You have an idea for a new project that’ll be a massive win for your company.
You’re pretty sure your idea has legs, too. In other words, you’re confident that your company can reap benefits like:
- Saving time or reducing efforts
- Making money or reducing costs
- Reducing risk or improving quality
You’re all set to present your idea to the higher-ups. But you know your idea will require follow-through, resources, and — most of all — support from upper management.
So, how are you going to convince your stakeholders to adopt your proposal? What will it take for them to consider and support your plan with resources like time, money, or personnel?
We recommend a proposal—specifically, a project proposal. A well-crafted project proposal can make the difference between an idea that flies, and one that flops. Here’s everything you need to know to write project proposals that inspire action.
What is a proposal?
Proposals are written plans or suggestions that aim to solve a particular problem. Sponsors present their proposals to interested parties for consideration or discussion and include recommendations, implementation plans, and expected outcomes.
Note: A proposal — even a business proposal — is not a business plan.
4 common types of proposals
There are four types of proposals:
- Internal proposals are presented to someone or a group within your organization.
- External proposals are written in one organization and presented to someone or a group in another entity.
- Solicited proposals mean someone else has an idea or request, and they ask you to put a plan together and present it. Examples of this type of proposal are a request for proposal (RFP) and a request for quotations (RFQ).
- Unsolicited proposals mean you weren’t asked to write a plan, but you want to convince a hopefully interested party that a need exists and you have a solution.
You can have a combination of these types of proposals. For instance, your submission will either be internal or external and solicited or unsolicited. In the end, you’ll end up with one of these combinations:
- Internal, solicited proposal
- External, solicited proposal
- Internal, unsolicited proposal
- External, unsolicited proposal
When is a proposal needed?
Essentially, you need a proposal in one of two scenarios.
- You need approval from your manager or upper management to execute a plan.
- Someone from management or a potential client needs a proposal from you.
Why a good proposal is essential to get your idea approved
Your goal when writing any proposal is to convince an interested party that your idea is worth pursuing. Interested parties include management, upper management, department heads, or new clients and customers.
At their core, project proposals convey ideas in a written format. And documenting your plan allows you to make a clear and solid case for decision-makers to support your vision.
The written form is also essential because managers can get more than an elevator pitch. In other words, a well-thought-out document gives interested parties the ability to thoroughly consider your proposal and its implications. Managers get the chance to see all aspects of your idea, from the project’s scope to the execution plan and expected outcomes, and get a sense of whether your proposal is viable.
Proposals provide directions, too. They map out a step-by-step process to rally support from management and the team. These directions help stakeholders understand how you expect to achieve results, which, in turn, will get their buy-in. After all, as the saying goes, “teamwork makes the dream work.”
How to write a proposal that gets approved and selected
Proposal writing boils down to eight simple steps:
- Know your audience. You need to know who exactly is going to read and has the authority to approve and select your proposal, so you can write for the approver.
- Specify the problem. Identify the problem or challenge you want to solve and specify how it affects you, your team, or your company.
- Offer your solution. More importantly, have a purpose. Understanding the purpose helps stakeholders see the project’s alignment with the company’s strategic goals. And according to Antonio Nieto-Rodriquez’s article in Harvard Business Review, “purpose is a key driver for engaging team members and the organization as a whole and motivating them to support the project.”
- Outline your deliverables and anticipated outcomes. In other words, if upper management approves and selects your proposal, what can they expect the results to be? What are the benefits?
- Present your plan and strategy. Make sure you prepare, research, and focus on only essential information when presenting how you will achieve results.
- Explain the project schedule and budget. Outline who will complete tasks, when to complete them, and how much the proposal could cost.
- Summarize your proposal. Reiterate the proposal’s purpose, how acting on it will benefit the stakeholders, and, of course, thank the readers for their time.
- Remember to proofread your work!
What goes into a proposal?
Ready to put your proposal together? Follow our example proposal outline to get started fast.
The proposal should include the most essential information at the beginning to paint a high-level picture of the project and share crucial details. Your cover letter and title page should include:
- Company name
- A project title
- The executive summary
- The project’s timeframe
- Who prepared it
- What documents are attached
- Contact information, including people involved in the project
- Table of contents
Background and objectives
To write a proposal, you should answer the following questions:
- Why should your reader care about this project?
- What will you do?
- How will you do it?
- Who will do it?
- Where will it be done?
- How long will it take?
- How much will it cost?
Background information: Have projects like yours been done in the past? Outline what went well or didn’t go well with those. Use this opportunity to state how your project has learned past lessons for better success. Clarify the problem you’re trying to solve, and remember to use references, statistics, and graphs.
Objectives: List the goals your project aims to achieve.
This section is where you’ll want to detail the plan, the course of action.
Approach summary: Describe your approach, including the team’s organization, tools used, and how you’ll address changes.
Task breakdown and time estimate: Provide a detailed schedule listing project tasks, how long each task will take, and who in your team will complete said tasks.
Deliverables: List everything you expect to complete as part of this project, including information, products, or reports, and when you expect to deliver them.
Change is inevitable, so it’s better if you plan for it.
Risk management plan: Detail an action plan to minimize risk or change during the project’s lifecycle.
Risk register: Keep a list of risks and ways to counteract them.
Estimate the project’s overall cost and pricing.
Project budget: Produce a line-item budget assigning categories such as salary, supplies, or travel, making sure you include indirect and overhead costs.
Budget narrative: Provide budget clarification or justification commentaries as needed.
Additional financial statements: If your project is complex, you might need to provide other financial information like P&Ls, tax returns, and funding sources.
Concluding the proposal
Review your proposal’s main points, highlighting its purpose and benefits. Prove you’ve done your due diligence in researching and conceiving your solution and share case studies, success stories, and testimonials if you have them. Remember, this is your last chance to make a good impression and win over your audience.
Proposal examples and templates
To get an idea what some proposals look like, take a look at these examples and templates:
- Digital marketing proposal example (Proposify)
- Financial services proposal example (Proposify)
- Engineering services proposal example (Proposify)
- Freelance writing proposal template (Qwilr)
- Project management proposal template (Qwilr)
Proposal solutions we recommend
If business writing is your trade, writing proposals might be a piece of cake for you. But if you’re not, or you need to manage many proposals or business proposal templates, one of these SaaS tools could suit your needs.
Proposify: Create beautiful proposals, streamline them in the cloud, and get faster sign-off with online signatures.
Better Proposals: Send professional-looking proposals in half the time with Better Proposals. Close more deals with in-depth analytics and digital signatures.
Qwilr: Quickly create proposals, sales, and marketing documents as beautiful, responsive web pages. Get notified when they’re viewed and allow people to sign online.
Nusii: Create, track, and manage proposals for your creative business. Built from the ground up to help you create beautiful proposals fast.
NiftyQuoter: NiftyQuoter helps you create beautiful proposals and quotes for your prospective clients.
Use Vendr to manage your workflows and SaaS stack
With our advanced workflow logic, you can capture complicated processes with ease, using role-based assignment, scheduled tasks, blockers, and more to make projects happen as planned. You can also:
- Create custom workflow templates
- Define approval workflows
- Implement industry-standard processes with Blissfully’s catalog of pre-built workflows.
- Apply smart logic that incorporates dependencies, blockers, and due dates.