How to Draft a Proposal: Crafting the Numbers

by Mary Cullen on Wed, Aug 22, 2012

In my previous article in the series, How to Draft a Proposal, I discussed the importance of proposal format to help your potential client readily grasp your propositions and value. I explained the benefits of formatting a proposal and why you should include bullet points, headings, subheadings, and color to enable a reader to scan quickly and absorb key concepts. A proposal needs to be easy and quick to absorb, and readers need to be able to locate key information readily. If format is cluttered and difficult to navigate, your potential client will inherently question your organization and project vision. Or, the potential client won't bother reading your proposal at all. 

how to draft a proposal with persuasive cost figures

In this article, I want to shift to another critical proposal component: numbers.

Break Down Numbers When Drafting a Proposal

I've already warned how easy it can be to lapse into using jargon and buzzword instead of clear, evocative words that express your value. But it is just as easy to start throwing internal slogans and clichés out at clients. You need to avoid these. Instead, showing the specific numbers and deliverables helps a client build trust with you.

Instead of summarizing what your solution will cost, actually itemize costs for your potential client, and explain the value behind your numbers.

Going back to our Uptown Cake Bakery example, instead of just stating the price of the website is $5,000, you should actually break down the different pricing.

  • Let your client know that research will cost $500
  • Development will be $2,500
  • Photography will be $500
  • Meetings will be $500
  • Content on the site will be $1,000. 

You can take all of that one step further and explain development costs are the highest portion of the total fees because you work with very skilled designers, ensuring the client will receive a functional site that is both eye catching and usable. Stress the client benefit when justifying numbers, not the workload to you. 

There are two major sales advantage of delineating costs:

  1. It allows a client to choose portions of your solution that are most relevant, or even just stay in budget. (Best for the client)
  2. This ensures you will not lose a client who cannot afford your entire package. (Best for you)

Never, ever understate actual costs to your client and then charge them more money than what you quoted in your proposal. It is bad business and will sour relationships.

Consider Your Competition

As you are writing your proposal, you need to keep your competition in mind. What sets you apart from them? Is it your skills? Your development process? Your customer service? Don’t specifically mention your competition, but think about what weaknesses you see in them and then offer your strengths that counteract them. The cost area of your proposal is a perfect location for an implicit competitive comparison.

For instance, if your websites cost more than your competition’s, then mention that the cost reflects a website that comes with graphics, photos, banners, or whatever else your company does better than your competition. 

Delineating the inclusive value for each cost element takes client focus off the cost alone and emphasizes the value your solution provides, or problem you solve. Additionally, you are far less likely to lose a contract on straight cost comparison.

Pricing determines your profit, of course, but expressing costs well offers strong persuasive elements as well. Learning the many steps and considerations for writing a winning proposal is complex. 

Ready to Master Proposal Writing?

Learn to master all elements of proposals that close more business, receive feedback on your writing, and coaching for one of your proposals in our Proposal Writing Course

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Or, download our free guide on How to Write a Proposal.


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Topics: Business Proposals

Mary Cullen

About the author

Mary Cullen

Mary founded Instructional Solutions in 1998, and is an internationally recognized business writing trainer and executive writing coach with two decades of experience helping thousands of individuals and businesses master the strategic skill of business writing. She excels at designing customized business writing training programs to maximize productivity, advance business objectives, and convey complex information. She holds a B.A in English from the University of Rhode Island, a M.A in English Literature from Boston College, and a C.A.G.S. in Composition and Rhetoric from the University of New Hampshire.

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