We tested nine online proposal software tools to find the best options for small businesses, freelancers, and large sales teams.
After over 45 hours of testing, we recommend Proposify for larger teams in 2021 because of their professional templates, flexible but easy-to-use options, and powerful automation and analytics. We recommend PandaDoc and Honeybook for individuals and small teams.
In the rest of the article, we will cover our other top picks and the pros and cons of each.
Best software for proposal creation: Proposify
We can highly recommend Proposify because it is the software we use in-house. The suite of options has grown since we first selected this tool, and Proposify still holds up. Our need was to produce professional, custom business proposals, but with the benefit of automation. Proposify develops sleek proposals using the helpful reusable Content Library and a drag-and-drop interface, enabling new documents to be built quickly and accurately. Once set-up, Proposify’s user-friendly interface can save hours in preparation time per proposal.
From the client’s point of view, they receive a professional and accessible proposal. We have had good feedback on the ease of review, modifications, and signing. Tracking active offers and how clients interact with each section has been valuable for targeting follow-up communication and winning sales.
Proposify is best for medium- to large-sized businesses with single or multi-person sales and marketing teams sending enough proposals that it warrants investing in a tool to streamline your process. It’s a fine tool for small businesses also, but Proposify’s business strategy is firmly focused on enterprise clients as of 2020, according to Proposify’s Director of Sales and Affiliate Manager. You can read the full Proposify review here.
Runner-up with more payment options: PandaDoc
PandaDoc’s platform is honed to quickly produce sleek business proposals, move them through the sales process, and better understand how clients interact with proposals. The tool is intuitive for any user and includes the critical automaton and client interaction tracking that makes proposal creation software so valuable.
PandaDoc allows client payment through PayPal, Stripe, Square, and Authorize.net, which provides more options for companies using different payment systems. In comparison, Proposify only offers Stripe. You can read the full Pandadoc review here.
How we picked and tested
We reviewed nine leading software tools in the proposal creation tools in the freelance and agency categories. We tested the tool’s proposal preparation capabilities through the company’s free trial offering. New and template-based proposals were built and tested using various design tools and libraries. We tested collaboration capabilities, client experience, tech support, and other features to assess the ease of use, professionalism, and flexibility. We looked at features for freelancers and large sales teams with complex sales processes.
These reviews do not assess other aspects of the software in this category. For some tools, proposal development is just one feature. Platforms may include a range of services such as customer relationship management (CRM), project management, expense tracking, or appointment calendars. These other services may be an essential consideration for your company, but we have focused solely on proposal creation to maintain a direct comparison.
Best for small businesses: HoneyBook
HoneyBook offers useful but basic business proposals with the core feature that makes proposal creation software valuable. Its ability to auto-populate client information makes up for the limited formatting and content options on the platform. This feature eliminates the need for manual proposal editing with client information and allows for rapid proposal preparation.
HoneyBook’s proposals are just one feature in the suite of tools built for managing a small business. Proposals feed into the appointment and invoicing tools, allowing the company to be managed in one place. In addition, HoneyBook’s one paid plan option allows for unlimited users, enabling team collaboration to take place on one platform. Check out our full HoneyBook review here.
Cheapest overall pricing: BetterProposals
BetterProposals has the best pricing at $13 per user per month when billed annually. This option includes up to 10 proposals per month and unlimited users, which is competitive compared to our best picks. The user interface is not always intuitive and the multi-page default client view makes this software a little clunky to use. However, it provides good value and may be worth the price to get used to the platform’s nuances. Find more information about BetterProposal’s offering in our review.
Best for freelancers: Bonsai
Bonsai offers a suite of freelancer tools in a user-friendly and integrated platform. The proposal development feature creates professional documents with lots of formatting options, but its limited automation requires manual work to enter client information in each proposal. The proposal features’ limitations are balanced by affordable pricing and the broader freelancer business tools on the platform. Read our Bonsai review to learn more about its freelancer suite.
Best for agencies: Proposify
Proposal development in agencies relies on clear communication with the client and within the team. The Proposify platform supports strong internal communication both during the proposal creation process and the live sales process. The platform supports internal and external communication through the platform’s chat and tracking functionalities, critical for larger teams and client bases.
Proposify also offers lots of flexibility on the types of permissions and access. You can create unique user types to suit your agency’s particular needs in viewing, editing, and approving proposals.
Agencies can decrease time spent creating a proposal and improve team alignment on deliverables by leveraging Proposify’s platform.
Best proposal templates: Qwilr
Qwilr produces beautiful proposals that craft a compelling story for your client. This software offers the most aesthetically pleasing proposals across all the software we reviewed because it was built from well-designed defaults and editorial options. The user-friendly platform makes it easy to you to make the right design decisions.
However, Qwilr is missing key automation that saves proposal development time. The Variable function, which acts as a placeholder for company information, is not available. You will need to manually enter a potential client’s contact name or address into the beautiful document without it. This missing automation requires additional preparation time per proposal. Therefore, Qwilr’s visual strengths needed to be weighed against its limited automation.
Qwilr is best for design-based small- to medium-sized businesses where visual excellence is a competitive advantage. You can read the full Qwilr review here.
Best automation: Proposify
The best programs allow you to create custom variables into proposals. This information can be unique to your industry or clients and will automatically be populated when proposals are generated. Our two top picks, Proposify and PandaDoc offer strong automation with custom variables. Still, Proposify takes the edge by integrating custom variables across all menus rather than just within a proposal template. Check out the full Proposify review here.
Best free option: Word Processors and PandaDoc E-Sign
The best free option is likely the system many people use today: word processing or slide show software. You can use previous proposals to develop templates or DIY content libraries. Common programs, such as Microsoft Word or Powerpoint, Google Docs or Slides, are free or low-cost tools for proposal creation. However, this low price is balanced by the increased time required for manual proposal creation. These are great options if you create few proposals or short one-page proposals.
These manual documents can be paired with PandaDoc’s free E-Sign plan. This service allows you to upload a document and send it to a client for a digital signature. This functionality may not be necessary for many businesses, but it can add a level of formality and professionalism that a client may appreciate.
Who needs proposal software?
Any freelancer or company that produces a high volume of proposals needs proposal management software. Proposals are a key process in winning new business, but the manual development process can require significant time and templates can be prone to errors. For example, a client will not be impressed to find a past client’s name used in a proposal instead of their own. These mistakes can be awkward at best and costly at worst.
Proposals are an excellent fit for software because there is a lot of repetitive tasks. Using these platforms’ automation and content libraries allows you to tailor the key aspects of a proposal and leverage the software to do the rest.
How to choose the right software for you
The right software should make your writing process more efficient while integrating with your existing workflow. We’ve collected key considerations to test if the software is right for you.
Ease of use
Play around in the platform and see how easy or obvious it is to create a client proposal. The interface should be intuitive and be divided into sections that make sense to your workflow. Today all the software we reviewed was offered online through the cloud.
Each platform requires an initial time investment to tailor the templates to your company’s clients and needs. This effort will be more straightforward if the platform makes it easy to develop content with user-friendly editing tools.
Client point of view
Put yourself into your client’s shoes and think about what they would like to see. Does the browser display have the right style? Is it obvious how to navigate the proposal and get to a yes? Does it fit with your client’s preferred communication and documentation needs? Ultimately, proposals are for the client. Easy-to-use software is useless if it’s not an excellent client experience.
The best software saves time by automating the time-consuming and painstaking parts of proposal writing. Strong software includes its version of two key automations:
Content library: this catalog saves commonly repeated text, product descriptions, fee structures, or other proposal content so they can be quickly dropped into new proposals.
Variables: these placeholders are automatically filled with the correct client and company information when a proposal is generated.
These features are time savers and should be a selling feature.
Your company already uses a suite of tools. Therefore, your proposal creation software should connect with these existing systems. When choosing a proposal creation software, review the integrations offered to ensure that you can seamlessly connect this enhanced proposal development process into your current workflow.
Your team size will factor into your proposal software. The number of collaborators and levels of access can determine the software needs. It will also determine the cost, as many platforms offer plans with per-user pricing, and several have limits on the maximum number of users per plan.
Platform’s core focus
Proposal creation software falls into two general categories: proposal-focused platforms and small business suites. Proposal-focused platforms concentrate on proposal development. The platform may offer other capacities, but its primary function is to produce proposals. On the other hand, small business suites offer a range of business services, with proposal development being just one tool.
In our experience, proposal-focused software produces the best documents due to this refinement in focus. These platforms are best for businesses looking to create a high volume of proposals that have some complexity. Alternatively, small business suites offer many tools like project management, appointment booking, and bookkeeping. Proposals are conveniently connected to other platform tools for easy client management. However, the proposal document itself is limited in its design and automation. These suites are best for businesses creating fewer proposals or require very simple documents.
What’s the best proposal software?
Proposify is the best proposal software due to its strong automation, user-friendly platform, and client tracking. Proposify helps make tailored documents quickly and easily because it is easy to navigate the platform, create and save relevant content, and quickly pull the right elements together. The proposals have a professional aesthetic and are straightforward for clients to e-sign “yes.” The project tracking function allows you to verify the proposal development process with colleagues, see where the client has spent their reading time, and automatically follow-up to ensure leads stay warm.
What is RFP software?
Request for Proposal (RFP) software is a platform used by buyers and sellers to provide and respond to specific requests for products or services. These platforms help companies create and manage RFP documents and to manage the questions and submissions from sellers. Some platforms also help sellers prepare the RFP response, which overlaps with proposal creation software. The difference between the two is the focus: proposal creation software can support any type of proposal, whereas RFP software is focused on responses to RFPs. RFPs are very specific requests with defined requirements both in the offering and in the way the proposal document should be created, which is defined by the client. Proposal creation software does not incorporate RFP information but can be used for RFPs. It can also be used to prepare proposals outside an RFP process. You can learn more tips on how to write an RFP here.
How do I write a great proposal?
Strong proposals are tailored to the potential client’s challenges and goals. Clients are seeking external companies to solve a problem. Your proposal should clearly outline how you will solve their problem and why your company is best suited to do so. Therefore, writing a great proposal requires significant planning. Before a word is written, a clear understanding of the client’s needs, perspective, and how your company’s offerings and qualities can serve the client. Once these items are weighed and aligned, you can write a persuasive pitch. This process avoids the common mistake of viewing proposals as promotional rather than problem-solving. Your client is far more interested in your deliverable cost and timeline than your ‘About Us’ corporate history. If you are interested in learning more you can read our full guide on how to write a winning business proposal.
How do you automate a proposal?
Proposals can be automated by leveraging proposal software. Repeatable content, such as descriptive sections, images, fee structures, or contracts, can be saved to automatically provide content to a new proposal’s skeleton. In addition, placeholders for client or company information can be automatically populated with the correct information in a new document. The repetitive nature of proposals makes them highly suitable for automation. However, each proposal cannot be simply created from automated content. Each proposal demands planning and tailoring to the client to be persuasive.
Software that didn’t make the cut
Our review covered two proposal management software tools that aren’t leaders but may still be a fit for some businesses. If you’re still looking for other ways to improve your proposal we suggest checking out these other helpful tools.
Bidsketch is the most expensive option for the pure proposal creation tools (e.g. they do not provide other small business tools). While all the key elements were present, Bidsketch offered fewer document editing and client tracking features than less expensive options.
AND.CO is a freelancer suite that includes proposal creation. The proposal formatting options are limited, and automation is non-existent, but these issues are common for this type of small business suite platform. AND.CO is targeted at freelancers and is competitively priced. However, the freelancer focus means it is designed for only one user not a sales team. There is no collaboration option, limiting growth on the platform compared to other freelancer-focused tools.
Nusii offers advanced automation but the templates are relatively similar, they only offer one option for payment processing, client engagement tracking is minimal, and there is only one type of collaborator on the platform.
Canva offers proposal design software that is easy to use but lacks any of the automation, management, or payment processing that dedicated tools offer. If you’re looking for a great-looking one-off proposal it would be a good solution.
Proposal software is a way to help close more business, but there are other ways to improve your proposals. We offer a proposal writing course that includes individual coaching. Additionally, we suggest these blog posts on how to write a better proposal:
How to Format a Business Proposal
How Long Should a Proposal Be?
Proposal Title Pages: Title, Subtitle, & Design
10 Proposal Examples with Critiques
We hope that these resources will help your business create better proposals and close more business. If you have questions or feedback on this article please add a comment below.
Articlce from Instruction Solutions.