Five things to keep in mind as you write a letter of proposal, taken from the book:

  1. It’s an agreement, not a contract. I may be parsing words, but if you allow the lawyers—yours and the client’s—to get involved in drafting a contract, the assignment will be over before you sign anything, and the only one to profit will be your attorney. In all the years I’ve been in advertising, I have never needed help arriving at a client agreement. Instead, I’ve relied on a simple and thorough letter to establish an assignment’s scope of work. Once I’ve completed the letter, I ask my client to sign it before beginning the assignment. Letters of proposal do in fact operate as “legal agreements,” but by keeping the writing personal and informal, I get to an outcome that’s faster, cheaper, and better. And if you deliver on the scope of work you described, you won’t need to call your attorney.
  2. Write the way you speak. You are not trying to replicate “party of the first part” legal language. Write conversationally.
  3. Tell them what you are going to tell them. After the usual pleasantries that you use to open the letter—“It was great to see you the other day, blah, blah, blah.”—make sure you outline what the rest of the letter will entail. The letter should include the following elements:
    • A recap of the assignment
    • A discussion of the various components you plan to include in the scope of work
    • A budget estimate, both for your fees and any third-party costs you might incur (media, production, travel, etc.)
    • A schedule
    • Next steps
    • Another “thanks for the opportunity” closing, with a reminder that you will call to follow up.
  4. Use short paragraphs. Use headlines to separate the letter into digestible segments. Keep your paragraphs short; six lines maximum is the rule.
  5. Write it, then rewrite it. The key to getting a letter of proposal that is clear and convincing lies not in the writing but in the rewriting. The editing process will not only sharpen your language, it also will clarify your thinking.

There are countless ways to write a letter of proposal, and I’m certain my approach is just one among many. Still, I thought it would be helpful if I included an example. The letter that follows is one I sent to a potential client, sanitized to maintain confidentiality and to remove the actual numbers I quoted. Admittedly, it lost a bit of steam as I did my housekeeping, but it still gives you a sense of the approach. (In case you’re wondering, I did not get this assignment.)

With apologies to all the really good writers out there, here it is: download sample proposal