Business proposals are like paintings

As a startup, specially if you are in the B2B domain, you need to write a lot of Business proposals and send them to potential clients (mostly big companies) . These proposals play a very critical role when you are dealing with big companies, they are used to old way of doing things.  Here are some thoughts on proposal documents.


  • Good proposal documents are like paintings
    • Writing a good proposal document is an art
    • It has to come from within, you need a deep understanding of “what does the proposal document stand for, what is it trying to accomplish, who is my audience, what do I need to communicate”
    • Once thats done just let your self loose and a good document will emerge
    • Review the document a couple of times to De-text and make it crisp and professional
    • Identify a few folks whose proposal reviewing skills are good and get them to give you critical feedback
    • Don’t ignore the feedback or parts of the feedback. Work on each point meticulously
  • Overall Goals
    • Clearly document the goals of the proposal
    • What are you trying to achieve via this proposal ?
      • Make sure every word & every sentence in the proposal contributes to that
      • Dont get carried away and write stuff which is not directly related to the goal
    • Example Goals

      • Convince Westside to do a pilot in mumbai
      • Pilot should start in next 1-2 months
      • Get Westside to purchase stock against advance payment
  • Communication goals
    • Document what are you trying to communicate through the proposal and ensure that of it (and not more than that) is communicated
      • Example communication goals

        • Who are we
        • What do we make
        • What are we selling to the customer and why should the customer buy it
        • What is a simple initial pilot we can get started with (initially try to get into a pilot which is simple and easy to get started with for both sides, you can get into deeper more elaborate partnerships later)
        • What are the mechanics of the initial pilot
        • What are the commercials
        • Other terms & conditions
        • How can we get started
  • Audience
    • Define who is the audience, who will read it?
    • Step into heads of your audience and think what do they want to see so that they will make decision that you want them to make
  • Overall structure and format
    • Create a document structure to accomplish goals listed above with the stated audience in mind
    • Fill in the content in the structure
  • De-text
    • De-texting means going through the written text and removing unnecessary words / sentences that don’t all value to the content or don’t contribute towards the goals of the document / section
    • De-texting is an art and it takes patience to do it but once you practice enough you will become good at it
  • Have just enough
    • You should have “just enough” content in the document
    • Every word / sentence / section in the document competes for attention of the reader
    • Hence every extra sentence takes away attention from existing sentences
    • So be careful and sure about every word / sentence / section – that its required to complete the document
    • Removal of every unwanted less wanted section will increase the chances of rest of the document being understand better by the reader

Please share your experiences / views in comments about the proposals. I plan to update the post based on feedback from readers.

PS: After reading this post again I realized that its equally applicable to other forms of written communications like presentations, agreements, e-mails, requirement documents etc .