Writing proposals comes with the territory if you own a business. If you haven’t already survived the experience, you’re going to have to navigate your way through it one of these days.
You might even have a proposal to prepare right now. You know, that bunch of reports and stack of e-mails from staff that you have to assemble into a coherent message. The proposal that you’ve been putting off, the one that could land a deal, get new project funding, or launch a bright future in an exciting and profitable joint venture.
Just knowing that proposal design is every bit as important as the content of your proposal is giving you sleepless nights. Don’t worry! Help is at hand!
We’re going to run through a couple of things you need to pay attention to when preparing a proposal. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, either. There’s excellent software that helps you get everything together. You’ll also find plenty of templates that are easy to tailor to the core message of your proposal.
Let’s get started!
1. Design an Attention-Grabbing Cover
Don’t judge a book by the cover. We’ve all heard that. But everyone does.
First impressions count, and you need a proposal cover design that makes people pick up your proposal and read what’s inside. Its visual appeal starts on the very first page: the cover.
A good design is essential. Poor proposal layout and design can make your proposal hard to read and even confusing. You need to do everything you can to ensure clearer communication with your client or potential business partner or investor.
Visual appeal also has to be functional. The most basic requirements are your company name and logo and a photo related to your business or proposal.
Your project title should feature quite prominently on the cover too. We recommend a shorter title that does not extend beyond two lines of text. The title must, however, be an accurate description of whatever the longer, official title of the proposal is.
It is common for larger proposals to have a short-form and a long-form descriptive title. This makes it easy to refer to the proposal in telephone calls and meetings and is always a nice touch indicating that you’ve thought things through.
Experiment with the placement of the various elements mentioned here on the cover page.
2. Stick to Your Brand Guidelines
You should consider your brand guidelines as an important company asset. Stick with your brand fonts and colors. Your proposal is an excellent way to reinforce brand recognition.
Integrating your brand guidelines on every page will make your proposal stand out from the rest, and that’s definitely something to aim for!
3. Repeat Your Logo Throughout the Proposal
Include your company logo at least once on every two-page spread. Consider adding it as an element in graphs or specific product photos featured in your proposal.
4. A Minimalistic Approach Enhances Your Proposal Design
Less is more. This is true of the design elements in your proposal, which should provide a subtle, harmonious backdrop to your content – the real reason for your proposal in the first place.
Only use one color (preferably part of your brand colors) for adding accents to draw attention to key points in your proposal. And remember that not everything can be in bold.
A clean, minimalist approach adds polish to your document and makes it easier for readers to focus on the salient points in your proposal.
5. Avoid Clutter — Use Whitespace
Don’t try to cram a huge wad of information into a few pages. Spread everything out. Use a generous amount of whitespace around all elements of your proposal.
Whitespace around text, images, graphs, photos, and diagrams is a powerful visual aid to comprehension. It brings what you do have on the page into sharp focus.
Ease of access and easiness on the eye are key to reader understanding. If your reader understands the proposal as it is presented, you’re halfway to winning them over. Reason number two for the proposal in the first place.
Most software has guides, or a predetermined setting, so that you can ensure the uniformity of the amount of whitespace surrounding each element in the proposal.
6. Get Your Fonts Right
Stick to your brand guideline fonts. If you don’t have brand guidelines, use a template from the proposal creation software you choose.
All text needs structure, and a clear hierarchy of headings, subtitles, and body text provides additional clarity to your message.
If you’re clueless about typography, let the template do the work!
7. Images and Photos
Use original photos. Stock photos will be recognized as such. Take the trouble to get good photos of your premises, products, or structures that reflect the ideas contained in your proposal.
Originality counts more than you think when people evaluate your proposal. It pays to put in the extra effort to get this element right.
Showcasing your business in this way helps people who do not have a strong visual imagination to start thinking on the same page as you do.
8. Use Guides to Achieve Perfect Alignment
If you use a dedicated and integrated proposal tool, you will see that the pre-set guides for various templates follow a professional layout. Spend time on the low learning curve to become proficient with a proposal tool that does most of the design work for you.
Tools like these collate and arrange key company information, but could also serve as inspiration. It is a known fact that a clear representation of your ideas (e.g., when mind-mapping) leads to the further sparking of more brilliant ideas.
If only to unleash your latent innovative ideas, we recommend that you leverage the proposal design inspiration offered by specially designed online proposal software.
9. Put Data in Charts and Infographics
Make important statistics stand out by incorporating them in an interesting infographic, or highlight them in a chart.
People tend to remember these figures and statistics presented this way more readily than they do when in more formal, traditional tables.
By all means, keep the dull-format hard data in an appendix at the end of your proposal. This is hard data that all serious business partners will want to examine. What you need, though, is to draw attention to the best parts with charts and infographics first.
Your body text can mention the existence of detailed figures in the appendix. This graphic approach prevents your proposal from veering off the tracks of its core message. It streamlines the information and makes it more memorable.
10. Include Testimonials
Depending on the kind of proposal, you should consider including what other clients or business partners have said about your business. A few selected — brief — testimonials in quotation marks strategically placed every couple of pages throughout your report can be persuasive.
Testimonials are the next best thing to word-of-mouth recommendations.
11. Enhance the Visual Appeal of Body Text
We have already hinted at getting the typography right. To make your proposal even easier to read, break up long paragraphs into shorter ones. Avoid big blocks of text. And keep those sentences short: make every word count.
This, together with the effective use of graphic elements, will make your proposal a pleasure to read and increase reader engagement. It’s common knowledge that increased engagement is half the battle won when you want to clinch a deal.
12. Check Your Content
We cannot stress this point enough. Your content has to be factually correct. If there is any discrepancy between what your proposal says and what’s on your website or between your body text and numbers in your charts and spreadsheets, fix the one that is wrong before sending out your proposal.
After checking the spelling of everything in your proposal (including charts and infographics), get at least two other colleagues to give critical feedback on language use and content.
Work at getting that text clear, concise, and coherent. Such texts are the mark of the true professional, no matter what your actual profession or business is.
Think about who is going to read your proposal and how they’re going to read it. We’ve included here a few useful layout questions you can ask yourself.
Will using landscape orientation make displaying your product images and other graphic elements easier than the conventional portrait presentation?
What does your proposal look like when displayed on a laptop in PDF format? How about on a 24″ screen?
Is it easy to extract pages for use in a possible in-person presentation?
14. Shape Overlays and Use of Contrast
Depending on your brand guidelines and the theme of your chosen template, shape overlays could add an inspirational touch to your proposal design. You do need to keep clutter to a minimum on each page, but if the use of overlays adds depth to your visuals, or softens a too-harsh overall impression, this might be the way to go.
15. Summary and CTA
A well-structured table of contents on the first or second inside page is always a good idea. Numbering sections and paragraphs also makes for efficient reference to specific parts of your proposal when discussing it.
A conclusion summarizing your proposal (on the back cover, perhaps) helps your prospective client or investor to remember what the proposal is about. Repeat key phrases from your narrative in this summary, which is all about using “power words” to your advantage.
Your call to action should invite a positive response to your proposal. Make sure your contact details (and who to contact!) are prominently displayed and in keeping with your overall proposal design.
Attention to Detail Counts
So there you are. Your proposal is correct, complete, and looks stunning. All you need now is a personalized cover letter for that extra touch of class. You get extra points for using elements from your proposal design in your cover letter.
Now that we’ve painted the picture for you, isn’t it about time you got cracking? If you need further inspiration and want to see what’s trending, feel free to browse around.