How to Write a Proposal

How to Write a Proposal Like the Top 5% (Plus a FREE Proposal Template)

Start writing proposals and earning money using proven techniques from the top 5% of consultants

I spent 9 years writing proposals for a Fortune 50 company.

I did it wrong the first 7 of those years.

I’d spend tons of time stuffing proposals full of details about experience, methodology, case studies, and portfolio examples.

For all my effort, I’d only close 25% to 33% of these sales.

I got frustrated with the results – so I started studying how to write a proposal from the best consultants.

And what I found out revolutionized my approach and dramatically improved my results!

I spent less time writing proposals, won more bids, and actually had fun applying what I learned!

This same approach can be used by freelance web developers and designers to grow their business.

By the end of this article, you will:

#1: Understand why average proposals get average results

#2: Learn key insights used by the top 5% of consultants to get extraordinary results with their proposals

#3: Improve your own proposal results by applying what you learn (FREE proposal template download)

So let’s get started…


How to Write a Project Proposal the Average Way

Let’s face it.

Writing proposals can be painful.

They almost always take more time to write than we’d like and we don’t always win the work.

The problem is that most proposals are average. Here’s what the typical structure of a proposal looks like:

  1. Introduction
  2. Methodology / Approach
  3. Deliverables
  4. Budget and Timeline
  5. Project Authorization / Approval
  6. Appendices (e.g., Bios)

At first glance, this structure makes sense and seems efficient.

But let’s consider what kind of content usually fills each section:

The introduction looks to overwhelm the prospect with lots of detail about our great services. It often includes a long list of examples of prior work.

The methodology section lays out the plan for getting the work done. Often, we put the entire blueprint for each and every project task – all 10 sections with 3 parts each and 42 sub-parts.

Next, the deliverables section lists all of the “stuff” we plan to create and deliver to the prospect. We note every draft and final version of slides, reports, and files. We also anticipate project management details like conference calls, email and phone communication.

Then, the budget and timeline section contains a detailed table with each project step along with its associated timeline and cost.

The project authorization / approval section contains the payment terms aligned with a list of associated deliverables. It also includes signature lines for approval.

Finally, the appendices contain more information that highlights our ability to do the kind of work we propose. Team bios and portfolio examples often fill appendices.

Technically, there’s nothing wrong with the above approach. It provides a lot of good information for the prospect to review and evaluate as he or she decides whether or not to award us the project.

But if we want to drive exceptional results…

…if we want to learn how to write a proposal like the top 5% of consultants…

…we need a different approach.

How to Make a Proposal That Stands Out

The top 5% of consultants have figured out 3 things to achieve their consistent results:

  1. Assume the prospect already views them as an expert
  2. Ask the prospect great questions
  3. Write a proposal that focuses on the prospect’s needs

#1: Assume the prospect already views them as an expert

Much of the average proposal is spent trying to convince prospects we are experts.

Each proposal attempts to summarize our years of experience as proof we can handle the job.

But what if we could just assume our prospect already thinks of us as an expert?

It may sound crazy, but that’s exactly what happens in most circumstances.

Your business prospects tend to assume you are an expert; you don’t always need to try to convince them.

Think about it…

We are experts compared with our prospects. We are technical and design wizards who know tons more about our subject than they do.

But we don’t often fully appreciate the depth of our expertise.

As a result, we feel the need to make a strong sales pitch about our capabilities.

In my experience, this pitch is often unnecessary. We should only document our capabilities when prospects specifically ask for these details.

Instead, we should spend our time asking great questions.

#2: Ask the prospect great questions

Most proposals are written without enough information from the prospect.

Freelancers and consultants tend to make a ton of assumptions when writing proposals.

First, they make assumptions about the project objectives.

For example, it’s easy to assume a prospect’s request for an “updated website” includes implementing a full responsive design. But what if they’re really only looking for color and font changes?

Or we might assume our prospect wants to increase conversions when their real desire is to automate processes that are time consuming.

We need to clarify the prospect’s project objectives from their perspective, not our own. 

Second, freelancers and consultants make assumptions about what the customer truly values.

For example, a prospect comes to us with a list of design changes for their e-commerce site. He is expecting increased conversions from the changes. We realize a different layout would be a more effective way to increase conversions. We are better able to help by understanding what the client really values.

Here is something to always keep in mind:

Value is subjective – everyone values everything differently.

The top 5% of consultants have figured this out. They don’t waste time on things they think are valuable to their prospects. Rather, they get their prospects to tell them exactly what they value.

And then they write proposals that promise to deliver that value.

Value usually relates to money, time, or emotion.

We’re not just building or redesigning a website for our clients… we are delivering more sales through an advanced user interface and simplified navigation.

We’re not just adding a shopping cart… we’re monetizing their website in new ways.

We’re not just creating a new database… we’re eliminating wasted time and frustration from daily site edits by automating content updates.

You see… it’s these kinds of links between our work and our prospect’s business we want to make whenever possible.

Our work = more money, less time, and/or less frustration for our prospect or their customers.

(Find out how to determine the value of your services from your customer’s perspective HERE)

#3: Write a proposal that focuses on the prospect’s needs

Remember the average proposal is full of information that focuses on us and our business.

In contrast, top proposals focus on our prospect’s business and goals. Winning proposals are full of copy that covers topics we discussed with our prospect about objectives and value.

The written proposal simply structures what we learned in a way that resonates with the prospect.

And we do not have to write dozens and dozens of pages with detail after detail.

After all, do prospects really want to read through all the detail provided in most proposals?


But more often than not, they are interested in the results we will generate for them.

Many times, prospects do not understand much of the technical detail included –  remember, we are the experts.

Also, the approach we select to achieve the desired results is often irrelevant to the prospect. That gives us flexibility to do things the way we see best – even if that changes mid-project.



Sample of a Project Proposal – Plus a FREE Proposal Template Download!

Here we provide a detailed description of the different sections of a value-based proposal framework.

You can apply how to write a proposal like the top 5% immediately in your own web development or web design business by downloading our FREE value-based proposal template HERE:

Get FREE Proposal Template!


SECTION #1: Situational Appraisal

The situational appraisal briefly highlights changes in the environment or the prospect’s business needs that have created their desire for the proposed work.

We can paint a picture of how the deliverable(s) from our service add value in terms of time, money, and/or emotional benefit. This is information we have gathered in our up-front discussions with the prospect about what objective they have and what they value.

Here’s an example:

Acme Plumbing (Acme), a plumbing business, is looking to grow their business by reaching more customers without increasing advertising spend.

A recent study highlights the power of referrals for growing any service business. The survey indicates that 83% of consumers are willing to refer after a positive experience – yet only 29% actually do. People are 4 times more likely to buy when referred by a friend. In addition, 92% of respondents trusted referrals from people they knew.

Given the power of referrals in these statistics, Acme is looking to implement several automated systems for acquiring referrals. They currently have no systems in place for acquiring referrals besides “word of mouth.”

SECTION #2: Project Objectives

List the agreed-upon goals the prospect expects to achieve by the end of the project.

Here’s an example:

This proposal defines an effort to build automated systems to acquire referrals and generate new business for Acme.

The primary objectives of the project include:

  • Develop automated systems to utilize existing customers' social networks to refer others to Acme
  • Integrate Acme with online review aggregators

SECTION #3: Measures of Success

This section describes the measures of success throughout the project and at completion.

It is very easy to make assumptions about what “success” means.

On-time and on-budget are at the top of the list. However, it is much more helpful to know how the customer defines success and write those in this section.

Here’s an example:

Our metrics will include:

  • Number of new social networks Acme can access each month
  • Number of review aggregators that include Acme each month
  • Number of new customers acquired through social network referral each month
  • Number of new customers acquired through review aggregators each month

SECTION #4: Value to the Prospect

Here we speak directly to the value of our work to the prospect. We state project objectives in terms of benefits the prospect gains or problems we solve.

Here's an example:

The value to Acme will include:

  • Reduction in advertising spend for new customer acquisition
  • Increasing quantity of business acquired through referrals
  • Automated systems in place that do not require personnel hours to manage (i.e., “set and forget”)

SECTION #5: Methodology (and Options)

Next, we put information about how we will get the work done.

Remember, we are experts and know our options for achieving the project objectives.

But if we document one specific option, we lose the flexibility to adjust our approach mid-project. As such, we include a top-level description only in this section.

Also, this is where we introduce OPTIONS for our prospect. In doing so, our proposal no longer presents a "yes-no" decision to our prospect. Rather, it offers only suggestions on "how to use" our services. Each option offers additional value to the customer, not just a higher price.

Here’s an example:

Option 1: Develop automated system to utilize existing customers' social networks with customer receipts to refer others to Acme. Integrate Acme with the top online review aggregator.

Option 2: Includes everything in Option #1, plus we introduce email campaigns to complement social network activity. In addition, we will automate the process of including Acme with additional review aggregators.

Option 3: In addition to what is included in Option #2, we will provide personal oversight of email marketing campaigns to launch sharing and aggregation service for 3 months after project completion.

Section #6: Timing

Here we want to be very clear about when we can start. Then we want to give some general guidelines for the timelines expected with each major area of the project.

Leaving flexibility is recommended, especially with web development. There are inevitable code issues that pop up in any development project. They aren’t insurmountable, but they result in delays that can be difficult to quantify. Don't forget, there are services like to help you stay on schedule.

Here’s an example:

The agreement can begin upon signature of this document. The expected term of the project is 2 to 3 months in duration. This estimate is based on reasonable access and responsiveness by both parties as described in the following section.

SECTION #7: List of Accountabilities

This section allows us to formalize accountabilities for mutual success. It emphasizes that successful project completion is not 100% up to us. We are reliant upon the prospect for cooperation in some areas, too.

We've all been there. Our project timelines are suffering because our client isn't providing the content or the feedback we need.

Here’s an example:

Our company’s accountability includes:

  • Regular communication to report status of the project, voice any concerns, and state any upcoming intentions
  • Adherence to agreed-upon deadlines
  • Administrative and office costs

Our prospect’s company accountability includes:

  • Facilitation of access to key stakeholders with input needed to meet project objectives
  • Availability to answer key project questions
  • Provision of all content and materials relevant within a reasonable time
  • Payment in conformance with the terms below

Joint accountability includes:

  • Alert one another if anything we learn may materially affect the success of the project (for example, key stakeholders or budgets change)
  • Being available for open discussions regarding any project-related reports, processes, or materials exchanged

SECTION #8: Terms and Conditions

In this section, you will lay out your terms for fees, discounts (if applicable), expense reimbursements, and payment.

Here is an example:

Terms and conditions are as follows:

  • Fees
    • The fee for Option 1 is $5,000
    • The fee for Option 2 is $7,100
    • The fee for Option 3 is $10,900
  • Discounts
    • A 10% discount can be obtained with a single full-fee payment at project kick-off.
  • Expense reimbursement terms
    • Expenses will be billed monthly as actually accrued and are due on presentation of our invoice.  Expenses will include air, train, rental car, taxi, lodging, food, and related expenses; they will not include fax, copying, phone, courier, office support, and related expenses.
  • Payment Terms
    • A 25 percent deposit is required to begin work, with the remainder due in monthly installments over the following 2 months.

SECTION #9: Acceptance

The final section of the proposal provides an area for signatures by us and our prospect turned client.

We will make the prospect choose which option they selected out of the 3 we offered.

Here is an example:

Your signature below indicates acceptance of the terms of this proposal indicated by the option you have marked with a check.

__ Option 1                                           __ Option 2                                        __ Option 3

We accept the proposal above and the option selected.

For Our Company:
Eric Kruep

Signature: ___________________________________________________ Date:_______________

For Acme Plumbing:
Joseph Hoff

Signature: ___________________________________________________ Date:_______________

You don't have to create your own document from scratch.

You can download our FREE proposal template here and use it in your own web development and web design business starting today...

Get FREE Proposal Template!


Summary - How To Write a Proposal Like the Top 5%

We covered a lot in this article on how to write a proposal like the best. Here is a summary of the key points.

First, remember the top 5% of consultants have figured out 3 things to drive exceptional results - and you can do the same:

  1.   Assume their prospects view them as an expert
  2.   Ask the prospect great questions
  3.   Write a proposal with a focus on their prospect’s needs

Second, use the following framework for writing your next proposal to mimic their results:

  1.   Situational Appraisal
  2.   Project Objectives
  3.   Measures of Success
  4.   Value to the Prospect
  5.   Methodology / Approach (and Options)
  6.   Timing
  7.   List of Accountabilities
  8.   Terms & Conditions
  9.   Acceptance

I encourage you to write your next proposal with this framework. For help or to share your success, you can send me (Eric) an email at

In the meantime, help your friends and colleagues join you in the top 5% - forward this article (and FREE proposal template download link).