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Six Keys to Writing a Great Proposal

by Doug Stern, Jaclyn Landon  |  
February 9, 2010

So, you've decided to submit a proposal.

Maybe you're the incumbent with a very happy client or in a pack, or somewhere in between.

Maybe somebody threw a request for proposal (RFP) over your transom. Or you were invited to respond to an RFP. Or, you've done it the hard way—by having a sustained business conversation with a prospect about what the prospect needs.

However you got there, you're looking for ways to create a proposal that sets you and your company favorably apart. Ways that capture the great things you have to offer. And do you no harm.

Here are six suggested proposal writing tips and best-practices intended to not only maximize your chances to stand out and land the job but also manage the risks.

1. Be responsive

If your proposal is the result of an RFP, you've been given a recipe. Follow it precisely.

Well, at least be very cautious about how much you improvise. Remember that you're getting points for showing how well you color inside the lines—and how well you listen.

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Doug Stern ( is a freelance business writer and marketing strategist based in Louisville, KY. Contact him at 502-599-6624 or

Jaclyn Landon ( is a freelance copywriter and marketing consultant. Contact her at 949-872-2296 or

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  • by Hawley Roddick Tue Feb 9, 2010 via web

    While this guide surely can help proposal writers, they can also profit by hiring a freelance writer and editor like me to give their proposals professional polish. I've given workshops for proposal writers and coached them in private sessions, too. I understand their need to put their very best selves into their proposals, and I specialize in helping make that happen. Meanwhile, you've given them a good start..

  • by Neil Kuvin Wed Feb 10, 2010 via web

    After responding to dozens of RFP's from government agencies to private corporations, these tips from Stern and Landon are appreciated and right on target. Most important in this whole process is making sure you RESPOND to the writer's request for information. You'll get your chance to show off later. As indicated in this outstanding article, do some RESEARCH on the prospect first and then simply respond. Good and useful advice throughout. I would add that my professional network group, BUSINESS COMMUNICATION GROUP can be of great assistance to any independent marketing/PR practitioner. We have 12 exceptional professionals in the group & welcome requests for assistance. Reach us at

  • by Hawley Roddick Wed Feb 10, 2010 via web

    Like Kevin, I've also responded to government RFPs and agree with his praise and comments about the Stern/Landon tips for government RFPs. RFPs from non-govt. agencies often require better writing skills per se than govt. RFPs to meet the competition.

  • by Steve Bittenbender Thu Feb 9, 2012 via mobile

    Another government proposal writer here -- my experience has been that a reasonable price rules the day.

    However, the written proposal is still critical because a great one shows you understand the customer's needs and have the experience/skills to get the job done at the price you quoted.

    If your response is poorly written or does not mesh with the cost volume, then you can expect to not make the competitive range down-select.

  • by Sean Taylor Thu Sep 19, 2013 via web

    For the person that mentioned proposal management I would try ClientSky ( ClientSky integrates with google docs and dropbox. They are great for small-medium sized businesses who want a very professional looking proposal that their clients can accept online. ClientSky has templating features that speed up the proposal development process and it also has the ability to integrate video/images/examples/etc. For your business, it might be really nice to show some examples of your work in the proposal or even include a video. All ClientSky proposals are also mobile responsive so they look great on tablets and smartphones. Check ClientSky out and let me know if you have any questions. We use it and love it.

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