Writing a proposal is similar to but not exactly the same as crafting a persuasive essay or producing a report. Here are suggestions for developing a proposal, including some pertinent to its specific purpose.
1. A proposal should define a problem and describe a solution that will persuade busy, thrifty, skeptical readers to support it.
2. Employ facts, not opinions, to bolster the argument for approval. Research similar plans or projects and cite them, emphasizing their successes and/or how your proposal resolves the weaknesses, omissions, or mistaken priorities apparent in them.
3. Analyze your plan or project, demonstrating possible outcomes. If possible, model a small-scale version of the plan or project, report on the results, and extrapolate how the full-scale plan or project will turn out based on the test.
4. Any discussion of financial or other resources should be conducted carefully and should present a realistic picture of the expense required.
5. Be meticulous in writing, editing, and design of the proposal. Revise as necessary to make it clear and concise, ask others to critique and edit it, and make sure the presentation is attractive and engaging as well as well organized and helpful.
A proposal should include the following elements:
Executive Summary: State the rationale for putting the proposal into effect, and summarize the proposal. (This allows a decision maker to quickly get the gist of the proposal, hence the name.)
Statement of Need: Detail why the plan or project the proposal recommends is necessary.
Project Description: Explain specifics of the plan or project, and how it will go into effect and how it will be evaluated.
Budget Analysis: Provide and explain how the plan or project will be financed and categorize and annotate operating expenses.
Organization Details: If the proposal is being submitted to an outside party, provide information about the beneficiary organization, including its mission, its stakeholders and who its serves, and the scope of its programs and services.
Conclusion: Summarize the proposal’s main points.
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What makes an effective proposal that lands you more work?
Now that you know what to expect and how to approach writing your first proposal, let’s dive into the specifics of what content to include.
Content should be your focus. A proposal is a very basic document that should be simple in layout and easily read.
Stick to your brand, but no more than your logo and primary colors. You’re not trying to impress the client with your design skills at this point, rather, impress them with your professionalism.
Clients don’t like to waste time reading – no one does – so don’t write your proposal to be more than 1–2 pages.
Here’s a breakdown of what must be included in your proposals:
- Project info: your name, client’s name, contact info, project title, and date
- Goals: what’s the client looking for and how are you going to deliver on their needs?
- This is your chance to demonstrate a solid understanding of what your client needs. Use this to describe how you’ll deliver a solution. Regurgitate and even quote words your client used in the questionnaire and preliminary discussions.
- If you’re doing a website design or large project, then breakdown the features and solutions using bullet points to make it more digestible.
- Timeline: how long will the project take to deliver?
- Include “phases” and relevant milestone dates if it applies.
- Also include specific deliverables and when to expect them (e.g. website wireframes after Phase 1 or logo variations upon completion.)
- Cost: decide how much you’ll be paid and how you’ll be paid (How To Invoice Freelance Clients and Get Paid Online)
- State your price and/or price per deliverable (e.g. $XXX per t-shirt design)
- Next Steps: what does the client need to do so the project can move forward?
- E.g. acceptance of the proposal, sign contract, and down payment.
- Optional: you could include the contract/terms within the proposal itself. This way, the client can sign for it all at once – saving you both time.
When you’re creating your first proposal, this will act as a template and boilerplate for those to follow. This template will live to adapt to you and the client’s needs, and will greatly reduce the time spent creating them.
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