Like most businesses these days, your information technology (IT) business is no doubt looking for more clients or is tasked with internal projects. To land a new client or get a project accepted, you most likely will need to write a business proposal.
Never written one? Don't panic—writing a proposal doesn't have to be a daunting process, and after you've written your first proposal, all others will come much easier.
The basic proposal structure is the same whether your business is network cabling, building and hosting websites, coding software, designing hardware, running a data center, optimizing internal processes, doing IT training, repairing computers, or even asking for funding to create or grow an IT business. Here's the order your proposal sections should follow:
You will want to include details about your particular products, services and business experience that are relevant to your client's specific project. For example, website designers might need to include information about templates, widgets, or shopping cart technologies; network specialists may want to include specifications for cables and routers they recommend; IT trainers might include lists of courses and certifications offered; and so forth.
The most important idea to keep in mind is that the goal of any proposal is to convince potential clients to award you their contracts, convince your boss to sign-off on your proposed project, or possibly secure funding for a new venture. To persuade them, you must demonstrate that you can deliver the products and services they want. It's never a good idea to send your clients only a price list; that will not substitute for a real proposal.
Your proposal should be tailored to a specific client and that client's needs. This means you need to gather information about that client so that you can create a customized proposal to meet that specific client's requirements. Don't make the mistake of sending all your prospective clients an identical sales proposal. A proposal targeted to a specific organization or person is much more likely to succeed.
Now, getting back to the basic order described above, begin your proposal with a Cover Letter and a Title Page. In the Cover Letter, write a brief personal introduction and provide all your relevant contact information so the client can easily contact you for more information. The Title Page is exactly what its name indicates: a page with the title of your specific proposal (for example, "Proposal for Website Services for the Birchwood Company", “Building a Records Management System”, "25 User Software Licensing for USC, Corp." or "Plan for Updating MWP Corporation's Computer Network").
Next, after this introduction, write the section that describes the needs of the prospective client. In a lengthy proposal for a complex project, you should provide a summary preceding the detailed pages. In proposals to corporations, this summary is usually called an Executive Summary. In complex but less corporate proposals, the summary is usually called a Client Summary. On this summary page and in the detailed pages of this section, describe your client's needs and goals and discuss the limitations or restrictions that may be associated with the project. Don't insert your own ideas yet; this section is where you demonstrate that you understand the client's needs.
In the last section of the proposal, you get the chance to promote your project, products and services. In this section you will include pages that describe precisely what you have to offer and what it will cost. This section should contain some pages with general headings like Services Provided, Benefits, Features, and Cost Summary, but should also incorporate more detailed pages that fully describe your products and services, explain how you can fulfill the client's needs, and list the associated costs. You might use topics such as Hardware and Software, Equipment, Options, Scalability and so on.
Your specific business will determine the specialized topics and pages you need to include in your proposal. The size and scope of the project will determine how many topics and how much detail will be required.
A website design and hosting company might need to include topics like Project Deliverables, Storyboard, Features, Technical Approach, Production Schedule, Hardware and Software as well as a development and hosting contract.
An IT training company might want pages such as Services Provided, Training Plan, Exercises, Curriculum, Prerequisites, Retraining, Materials and an Outline.
A company with a large volume of records (such as accounts, legal firms, medical practices, etc.) needing to setup a Records Management program may use topics such as the File Plan, Taxonomy, and Records Management. As well as the entire collection of Records Management Toolkit documents for proposing, defining and managing an RM program.
An IT consultant may use the Services Provided, Cost Summary, Project Summary, References, Certifications and Our Clients to start with.
A computer repair and maintenance company may use the Labor Rates, Services Provided, Maintenance, Repairs, Hardware and Software, and Upgrades topics.
A software company selling a multi-user license for installation and use of their process management software may use topics such as Needs Assessment, Features, Scheduling, Collaboration, Communications, Licensing, Reporting, Time Line, Accounting, Requirements, and so on.
IT sales proposals will use topics such as Products, Services Provided, Customer Service, Benefits, Features, Case Studies, Guarantee, Price List, Requirements and so on.
If you are proposing an internal company project, not only do you need to look good, you need to make sure your boss looks good too. You need them to trust that you will deliver in order to gain their support. Include topics that show you understand every aspect of the project. Make sure you have considered Assumptions, Risk Analysis, Contingency Planning, Accountability, SWOT Analysis and the Expected Results.
A networking cabling, infrastructure or data center project may require topics regarding the Facilities, Site Planning, Infrastructure, Security Plan, Expansion Plan, Storage, Location Analysis, Diagrams, Blueprints, Equipment, and so on.
Hardware and software designers might include Documentation Requirements, Specifications, Technical Approach, Project Management, Standards Compliance, System Requirements, Interface Requirements and Certifications. Hardware designers in particular may also need topics such as Manufacturing, Engineering, Production Plan, Capacity, Resources and Resource Allocation.
An IT project for the government can be even more complex as you will have an RFP with rules that must be adhered to. In this situation make sure to use the Compliance Matrix, RFP Cross Reference, government grant/contract Cover Sheet and any other topics that are specifically required by the RFP.
A business seeking funding will want to include pages such as a Competitive Analysis, Industry Trends, Market and Audience, Marketing Plan, Insurance, Liability, Disaster Recovery Plan, Time Line, Funding Request, Services Provided, Products, Company Operations, Income Projection, Sources of Funds, Uses of Funds, Personnel, Legal Structure and any other topics required by the lender. Funding or investment proposals also require a number of financials such as your Cash Flow Analysis, Balance Sheet, Revenue, Profit Margin, Profit and Loss Statement, Operating Costs, and so on.
In this final proposal section, be sure to provide pages describing your organization (About Us or Company History), as well as pages that explain your skills and experience or provide information from other clients. These pages are the Our Clients, Personnel, References, Testimonials, Qualifications and Capabilities - whatever you need to instill trust in the prospective client that you can deliver the goods and services they're looking for.
So there you have it: all the basic steps for creating your proposal. Now for the finishing touches. After you have inserted all the words and data in your proposal, spend a bit of time making it visually appealing. Add your company logo, choose different fonts or use custom bullets, or consider using colored page borders. Don't go overboard, though; you want to match the style of your proposal to the style of your business. Learn how to effectively select colors for a winning business proposal.
Don't send your proposal out before you spell-check and proof every page. If possible, have someone outside of the project or organization do the final proofreading pass. It's too easy to miss mistakes in familiar information.
Finally, print the proposal or save it as a PDF file and deliver it to your client. In the modern business world, it's common to email PDF files, but keep in mind that a printed, personally signed, and (where possible) hand-delivered proposal could make a bigger impression because it shows you're willing to make an extra effort to get the job.
You can see now how IT business proposals can vary widely in content because of the variety of IT businesses and the variety of projects for which the proposals are tailored. Your company's proposal content will be different from anyone else's. But you can also see that all IT proposals will have similar formats and follow the same basic structure.
To speed up the proposal writing process, you can use the pre-designed templates in Proposal Kit. They contain easy-to-understand instructions and suggestions and examples that will guide you to provide appropriate content. The product includes many sample business proposals for all sorts of IT businesses, too; these can give you a head start on creating your own winning proposals.
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