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What is the Standard Business Proposal Format?

By Grace Ferguson
Updated: May 17, 2024

Business proposals can take different forms depending on the location, the industry, and the specifics of the project at hand, but in most cases the “standard” format includes a brief statement summarizing the project and expected outcome followed by sections dedicated to who will be doing the project, how it will be accomplished, and why it’s being proposed; statements outlining timing goals and total costs are also typically included. Projects that are particularly complicated may need several subsections within these broader categories, though a lot of this will necessarily vary. There isn’t usually one single format that writers have to adopt. The most important thing is making sure that all relevant information is provided in a way that is easy to read and easy to understand.

Understanding Proposals Generally

People write business proposals for many reasons, some more formal and serious than others. The basic idea is usually the same no matter the circumstances, though. Proposals are documents that set out a specific business proposition, typically in great detail. They’re really common for people starting new businesses, and in these instances they’re often sent to investors and others with a financial stake. In established companies they can also be used to propose changes in structure or organization, or to suggest new divisions or departments. Many corporations require formal proposals in order to make any changes.

Sometimes investors and others actually use business proposals as a way to choose between competing projects. A real estate owner with a shop for sale, for instance, might solicit proposals from a number of different potential buyers, then sell to the group with the most impressive or persuasive report. Proposals can also help contractors land jobs and secure clients. Getting the formatting right and making a good impression can therefore be very important.

Headings and Themes

The standard business proposal format generally includes both a concise, descriptive heading and a theme statement. The theme statement is the conclusion the individual preparing the proposal wants the client to reach after reviewing the section. For example, a proposal for a construction plan may state that the company making the proposal has the procedures, resources, and experience necessary to begin the project immediately, without risk. Thereafter, the narrative begins.

Covering the Basics

Once the project has been introduced, the first element in most proposals is a concise identification of who is responsible for the actual execution. This section addresses who will perform the job, who will manage the job, and who the customer will contact if there is an issue; in most cases it also states who is responsible for what tasks. The next element is "What," which states what needs to be done, what requirements are needed to complete the job, what the customer can expect, and what the task will cost. It’s also important for the proposal writer to include a note about where the job will be performed and where delivery will occur.

Explaining How the Project Will Be Done

The standard business proposal format also states how the project will be accomplished from a physical perspective. This can also be referred to "Methods," and is usually seen as an action plan. It includes how the work will be performed, how the job will be managed, how systematic monitoring and evaluation will be attained, how customer service will be achieved, how the project will benefit the customer, and how long it will take to complete it. Business often involves risk, so the standard business proposal form also explains how these risks will be alleviated. Writers are often encouraged to provide as much detail as they can, and this section can be quite lengthy as a consequence.

Setting Out When and Why

Timing is also an important element. Standard proposal format also usually includes an explanation of when the project will begin, when important milestones will be scheduled, when the job will be completed, and when payment is required. Some justification of these choices might also be useful.

Importance of Staying On Topic

The standard business proposal format is usually designed to answer the most probable questions that a client or investor might have. It often makes sense for people to include as much detail as possible in order to make their proposals complete, but at the same time it’s important to keep a sharp focus. The best proposals stay on topic and keep their descriptions limited to the specific project at hand. Past projects, contractor experience, and emotional statements are usually best left out until and unless more information has been requested.

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Discussion Comments
By Qohe1et — On Jan 14, 2011

In proposal writing, a strong emphasis should not be granted simply to style, but to strong logical analysis. Many GRE tests today do not grade the writing section based on how elaborate or convincing you may seem in answering a given problem, but in how solid your argument is. Once you get to the higher levels of education, you are required to see flowery language and good style as secondary to solid logic.

By BioNerd — On Jan 12, 2011

In a business proposal, it is necessary to cover all the bases and small details. "Doing your homework" will be very important, as you will not be able to fool or convince anybody by mere rhetoric or personal charisma. Businesspeople know form learning and experience that there is more to trusting someone than simply liking them. You have to know that the people you are trusting with your money are going to deliver.

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