Project Proposal – How to Write One Without Actually Writing Anything

Written by Adam Hempenstall
How to write project proposal

Having done sales for a good part of my career, I can tell you two things about proposals:

1. Most people hate writing them;

2. They are incredibly important if you want to get more business.

With that in mind, I had to write quite a few project proposals in my day. Nowadays, writing business proposals is much easier thanks to all the great proposal software. However, back in the day, you would have to go through the entire process and write them from scratch every time.

Here are a few lessons I learned about project proposals, which you can use to step your game up and get more sales today.


What is a project proposal and why do I need one in the first place?

A project proposal is a sales document that shows a business relationship between the seller/vendor and the customer purchasing their product or service. A project proposal usually contains the information on what you offer, how you plan to do it, when it will be done, who will do it and how much it costs. In simple terms, a project proposal shows the customer exactly what they will get once they start working with you.

So, why do you need a project proposal? Put simply, it’s become industry standard in a lot of places. CEOs and managers want to know what you’re offering so they know where their money is going. Lower-level employees want something to show to their managers so that they can get buy-in more easily.

Finally, you can show all the details of your offer so that the customer knows exactly what they’re signing for and there are no surprises later on. Everybody wins. Well, except for the person who has to write the proposal, right?

Not really. Let’s see how to make it easier to write and manage project proposals.


A great project proposal is like a story

At their core, project proposals are sales documents. The problem is, most sales documents are dry and boring and they have one purpose only: to get people to spend money. If you want your project proposal to do more, it has to be more of a story than a sales pitch.

First, it needs to excite the customer about the prospect of doing business with you. Your project proposal shows how you can make their lives better. Once they see what you’ve been able to do for others, they will be excited about the work you can do for them.

Second, your project proposal needs to instill confidence. Based on the work you’ve done before and your plans for their own project, they should have confidence that you will do a great job.

Finally, a great project proposal makes the reader take action. Once they see what you can do and how, they should be inspired to sign and become a customer.


Before anything – consider a project proposal template

No one likes writing the same thing over and over again. The good news is, you don’t have to. You can create a project proposal template that covers the same content that you repeat in different project proposals. That way, you have a sales document which is 90% ready and you can just add some details for each new project proposal you send.

The great thing about project proposal templates is that they cut down the time you need to finish your proposal. If you take a look at the content below, which lists all the necessary ingredients of a great project proposal – remember this: you can add them all in a template so that you only have to write the difficult stuff once.

Win more business


The anatomy of a superb project proposal

Based on hundreds of thousands of proposals sent through our platform, we’ve identified 8 key elements that each project proposal needs to have if you want to ensure conversions. Of course, you can leave out what you think is unnecessary, but the more of them that you have, the more likely you are to get your project proposal returned with a signature.

The introduction

This is the part where you call me Captain Obvious. Of course, your project proposal needs to have an introduction, but most businesses get this part wrong. They treat the proposal introduction like a beginning chapter of a book, using the opportunity to talk about their business, its history and in general, how awesome they are. Big mistake.

As we’ve written before, the introduction is the part where your customers will spend the most time, besides the pricing section. In fact, most customers read only the introduction and pricing, so you better make it count.

The best introductions talk about the problem that the client is having and they have a general outline about how to solve that problem. Unfortunately, most people who write project proposals don’t know what the customer really wants to achieve. The reason why this happens is that they haven’t had a meeting or a discovery session before they began writing the proposal.

When you don’t know what the customer actually wants, you begin the project proposal with the focus on the wrong information. As a result, you lose interest immediately and they don’t even bother reading the rest of the proposal.

The detailed specification

If you got them hooked on the introduction, this is the part where you give them all the details and convince them you’re the right person/company for the job. Depending on what you want to sell, this section will have different content. For example, an SEO manager will lay out a detailed strategy to work on on-page and off-page SEO, with the complete strategy for a 3-month period.

The focus word here is “detailed”. The more details you provide, the better insight the customer has for what you’re going to do. Perhaps more importantly, if things don’t go according to plan, this is the section you will fall back on and refer to.

Maybe the best tip for this section of the project proposal is that your language needs to be simple and easy to understand. It may be easier to mention website scraping and updating the sitemap to improve on-page SEO, but the customer won’t understand any of that. Talk in the kind of language that your customer is familiar with. If you want an easy way to solve this problem, check out our SEO proposal template.

If your project has nothing to do with SEO, there’s a variety of proposal templates in our library to choose from.

The timescales

When we analyze the most common mistakes that people make when writing business proposals, one of them is leaving out this section. No matter what you do or who the customer is, you always need to mention how long it’s going to take to deliver your service or product.

Depending on what you do, the section will look differently. It could be a broad scope such as 3-5 weeks or something as precise as 10 days and 6 hours. The better the customer knows how long it takes to complete their project, the easier it will be for them to decide on whether to hire you or not.

Proposal Writing University

The proof

When you want to hire someone to do a tattoo, a major part of your decision will be the artist’s previous work. After all, who would hire someone who can’t draw anything more than a stick figure?

If you’re sending project proposals without the proof section, you’re that tattoo artist, trying to get new customers with a stick figure portfolio. In other words, if the customer has no idea what you’ve already done, they’ll have a hard time saying yes to your project proposal.

This section should contain some proof of your previous work. It can be the easiest or the most difficult section to write because literally anything can be inserted here. Portfolios, case studies, written and video testimonials, conversation screenshots, emails – anything goes.

Needless to say, the kind of proof you insert in this section will depend on the type of project you’re writing the proposal for. Even though it doesn’t get as much attention as the introduction and pricing, this is one of the key parts of your project proposal.

The pricing

Most customers typically open this section right after the introduction. The first thing you need to know is that most of our proposal templates don’t have this section named “pricing”. Instead, we call it return on investment or ROI. It may seem insignificant, but this wording is a small psychological trick that makes people think of your project proposal as more of an investment than a cost.

The second thing is something that we’ve found out after extensive research. Contrary to popular marketing logic, more offers don’t always imply more sales. While upselling is one of the oldest tricks in the book, it is far better to have a single offer in your project proposal. The more packages and options you give, the less likely you are to get that signature.

The third pricing tip is to add a small testimonial if possible, showing that you were able to provide value for the money spent.

Finally, a tip that goes beyond writing project proposals. Don’t charge by the hour or day (or whatever else unit you use in your industry) – charge by the project instead.

If you’re not sure that you can get your pricing section right, make sure to check out some of our business proposal templates for ideas.

The guarantee

Every time someone does business with you, they are taking a risk. How can they know that you will deliver on your promises and supply the work described in the project proposal?

Can they really be sure that they are getting their money’s worth when they start working with you? The answer is, they have no clue that you will do anything you claim and they have to rely on their gut feeling.

Or not. You can offer a typical money-back guarantee that says that you return the customer’s money if you don’t do everything promised in your project proposal. If you’ve been in business long enough, you probably know what you can guarantee and offering something like this will definitely increase your chances of getting a signature on your proposal.

This is another chance to get creative and offer something that others don’t. For example, a writer can offer an additional piece of content. A designer can offer a landing page for free if they miss their deadline or don’t meet all of their requirements set by the project proposal.

The next steps

This is one of the most commonly omitted sections in most proposals that our customers send out. Unfortunately, it’s a crucial section that does a good job of moving the person reading further towards signing the project proposal.

You probably think that it’s common sense that the customer signs the proposal and you start the work immediately. However, if you don’t write it out, you can expect at least a part of your clients not to understand what they need to do.

Make it stupid simple. For example:

Step 1: Sign the project proposal

Step 2: Pay a part of the total fee in advance

Step 3: We schedule a kick-off meeting

Step 4: The work starts

Terms and conditions

If you think that your customers will get scared by a bit of legalese, think again. Since you already have the detailed specification and the guarantee, it’s a good idea to leave this final section to put everything on paper.

You don’t have to hire a lawyer for each project proposal which you write – a standard contract will cover 90% of what you need from a T&C section. The good news is that all of our proposal templates come with this section.

Whether you need a proposal template for web design, software development, marketing, construction or something else, we have it in our database, and it’s free for you to grab – it’s all in our proposal library.


Conclusion

Writing project proposals seems like a proper hassle with all of these elements involved. That is, unless you’re using shortcuts and employing automation in your writing process. If you’re looking for an effective way to write, send and manage great project proposals, make sure to check out some of our many proposal templates. No matter what type of work you do, our library has something for you.

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