How Long Should An Email Proposal Be?

How to craft an email proposal that gets you the sale.

It is not too practical to attempt to send an entire proposal, which would normally be 2,000 or more words, as an email. Nor should you send it, unsolicited and without prior arrangement, as an attachment for two reasons:

1. In these days of computer viruses as an ever-present hazard, it has become offensive to send anyone, especially a stranger, an attachment without such prior arrangement and agreement, a practice now widely followed by many people of never opening an attachment of which you had no prior knowledge was coming and had not agreed to receive.

2. A surprisingly large number of people do not know how to open attached files of any kind. 

The solution I use, one that appears to work effectively, is to describe the proposed book in a very few words and include an outline, with an offer to send a complete proposal.

You may have to teach yourself to think differently to do this well. Because I learned and did much of my proposal writing in the pursuit of government contracts, many for those high-tech defense and space systems, I tend to think of a proposal as a bound document of many pages. (Some proposals in my experience were bound in two or three volumes, in fact, and one in four volumes.) Of course, there is no reason that a small proposal cannot be complete in a page or two, perhaps even as part of a letter, if the project is small enough.. Too, a proposal need not be always a solicitation to a client or to a prospective client; it may be an internal proposal, submitted to some executive in your own organization. The principles are the same: If your proposal is in response to a request, be sure that you know what your client wants, so that your proposal is responsive. If your proposal is unsolicited, know and state exactly what you propose to DO for the client. Devise a strategy to help your client see the benefit of doing what you propose, explain your program, and develop your presentation accordingly. Every one of us acts out of a desire to gain something or to avoid something, and you must always be clear in your mind and in your words what you are offering as the major benefit.

Avoid the Me, Too Proposal

Far too many proposals appear to be based on a me-too strategy. That is, they are focused entirely on proving that they have a full capability for doing the proposed work as well anyone else can, saying, “We are entirely capable, and we can do this for you and satisfy all your needs in a superior manner, because nobody is better than we are.” Unfortunately, that approach sometimes works, but when it does, it does so for all the wrong reasons: It may work because yours is by far the most prominent company responding to the client; your proposal is the slickest, most professional looking; or your proposal is the best of a poor lot. But it should work because it is special: It offers something others do not, something different and better. That is the strategy that turns a me-too proposal into a winner on its merits.


One way to make your proposal outstanding and appealing in a way that wins the contract is to have a winning USP. When that term came into being, it was used to stand for Unique Selling Point. That was an advertising executive’s point of view. But it may and is often used to mean Unique Service Proposition or other phrase that keeps the word unique as its unchanging and obligatory term. It is something that makes you stand out from your competitors with a great benefit, an overpowering reason to do business with you. Perhaps the greatest of all USPs was that of young Montgomery Ward when he introduced a revolutionary idea to mail order, the unconditional, no questions asked, money back guarantee. Such a guarantee was unheard of at the time, and it outraged Ward’s competitors, who denounced him bitterly in private. However, the Ward guarantee was so effective that it quickly became obligatory: customers demanded such a guarantee, and everyone was forced to adopt such a guarantee. It changed retailing for all time: Even if your advertising fails to state it today, customers will assume that you include such a guarantee.

The USP must thus be unique, but it must also be more: it must offer a benefit that is great enough to motivate a prospect to become your customer. Minor benefits do not create effective USPs; only major ones do. And it must be new and fresh because your competitors will imitate your best USPs. A good USP does not remain unique for long.

How Unique Must a USP Be?

A USP need not be truly unique in the dictionary definition: it need not be unlike anything in existence anywhere. It is enough that it offers something that no one else offers so it is unique as far as the customer is aware. When I offered a proposal-writing seminar, I coined the word proposalmanship and called the seminar the graduate course. Proposalmanship was a unique term, but it was not the USP; the term graduate course was the effective USP. It promised something very special.

Herman Holtz is a Writer-Consultant, author 80+ business/professional books, former technical writer, executive and proposal consultant. He can be reached at

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