So, you have a great idea for a project. As we all know, a “project” could be almost anything. You might be thinking of a neighborhood project, like creating a club where kids can safely hang out after school; an in-house corporate project like teaching employees how to use a new document management system; or a project for a client, such as creating a new commercial website. No matter what sort of project you’re planning, the odds are that you need to convince others to approve your ideas and give you the job. That means that you need to write a project proposal.
Don’t worry-writing a project proposal is not nearly as difficult as it may sound. You probably already know most of the information you need to put in a proposal. And you don’t need to start off by staring at a blank computer screen, either. There are great ready-made kits available that give you templates, instructions, and samples to work with-that’s a huge head start.
There’s also a basic structure you should follow when writing any project proposal. No matter the type of project, you need to: introduce yourself and your project, describe the need and how the project will meet that need, provide the details of what you propose to do and explain the costs, and persuade your proposal readers that you are the perfect choice to successfully complete the project. Finally, you should end with a “call to action,” requesting readers to take the next step-setting up a meeting, signing a contract, voting for your ideas; whatever makes sense for your project.
The most important goal of your proposal is to convince the people reading it to approve your ideas and support and fund your project. This means that you have to prove you understand the issues and plan to meet the needs of others. So a good project proposal should never be all about you. Start off by imagining yourself as the proposal reader. What do you already know about the project and the proposal writer? What would you want to know?
First of all, any proposal reader will want to know why you are proposing the project to them. So gather all the information you have about your readers, and do research if you need to fill in some gaps. You need to convince the readers that it’s in their best interest to support your project. You need to persuade them that your project will benefit them.
In other words, you need to write not a one-size-fits-all proposal, but a customized proposal. Depending on how many people need to approve your project, you may need to include information tailored to each type of person involved in the approval process. Easy to digest summaries for executives, staffing and resources information for managers and technical or logistics details for project leads.
But this doesn’t mean that you need to start from scratch each time. You’ll find that most of the basic information stays the same, even though you are addressing a particular reader and or group of readers in each tailored proposal section. You may simply restructure the same information in a couple different ways (bullet points for one person, expanded details for another).
Let’s work through the proposal structure in order. Start your proposal with a Cover Letter, which should be a brief personal introduction of yourself and your project, along with a mention of the action you want them to take after reading your proposal. Be sure to include your contact information, so readers can easily find you if they have questions. Next, create a Title Page with the title of your specific proposal (for example, “Streamlining Our Order Process,” “Rehabilitating the Parkview Playground,” or “Converting XYZ’s Corporate Fleet to Hybrid Vehicles.”
If your project is long and detailed, you’ll add a Table of Contents next. This is where a proposal kit can really help, because the library of topics they include are extensive enough to cover all types of specialized proposals. Each template will become a topic page, which will then be listed in your Table of Contents. You can’t compile a Table of Contents until you have written the proposal, but remember that your TOC should be placed right after the title page.
Now you have completed the introduction section. Next comes the section where you describe the project needs, goals, and objectives, always keeping the readers’ point of view in mind. For an internal company proposal or a complex corporate proposal, you will probably need to start off this section with an Executive Summary, which is basically a list of your most important points. Keep in mind that an upper-level decision maker may read only this Executive Summary.
Next, outline all the need for the project. You might include pages like Needs Analysis, Project Background, Goals and Objectives, and other details that explain the current need or opportunity.
Next, explain what you propose to do and the benefits your project will provide. Of course, given the variety of the thousands of potential projects, each project proposal will differ dramatically from the next one. The complexity of the project will determine the length of the proposal: your proposal might be only 5 pages long, or more than 50. This is where the topics included in a ready-made kit’s extensive library will be incredibly useful. Odds are that you will find a pre-written template for every project detail. There are hundreds of topic templates, so there’s no way to list them here. The names shown below are only a few of the most commonly used topics.
For general project information, you can use topics such as Opportunities, Benefits, Project Plan, Project Methods, and so on.
Depending on the type of project, you might need pages like Project Management, Volunteering, Personnel, Supervision, Outsourcing, Facilities, Production Plan, and Schedule topic pages.
You might need evaluation topics such as Expected Results, Evaluation, Acceptance Criteria, Measures of Success, or summary topics such as Project Summary and Recommendations.
If your project is very complex or technical, you may need detail pages such as Documentation, Diagrams, Definitions, Schematics, and Studies.
Any project has costs, so you will probably add financial pages like Budget, Project Cost Summary, Cost/Benefit Analysis, and so on.
To show that you have considered all aspects, think about adding topics such as Assumptions, Risk Analysis, Contingency Planning, Coordination, Project Oversight, and Accountability.
After you’ve provided all the details for your project, it’s time to persuade your readers that you’re right for the job. Add topics to describe your Qualifications, Credentials, Company History, and Experience, and be sure to include any Referrals, Testimonials, or Awards you’ve received. Finally, conclude with a Call to Action, specifically asking readers to take the next step in approving your project.
Those are all the basic steps for writing your proposal. Now you should take some time to make the proposal look good by adding your company logo, choosing special fonts or bullets, or using colored borders on your pages. Be sure to match the style of your proposal to the style of your organization and the type of project, and keep in mind your relationship with your readers.
Spell-check and proof every page before you send the proposal out. It’s never a good idea to proofread your own work, so try to find someone else to do the final proofreading pass.
Finally, print the proposal or save it as a PDF file-whatever seems appropriate for your project and your readers. Then deliver it using the method that’s customary for your organization. It’s common to email PDF files, but these days many people receive so much email that a PDF attachment might be easy to overlook. If you decide to print a complex proposal, make sure the pages are easy to flip through, and add tabs if needed. For an internal company project, you might be sharing editable Word versions using collaboration software.
You can see now how the content of each project proposal will vary widely because of the variety of organizations and types of projects. But you can also see that all project proposals should follow the same basic structure.
Want to speed up the process of creating a proposal? Then use a pre-designed proposal kit and get a head start. Pre-designed templates found in kits contain easy-to-understand instructions and examples that will guide you to add appropriate content to each proposal page. A good kit will include a variety of sample project proposals, too; studying these can give you great ideas on what to include and how to format your own proposal.