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7 Business Proposal Tips From Donald Trump

What can Donald Trump teach you about business proposal writing? You can learn valuable lessons about business development and proposal writing by studying the techniques others use to win business, especially in Government contracting. I recently read Donald Trump’s biography which gives some insights into how he has landed large government contracts.

1. Business Proposals: Know Your Readers

Before Trump meets the government agencies, or firms that he wants to work with, he researches into their background. Why? It’s so that he can use these to break the ice when he meets them at presentations or events.

Project Costs including sample data

The more you know about your target readers (aka those with the funds your after), the more you can understand their needs, their underlying issues, and also human things, such as how you can flatter them.

At the end of the day, we’re dealing with people. And regardless of how good your bid is, someone sitting in an office is going to have to approve it. How well do you know this person?

How would Trump do this?

  • Invite them to parties

  • Meet them at events

  • Send them personal hand-written letters.

While you may not be able to do this, you can:

  • Send them questions for clarification

  • Arrange presentations

  • Attend events where they are launching a new event

The key is to find ways that you learn about their needs BEFORE they issue a Request For Proposal. If you have this inside knowledge, then you stand a much greater chance of getting short listed (and giving a presentation) and having your bid accepted.

2. Business Proposals: Make Your Bid Interesting

There’s always been a show biz element to Trump. It’s part of his ‘persona’. What’s interesting is that his ‘persona’ is a deliberate way to draw attention, show his star quality and push rivals into the background.

7 Business Proposal Tips From Donald Trump

Image credit: gageskidmore

How do you do this with business proposals?

  • Catchy Document Titles – make the document title more interesting than others. Read how to write catchy titles here. If every bid has the same heading, then how will yours stand out?

  • Use Color – you don’t have to stick with black and white. Use color effectively in your proposal documents. Add a little splash and make sure you have a rocking cover sheet. Look at these examples from Accenture.

  • Get on Stage – videotape yourself when making a presentation. What do you see? Riveting or boring? Don’t be too hard on yourself. Most of us never learn to give presentations – which is a bit like acting, it’s just that the audience is different – so hire a drama teacher. Learn to improve your presentations and make a much bigger impact when you deliver onstage.

3. Business Proposals: Identify the Pain Points

You need to identify what really hurts your clients. In business talk, this is called ‘pain points’.

  • What keeps the funding agency awake at night?

  • What’s the worst thing that could happen if the solution doesn’t work?

  • How will it impact their career?

If you watch Trump on TV, watch he gets to the heart of the problem immediately. You need to do this same in the bid document, though the language needs to reflect the readership.

  • Avoid flowery, pretentious writing.

  • Don’t use double negatives.

  • Focus on the positive.

  • Write ‘you’ not ‘the user’ or ‘the reader’ or ‘one must’.

Keep the reader engaged. Imagine them sitting across the table from you. Write the bid so it is:

  • Persuasive

  • Direct

  • Attractive

Tip – Don’t use tiny fonts. Many business people have poor eyesight. Make the fonts that little bit bigger than usual, eg Times Roman 12.

The biggest mistake you can make in proposal writing is...

Not asking for the money. I know it sounds obvious but according to the authors of The Thirteen Most Common Fund-Raising Mistakes, ‘Doing everything but asking’ was the biggest mistake inn grant applications.

State what you want clearly.

For example, "Our High School requests $5,000 from the Gates Foundation in support of the City Rejuvenation Project."

4. Business Proposals: Develop a Writing Style

How to write a compelling proposal?

The problem is most of us learnt to write a certain way in high school. But that doesn’t really work in the business world. Sounds contradictory, doesn’t it?

In school, you're taught to write essays. They are long, padded, lengthy sentences, with few graphics and with no call to action.

Writing the proposal narrative

In business writing, you need to flip this around.

  • Write short sentences.

  • Use the active voice.

  • Make the reader care.

The narrative describes the project, including the needs it addresses and your plan of action.

Start with a Statement of Need. This identifies the problem that could be alleviated by the project. The Statement of Need describes the needs your project will address - not organizational challenges faced by your organization (eg funds, equipment, personnel etc.).

Next, in the Project Description, outline the project and how it will meets the identified needs

You can do this by identifying the:

  • Goals for the project,

  • Objectives (make them specific, measurable activities)

  • Project Plan (describe each phase of the project plan so that the funding officer understands how your staff will approach the project

Work Breakdown Structure

Including a timetable that shows:

  • what will be done

  • when it will be done

  • who will do it

for each task.

Don’t write something you can't deliver. Grant teams appreciate a realistic proposal that does not promise more than can be delivered.

5. Business Proposals: Value For Money

The cheapest bid doesn’t always win. If you think that submitting lower priced bid than everyone else will win the contract... doesn’t work.


Low priced bids are often a sign of desperation, not understanding the requirements, or lack of expertise.

Business Proposal Template - Costs
Business Proposal Template - Costs

Regardless of how well you write the solution response, understand the requirements, or have the right track record, you still have to offer value for money.

This means that when you write the cost sections – also called budget – you need to show that your costs, even though higher than your competitors are good value.

How to do this?

  • Upfront Payment – don’t demand too much payment in advance. Some will ask for 30%, which will scare the funders. They have budgets too.

  • Payment Schedule – look for ways to stagger the payments, for example, every month, every quarter or by deliverable. When you finish a piece of work, you get paid.

  • Currency – for large projects, see if it suits them to pay in a specific currency. This may work to both of your advantages.

  • Expenses – clarify what you will (and will not) claim as expenses. This helps the grant givers understand what you may claim and they can budget accordingly. With expenses, be realistic and don’t exaggerate or underestimate the costs.

6. Business Proposals: Be Confident

When writing the proposal document, find a way to blend your own confidence with details of your track record.

Why do this?

We all know that people tend to be more confident when they have mastered an area, subject or skill. It makes sense. So, when writing your document, introduce ways that show:

Where you have achieved these goals

Endorsements you have received from others

Press coverage about the deal, solution or product launch

Your goal is to show the funding team that you have the:

  • Administrative

  • Financial

  • Management

  • Staff

to accomplish the project.

To do this:

  • Write short sections that outline your core values and how this aligns with theirs

  • Outline your company history (i.e. why the organization was created), and

  • Summarize your achievements

You can further enhance this by referencing other organizations and institutions with which you have worked with. Include quotes if possible.

7. Business Proposals: Include Supporting Documents

The final step in the process is to include all the necessary support documentation. This may include:

These all serve to remind the readers that your firm is well placed to deliver the services they require. Remember to send them in Adobe PDF format so the quality is not changed when printed out. Microsoft Word documents may print different on different PCs.


If you follow these seven steps, you will start to get more positive feedback from the grant-giver, donor, or agency that supplies the funding.

You will also get more confident in starting new proposals as you will have a track record of material that stands to you. And, the more you discuss your work with others, and listen to their feedback, the more you can refine your writing style. It’s a snowball effect. Every proposal you write is one step towards mastering this skills.

Proposal Writing Tips

  1. Business Proposal Pricing Strategies

  2. Writing a Proposal in Plain English

  3. How to Write Business Reports

  4. 7 Steps toward a Customer-centric Proposal

  5. Proposing a Solution or a Product? Which Sells Best?

  6. Golden Rules For Proposal Writing

  7. Difference between Features and Benefits

  8. Writing Effective RFPs

  9. How to Write Effective Selling Proposals

  10. 7 Skills for Business Writing Success

  11. 1 Minute Exercise For Writing Great Benefits

  12. Request for Proposals (RFP) Resources

  13. Checklist for Writing Public Policy Documents

  14. Checklist for Writing Business Proposals (RFPs)

  15. Ultimate Proposal Checklist

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