Proposing ideas and making suggestions in English

We’d like to suggest something to you…

There are lots of ways that you can  make a business proposal or suggestion. In this article we’ll look at some useful expressions you can use with clients and colleagues.

Proposal / propose
In English, the word proposal is very formal. There are two main uses. Firstly you can make a proposal of marriage when you ask someone if they’ll share their life with you (“Will you marry me?”). Unless you want to marry your business client or colleague, you probably need the second use, which is a formal suggestion for a plan or project. (French and Italian speakers, please note that it sounds strange if you “propose” going for a pizza or having a coffee. Use suggest or an expression like Fancy going for a meal? etc.)

Note the grammar: you make a proposal.

We made a proposal to Longhall plc to develop their supply chains and provide logistics support to the company.

You can also use propose as a verb:

What I propose is bringing in Steve St Clair as a consultant and then liaising with our partners to roll out the complete programme.

Suggestion / suggest
You can use suggestion or suggest in a similar way to propose. It’s a bit less formal and not as strong. Again, note that in English you make a suggestion. (You don’t *do a suggestion.)

I suggest that we talk to our customers and see if they’re interested in the new bacon and avocado flavour variant for this brand.

May I suggest you get Erika and Sadiq to visit the Amsterdam office? They can report back to the team on what’s happening over there.

I’ve got a suggestion: put Helen in charge of this project and let Jilan focus on managing the Wilson account.

Note that May I suggest…? is quite formal. Also, be careful with using this expression, since native English speakers often say things like this when they’re being sarcastic:

Quentin, may I kindly suggest that you keep your mouth shut in future when we’re presenting to a client? You nearly ruined everything!

To pitch something or make a pitch is a special business word. It means to present an idea or business proposition to someone. You can also say to make a pitch or to pitch for business.

Grainger Slatwick Boggle THVK, the advertising agency, made a pitch for Holsworthy plc’s energy business account, worth £2m annually.

An elevator pitch is a very short, verbal presentation (about a minute or less in length). The idea of an elevator pitch is that if you met the CEO of your company in the lift (elevator in US English), you would have the time it takes for the lift to reach the CEO’S floor to make your pitch.

To float an idea
This means to propose or suggest an idea and test the reaction.

The government has floated the idea of placing recharging stations for electric vehicles outside every public building.

Other ways of making suggestions

Here are some more informal phrases you can use to suggest something:

Why (not)

Why don’t we go for a drink and talk things over?

Why don’t you ask Lian to send over her proposal and we’ll look at it?

What about

How are we going to pay for the new buildings?
What about using some of the money we raised from the bond issue?

You can also use How about:

How about working for our corporate finance division in Hong Kong?
– Hm, that’s an interesting offer. I’ll think about it.

What would you say…?

What would you say to two weeks in the Caribbean?
– What’s the catch?
There is no catch, although if you happen to find time to meet some of our major investors, I wouldn’t complain.

(A catch means a hidden condition in an offer.)

Invitations and offers
You can also invite someone to do something with you using let’s:

Let’s get lunch.
– Good idea. I’m starving. I haven’t had a bite all day.

(I haven’t had a bite – or a bite to eat – means “I haven’t eaten”.)

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