Proposals: Make Them Sing

By Michael Graber & Jocelyn Atkinson


Congratulations on getting to the proposal stage. You’ll have good odds now. As a general proposal outline, try the following:

Opening Letter: this letter sets the tone of the professional relationship. Demonstrate that you understand the client’s pain points and points of stress. Tell exactly how you plan to remedy this ailment, but answer on a high strategic level, alluding to your process and approach. Add how your experience makes you a natural to solve this vexing issue. Paint an emotional and concrete picture of what the client’s work life will be after your consultation – such as “a focused, inspired sense of priority, purpose, and organizational readiness that flows at the speed of business.” Then, thank them for seriously considering the proposal. Sign your name.

About Your Firm: Add a paragraph about your business: what it does, how it does it, what the end benefit is. Add another paragraph that is your professional biography. If you have any testimonials, press or awards add them in a third paragraph. If you have references, list them here with contact information.

Scope of Work: Here you outline the engagement in vivid detail. Discuss the steps of your process. You may want to name the steps in your process, as your particular, branded approach. Break down the steps (or phases) into milestones, meetings, a set of deliverables, or a combination of these touch points. For each phase, note the timeline and expected dates of meetings and deliverables. Make no notice of price here.

Payment and Terms: Include a short paragraph about why it makes good business sense to hire you to do this important assignment. Then, list the Payment. You can either price the project per phase in the scope of work or per month. If you do it per month, be prepared to explain your math. In terms of pricing, always sell the value of your services, never the mere cost. People pay a premium for unique value. List any out-of-scope items after the price, as if an afterthought, but still an important point. Note your terms: Do you require payment to begin? Will you invoice monthly? How quickly do you expect them to pay? Etc.

Thank You. End with a Thank You paragraph that assumes a go by its tone and encourages a speedy signature. Tell them that you are excited about working together and to contact you if they are ready for you to send over a standard, brief contract and set a kick-off date for this endeavor.

As for advice, be your best and highest self. Employ a tone that is friendly and helpful, but is also assured. Persuade them that you are both passionate and thoroughly detailed. Most of all imbue the writing with a sense of mission. After they read the proposal, they should have the conviction that you were born to do this work.

Make it sing. Make it real.

Jocelyn Atkinson and Michael Graber run the Southern Growth Studio, a strategic growth firm based in Memphis. Visit to learn more.