Just How Good is Your Business Proposition?

Just How Good is Your Business Proposition?

Just How Good is Your Business Proposition?

Are you communicating effectively with potential clients?

No matter how good your product or service, you will most likely struggle if potential clients don’t understand what you offer and why they should be doing business with you. This post gives you a free self-check on the strength of your proposition and some insight into the aspect(s) that would benefit from more attention.

The check follows a simple “Who, What, Why, How” framework and focuses on how you will make money. That is not to belittle questions around production, operations, finance, etc., but unless you can generate good revenue, your endeavour will almost certainly find life difficult.

The answers to each question should be written down, preferably in longhand. To that end, I have included a link to document that you can print out and use. The reason behind asking that you write it down this harps back to an old headmaster who always said that ”if you can’t write it down you don’t understand it well enough”, and if you don’t understand it, why should your potential clients! The use of longhand is preferred as it will almost certainly improve your concentration and the clarity of your thinking.

Before you start on the check document, it is worth doing a little self-reflection by giving yourself two scores, both out of five. The first score is how clear you think your proposition is right now? While the second is how good your sales are right now?

The scales for the two questions are: 

Just How Good is Your Business Proposition?

Based on your answers, plot and note your current position (honestly!) on this grid.

Just How Good is Your Business Proposition?

 We will come back to this later!

The framework has several influences. The “who” and “what” comes from some questions I have previously posed to startups:

Who will buy your service/product?

I think this should be as clear and tight as you can make it. Aiming to sell to everyone is not a practical strategy for an early-stage company who has to match delivery capability to demand and build its brand and reputation. Not wasting time trying to attract the wrong customers can be a great enabler in your efforts to win the right customers

What will they pay for?

The answer may seem obvious but is worth some thought. For instance, a domestic client who buys a personal computer is not just buying some hardware, but instead they are buying access to the internet, creative capability re wordprocessing or photography, entertainment from advance games, etc. etc. Likewise, I hope my clients are buying access to my experience and strategic perspective, not just that they like talking to me.

How will they pay?

This aspect is critical and linked to the previous question. Are you going to invoice clients on 30 days notice? Or prepay? Do they pay based on usage? Or is it a regular subscription? Or something else?

The next “why” set of questions are a misquote(?) of asking “Why?” five times to find the root cause of a problem. In this instance, I have adapted it as follows:

Why should the potential client buy your service/product (as opposed to any other)?

Are they buying it because you are the cheapest? Because you are the best? Because you are unique? Because you are the most available?

Why should they buy now?

The “now” in here may have multiple meanings, so pick the most appropriate. The “now” could relate simply to “today”, e.g. the offer may be time-limited? Or it could refer to the stage of development they are in, e.g. this service/product is ideal for medium-sized business clients? Or it could be that the world is developing fast and now is the optimal time for them to use your service/product? Or something else?

Why should they buy from you (the company/person)?

The answer to this question is often the last piece, but still significant. It could be that you respond faster than others? Or you understand the client’s market/problem better than others? Or that they can have confidence in you because of the awards or certifications that you have?

Answer this question once, then answer it again and answer it a third time 😊

These are the “5 Whys?”

The last element relates to how does a potential client makes contact with you or purchases your product/service? Have you made it easy with clear contact details? Have you explained what the next steps are? etc.?


As I said fill it in by hand and then assign a score in the right-hand column to each answer;

2 = I am delighted with this answer

1 = This answer should be improved

0 = I am unhappy with this answer, or I can’t answer this

The Check-Up Form looks like this

Just How Good is Your Business Proposition?

(You can either save this image and print it A4 size or contact me and I will send you a PDF)

The boxes will encourage concise answers and, if you have more than one proposition, complete one for each of your company’s offerings.

Then compute an overall score

A x (B + C) x (D + E + F + G + H)/5 + J

 This formula equates to

Who X What X Why + How

If any part of the who/what why is weak it will drag down the score, but if they are sufficiently strong people will find a way to buy even if you have not made it easy for them.

The maximum score is 18, while the minimum is 0. If we try and equate this back to our 0 – 5 scale on the matrix, the following ranges are reasonable

Just How Good is Your Business Proposition?

How did your proposition score from the check-up compare to your intuitive assessment at the start? Hopefully, it is not too different? If it is, then it is worth considering why?

For now, we will have to rely upon your assessment of sales because this is very personal to your business and its maturity. I am not sure I can build a similar check-up, but I may try in the future.

Armed with these two scores, you can firm up your position in the “2x2” grid.

Let’s look at which quadrant your business lies in?

Just How Good is Your Business Proposition?

“Barely Started” – speaks for itself. It suggests that your business is still forming and yet to prove the likelihood of commercial success. While the temptation is just to push for more sales, but remember this needs to be supported by a credible, readily communicated proposition; something I would personally confirm first.

“Has Potential” – suggests you have hit a real need that people are buying without needing to be persuaded. As you grow and want to reach a broader client base, you are likely to need a more refined proposition.

“Needs A Rethink” – this suggests something is not working right. You believe you have a strong proposition but either it is not as strong as you think, it is not solving the problem you thought it was, it is not getting to the right people, or there is less need for your product/service than you hoped for. Whatever the reason it is worth getting reflecting and maybe getting some outside help to consider your businesses and aspirations.

“Ready For Scaling” – This is the point every startup/small business wants to reach because it is the launchpad for real growth. You may need help in scaling up your reach and delivery, but you have proven that you have something that clients want.

I hope this has prompted the reader to think about their proposition. None of this meant as critcism - this is actually quite hard for most people to do, especially alone. It is easy to become blinkered and look at things from the business' side and not the clients', but maybe this has given some helpful perspective

If it would help to talk things through with an impartial third-party like me, please just ask.

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  • Brian Kavanagh

    Thanks for the explanation

  • Nick White

    Really made me think......

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Ian J Sutherland 

Business Change Expert

Ian J Sutherland is a highly skilled director with expertise in governance, partnerships and regulation and almost four decades of experience serving as a powerful catalyst for change for organisations of all sizes and sectors. He thrives on identifying areas for innovation and improvement, forming effective strategies to drive efficiency and create bottom-line results. He has a proven capacity to serve as a bridge between organisations and functions, creating unity and operational coherence. A personable and creative leader, with a unique insight and the ability to see the big picture and provide constructive challenge, he writes on many matters including the delivery of change in today's world and is an opportunistic photographer who seeks to capture images that interest him. He enjoys good beer, good company and good music - not necessarily in that order.


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