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When to Write a Formal Proposal to Win a New Client

When to Write a Formal Proposal to Win a New Client

Liston Witherill
Liston Witherill
4 min read

It’s not enough to write a great formal proposal. Heck, writing the perfect proposal doesn’t even matter if you write it at the wrong time.

That’s why I’ll tell you in this article the most important thing to do before writing one: when to write a formal proposal.

If you’ve written at least one of them, you know they are a crucial part of getting new clients.

The question here isn’t if you shouldn’t stop writing proposals. Instead, you should know when and how to write a formal proposal.

While we’ll never know if our proposal will be accepted, we can take some steps to give ourselves a better chance of having our formal proposals land us a new client instead of being a complete waste of time.

Why ‘When’ Is Just As Important As ‘How’

Writing formal proposals is costly.

It takes a lot of time, and it can be costly, depending on the structure of your proposal.

For that reason, you may have to start to think about what you can do to reduce the scope and length of your formal proposals.

That’s what I’m here for, so, sit back, relax, and enjoy because from now on, your proposals are going to rock.


What You’ll Learn In This Article

The Problem With Writing Formal Proposals

If you’re one of my regulars, you probably heard my talk with Blair on episode 3.

His advice was never to write an unpaid proposal.

But Blair is a pro, and in order to get to that point, you really have to run your sales process very effectively.

One thing is certain, though: you shouldn’t write a lengthy proposal for free because they’re boring and unnecessary.

Also, that’s not really how clients decide to buy.

My bias: I absolutely dread writing proposals, but I still give my clients the information they need to make a decision about working with me.

Nobody got into the consulting business because they enjoy writing consulting proposals and nobody is going to win them all.


Why Consultants Write Formal Proposals

If proposals suck and are boring to both consultants and clients, why do we write formal proposals?

The short answer is because we think clients want them.

I also think that it’s just the norm; I mean, it’s the way most people are doing business as a consultant. As Seth Godin says, “people like us to do things like this.”

In the end, whether you need to write a long formal proposal all depends on your client.

What I can tell you is that there is a way to write more targeted formal proposals, and you can learn how to avoid writing formal proposals that have zero chance of bringing in business.

When Is The Right Time To Write A Formal Proposal

There’s a time for everything.

First, you need to qualify your prospects. I wrote an article about it. Click below and take a look.

How To Qualify Prospective Clients

Basic qualification should be done before even considering writing a proposal and even before having a long sales call. You can only think of writing a formal proposal when you have a crystal-clear picture of the problem your client has.

This involves being sure of the following things:

  • What’s their problem, in their words?
  • What is the business cost?
  • Who’s involved?
  • What are the implications of the problem going unsolved?
  • What have they done to fix that problem?
  • What other potential solutions have they considered or are they considering?

Once I know this stuff, I can get a verbal agreement. The agreement is a signal that they actually want my proposal.

Now that I know their problems and they know what I can do for them, I tailor my formal proposal to fit their needs. That means that the right time to write a proposal is only after you have gotten a verbal agreement.

Besides, if you’ve talked to your client, your proposal will be a mirror of those conversations, particularly when it comes to pricing. There’s no sense in spending time writing a proposal that won’t fall within the budget of your client. That’s why you need to build value for your client to help them understand the importance of what you can deliver and why you’re different.

Now, let’s go to the hardest part of the proposal-making process.

Will Your Formal Proposal Really Help Your Client?

Well that’s a good question! Here’s what to do: dive deeper on the problem you can solve for your client.

Really understanding the problem is mandatory to writing a proposal because if you don’t understand your client’s pain points, there’s no way you can deliver value in the proposal or the engagement. Getting an agreement on the scope is fundamental to writing an effective formal proposal.

One of my methods to see if my consulting services will help my clients is by telling them a story of what it’s like to work with me. I paint them a picture of how I work, and I recount some of the success and the pitfalls my clients have faced. This creates a relationship and makes everything feel more real.

But the main reason you want to do it is that it allows your client to imagine what it is to work with you. Now that you know these things, it’s time to write your formal proposal.

You have my permission – a green light.

But, how you write it?

Check this article for how to structure your next proposal.


Key Takeaways

The “when” of your proposal writing is crucial to writing an excellent formal proposal that gets you results, but you also need to build value and rapport with your client to be able to really solve their problems.

So, instead of wasting time writing boring proposals that bring no results, spend your time building a relationship with your client and learn how to recognize when is the right time to send them a proposal that mirrors all you have talked.

  • A formal proposal is not always what the client wants from you
  • We mostly write proposals because we think it’s expected
  • A good discovery and pre-qualification can actually save you hours of grinding through a proposal
  • Get an agreement on the scope you’ll follow, then present in your proposal
  • Focus on building a relationship with your clients
  • Always make sure your work will really help your clients