Identify the Real Problem
The Background portion of your proposal should briefly summarize your understanding of the client and of what that client is trying to achieve. Identify what the client thinks the problem is. This information will be a useful touchstone throughout the proposal process.
You must then look beyond the client's statement of the problem to identify the real problem. There may be an underlying structural or process problem that management does not see but which one must understand to solve the long-term (as opposed to the immediate) problem.
If you understand the real problem, you will be able to identify the causes of the problem more accurately, which will lead in turn to more appropriate, cost-effective, and timely solutions.
State Your Objectives
The Objectives section should briefly but clearly state what your objectives as a consultant will be for this engagement. Your objectives should be based on the client's objectives and on your understanding of the client's real needs.
Caution: Avoid Boilerplate
Even if you have worked on this type of engagement or for similar companies many times before, you should always customize your proposal. Every company is different and has different ideas, and boilerplate is always easy to spot, especially since it is often stilted and overly formal. If you get regular form letters from your bank, you know what I mean.
Differentiate Yourself in Your Approach
The Approach section should do two things: 1) it should demonstrate that you will work collaboratively with the client, and 2) it should present your unique approach to the project at hand.
You should always work collaboratively with the client. This starts with listening to the client before you even sit down to write the proposal and should continue throughout your work with the client. No client wants to feel that you will simply impose your formulaic solution on them without any reference to their particular needs or ideas.
By describing your unique approach, you help to differentiate yourself from your competitors.
Clearly Define Your Scope of Work
Your Scope of Work will often be expressed in the form of a detailed work plan. If your work plan is well thought out and practical, it will enhance your credibility and demonstrate that you understand the client's need.
A further advantage to clearly defining the scope of work is that it will set the client's expectations and will save you from losing money if the client comes back to you and demands additional work that is not explicitly spelled out in the agreement. If you are vague about the scope of work, the client will read into it what he wants.
Demonstrate Your Qualifications
The Qualifications section of your proposal should demonstrate that you have done similar work before and that your company is a qualified practitioner.
You might cite past work you have done for companies similar to the client company and describe the benefits that your past clients received from having you work for them. These benefits might be in the form of cost savings, time savings, or money earned.
You might also describe your company and allude to the relevant backgrounds of the project team members, with full-blown bios, perhaps, included as an appendix.
Caution: Don't Sell What's Already Sold
Do not sell your qualifications when you do not have to.
If a client is already convinced of your qualifications, brief examples of similar jobs you have done may still be appropriate. Detailed descriptions of the firm and the backgrounds of the firm's consultants, however, will not contribute to your goal of getting the job.
In fact, they will only confuse the client and provide you with the opportunity to "unsell" something the client already believes.
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Other necessary sections of any proposal include, of course, schedule, staffing and fees. Keeping the above structure in mind, however, may make it easier to think about crafting your proposal.