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Use this easy 5-step formula for more effective business proposals

01 Jun, 2020 Communication campaigns, Messaging


Business communication is littered with long-winded documents of all kinds that we have to brace ourselves to read. The ones that frustrate me the most are the sponsorship proposals of up to 20-30 pages where the fee is not mentioned until the last page – on the basis that the selling process takes place progressively. In frustration, I used to go straight from the first page to the last page to decide if the full document was worth reading – because the fee being asked on the last page would determine whether the proposal was in the ballpark. You can take advantage of this easy 5-step formula for writing business proposals.

Similar woolly writing occurs in reports, emails, letters, white papers and marketing-based ebooks.

You can make efficient use of messaging for many purposes by using the formula below. It is also a good formula for writing an executive summary, which to many business decision makers is the most important part of a major document. You can get your team to write their messaging in this way as well.

5-step formula for better business proposals

Use this versatile 5-step formula below for writing better business proposals to achieve better results:

  1. Topic. Start with a one-sentence summary similar to the way journalists write headlines. This way the recipients know immediately what it is about. For example: “Proposal for major new promotional concept for the campaign to promote next year’s Pleasantville festival.” This can be used as the subject line in an email or the heading in a report, etc.It may not be the most concise subject line you have ever read, but the subject is immediately clear.
  2. Background. Provide concise background information about the topic of the document. Explain the problem, need or opportunity. Ensure you include data so decision makers understand the starting point and have measurable figures to review.
  3. Call to action. Tell readers what you want them to do with the information, which might require their active involvement: how, who, when, where, why, cost/resources. Or you might just seek their approval. Ensure you have their documented approval or support, eg in a return email by a particular time. You can say, “Unless I hear from you before [date] with any comments or questions, I will assume you approve this proposal.” This covers you if the receiver later tries to say they have doubts about it when you have clearly asked them to get back to you with any feedback. If it is a report or proposal to be considered in a meeting, then obviously you seek responses then.
  4. Benefits. Sell your idea by explaining the measurable positive outcomes. If feasible, also tell people what they would be missing by not agreeing to the proposal, not just what they would stand to gain. We all suffer from FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) – ‘loss aversion.’ Research shows we feel a loss twice as strongly as we feel an equivalent gain. If you tell people that by not acting on the idea, they miss out on an opportunity to appear really forward-looking, the idea is more likely to succeed. Also, consult with stakeholders so you have their input, and hopefully their important support. If this proposal is going to your executive committee, you can meet individually with any of your allies on the committee to discuss their response directly with them. If they support your business case, then you can tactfully seek their support during the meeting, or if you have an existing excellent relationship with them, you can ask them to initiate positive discussion at the meeting.
  5. Best next steps. Outline what initial actions need to be done, and by whom, to get started on your plan. Most plans take longer than expected to implement, so don’t cut yourself too short with this.

Try using this formula as a guide and you should find your messaging becomes more effective.

Photo by Gary Butterfield on Unsplash.

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About Kim Harrison – author, editor and content curator

Kim Harrison, Founder and Principal of Cutting Edge PR, loves sharing actionable ideas and information about professional communication and business management. He has wide experience as a corporate affairs manager, consultant, author, lecturer, and CEO of a non-profit organization. Kim is a Fellow and former national board member of the Public Relations Institute of Australia, and he ran his State’s professional development program for 7 years, helping many practitioners to strengthen their communication skills. People from 115 countries benefit from the practical knowledge shared in his monthly newsletter and in his books available from

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