How to Write a Consulting Proposal: Expert Tips & Examples

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By Tyra Delos Reyes

Writing a consulting proposal can sometimes feel like walking a tightrope—you want to get all the details just right without overwhelming your potential client.

How specific should you get when it comes to project details? What’s the right pricing for this package you’re offering? 

Luckily, you don’t have to do it alone. In this article, we’ll look through examples from giant consulting firms Mckinsey and Deloitte to pick out proposal writing best practices from the pros. You’ll also learn how to write a consulting proposal from scratch in just 6 easy steps. 

What is a consulting proposal? 

A consulting proposal is a formal document that you, as a consultant, present to prospective clients to outline the specific services you offer. It acts as a roadmap for the project, detailing the project scope, objectives, deliverables, timeline, and costs involved. 

A consulting proposal is basically your pitch–your goal is to communicate how you can solve their problem or help them reach their goals. 

Here’s a sample of a simple consulting proposal template from Hubspot:

Source: Hubspot

As you can see, a consulting proposal usually has the following sections: 

  1. Introduction: Brief overview of the proposal.
  2. Project Objectives: Clear definition of project goals, aligned with the client’s needs.
  3. Scope of Work: Breakdown of tasks and deliverables, including what is and isn’t included. Includes tools/apps you’ll be using, as well as your process or technique. 
  4. Timeline: Detailed timeline with key milestones and deadlines.
  5. Costs and Fees: Breakdown of project costs.
  6. Terms and Conditions: Payment terms, confidentiality, and legal details.
  7. Next Steps: Actions the client should take to proceed.

Some consulting proposals will include appendices that hold supplementary documentation such as reports, resumes, and other supporting documents. 

Why is the consulting proposal important? 

If you’ve already spoken with the prospect and you’re still asked to send the proposal, it’s helpful to think of it as more than just the formality. 

The proposal ensures you and your potential client are on the same page from day one. If they’re fielding other consultants or contractors, the proposal can be the deciding factor. 

How it can help your client 

  • A good proposal reduces risk. The nature of consultation work means they’re bringing in contractors or third-party vendors who they’ve never worked with before. It’s risky business; having a proposal ensures you’re the best fit for the job.. 
  • A good proposal provides a preview of the solution, without committing to it yet. It’s pretty standard to discuss your methodology and process in the proposal. This helps clients get an understanding of your work ethic, level of expertise/experience, and problem-solving skills without putting the project on the line. 

How it can help you 

  • A good proposal prevents scope creep: By clearly outlining the scope of work, timeline, and costs from the outset, you can prevent misunderstandings and manage your client’s expectations effectively. 
  • Writing the proposal helps you understand if you’re compatible with the project. The process of creating a proposal forces you to think through the project in detail. As you write the proposal, you’ll be forced to evaluate whether the project aligns with your skills, experience, and interests. 

The two most important things to do before you write 

Preparing a detailed, tailored consulting proposal takes time. How do you make sure you’re not wasting yours? 

Launch a client discovery phase to see if you’re a good fit

Veteran IT consultant Anthony Ibekwem advises consultants to always meet with their clients before immediately saying yes to a project. 

The discovery isn’t just about understanding their needs–you’re also there to see whether you have the skills, tools, and capacity to complete the project. 

Because writing a consulting proposal takes a lot of time, Ibekwem says there’s an opportunity cost to writing a consulting proposal without spending some time on discovery. 

Talking with the prospect can help you understand these key variables, which could determine whether or not you want to move forward with the proposal: 

  • Is this RFP just a disguise to get free ideas? 
  • What does their budget look like? Are they willing to pay for your time and services?
  • Do they have a good understanding of their own requirements? How well do they understand their own needs? 

Define the project scope 

As a consultant, it can be difficult to draw boundaries around projects, especially if you’re participating in a cross-functional initiative involving multiple contractors or team members. 

When the scope is undefined or vaguely defined from the beginning, it’s easy to start falling prey to scope creep, where you start doing more tasks than initially outlined, or taking on responsibility that isn’t part of your contract. 

So how do you prevent that from happening in the first place? A paper published on the Project Management Institute suggests including a change management process to formalize new additions or requirements. 

Consider specifying inclusions and exclusions to draw very clear lines of what is and what isn’t included in the service. 

How to write a consulting proposal in 6 simple steps

Writing a winning proposal is probably simpler than you think. Let’s start with…

Write an introduction or executive summary 

The first page of your proposal should be a 2-3 paragraph introduction or an executive summary where you mention: 

  • Previous touch points such as email or calls to provide continuation to your conversation 
  • Relevant team members to provide context 
  • Overview of the project in 2-3 sentences 
  • Your expertise and years of experience
  • What they’ll find in the rest of the proposal 

Read: How To Write An Executive Summary For A Proposal

Wrap up your observations in a problem statement

A good problem statement is both specific and concise. It should clearly describe the issues without unnecessary jargon or overly complex explanations.

It might look something like:

“Our assessment reveals that Company X’s current inventory management system is leading to a 20% surplus in stock levels, contributing to approximately $500,000 in unnecessary annual expenses. This inefficiency not only strains storage resources but also ties up capital that could be better allocated towards innovation and growth. Addressing this issue will streamline operations and enhance financial performance.”

This problem statement is clear, quantifies the issue, and sets up a natural lead-in to proposing a specific solution.

Tackle the project scope

After setting the tone with the problem statement, the next section would be the project scope. 

The project scope outlines the specific tasks, objectives, and deliverables of the project. 

In this section, you want to: 

  • Define the project objectives
  • Identify the deliverables and the expected outcomes
  • List actions to be taken and necessary tasks or processes
  • Set clear boundaries by listing out project inclusions and exclusions 
  • List resources that will be used to complete the project 

Build credibility 

When clients are deciding who to hire, hearing about successful past projects can really tip the scales in your favor. 

It’s highly likely that you’re not the only consultant or firm they’re considering, so how do you stand out from the rest? 

Consider adding credibility-building sections like case studies, customer testimonials, or reviews of previous similar projects to convince prospects you’re the best fit for the project. 

Include your fees and payment terms 

When fleshing out the fees and payment terms in your consulting proposal, add a clear breakdown of your charges. 

Specify whether you bill on an hourly basis, per project, or via a retainer, and clarify if different tasks or phases have different rates. Include any potential costs for additional services.

Recommend the next steps to take 

Close your proposal by specifying the actions your clients can take. Do you want them to review the proposal and sign the offer? Are you looking for feedback on the pricing? What parts of the proposal are negotiable? 

You can assign deadlines to move the needle in negotiations. 

What common challenges do people face when writing one?

As you write your proposal, you might notice yourself falling into some challenges that can be pretty tricky to navigate. Here are some tips on how to overcome these common pitfalls: 

Challenge 1: You’re not sure how to position yourself. Positioning yourself effectively means defining your expertise. Without clear positioning, clients will move on to someone whose specialization and experience is more clearly outlined. 

How to overcome it: 

  • Identify your niche and mention your years of experience 
  • Define your ideal clientele by mentioning your previous customers 
  • Reflect on what makes you stand out from others (process, methodology, network, tools used, pricing model) and highlight that as your USP or unique selling point 

Challenge 2: You’re not sure how to price yourself. Overpricing can scare away clients, while underpricing can devalue your work and strain your bottomline. 

How to overcome it: 

  • Look at what other consultants with your level of experience are charging to understand industry standards 
  • Consider including different pricing models for different levels of involvement 
  • Set a price that’s 10-20% higher than what you really want to give clients space for negotiation

Challenge 3: You’re not sure how to provide an accurate estimate of the timeline or costs. Identifying project milestones and timelines is a crucial part of any proposal, but you won’t always know the right figures for every single proposal. 

How to overcome it: 

  • Look through historical data for similar projects to get an understanding of how long they take 
  • Include a buffer for the timeline so you have space to accommodate delays 
  • Identify potential roadblocks in the project and clearly communicate to clients how they can contribute to delays, and how you plan to address them 

3 consulting proposal examples 

Below are actual consulting proposal examples from consulting firms Deloitte and Mckinsey to give you a better idea of how the pros win massive million dollar contracts.

Although their contracts are probably a lot more comprehensive than your projects, there are a couple best practices you can learn from these examples: 

Sample 1: Technical consulting proposal from Deloitte 

This technical proposal from accounting firm Deloitte is a great example if you’re proposing projects that are comprehensive, nuanced, or technical, and want a better idea on how to communicate the details of the project and the value-add without getting lost in too many details. 

Source: Scribd

Sections included: 

  • Executive Summary
  • Minimum requirements 
  • Proposal (Technical approach)
  • Proposal (Experience)
  • Proposal (Staffing) 
  • Appendix: Resumes and Offer

What you can learn: 

  • How to convince clients you’re the best fit for the job: This consulting proposal has a dedicated section for each team member, highlighting their years of experience in the field, previous contributions in projects, and several industry credentials to prove they’re the best fit for the job. 
  • How to write a comprehensive but succinct process statement: If you’re unsure how to cover processes, methodologies, or tools you’ll be using in the project without oversharing or under communicating, Deloitte’s proposal outlines two different processes in their proposal. 

Sample 2: Business management & HR consulting proposal from Mckinsey

This business management proposal from Mckinsey is their response for an RFP (request for proposal). This proposal is a great example of how you can frame your proposal around previous projects and the experience of your team to build credibility and increase your chances of conversion. 

Source: NJ.gov

Sections included: 

  • Cover letter
  • Executive summary
  • Administrative requirements
  • Cost schedules
  • Project cost summary
  • Total project budget and deliverable dates
  • Rate sheet model
  • Budget narrative 

What you can learn: 

  • How to center your proposal around your client’s needs and values: Their executive summary is focused on addressing concerns, apprehensions, or friction points that their client may have. 
  • How to illustrate cross-functional collaboration in big projects: In the Budget Narrative section of the proposal, Mckinsey outlines the different teams involved in the project, and what aspects of the project they’ll be in charge of. This ties in with the rest of the proposal where Mckinsey associates de-risk the project and placate the worries of the recipients. 

Sample 3: Cost proposal for consulting services from Mckinsey

This consulting proposal is proposing a fixed-payment model for a project. This proposal can help you understand how to communicate your payment model to your clients, and how to illustrate the benefits of your package or pricing model by illustrating what goes into it.

Source: Scribd

Sections included: 

  • Pricing model 
  • Illustration of pricing model 
  • Cost table 
  • Estimated resources 

What you can learn: 

  • How to justify payment models for your project: This proposal doesn’t just provide the pricing. Majority of the proposal is focused on illustrating how they arrived at the pricing model and illustrating how the final quote is more beneficial to the client. 
  • How to flesh out a deliverables/cost table: If you have a detailed project and you’re not sure how to quote based on estimations, Mckinsey’s proposal shows that it’s totally fine to create prices based on estimates.

Bonus: consulting proposal templates for free

If you want to speed up your proposal creation process, take a peek at some of the free templates below to get started ASAP. 

Template 1: PDF consulting proposal 

I like this proposal template from Hubspot because it has some helpful hints when filling out specific sections. It already has a table that you can fill in for things like cost, project activities, timeline, and deliverables. It’s pretty basic but it’s a good starting point if you’re just looking to fill out some basic details. 

Template 2: Slide show consulting proposal

If you’re looking for a more eye-catching proposal, this online slideshow format from Storydoc is a cool alternative to static proposals. It already has the key sections such as company metrics, project overview, timeline, solution, and budget. 

Template 3: Consulting proposal templates

Because I’m a little bit more old school, I prefer these editable consulting proposal templates from Venngage. They have a library of different consulting proposals for multiple use cases and industries (HR, social media, interior design, investment consultation). I personally like this white one because it’s clean and professional. It also has a TOC page and a project timeline page. 

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