How do I Choose the Best Business Proposal Format?

John Lister

When you are responding to a Request For Proposal (RFP), you need to pay close attention to your business proposal format. Selecting the right format can strongly improve your chances of winning a contract. Selecting the wrong one may mean even an otherwise ideal bid fails.

The most important rule when writing a business proposal is to follow the advice specified in the request for proposal.
The most important rule when writing a business proposal is to follow the advice specified in the request for proposal.

By far the most important rule is to follow the advice in the RFP. You should make certain to comply with any specific instructions about the format of your proposal. Doing so is partly a courtesy as it will help make sure the organization has all the rival proposals in a similar format, making it easier to compare them. More importantly, supplying the required format shows you are willing to make the effort to follow precise instructions. Unless you have worked with the organization before or have a particularly strong reputation, doing this is one of the most effective ways of showing you will be able to follow the requirements for carrying out the project itself if you are awarded the contract.

One business proposal format which is almost certain to include all the relevant information is the five Ws – or, strictly speaking, five Ws and an H. This format answers six basic questions about your proposal. The format comes from a Rudyard Kipling poem which begins by detailing the six questions: “I keep six honest serving-men; they taught me all I knew. Their names are What and Why and When, and How and Where and Who.”

There are several particular points to note when settling on a business proposal format for a government contract. The key one is that you must comply with everything listed in the RFP. This is because government agencies usually have to follow strict rules about selecting the best proposal to avoid any accusations of improper bias.

It’s also worth looking out for a document named a “statement of work” which accompanies the RFP and explains the criteria for selecting the winning proposal. Selecting a business proposal format which is tailored to these criteria can improve your chances of being selected. Whichever format you choose, it’s particularly important to make sure you meet the submission deadline as government agencies are usually not allow to exercise their judgment in accepting late submissions.

Whether writing a business proposal for a government organization or a private company, you should make sure it goes beyond merely showing you can meet the criteria. As other bidders may also be able to do this, you need to show what extra value your bid can offer to the organization. This can include feedback from previous projects, awards your have won for your work, and anything else which shows you are better than your rivals rather than merely of the same standard.

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