How to Write a Project Proposal

First impressions are key for any business owner. Looking professional while presenting your services to a potential client is critical in helping you close deals faster. A clear and effective project proposal can show your prospective clients that your business is the best match for their needs, and empower you to set and manage client expectations.

We’re here to help you communicate your project’s plan and goals simply, so let’s dive into how to write a proposal for a project.

What is a project proposal?

A project proposal is a written document designed to get buy-in from decision-makers associated with your potential client. Your proposal should outline your goals and values for the project, the timeline, your rough budget for the project, and how you plan to execute it. Drafting your project proposal is the first step in the project management process. It will serve as the foundation for your project plan should your client and their stakeholders accept it.

Benefits of a project proposal

Used as a marketing tool, the project proposal can help get buy-in from the client’s entire team or stakeholders. It can prove the viability of a project and give credibility to your work and experience.

Easing your client’s concerns from the start can be the deciding factor in whether they choose your proposal over another, so use this document to provide clarity around the project roadmap and what they can expect in each step of the process. A well-executed project proposal will help increase confidence among these decision-makers and stakeholders.

Before starting any work on the project, it’s also good to use a proposal as a budgeting tool, giving your potential client a rough estimate for what the project will cost. Setting both you and your client up for success with an approved budget is important to the foundation of a lasting working relationship. Additionally, the project proposal ensures that the project stays focused both monetarily and chronologically.

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Types of project proposals

Depending on what type of services you offer or what kind of project it is, there are different types of project proposals you can present to your potential client.

Solicited or unsolicited proposal

A formally solicited project proposal is drafted in response to a Request for Proposal, or RFP. This means that your potential client has a known need for your services and has potentially asked multiple businesses or professionals to submit their proposals. Because of the implied competition, be thorough in your proposal and do your research prior to presenting your services.

An informally solicited proposal means that your potential client knows there is a need for your services but did not submit a formal document requesting it. For example, the potential client may not be aware of the goals or methods quite yet, but knows that they want a rough starting point for the project.

An unsolicited project proposal would be presented without an RFP or an ask from your potential client. You may notice that their organization has a need for your services and want to offer a solution. Competition would be little to none in this instance, but don’t let that keep you from explaining why they should try to solve a need they may not have known they had.

Informal proposal

An informally solicited proposal, or informal proposal, means that your potential client knows there is a need for your services, but either did not submit a formal document requesting it or sent an informal request for a simple proposal that may be lacking specifics. For example, the potential client may not be aware of the goals or methods quite yet, but knows that they want a rough starting point for the project.

Renewal proposal

A renewal project proposal is one that you draft for your existing clients. This could be to continue your services as-is for their organization or to extend more offerings. Your goal with a renewal would be to retain your current client and restart a completed or terminated project by showing them the positive results your services previously offered.

Continuation proposal

A continuation proposal provides updates to the client for their ongoing project. This can be used to show the client what step of the process you are on, ensure that the budget is sufficient for the upcoming steps, and review that the resources needed to complete the project are still acceptable.

Supplemental proposal

A supplemental proposal is used if more resources or time are needed to complete the project than originally proposed. This is provided to a client you have an ongoing project with in hopes that their stakeholders will agree to contribute further resources or budget while you prove the value of those added resources and the extended timeline.

Actionable tips to write a great project proposal

Once you know what type of project proposal is a good fit, it’s important to know what you should include. There are a few topics you’ll want in every project proposal across the board. Here are some actionable tips when drafting your next proposal.

  1. Understand your audience and clearly explain the problem that you are solving. This can be included in your project summary as your professional elevator pitch for why the potential client should choose you. Most importantly, focus on how your service will help the client and their organization be successful.

  2. Do your research. Show that you clearly understand their issue and provide solutions. With each solution, explain the expected outcome and the effect on their organization. Take this moment to show that you are truly invested in solving their challenges.

  3. Provide clear expectations and a reasonable timeline. There’s reasoning behind the saying “Underpromise and overdeliver.” Give yourself more time than first expected to finish the project so that you don’t fall behind if some hiccups occur. This goes for any needed resources as well. Be realistic, but detailed, in what will be needed to complete the project for your client’s organization. Again, setting clear expectations from the start for resources, budget, and timeline will set both you and your client up for success.

  4. Address your triple constraint. Be sure that your proposal clearly outlines time, scope, and cost constraints for the project. If there is concern with any of the three areas, address it within the proposal or in a discussion with the client before the project begins. This assists in providing those clear and correct expectations.

  5. Make your proposal simple. While you want to provide as much detail as necessary for the project, don’t overwhelm the client with any unnecessary content. Don’t distract them from the goal of this project by adding extra fluff.

  6. Persuade your audience. This is your chance to sell yourself, so take advantage of each part of your proposal to show what you can do for them and how you can provide a solution.

  7. Make it professional. A project proposal is often a first impression for your client. Make it easy for the client to review and understand. Add a cover letter to explain your position in the project’s success, a table of contents for what is covered, and — most importantly — copy edit it to ensure there are no misspellings or mistakes that you’ve overlooked.

How to write a proposal for a project

Now it’s time to start writing the proposal and winning clients. Once you understand what the project needs are, what type of proposal to provide, and what solutions you can offer, you can begin by drafting your project proposal outline.

Let’s review the following project proposal example and what should be included:

Project Proposal Outline

  1. Summary
    • An executive summary acts as an elevator pitch for your project. It tells the client what problem you will be able to solve, how you will solve it, and why it is essential for their business to solve that problem.
    • As mentioned previously, this is where you want to sell your services and solutions for the client’s challenges. Take this section as the time to market yourself and why they should choose you.
  2. Background information
    • Explain the details of the project and the problem you’ll be attending to. This section should be used to highlight why your potential client should care about solving the challenge at hand. Use convincing statistics and references to show the importance of this project.
  3. Project goals and requirements
    • In this section, outline your project goals and what will be needed to reach those goals. Detail your estimated budget, timeline, tools needed, and any skills that will be used.
    • Using the SMART method, provide your potential client with Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound details for the project.
      • Specific goals will be associated with specific tasks. It’s important to outline what each of these goals and tasks include.
      • Measurable goals are those that will help you accurately evaluate the success of the project through data and performance indicators.
      • Attainable goals ensure that goals are just being set for motivation, and that they can realistically be achieved.
      • Relevant goals should pertain to the entirety of the project and make sense for the long-term success.
      • Time-based goals are focused on the timeline that was provided. These goals can have specific deadlines throughout the ongoing project.
  4. Proposed solution
    • Outline the steps that you will be taking to complete the project and provide a solution in greater detail. This could include your project management schedule, roles and responsibilities of your team, deliverables, reporting tools, and estimates.
    • Specifically outline how this proposed solution will benefit the client. List out the ways that your client or their business will be impacted by this solution.
    • Whether you offer one single solution or are looking to provide multi-package estimates, your project cost estimate and details can be included within this section.
  5. Contracts and official agreements
    • Provide details for any official agreements that will need to be signed and included with the project proposal acceptance. To avoid any unwanted and costly payment disputes in the future for your small business, you may want to create a binding document, such as a contract, for all parties involved.
  6. Additional documentation specific to the project
    • Include any final documentation that your client may want to see before accepting the proposal. This might include specific designs or plans that were previously discussed or detailed in the RFP.
  7. Conclusion
    • Conclude your project proposal with a brief summary of your solution in a compelling and constructive way. This is your last chance to hook them and get them excited about working with you on the project.

Writing a project proposal can make you stand out from your competition and give your client confidence that you are the right professional for the job. With these project proposal examples and tips, you can close more deals with persuasive, effective marketing of your services.