You Can (and Should) Write Better Proposals

“Business proposals and applications? Yay!” is probably something you’ve never thought. They’re time consuming, tedious, and, very often, frustrating. Whether you’re writing and sending or receiving and reading, there is a better process to write better proposals that we can all implement to make everyone’s life easier.

On one hand technology has made it easier to write, submit, and receive multiple proposals. However, this also increases the number of unqualified proposals and puts more demand on readers. For example, if I post about a job opening (even with specific qualifications), I get hundreds of replies. While some are excellent, I can tell the majority just copy and pasted a formatted response. I mean, why not? It only takes a few seconds to respond that way and MAYBE you have a shot…  

I argue, however, that our current process of writing and receiving proposals and applications has simply not kept up with the technology of generating them. The most difficult issue is unqualified applicants. In many cases, job descriptions fail to include basic requirements like location, full or part-time, skills needed, and education/experience requirements. When they do provide specifics, many applicants ignore them or simply don’t read thoroughly. Because it’s easy to click and send, we end up wasting each other’s time.


The process to write better proposals is made even more complicated due to mistakes and carelessness. Here are some examples and ways to avoid these issues:

  • I have received proposals that I can tell are copied and pasted because they have other client’s names on them. Huge red flag there. If you’re the person sending this: Read things before you send them. It looks highly unprofessional. If you’re the person receiving this, it’s probably a waste of time to consider it. Has this person really read the description of what you need if they can’t even take a minute to look over their response?
  • Fees are often confusing and/or misleading in the same letter. In particular, refund information is frequently contradictory. These are usually settled, but why not avoid the confusion to begin with by taking the time to proofread?
  • Applications that show little awareness that they have read requirements or the nature of the request are annoying. Make sure to address the specifics. Details are important and stand out to someone who is choosing between various applications.
  • Too many details can be overwhelming. For instance, pages of legal or unnecessary information often clutter up a proposal. While things like payment conditions and adhering to laws are appropriate, much of the rest is simply irrelevant. Packets are often sent out that include a broad range of information that isn’t applicable to everyone. For example, if a job is remote, don’t send pages about in-house rules/expectations. Be relevant.

Additionally, proposals need to meet clients’ needs and goals. Things you should consider and/or address in your proposal: Are you truly qualified to provide what is needed? What are the technical versus creative aspects of a request and how will you approach each? What kind of budget is available? When is the deadline? Is it part-time or full-time? Is it a one-time project or ongoing relationship? How much of the request is analysis and understanding versus established solutions? Why are you right for this job? What skills or experience makes you stand out from other applicants?

While going through proposals, the first thing I do to reduce the number of applicants is to eliminate all that lack the experience and skills I requested. I also get rid of the ones with low fees—you get what you pay for and you don’t want a plumber when you need an electrician.

The process of writing and receiving proposals can be time consuming, inefficient, and produce mediocre results. If we make concentrated efforts to improve the process in order to write better proposals, the finished product will be more successful. Before submitting a proposal, ask yourself: Do I understand the goals and requirements? Do I have the experience and qualifications requested? Have I expressed all of this clearly in the proposal? If you can answer yes to all of these, submit away! And remember: make it personal—to them and their needs as well as to yourself. After all, they are hiring YOU. So, highlight what makes you special and how your unique talents are the best fit to execute their needs.

Related: Your Business Isn’t Going Anywhere Without Innovation