Master the five elements of a written Proposal / Business Plan

12th January 2016

Convincing people to do what you want is hard.

And it’s even harder if you aren’t there to do it.

This happens when you send them a selling document – like a Proposal or Business Plan. They’ll read it at their leisure, probably skim-reading it; probably when they’re half-doing something else. And if they have any questions – which they will – you won’t be there to answer them.

This Tip will help ensure all your documents impress and persuade. But, before we look at what to include, here’s …

The Golden Rule of Sales Documents

Confirmation not exploration

It’s harder to sell in writing that it is verbally.

So your best chance of convincing them is:

  • agree everything verbally first; and then
  • your written document confirms what you’ve already agreed

In other words, don’t explore new ideas in the document.

(A good check: you should be able to write “as discussed” before every sentence in your document. Not that I’d do this – might get a tad boring)

The five critical elements to include:

#1 Why it’s needed

Build the need for what you want to sell. This will either be:

  • a bad situation that needs fixing; and/or
  • a great opportunity to take advantage of

For example, you might say…

“The (bad thing) has caused us to (negative impact of this bad thing). This will get worse over the next few weeks, leading to (even worse impact)

We have agreed it is essential to stop the rot. This document confirms our discussions about the best way to do so.”

#2 Our objectives and measures

Next, paint the picture of the desired future state. In other words, what things will look like after you’ve completed the thing you’re proposing. If you like, if Section #1 was a murky black and white photo of the business today, this Section #2 is the beautiful colour photograph of how the business will appear in X months’ time. Be clear on:

  1. what everyone wants the future to look like – the objectives
  2. how we’ll know we’ve achieved this – the measures; and
  3. the value this will bring to the business – why it’s worth doing

#3 Our timeline: how we’ll get there

Show the detail of how you will get from murky #1 to beautiful #2. This will probably be a simple timeline, showing all the key deliverables, who’s doing each, and when. As with everything else in the proposal, you’ll have already agreed this timeline verbally. This means they’ll think “oh yes, I recognise this.”

#4 Price

Always put the price towards the end.

Why? Because it’s important you build the value first, before saying how much it costs. Doing this makes the price look relatively cheap (after all, if I told you something cost £100,000 and asked you whether you thought it was expensive, you’d say ‘yes’. Even though you do not know what it is yet).

When discussing price, relate it back to the value you discussed in Section #2. In other words they are investing money to get the valuable outcomes. They are not paying for Section #3’s deliverables (which are just the mechanism by which they’ll get their outcomes).

#5 Immediate next steps

Absolutely critical in all documents: end by confirming what the next steps are – “As agreed, I’ll call you at 10am on Wednesday to discuss how we progress this quickly” or some such. If you don’t include this, you have to wait for them to reply to your proposal. Which they might not do. This leads to the dreaded question: do I chase (and pester) them; or do I wait (and feel powerless). Neither is particularly pleasant. Nor useful.

Action point

Identify your next sale that needs a document. Then, apply the relevant bits from this Tip to it.

And if you’re only going to do one bit of it? Go for the golden rule – explore things verbally; confirm things in writing. Any other way will waste your/their time, and reduce your chances of success.

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