that you genuinely care about providing practical solutions.
Next, describe your qualifications. Basically, you’re selling yourself as the best person to get the job done. Focus on relevant details like your experience, recent training, and, if possible, case studies detailing how you have solved similar problems in the past.
Keep in mind that you’re probably not the only consultant sending a proposal. So while talking about your qualifications, highlight the measurable benefits that it brings to the client. This can give you an edge over competing consultants with similar or better qualifications.
#5. Define the project scope
This is where you delve deeper into the project details. What exactly do you intend to do to solve the client’s problems? Be as specific as possible and back up any assertions with factual data.
For example, if you’re putting together a comprehensive marketing consulting proposal, describe what you will (and won’t) work on. Are you doing content marketing but no social media? Perhaps you’re building a new and improved website but with only basic SEO.
Outline the exact results the client can expect to see from your consultancy services. Describe also what you expect from the client in order to accomplish these tasks, such as access to documents, personnel, or equipment.
#6. Add a timeline for deliverables
No project proposal is complete without a timeline. Even if this is meant to culminate in a retainer type agreement, there should be an effective end date for final deliverables until the next cycle begins. Define your milestones clearly and make sure you can deliver by the set deadlines.
#7. Break down the pricing details
Outline the costs of the project clearly. Let the client know from the onset how much you’ll charge for your services. List down each cost item and prepare a total sum figure. Include information on payment structures too, such as initial deposits, payment installments, and preferred payment methods. Again, remember that you may not be the only one submitting a proposal, so as much as possible, keep your rates competitive for your industry.
Be sure to also include any additional costs that may be incurred in the process of implementing your proposed solutions. For instance, if the consulting project requires you to travel out of state, you’ll need to include costs for transportation, accommodation, and meals for you and your team members.
To make the client more agreeable to your terms, you can include a caveat that you will present receipts for all additional expenses.
Checklist for creating the best possible consulting proposal
You’re done with the proposal writing, but the work is not yet done. Before sending the document, run it through this quick checklist and make changes as needed. Remember, you already put a lot of time and effort into crafting the perfect consulting proposal. Don’t let overlooking something you could have quickly fixed within minutes get in the way of landing that new client. [ ] You fully understand your prospective client’s needs, and your proposal articulates them perfectly
[ ] You’re sending the proposal at most one day after the RFP
[ ] Your proposal is straight to the point and easy to follow (no buzzwords and industry jargon)
[ ] There are no spelling errors or grammatical mistakes in the entire document
[ ] You’ve clearly articulated why you are the best consultant for the job
[ ] The project scope is clear on what deliverables are included and what is not
[ ] Your pricing information is clear to the client
[ ] Your client will understand what is initially needed on their end to get the project rolling
You can also improve your chances of closing the deal by sending a follow-up to the client a few days after submitting the proposal. It’s likely that they’re swamped with running their business and have not had time to review your proposal thoroughly. By maintaining an open communication channel with the client and sending follow-ups, you stand a better chance of edging out competitors who don’t.
Writing an effective consulting proposal can often be viewed as a time-consuming, tedious process. Done correctly, however, a well-written proposal is one of the best ways to secure new clients for your business.
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