How to Write an Import/Export Business Proposal
By Ian S Lauder
If you're in the import/export business, you need to let potential clients know how valuable your services can be to them. Of course, you'll want a dynamite website and maybe some paper advertising as well to attract attention, but to get work contracts, you need to understand how to create a business proposal.
A business proposal is more than just a price quote or a brochure. Each proposal should be targeted to the specific client's needs and should explain in detail what you have to offer and how it will benefit the client.
All service proposals have a definite structure that you should follow for maximum success. Here's the basic four-part structure:
2) Client-centered section
3) Description of products, services, and costs
4) A section that's all about you.
Now, each of these parts could have dozens of pages, or only a few. The length of the proposal depends on the complexity of the project and the services you are offering.
Let's look at the sections in more detail. The introduction is the simplest. Start off your proposal packet with a Cover Letter. Keep it short--just explain who you are, why you're sending this proposal, and include all your important contact information. The letter should include a "call to action" statement saying what you'd like the reader to do after considering your proposal. Most likely, you'll want them to call you to set up a meeting or contract for your services.
The Cover Letter should accompany your proposal, but the first page of your proposal should be a Title page that simply states what the proposal is about: for example, "Import and Shipping Services from China for GTG Corporation" or "Import/Export Services Proposed for Baker Manufacturing Services."
That's all you need for an introduction if your proposal is short and simple. If it's longer, you may want to include a Table of Contents and an Executive Summary or Client Summary page--this is a page for busy readers who may not read all the details, and it should contain a list of the most important points you want to get across.
Now for the client-centered portion of the proposal. This is what truly differentiates a proposal from a sales brochure, and doing a good job on this section can make the difference between a proposal that gets tossed into the pile and a proposal that results in a contract. Why? Because all organizations are necessarily self-centered; they want to know how your offerings will benefit them. So, in this client-centered section, you need to prove that you understand the potential client's business, needs, and concerns.
If you don't feel that you already have that knowledge, then you'll need to do a little work to get it, but it will be worth the time. Put yourself in your potential client's shoes. Is the company branching out to markets in new countries, or considering importing goods from manufacturers in other countries? Do they have difficulties with shipping, transportation, or customs issues? Do they have limitations on budgets or schedules? At a minimum, you'll want a Needs page in this section that lists the client's needs. Depending on the client's size and type of business, you might also need to discuss Restrictions, Limitations, Schedule, or Budget, or include a Requirements page that sets forth their criteria for import/export services.
After you've written down everything you know about your client's needs and concerns, it's time to explain how you can meet those needs with solutions in the services description section. Include all the pages necessary to describe your services and what those services will cost. Be sure to match your discussion with the client's needs. At the very least, you'll want a Services page and a Cost Summary page. You may also need specialized pages to discuss Global issues, to separate out your Imports and Exports services, describe Strategic Alliances you have formed, or to describe any Shipping services you also provide.
After you have described what you have to offer, you will write the section that describes why you are the best choice for the job. In this all-about-you section, you should include your Company History and Experience, any Certifications or Training you might have, any Awards you've won or Testimonials that clients have written about you, and so forth. In other words, include any information that will persuade the potential client that you will deliver on your promises.
After you've written these four basic parts in your proposal, you're done with your rough draft. Now, be sure to carefully proofread every page and make sure each page looks good, too, because mistakes here might make potential clients assume your business practices are sloppy, too. You want your proposal to represent you at your professional best, so if you need to hire a professional proofreader or editor, it's worthwhile to do that.
After all the pages look and sound great, then print your proposal and cover letter and deliver them by mail or by hand, or package them into a PDF file for email delivery. Be sure to use whichever method is likely to most impress your potential client--remember, this is all about beating the competition and sealing the deal. Then, if you don't hear from that client within a week or so, follow up with a phone call. Ask if they received your proposal and if they have any questions for you, and odds are that you'll be on your way to securing that contract.
Writing a business proposal may sound like a big investment of time and energy, but you'll discover that you can reuse a lot of the information you provide from proposal to proposal, changing only the first client-centered section to make each proposal a customized presentation.
You can also speed up the process by using a pre-designed proposal kit, which is designed expressly for producing proposals, reports, and other business documents. A good proposal kit will include hundreds of templates that you can use in any proposal, including all the topics mentioned above. The templates include instructions and examples, so you'll never feel bewildered about what sort of information to include. Make sure to use a professionally designed kit, too, so your proposal will look great.
Also, make sure your kit includes a wide variety of sample proposals, so you can see what finished proposals look like for a variety of businesses. A well designed proposal kit will give you a big head start on creating a winning business proposal.