How to Write a Food Industry or Catering Business Proposal

Do you need to write a proposal to promote your food-related business to a prospective client or to get funding? It doesn’t have to be an intimidating process. The goals for any business proposal are: introduce yourself, highlight your products and/or services, describe the costs, and convince the client that you are the right choice for the job or you are worth investing in. To speed up the proposal writing process, you can use pre-designed templates and get ideas from sample proposals.

Whether you are describing a catering service, pitching a food service (deli) to be installed within another company, buying or selling a food franchise or food vending business, requesting that a grocery store of specialty store chain carry your food product, or even asking for funding to start up or expand a restaurant, the proposal structure will be similar. Here’s the basic structure to follow: introduce yourself, then summarize the prospective client’s needs, describe your services and costs, and finally, provide information about your organization, your credentials, and your capabilities.

For a food-related business, you will also need to include some detailed information about your services, menus, or products that are of interest to the specific client. For example, a catering service might need to include menus and décor themes from which the client can select, and a food vending operation might need to explain how machines will be operate and which items will be stocked.

Always keep in mind that the purpose of a proposal is to persuade your potential clients to give you their business or loan you their money. You must prove that you can deliver the products or services they need. A simple price list can never substitute for a real proposal.

Proposals should be targeted to a specific client. This means you need to gather information about your client so that you can present a proposal tailored to that individual client’s needs. It’s never a good idea to send all prospective clients the same sales letter. Clients are much more likely to accept a proposal tailored just for them.

So, let’s get back to the order described above. Start your proposal with a Cover Letter and a Title Page. The Cover Letter should deliver a brief personal introduction and contain your company contact information. The Title Page is just what it sounds like: the name of your specific proposal (for example, “Proposed Catering Plan for Your Awards Banquet”, “Proposal to Place Food Vending Machines in Community College Buildings” or “Business Plan Funding for Hot Stuff Bakery”).

After this introduction section, add topics that describe the needs of your client. If you are presenting a proposal for a complex project, you may need to write a summary to precede the detail pages. In a proposal for a corporate client, this is normally called an Executive Summary. For a less formal but still complex proposal, it’s more often called a Client Summary. In this summary and the following detail pages, you should demonstrate your understanding of the client’s requirements, goals, and desires, as well as discussing any restrictions or limitations you are aware of. This section should be all about the client.

Next is your chance to advertise yourself. Follow your introduction section and the client section with pages that describe what you are offering. These pages might have general headings like Services Provided, Samples (offering the client to pre-sample selections from your menu or food products), Benefits, and Services Cost Summary, Product Cost Summary, Entertainment (if provided with food service) as well as more specific pages that detail the products and/or services you can provide and explain the associated costs, the number of people that will be served and so on.

Your specific business will determine the specialized topics and pages you need to include in your proposal.

A catering service might need to include topics like Specialization (to highlight a specific niche you excel in) Services Provided, Options, Cost Summary, Events, Entertainment, Rentals, Special Needs, Policies and a Contract and Terms.

A deli or fast food franchise might want pages such as a Location Analysis, Future Potential, Financial Information, Income Project, Feasibility Study and other business opportunity templates describing the business opportunity.

A company selling a product to a store might include Product Cost Summary or Price List, Distribution, Market and Audience, Marketing Plan, Ingredients, Packaging, Footprint, Cost/Benefit Analysis, Quality Control and Benefits.

Specialty businesses such as event planners, party planners and wedding planners typically have to incorporate catering services as just one component of a larger proposal and will deal with additional topics such as the Venue, Performers, Products, Logistics, Packages and so on.

A business proposing to provide school lunches for students would need to provide additional details to show they can handle the volume and safety requirements. You can add topics for Requirements, Facilities, Safety Plan, Training Plan (for how your employees are trained), Certifications, Insurance, Quality Control, Experience, Capabilities, Capacity and so forth.

If you’re asking for funding to start a food business (anything from a coffee shop or bakery to a full size restaurant), you’ll want to add pages such as a Competitive Analysis, Industry Trends, Market and Audience, Marketing Plan, Insurance, Liability, Time Line, Funding Request, Services Provided, Products, Company Operations, Balance Sheet, Income Projection, Sources of Funds, Uses of Funds, Personnel, Legal Structure and any other topics required by the lender.

In your last proposal section, provide your company details, including pages such as Company History or About Us, Capabilities, Testimonials, Our Clients, or References. Your goal in this section is to convince the prospective client that you can be trusted to deliver the goods and/or services they need and want.

Those are the basic steps for organizing and writing the proposal. But you’re not quite finished yet. After you have all the information down on the pages, focus on ensuring that your proposal is visually appealing. Incorporate your company logo, use colored page borders, and/or select interesting fonts and custom bullets to add color and flair. Just be sure to match your company style when making these selections.

To finalize your proposal, it’s essential to proofread and spell-check every page. It’s always a good idea to get someone other than the proposal writer to do a final proof, because it’s very common to overlook mistakes in your own work.

When the final touches have been completed, print it or save it as a PDF file, and then deliver it to the client. The delivery method you should use will depend on your relationship with your potential client. While it’s common to email PDF files to clients, a nicely printed, personally signed, and hand-delivered proposal may make more of an impression and demonstrate that you’re willing to make an extra effort for the client.

So, to sum up, a food-business proposal can vary widely in content depending on the business and the project. Each company’s proposal contents will need to be a bit different. But all these proposals will have a similar format and follow a similar structure.

If you’d like to get a jump start using pre-designed templates with simple instructions and tons of suggestions for content, you can use Proposal Pack which includes all of the material mentioned above. The product also includes many sample food business proposals that will give you great ideas and help you easily create your own successful proposal.

The Changing Role of the Telephone – Now A Huge Impediment to Business Productivity

Is telemarketing a dying strategy? For this business owner, the telephone represents the biggest distraction of my workday, rattling my nerves with its startling clamor, bringing my productivity to a screeching halt, and breaking my train of thought sometimes never to be recovered after its insolent intrusion into my silent workplace.

When the “do not call” lists were first established, I eagerly signed up. There is nothing more annoying than receiving a sales pitch by phone as we sit down to eat dinner, especially an uninvited one! Of course, since I also run a business, I still receive my share of telemarketing interruptions since the “do not call” registry is only for personal use. Still, there are plenty of loopholes which make some telemarketing calls legitimate regardless of whether your personal phone number is on the registry, or not.

According to the FCC, these types of calls are still allowed:

• Calls from any organization with which you have a pre-established business relationship.

• Calls from anyone who has been given prior written permission.

• Calls which are not commercial.

• Calls on behalf of tax-exempt non-profit organizations.

While I am a bit more forgiving about such interruptions to my business since I sometimes need to make phone calls myself, with each passing day, month and year, I find myself less motivated to pick up the phone for fear of inadvertently annoying someone in the process. And when I do make the call, my first statement is: “I’m sorry to bother you. Am I interrupting anything?” Luckily, with the lone exception of one person I do business with presently, everyone I deal with is reachable by email.

Email has changed the world, at least my world, and it surpasses the telephone in a very important way. It provides written documentation of what is being communicated, a legal basis for review, should any questions arise in the future about what was said.

Recently, I was scolded by a client with whom I have since severed ties, because she accused me of shirking my duties by refusing to “take notes” while she delivered complicated and contradictory work instructions by phone. I had suggested that she please email me those specifics, citing the benefits I mentioned above. Claiming that writing is not her strong suit, (nor is any kind of communication, I might add), she resented my reminder that we may need a legal document with which to clarify our plan, email being the ideal solution. The reason I decided to terminate our working relationship after only a year’s time was based on her penchant for claiming I did not do as she had asked and therefore she did not owe me any fees for work done. Yet, having stood my ground and convinced her to email me, her convoluted instructions distributed over a series of obtuse, unrelated, undefined messages were enough to stymie even the most lucid among us. I had really tried to work with her but in the end I simply had to give up. She was impossible.

I say this with more than 35 years of experience behind me and hundreds of satisfied clients who praise me, some of whom I still work with after all this time - and, all of whom pay me without question.

Given that a phone conversation is easy to misinterpret and details easy to forget without something written to which to refer, especially after the passage of time, there is something else which has transpired which has basically changed the way phones are used in today’s world.

I saw this coming years ago, back when I was young, naive and inexperienced in sales of any kind. Prior to the popularity of the Internet and email, I was responsible for ad sales in an expensive military yearbook called The West Point Howitzer. The ideal advertising candidate was one of the American national defense companies which usually was represented by a large advertising agency. My job was to find the proper contacts within the company, within the agency, or both. With little to go on other than my own personal intuition that a particular company might want to reach tomorrow’s military leaders from West Point, I found myself conversing regularly with switchboard operators who would put me through to someone’s voice mail. My days were consumed with delivering creative messages, sometimes rambling on for several minutes, only to be met with complete failure to elicit any kind of response. I used to call it “getting lost in phone limbo.” The phone became the ultimate instrument of evasion: Just leave a message and don’t hold your breath. In the few instances when some kind soul would actually call me back, it was to tell me that I was calling the wrong person and it was not their job!

Lately, however, there has also been a shift in culture, largely because of text messaging and social networking. It is the rare individual who prefers direct contact nowadays. Those who cling brazenly and stubbornly to traditional use of the phone call are possibly guilty of only seeking personal entertainment, at the expense of everyone else’s convenience. According to a March 18, 2011 New York Times article by Pamela Paul which appeared in the Sunday Styles section, Nielsen Media reports that, “even on cellphones, voice spending has been trending downward, with text spending expected to surpass it within three years.” Quoting this article further, one professional quipped, “I remember when I was growing up, the rule was, ‘Don’t call anyone after 10 p.m.’ Now the rule is, ‘Don’t call anyone. Ever.’ “

I thought I was the only one shunning use of the telephone: ironic for someone who runs a marketing business and doesn’t even own a cellphone! Yet, it is hard to believe use of the phone is on the wane as I overhear people obnoxiously conversing while driving, shopping, dining or waiting in line oblivious to or in spite of anyone within earshot.

I get three kinds of telemarketing calls to which I am now the master of evasion: Requests to purchase a product or service for my own business or for any one of my clients’ businesses; Requests to donate; Requests to participate in a survey. Some of these calls are made by live people. But, lately, more and more of these calls are automated. I couldn’t be more pleased about this. No longer must I draw from my reserves of pat statements which stop the caller dead in his tracks, unable to proceed through the roadblock I have presented. The automated calls need no business decorum, proper etiquette or courteous protocol whatsoever. The only action required is to hang up. End of interruption.

In those cases when there is an actual person on the other end, frequently from some Asian or other remote location, I utilize the following reply: “I’m sorry. What is your deadline? Are you able to fax or email me a written request so that I may present it at our meeting for all to review?” For Survey Requests: “I’m sorry. I don’t have time to participate at this time. Can you try me at another time, please?”

Although they say they will, none ever bothers to call me back. Mission accomplished.

In all the years I have been orchestrating marketing strategies, telemarketing has not been one I have recommended. But I do see its role, or the role of making a phone call, in certain situations which include asking permission to send an email; asking for or verifying contact information; asking for remittance of a late payment; and, verifying receipt of emailed or mailed material. If deadlines are involved, sometimes there is no other choice but to call someone to learn of their timely decision, with all calls prefaced by the appropriate apologies.

Other than that, for this marketer, telemarketing only serves to disrupt my concentration, demanding that I stop what I am doing to put an end to its rude auditory interference. From that perspective, I am hardly in a cooperative frame of mind to listen patiently to its message, consider its value and conclude a transaction. Compared to the convenience of email, where I can choose when I want to take the time to review its contents, the days of telemarketing (and possibly direct mail, the postal service, printed yellow pages and printed business stationery, among others), in my opinion, may be numbered.

Guarantors For Business Loans

A guarantee is basically a promise to satisfy the performance of an agreement. A guaranty is similar, but is used to satisfy the performance of a loan by an individual. Analysis of credit and guaranties is a discipline that only the most qualified people should perform. Investigating guaranties is never performed alone -it is part of the overall credit review of a business requesting a loan. It is a complex set of procedures beyond the scope of this article. This article will summarize the elements involved to investigate a business loan guaranty. Consult with your CPA or Banker for assistance before attempting to do it yourself.

Investigating a personal guaranty for business loans is part of commercial credit analysis. The credit-underwriting department of a commercial bank or business lending institution typically performs this analysis. Any institution or person considering the extension of credit related to a business can perform credit examination. All guarantors must complete a Personal Financial Statement accompanied by tax returns and sometimes-additional supporting financial statements. Guaranties are legal agreements that obligate a third party, usually a business owner or key corporate officer, to repay a business debt should the business entity default on its repayment of a credit facility. A guaranty is not a primary source or substitute of a borrower’s credit worthiness.

Personal guarantees are frequently obtained from the owners of a corporation, partnership or any other form of a business entity. From the lender’s perspective, a personal guaranty ensures the personal and business interests of the owners are equivalent. If the business entity defaults on the loan, the guarantor promises to cure the default. Since most guaranties are unsecured, their values are more psychological than tangible. However, a lender can ask for some type of personal collateral of the owner for additional security for the making the loan. For example, the lender may ask for a pledge of a secondary lien on the owner’s home. The type of property pledged depends on the risk factors calculated by the lender. Some property holds greater security values than others.

Investigating the credit worthiness of a loan and a guarantor involves careful credit investigation. In commercial lending, banks will apply principles called the 5 Cs as a basis for credit examination. The 5 Cs are Character, Capacity, Capital, Conditions, and Collateral.

Character – This relates to the motivation of the borrower to repay a debt obligation. It is unlike any other financial performance indicator found in the financial statements. Determining character is a judgment call derived from careful interviewing of the applicant and study of the applicants’ historical credit reputation. Background checks and interviews with others having business relations with the applicant are useful to make a fair appraisal.

Capacity – “Cash is King”. Loans are repaid from cash generated by the business’ operating cycle. Can the borrower manage their cash efficiently enough not only to repay the loan, but all other debts simultaneously? Historical financial performance is evaluated to determine how the borrower handles their debts and expenses. Sources to review include the Income Statement, Statement of Cash Flows, and partially the Balance Sheet. A new or very young business is difficult to judge because they have not yet accumulated enough historical data to review.

Capital – It is the funds available to operate a business. The two primary conditions in this area involve the amount of owner’s equity (OE) and efficient uses of the capital to operate the business. It is not good when borrowed capital (credit) is greater than OE. Careful scrutiny of the Balance Sheet is required in this area. The purpose of capital is to maintain operations. Borrowing funds to augment operations is normal. However, too much borrowed capital is a sign that something is wrong.

Conditions – These are external factors relative to the industry of the business. The current state of the economy is a good example. Industry events and situations (current and predicted) are taken into consideration as to how it affects the business. For example, if a key supplier of the business experiences a labor strike, further investigation is needed to consider the affect on the business. Interviews with key officers and the business owner can shed light on what is happening. Additional resources like trade journals, industry news reports and the like are useful tools.

Collateral – Lenders want repayment from cash, not property. The last thing a lender wants to do in a default is take the property pledged backing up a loan. Property pledged is only a means to offset weaknesses in the other Cs. It is a safety net of last resort should a loan default a secondary source of repayment. A collateral pledge is completely irrelevant if the loan request contains too many negative signs in the foregoing credit assessment areas.

Guaranties are generally classified as unlimited and limited. An unlimited guaranty covers all the debt obtained by a single borrower to a single lender. Limited guaranties are associated linked to a specific loan with a capped dollar amount.

Other types of guaranties include corporate and government agencies.

Corporate guaranties are similar to personal types except it is generally one corporation guarantying the debt of another corporation. Usually, large corporations guaranty the debts of its smaller subsidiaries or new business units.

Government guaranties are special situations, whereby a state or federal agency guarantees a business loan. An example agency is the Small Business Administration (SBA). Governmental guaranteed loans are very complex and typically take longer to process. A lender processing governmental secured loans must adhere strictly to the guidelines of the agency guaranteeing the credit. Under an SBA loan, the lender provides the money to the borrower and the SBA guarantees the loan amount up to certain percentages depending on the program loan used. Each loan program has specific qualifications and conditions attached to it. Anyone can contact the SBA directly for more information by visiting www.sba.gov. It is recommended to speak with an SBA approved lender to see what options are available. Obtaining an SBA loan is often the best choice for a business because the borrower cannot qualify under conventional terms. The SBA assumes most of the risk, thus making the credit request more palatable for the bank.

Careful credit examination is required to investigate any guaranty for business loans. Analysis should account for all tangible and intangible factors of the individual guarantor with the associated business. The guaranty does not stand alone without review of the business. Credit analysis is both an art and a science. Sound judgment based on financial data, combined with practical experience is necessary to consider all variables of a credit request. Professionals that have formal credit training usually perform business loan analyses. Consult with your CPA or Banker for assistance before attempting to do it yourself.