Writing a proposal can be a bit intimidating. You’re putting yourself out there, pitting yourself against competitors, trying to demonstrate your value, and attempting to strike a good balance with the price you set.
Your proposal represents you, your team, and your capabilities. It’s the first impression you make on a client, so it’s crucial to get it right. A proposal is about more than just describing your value. It requires doing adequate research, knowing your scope, setting a good tone, and including all the elements that are necessary to win over a client and their trust. This guide shows you how to create a proposal.
What is a project proposal?
A business proposal is a document that contains all of the important information about a business, in order to persuade other businesses or investors to buy the product or service or invest in the product or service.
Project proposals could be solicited or unsolicited. They usually have a similar structure, regardless of the circumstances.
Some businesses find it complicated to create compelling project proposals, but once you get the hang of it, it’s quite easy to create them.
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Prepare your project proposal
Do your research
Before you start writing your proposal, it’s crucial that you spend some time learning about the project. Your impulse may be to start right away, and you don’t want to wait too long. But make sure you have a good handle on things.
So what kind of info will you be looking for?
Ask your client about their past experiences. Try and find out what their pain points have been, so you can address them in your proposal.
Demonstrate how you’ll improve on their previous experiences.
The next thing to consider is the project’s budget. You don’t want to get ahead of yourself and waste time writing a proposal that’s totally outside the scope of the client’s budget. Some projects may not have a budget yet, so be sure to ask. You’ll also want to do some calculations, and determine what you’ll be likely to spend as you work on the project. The client will appreciate having this information ahead of time.
Estimate the number of hours you’ll spend on the project and its sub-tasks, and once you have a number, multiply it by 1.5. Overestimating your project budget gives you wiggle room, in case there are unexpected problems. It also gives you the option to spend extra time on the project and polish it, or give your client a refund.
Determining your project scope
Figure out the scope of your project, and keep it nearby as a reference tool when you write your proposal.
- Who will be doing the work, and who will be managing it?
- What is your goal, and what resources will you need to complete it?
- Where will you be doing the work, and who will receive the finished product?
Come up with a project timeline that includes your start time, your interim goals, and your deadline. Decide how you’ll deal with important tasks, such as quality control and customer service. Perhaps most importantly, explain the whys. Why have you chosen your methods and goals? And why should the client choose you?
Project proposal outline
The first thing a client should see is your proposal cover.
Keep it simple and well-designed; it doesn’t need to be flashy. But remember that it will be the first impression you make. Include the project name, client name, your contact’s name, important reference numbers, your company name and info, and the date you submitted it. Don’t forget your company logo, if you have one.
The next thing you should include is a cover letter, which is great for introducing yourself before you jump into project details. Provide the client with a brief background of your company.
Give a short, friendly summary about everything that makes your company a great fit for the project. Don’t forget to encourage questions, and end by thanking them for their consideration.
Table of contents
It’s a good idea to begin the main proposal with a table of contents unless it’s very brief.
People like to have an outline of what they’ll be reading, and if you send it electronically, your client can jump to any section they feel like reading first.
Here’s the way to write an executive summary:
- Focus on describing the benefits you can bring to the project, not on the features.
- Identify the problems they’re having, and propose your company as the solution. People make decisions based on how you make them feel, not on the raw data you present them with.
- When you’re writing, keep your tone and target in mind. You wouldn’t write the same way for a young start-up team as you would for a more mature, established client, would you?
Now it’s time to get into specifics. You need to explain your prices, logistics, and timeframes.
One good way to begin is with a grid that itemizes the services and costs involved in the project. These grids are great for explaining your basics in ways that are easy to understand and inspire confidence.
Talk about what your approach to solving their problem will be, and be as specific as possible. Make sure the client knows you have a plan that’s specific to their needs, and you’re not just sending out the same boilerplate proposal to everyone.
Your project plan should feel customized, detailed, and geared towards their needs and concerns. Remember that you should have a description for each project deliverable you promise to create.
Be clear, and don’t assume your client knows the scope of services you’re outlining. If you proceed as if they don’t know anything about your plan, you’ll avoid unfortunate misunderstandings later in the process.
Simplify the process by breaking it down into stages. How long will it take for each milestone to be reached, and who is responsible for making each one happen?
Often, the most difficult part of a proposal is budgeting.
It isn’t easy to simultaneously build trust with your client and keep everything efficient and profitable. Resist the temptation to win the client over by offering a low budget. For one thing, you don’t want to become known as the cheap alternative, and you’ll be less likely to gain any long-term clients with repeat business.
Instead, you’ll attract clients who tend to hop from low bid to low bid and show no loyalty.
Remember that people make decisions based on the way you make them feel, so you want to make them feel comfortable with your team.
People want to know they’re dealing with a team they can trust and get along with. So provide them with your team’s photos and social media accounts, so the client can start putting faces with names and getting to know them.
It also really helps to add backstories to the faces of people who will be taking care of various aspects of the project. Since projects are about more than getting the work done, explain a bit about yourself and your background by providing this info:
- Your motivation
- Your mission
- The reasons why you’re uniquely qualified to tackle their problem
- Your unique selling points, abilities, and experience
- The specific strengths of each team member can bring to the table
You want your clients to understand exactly who they’re dealing with.
When you’re concluding, don’t forget that all-important call to action (CTA). Encourage your client to contact you for further information.
The best CTA is one that prompts the reader to immediately do something, even if that action is as minor as checking out your website or contacting you for further information.
If you want to include the contract agreement in your proposal, it should go in this part of the proposal, so create spaces for both you and the client to sign and date it.
You should also include caveats, which are basically your terms and conditions. It’s not uncommon for a client to try to overextend your job description. Extra things may not seem like a big deal at the moment, but they can become major headaches and liabilities after you actually start working on them. Therefore, protect yourself with caveats that clearly articulate your responsibilities and prices.
Four tips for creating a proposal
Check out our four project proposal tips for writing a good project proposal.
1. Providing testimonials
One great way to demonstrate your value and build trust is by including customer testimonials. A few glowing reviews can be more powerful than all the superlatives in the world. In fact, describing yourself in any number of ways is pointless without some testimonials to back it up.
You can label yourself in any number of ways, but why should the client believe you without having proof?
Testimonials and case studies are often seen as superfluous and optional. But they’re essential ways to sell yourself in your proposal. So if you have time, look at them as key components, not bonus additions.
Here’s an example:
2. Trying project proposal software
If you’re looking for help with proposal creation, you can use proposal software, such as:
Better Proposals is a great software for providing professional assistance through proposal writing. This site promises that you can build your proposal in minutes, instead of working on it for hours.
Proposify is another good place to start building your proposal. It has numerous templates from different industries, so you can definitely find what you’re looking for.
Harvest will help you manage your time and answer some basic questions about business proposals.
3. Using project proposal templates
In the following section, we will present templates that will help you create a good project proposal with ease.
Project proposal template by Canva
This useful template from Canva gives you a good picture of what a proposal should look like, in terms of attractive design, layout, and content. Of course, you can always add the elements mentioned in the structure section.
Business plan proposal template by Hloom
The example above is from the blog Hloom, where you can find different kinds of business proposals. But this generic one will help you get a better sense of what you should include.
Project proposal template by Proposify
Here’s one from Proposify. Just like Hloom and Canva, you can find plenty of different templates on their site, despite the type of business you have.
4. Tone, length, and technical stuff
It can be tricky to get your proposal to be the ideal length.
You want to keep it as short as possible, but you also need to communicate a lot of information to the client. If you don’t keep the length down, it’s going to end up getting chucked, put in a to-do pile, or passed on to another employee.
Aim to limit your proposal to an eight-minute read. Try to avoid repeating yourself, even in your value proposition.
One way to keep the length down is to add an appendix at the end and put your nonessential elements there. If you keep your writing concise, clear, and free of jargon, you’ll be able to keep your proposal to a reasonable length and make it more effective and hard-hitting.
Strike the right tone by writing in a formal yet approachable manner. A good rule of thumb is to use the same tone you’d use if you were speaking with the client in a meeting.
It’s best to leave humor out of your proposal, even if you’ve met with the person before and feel like it would go over well. Things can sound much different in print than in person, and there’s no way to be certain who will be reading it.
Writing a proposal can feel like a colossal undertaking, particularly if you don’t have much experience communicating with a client. Before you can write a proper proposal, you need to put in the research, so remember that preparation is key.
Proper writing skills are also very important. Your unique value won’t count for anything if you can’t effectively communicate with a client. Keep your proposal short and simple, trim away anything repetitive, and don’t be afraid to include an appendix.
If you follow this guide, you’ll write a great proposal.