17 minutesBy Canva Team

Creating a business proposal: How-tos, templates, and tips

Find out what a business proposal is, what its sections are, and how to write one. Browse our examples, tips, and best practices to create a business proposal that will close the deal.
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What is a business proposal?

A business proposal is a document that aims to secure a business agreement. Whether printed or digital, a business proposal is written by a business and offered to a prospective customer.

In many cases, the prospective customer is also a business that's looking for the best B2B solution.

The purpose of a business proposal varies. It can:

  • Offer to provide supplies or services to the prospect
  • Offer a business partnership with the prospect
  • Secure sponsorship from the prospect

Most business proposals fall under the first category: they intend to provide goods or services to a potential customer.

Example of a business proposal with a color blocking motif.

Example of a business proposal with a color blocking motif.

Take note, however, that business proposals don’t just ask the prospect to buy from them. At its core, a business proposal shows how you can solve their problem. It shows that your company is the best pick for the job.

If the business proposal is well-written and your offer looks good, the client agrees and closes the deal.

Why is a business proposal important?

A business proposal spells the difference between getting and losing a client. A well-written business proposal wins the confidence of prospects and turns them into paying customers. Mastering how to write a business proposal helps you win more work and secure revenue for your company.

In contrast, a poorly written business proposal pushes the client to your competitors.

Ultimately, business proposals help you expand your business, get more projects, and achieve your business goals. That’s why it’s important that you know how to make a proposal that’s complete, persuasive, and visually appealing.


What to include in a business proposal?

Business proposals vary across different industries, but it usually follows a standard format and features the same components. Most business proposals contain the following sections:

When writing your proposed solution, adding graphs and other visual aids helps make your case.

When writing your proposed solution, adding graphs and other visual aids helps make your case.

The title of the business proposal communicates your value proposition and has a dedicated title page.

The table of contents lists the sections of the business proposal and their corresponding page number.

The executive summary compresses the entire business proposal into two or three paragraphs.

The problem statement is a clear explanation of the prospect’s problem, challenge, or goal.

The proposed solution section explains the product or service you offer to solve the prospect’s problem.

The pricing section shows the client how much it will cost them if they decide to work with you.

The qualifications section shows your company’s credentials, awards, and track record of success.

The conclusion summarizes the proposal’s vital points in paragraph form, followed by any appendices.

The terms and conditions state what you and the prospect agree to and expect from the deal.

This provides space, like a signature box, where the prospect could sign to signify acceptance.


What are the types of business proposal?

There are two main types of business proposals, depending on who initiated the offer: solicited and unsolicited.

Solicited business proposals

A solicited or requested business proposal is created at the request of a potential client. There are two kinds of solicited proposals:

  • Formally solicited: This is a response to a formal or official request from a prospect. In most cases, a client formally requests proposals from multiple businesses and then decides which is the best for their needs. The official request contains their requirements for the project.
  • Informally solicited: An informal request comes out of informal encounters or conversations. Think dinners or casual chats. In most cases, the client no longer requests for proposals from other businesses.

Unsolicited business proposals

Unsolicited business proposals are written and sent to a prospect, without any request, formal or informal.

Think of them as cold emails; you approach the prospect—at your own initiative—and offer a proposal that would solve their issue or improve their processes.

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Example of a correspondence that offers an unsolicited proposal to a prospective client.

Example of a correspondence that offers an unsolicited proposal to a prospective client.

Does the type of proposal affect the content?

No, the type of business proposal doesn’t change the format. Whether solicited or not, a business proposal should contain essential sections like the problem statement and solution.

The type, however, affects the preparation and research that goes into the business proposal.

  • Solicited: A request for a proposal often comes with information about the client, so a solicited proposal needs less research compared to its unsolicited counterpart. It’s easier to propose a solution that’s tailored to the client’s needs. You have a lot of information to work with.
  • Unsolicited: On the other hand, an unsolicited proposal requires market research because you don’t know the specifics of the prospect’s issues. There’s a tendency to propose a generic, one-size-fits-all solution, but this can be mitigated by comprehensive research.

Business proposals in different industries

Most business proposals follow the same framework, but the content of each section differs depending on the problem, prospect, and industry. It’s a widely used document, and each field will have variations depending on how technical or niche their offer is.

Here are examples of projects that B2B companies can secure via business proposals:

  • IT: Establishing network security, network maintenance, databases, etc.
  • Advertising and marketing: Building strategies for ads, social media campaigns, and search engine optimization
  • Events planning: Planning for corporate retreats, conferences, trade shows, product launches, etc.
  • Logistics: Managing distribution, warehousing, packaging, reverse logistics, etc.
  • Construction: Creating proposals for residential, commercial, industrial, and mixed-use projects
  • Engineering: Overseeing the automation of a factory, manufacturing of goods, machine maintenance, etc.
  • Security services: Installation of access control systems, alarm and camera systems, fire and smoke detectors, etc.

What a business proposal is not

Business proposals are often used to refer to other business documents, like business plans or business estimates.

That’s inaccurate, however; proposals have different goals from plans and estimates.

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Communicate your thoughts and assignments via comments and emoji reactions.

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Business proposal vs. business plan

A business plan outlines the growth of your company. Business plans:

  • Provide a thorough description of your company
  • Records your company’s goals and vision
  • Explains your funding and plans for revenue

By and large, a business plan is an internal document. If it’s used externally, it’s mostly used to pitch to potential investors.

In contrast, a business proposal is offered to a potential client. It’s an external document that contains solutions and pricing specific to that customer’s problem.

Business proposal vs. business estimate

Business proposals and estimates are highly similar. They both aim to sell your product or service. However, proposals are longer and more detailed than estimates.

The reason: business estimates are simply a ballpark figure that informs the client how much they may spend when they work with you. Because it’s an estimate, the amount may change depending on the labor and equipment involved.

In contrast, a proposal is a lengthier, more comprehensive document that shows not only pricing, but also an analysis of the problem, the credentials of your company, and solutions to other logistical concerns.

Often, clients ask for estimates when:

  • The project is relatively small
  • There’s a standard approach, or the methodology is already established. Examples include repainting the interior of a home or getting a monthly cleaning service.
  • The business already enjoys a good reputation, so they don’t need to lay out their credentials.

On the other hand, a business proposal covers more complex, one-off projects, where you provide specific solutions tailored to the prospect’s problem. In addition, a proposal contains proof that you’re the best person for the job.


Acronyms involved in business proposals

When working with potential clients, you’ll encounter several acronyms that are similar to one another. It helps to know what these acronyms mean because they entail different deliverables.

Let’s break them down:

Request for Information (RFI)

Potential clients may request information before they request a proposal. An RFI helps them screen vendors and determine which ones can best solve their problem. Potential clients send out an RFI if they’re not yet familiar with vendors in the field.

Request for Proposal (RFP)

This is an official request for a business proposal, which should contain all the essential sections outlined in this guide. In contrast to an RFI, the client already knows the businesses they need to approach. In some cases, an RFP follows an RFI.

Request for Quotation (RFQ)

Potential clients send an RFQ when price is the deciding factor; they look for standard goods with the best prices. As such, a quotation contains an itemized list of prices, which is much shorter and more concise than a proposal, which has a dedicated problem statement and tailored solution.

In sum:

  • An RFI asks for general information
  • An RFP asks for a formal business proposal, complete with your credentials, pricing, and terms and conditions
  • An RFQ asks you to quote the price of your goods or services

If the potential client sends you an RFP, get ready to roll your sleeves up and write a business proposal.


How to write a business proposal

Business proposals follow a standard format, and this format can guide you as you write the entire business proposal. It ensures you don’t miss any important details that could make or break the sale.

How to write a business proposal with Canva Docs.

Winning business proposals begin with solid research. Gather information about the prospect and their current need, that is, the issue they need help with.

Market research is even more crucial when you’re writing an unsolicited proposal. Research does much of the heavy lifting in the problem statement and solution.

Gather relevant data, too, about the solution you’re proposing. This includes service or product descriptions, pricing, success stories from past clients, and important business schedules. You’ll need these information when you build the pitch.

Next, create an outline. This gives structure to your proposal and guides you as you write the document.

tip
Make bullets and numbered lists
To create a bullet list for your outline, click the Bullet icon on the text toolbar. To create a numbered list, click the Bullet icon twice.

Dedicate a page for the title. Don’t take the title for granted; it gives the reader a clear idea of the value you bring. A good title entices the prospect to read on. If the title is drab, the client drops it and moves on to your competitor’s proposal.

Here are three tips to make your business proposal title catchier:

  • Keep the title short and concise
  • Communicate your value proposition
  • Avoid jargons

Apart from the title, the title page also includes the following:

  • The prospective client
  • Your company’s name
  • The date of submission of the proposal

Prospects are mostly busy professionals, with a number of proposals to read. The table of contents makes it easy to scan the document and jump to different sections.

The table of contents follows the standard format, namely:

  • Executive summary
  • Problem statement
  • Solution
  • Pricing
  • Qualifications
  • Terms and conditions

If you’re sending a digital business proposal, add hyperlinks to the table of contents to make your proposal more interactive.

A good executive summary lays out the heart of the proposal and gives the reader a solid idea of how you can help them, even if they don’t read the entire document.

The executive summary summarizes, in paragraph form:

  • An introduction to your company
  • The problem the prospect is facing
  • The solution that you offer

Try not to use vague statements like “we are the best people for the job.” Specify your value proposition and credentials.

On the next page, explain the problem or goal of the prospect. This gives you the opportunity to show that you have a deep understanding of the client’s dilemma.

The problem statement is about two to three paragraphs long, containing:

  • The problem at hand
  • Problems that the prospect might not know they have
  • Relevant details

Discuss the gap between the ideal outcome and the current reality.

After the problem comes the solution. In this section, discuss the exact solution to alleviate the issue and reach the prospect’s goal.

The best proposals come with a breakdown of deliverables. Steer clear of vague statements like “we will provide X, so you can achieve Y.” Be specific with your solution; no client wants to receive boilerplate text.

If you’re offering a product, itemize the deliverables and provide an estimated timeframe when the prospect could expect them. If possible, provide:

  • Product descriptions
  • Quantity
  • Product photos and illustrations

If you’re offering a service, discuss how you’ll deliver the solution. Break the project into milestones and explain what the client could expect from you. A timeline is helpful because it shows that you know the steps to take, should they decide to work with you.

To gain the trust of a prospect, transparency is key. That’s why pricing information is crucial.

Pricing depends on your pricing methodology, whether that’s a daily rate, material or cost-based, etc. You can provide a fee table, as well as multiple pricing options.

Pay attention to your pricing, because the pricing could go wrong in two ways:

  • If your prices are too low, the project may not be profitable for you
  • If your prices are too high, your prospect might go with a competitor

It also helps to have a solid idea of the client’s budget, so you can offer a price that’s aligned with their expectations.

Once the solution has been laid out, showcase your credentials. While concrete solutions and transparent pricing have been provided, your qualifications secure their confidence and nudge them into accepting the proposal. Prepare:

  • Awards and recognitions
  • Accreditations
  • Client testimonials and success stories
  • Your history in the business

This section can combine paragraphs and bullet points — it depends on how you want to present your qualifications.

A common way to structure your qualifications is to explain your history and client success stories in short paragraphs and then use bullet points to list your awards and accreditations.

The conclusion is a short paragraph that circles back on the key points of the proposal, mainly the problem, solution, and your credentials.

More importantly, the conclusion serves as a call to action that points the prospect to the next step. So include your contact information and availability.

Appendices are not necessary; they’re supplementary documents that add context or data to the proposal. But if you have information that’s not essential to the proposal but is nice for the client to know, an appendix is in order.

Here are some things you can put in an appendix:

  • Product illustrations
  • Tables, figures, and charts
  • Blueprints
  • Maps
  • Photos

The terms and conditions (T&C) state the rights and responsibilities of both parties (you and the prospective client). The T&C protects you and the prospective client. It ensures you and the prospect are on the same page and reduces the risk of conflicts.

This section minimizes any uncertainties on expectations, requirements, and obligations. Some of the things your T&C could cover are:

  • Intellectual property: Should the prospect agree to the proposal, this clause outlines who owns the intellectual property that would be created and used.
  • Payment: This discusses how and when the client pays for the goods or services, including the payment methods, payment schedule, etc.
  • Cancellations: This clause explains the necessary steps for cancellations.
  • Privacy policy: This explains how you plan to use sensitive customer data.
  • Other fees: The T&C can also cover fees in case of delays or termination.

Do you need a lawyer to craft your T&C? In most cases, a general T&C would do.

However, it’s good to consider calling on a legal professional to oversee your T&C, especially if the stakes of the project are high.

After the T&C, allot a small space for the prospect to sign and agree to the proposal.

It can be as simple as a signature space or box with the names of the people involved, as well as their job titles.

Like any business document, a business proposal should be written elegantly, free from errors. Proofread your proposal and look out for the following:

  • Spelling, punctuation, and grammatical errors
  • Incomplete or inaccurate information
  • Wrong formatting

Ask your teammates to go over the document, too, so they can catch misses. Lastly, don’t forget to check the items and pagination on the table of contents.

Once everything is finalized, you can now send your business proposal to the potential client.


Get inspired with business proposal templates

Start confident with these free customizable business proposal templates. You can expand and add on the templates as your proposal needs. Put product photos or mockups, use our data visualization tools, and make sure the design stays true to your brand.


All you need in a business proposal maker

Break free from ordinary word processors and create beautiful business proposals quickly. Canva’s free online business proposal generator offers all the tools you need to create a persuasive document: data visualization, professional fonts, a free photo editor for product shots, and even an AI-powered writing assistant, Magic Write.

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Business proposal best practices

If your client asks for proposals from several vendors, it can be difficult to stand out. The solution? Make your business proposal more convincing and memorable than others.

Make the client say yes to your business proposal with these best practices.

Add social proof

Social proof gives your business proposal a strong layer of credibility. According to a social proof article by HubSpot, a customer is more likely to turn to their peers(opens in a new tab or window) when they’re getting a new product or service.

In the eyes of a prospective B2B client that’s looking for the best vendor or supplier, each item of social proof is a vote of confidence.

Here are some things you can use as social proof:

  • Customer stories and anecdotes
  • Reviews from reputable review sites
  • A stamp of approval from an expert
tip
Choose social proof wisely
Tempting as it sounds, it’s not recommended to add all possible types of social proof in your business proposal. Choose the ratings or reviews that resonate with the prospect and highlight them on your page.

Pay attention to design

The contents of the proposal are important, but the design also has an impact on the prospect. They’re more likely to browse, read, and agree to a proposal document that looks well-designed and professional. Here are some tips:

  • Size: The size of an element indicates its importance, which is why titles are bigger than the body text.
  • Consistency: Formatting should be consistent across the entire proposal. For example, all body text should have a similar typeface and font size across the entire proposal. In the same vein, all level 2 headings should have the same formatting.
  • Contrast: The text and background should have contrasting colors to keep the document readable.
  • Alignment: The alignment of the images and text should indicate the hierarchy of the content. Main topics should be aligned further to the left, while subtopics are indented to the right. Make sure the bullets and lists are properly indented, as well.
resource
Best business fonts
Discover clean and professional fonts for your business proposal document.
Play with font combinations and color palettes to keep your business proposal visually interesting.

Play with font combinations and color palettes to keep your business proposal visually interesting.

We recommend using a business proposal template, so you don’t have to worry about the layout. Just add your text, images, and illustrations. Then, customize the colors and fonts to your brand.

Make your report visual with data and photos

Proposify’s 2023 State of Proposals Report state that 82% of winning proposals have images(opens in a new tab or window). If you want your proposal to be accepted, add photos and illustrations.

Use our free built-in photo editor(opens in a new tab or window) to enhance your images. You can crop, rotate, and flip your photos. You can also add text to an image, apply filters, and add photo effects.

Don’t skimp on tables and graphs, too. According to Canva’s 2023 Visual Economy report, around 85% of global business leaders agree that communicating visually carries more authority(opens in a new tab or window). This means visual content, like graphs, could foster greater trust among readers or in your case, prospective clients.

Canva Docs has a wide range of data visualization tools you can use in your proposals, like bar graphs, pie charts, and tree diagrams.

Follow it up

Give your prospect time to make a decision. If you haven’t heard from them for a while, you can follow up.

In your follow-up email, you can follow this standard format:

  • A reminder about the proposal
  • Interest check
  • Call to action

Address your client by name, personalize the email, and keep your language friendly, not salesy. Don’t forget to thank them, too.

resource
Visual Economy Report
Find out how your business can use visual content to win today’s visual economy.

Business proposal FAQs

A business proposal is as long as it needs to be. Straightforward business proposals are about 10 pages long, but different businesses have different offers, and some are more complicated than others. Just keep it tight and concise.

The sales team usually oversees business proposals, but it depends on the organizational structure. Bigger entities may even have dedicated proposal writers.

A business proposal looks like most formal documents with professional language and consistent text formatting. However, the best business proposals are visual documents, which contain a stunning document design, photos, tables, graphs, and illustrations.

A business proposal ideally begins with research and an outline. The research helps the business understand the client’s and offer the best solution. The outline, meanwhile, makes writing the rest of the document faster.

The scope of the project matters, so writing a business proposal can take anywhere from a few days to months. If you have a business proposal template, you’ll speed up the process.

Yes, Canva Docs is free to use, which means you can create beautiful business proposals for all your potential clients for free. There are, however, additional features that you can access with a paid subscription.


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