How to Write a Proposal

When you provide a service – whether you’re a contractor, web designer or general consultant – proposals are a necessary tool to secure new clients. I haven’t met any small business owner who enjoys writing proposals and only a few that feel confident in what they draft. There are many ways to write a great proposal, but there are a few dos and don’ts:

DO demonstrate your point of view. A proposal should do more than outline the work to be completed, it should illustrate your style and strategy. The potential client should clearly see where you’re coming from and what you aim to achieve. Potential clients don’t just want to see a list of work to be performed. They want to see what your strategy is, why, and what sets you apart from the rest.

DON’T give the milk away for free. When I first started working, one of my clients showed me a proposal he had received from another PR pro. It was five pages long, listing every single outlet the publicist intended to pitch. He asked me, “Could we use this?” If you get too detailed, not only do you spend a lot of time on a project that may not go forward, but you give the potential client an opportunity to pass on your services, take your proposal, and execute the plan themselves. Remember: you’re providing a proposal, not a plan.

DO include an introductory or summary paragraph. When my web designer gave me a proposal for a client’s website re-design, I immediately flipped through the pages to look at the price. It wasn’t cheap. But then I went back and read his opening summary explaining what the objectives were and why he wanted to set up the site in a certain way. He also explained that the time he spent on the front end, would save more time (and therefore money) on the back end. It was the summary that sold me.

DON’T go overboard on narrative. An opening paragraph is great, but for the rest, use a bulleted outline. Too much writing causes people’s eyes to glaze over. They want be able to quickly skim and see what work you’re going to perform.

DO demonstrate your creativity. While you shouldn’t give away all your tricks, it’s a great idea to include one or two initiatives that will set you apart from other proposals. Most clients aren’t just hiring someone to execute the work. They want someone who will guide them and bring new, creative ideas to the table.

Dana Kaye is the owner of Kaye Publicity, a boutique PR company specializing in publishing and entertainment. She is also the creator of the Chicago Literati Networking Event where booksellers, authors, and publishing pros gather to mingle and network. For more, visit

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