So, you want to discover how to write a proposal for a project. Well, “Let there be light!” This article is here to show you the way.
Let’s start by diving into what a project proposal is.
- A project proposal is a two to five-page document that answers key questions surrounding a project.
- It will typically outline both a timeline and budget.
- Its primary purpose is to summarize what the project hopes to accomplish and how it will do this.
- Project proposals are not formal contracts. Their role is to provide stakeholders with enough information to make an informed decision about whether the project should move forward or not.
What is a project proposal?
Essentially, a proposal is an initial document that outlines the framework for establishing a project’s concept.
An efficient proposal streamlines the professional relationship between outside stakeholders and your organization.
Typically, it will include an executive summary of your goals i.e. what you want to accomplish, a description of your objectives, and plans for achieving these.
What is the purpose of a project proposal, and why do you need it?
Writing a project proposal allows an organization to formally present its ideas, to a project backer or outside contributor/worker.
- The primary purpose of writing a proposal for a project is to attract a sponsor or financier to invest in your project, service, or program.
- The project proposal is there to get all team members aligned in their thinking, facing in the same direction, and sharing the same goals and priorities.
- Proposals are also a great tool to help you decide on budget adjustments and overall pricing, hiring decisions, etc.
What are the benefits of writing project proposal?
A project proposal is the sum of the initial steps to get an endeavor up and running.
In this sense, writing a clear proposal early on comes with the following advantages:
- Coherent proposals clarify project requirements and business goals, make sure these are aligned, and help convey expected outcomes in a way everyone can understand.
- Well-established proposals prove the feasibility and applicability of a project.
- Writing a clear proposal for a project, means you can establish the basic structure of the project and its organization upfront. This is one way to significantly reduce misalignments, leading to better collaboration and decision-making.
- A comprehensive proposal helps to better identify required resources (e.g. personnel, hardware, software, and budget), which enables their efficient allocation and management.
- A well-drafted project proposal, by detecting potential risks and challenges in advance, helps teams develop strategies for mitigating these, thus reducing the chances of project failure.
- Writing a project proposal with a defined timeline and set milestones helps in managing time more efficiently, ensuring the project is completed within the agreed-upon timeframe.
- With a detailed project proposal, it’s possible to make estimate accurate and effective.
- Proposals with clearly defined milestones and deliverables are much easier in terms of their monitoring.
- A well-crafted proposal often acts as a motivator for stakeholders to invest in the project.
- A comprehensive proposal means fewer changes, accidents, or bugs.
It’s essential when considering how to write a proposal for a project that your idea grabs the attention of decision-makers and that it be delivered with clarity and confidence.
If you believe in your project, this will show in your proposal.
Project proposal outline
Project proposals need to be easy to read, following a clear structure that feeds information to the reader step-by-step.
So, when planning your proposal, the first thing you need to do is draft an outline, or framework, that your content will follow.
Unfortunately, there’s not really a one-size-fits-all approach to project outlines.
The information you’ll be including (and its order) is totally dependent on the type of project you’re planning and the audience you’re pitching to.
However, there’s one general principle you should always follow: include the most crucial and relevant information at the start of your document.
The reason is that time is precious and our attention spans short. If you don’t explain why someone should be reading your project proposal at the very beginning, you’re already boring them.
So, what to include first? Generally, project proposal writers start with one of the following openings:
An executive summary
An executive summary is a section that basically says “This is who we are” and “This is what we do”.
It informs the reader of your business’s expertise and provides a description of your goals and your plans for achieving them. This segways into the proposal itself.
A cover letter
Alternatively, you could write a personalized cover letter that explains why you’re making a proposal to the reader in particular.
You might want to follow up on a previous conversation, define your proposal in concise terms, or suggest next steps.
This can make a great first impression, as it takes a little bit more effort than a copy-and-paste executive summary.
After your opening section, the project proposal outline must maintain its direction and purpose. Just like a story, it needs a beginning, middle, and end, or the reader will get lost along the way.
Try following a chronological structure like this for the rest of your document:
- Show them the ‘problem’. Clearly articulate the problem your project will address. Try to sympathize with the reader by sharing their pain of suffering.
- Introduce the solution. Present your proposed solution to the problem, and explain how your methodology backs this up.
- Tell them who will be working on what. Introduce the human faces that will work on the project. Speak about the experience of your management team and establish clear responsibilities for reporting, communication, task completion, etc
- Make your promises with goals, milestones, and deliverables. Commit to a timeline of when the project’s phases will be completed. Reassure the reader by saying what will happen if the project overruns.
- Talk about the money. Name your price for the project, outlining a detailed budget and breakdown of individual costs. Include external funding sources from other stakeholders if applicable.
- Cover the legal obligations (aka the boring part). Cover your bases by clearly explaining contractual obligations, licenses, and compliance with local laws/regulations.
- Conclusion. Wrap things up with a short but sweet conclusion. Don’t throw in any curveballs—just try your best to condense everything you’ve said into one or two paragraphs. For some added personality, top it off with a call-to-action, like “Are you ready to take the first step?”
How to write a project proposal
Your primary reason for writing a project proposal is simple, but it’s not something you should lose sight of: to convince key people to support your project and obtain the executive buy-in for it.
You need decision-makers to be hooked on your idea — so much so that they’ll feel motivated to greenlight the project.
If this is the first time you’re writing one check out PandaDoc for project proposal templates.
These will help you avoid potential mistakes and deliver a professional solution that will make you look good to your clients.
For example, why not use this template?
Now, let’s take a look at the various steps you’ll need to take to write a project proposal.
1. Define the problem
When looking at how to write a proposal for a project, consider the problem that you’re trying to address, and what makes it a problem in the first place. Is this issue worth solving?
In presenting the problem, start strong by describing the pain point succinctly and in a way that resonates with your target audience.
Remember that, although it’s important to make the audience see the problem the way you see it, it’s better to use facts instead of opinions and rely on the data you’ve gathered through research.
Here’ is an example of problem definition within a project proposal:
When you look at how to make a project proposal, keep in mind your particular triple constraint during every step of the project and address this when and where needed.
2. Present your solution
Next up, you need to make your audience see that your way of solving the problem is better than anyone else’s.
Show/explain why other solutions won’t work (or won’t work as well), and guide the reader through your problem-solving process.
Writing a project proposal can be tricky.
When talking about solutions, anticipate questions and objections and be ready to defend your suggestions.
PandaDoc offers special presentation templates where you can find appropriate options for showcasing your future solution.
Do your best to paint a picture that helps the audience understand the solution’s larger impact.
Once again, facts and research-backed examples are your friends.
3. Define your deliverables and success criteria
This step of writing a proposal for a project starts with identifying project objectives and then breaking them down into sub-objectives and deliverables sequentially.
Deliverables are specific, measurable, and tangible items that are produced to fulfill the objectives of an entire project, separate tasks or processes individually, and satisfy the requirements of stakeholders.
For example, if the objective is to “Improve user experience on the e-commerce platform to increase customer satisfaction and reduce churn rate.” sub-objectives might include:
- Enhanced website performance
- Implementing personalized product recommendations
- Improving customer support
Potential deliverables for the first sub-objective might be:
- A website performance audit report, identifying areas for improvement
- An optimized website with faster page load times
- A website performance monitoring dashboard
For the second one:
- A recommendation engine design document, outlining the algorithm and implementation details
- A fully integrated recommendation engine within the e-commerce platform
- A user guide and training materials for the recommendation engine
And for the third one:
- A customer support analysis report, highlighting areas for improvement
- A revised customer support process flowchart
- A customer support training program for staff
- An updated knowledge base for customer self-service
4. State your strategy
This is the most crucial section of a proposal, as it outlines the strategic approach you’ll take to achieve the project’s objectives.
When writing this part of a proposal, you must detail the approach, methods, and techniques you’ll use to achieve your objectives.
To do so, follow these steps:
- Introduce your strategy by providing a brief overview of the approach you’ll take to accomplish the project’s goals.
- Describe the project management methodology you’ll use (e.g., agile, waterfall, or hybrid) and justify your choice based on the project’s nature, complexity, and constraints.
- Detail the specific components and techniques that make up your strategy. This may include resource allocation, risk management, quality assurance, communication, and change management, among others. Provide a clear explanation of how these components will work together to support the project’s objectives.
- Define roles and responsibilities among team members and stakeholders to ensure efficient collaboration, communication, and accountability throughout the project.
- Discuss your approach to managing resources. Explain how you will allocate these efficiently and effectively to support the project’s strategic objectives.
- Present the project timeline, including key milestones and deadlines that align with your strategic approach. Explain how these will help monitor progress, manage risks, and ensure the project stays on track.
- Identify potential challenges and risks that may arise during the project and explain how your strategy addresses these concerns. Discuss your approach to risk management, mitigation, and contingency planning.
- Conclude the strategy section by emphasizing the benefits and advantages of your chosen approach. Explain how your strategy is designed to deliver the desired outcomes and meet stakeholder expectations.
5. Outline your schedule and budget
This is the section of writing a project proposal where you break your budget down into categories (tools, supplies, etc.) and include both direct and indirect costs.
The key is to provide as much detail as possible so stakeholders can see you’ve done your research.
Outline your project schedule as precisely as possible.
Convey the project lifecycle by concretely communicating start and end times, and do not rely on assumptions within this step!
PandaDoc has platform assets designed especially to help this business need. For example, you can use this free universal budget proposal template, easily modifying it to the specifics of your project.
You can also read our special article on how to create a project budget proposal for more details.
Another feature, named pricing tables, is aimed at presenting complex, multicomponent calculations like budgets.
You can add each separate expenditure item to make your budget fully transparent for all stakeholders.
6. Tie it all together
When you come to the end of writing a proposal for a project, the conclusion should briefly recap the problem, solution, and benefits.
Emphasize the parts of your proposal you want your audience to remember by restating crucial ideas, facts, and (of course) the solutions you’re prepared to deliver.
Before submitting/presenting the proposal, check it for ideological consistency and make sure it has a pleasant, easy-to-follow flow.
It should tell a story, and make a cohesive whole out of all sections.
Try not to include elements that don’t contribute to the overall project objectives or seem off for any reason, and ensure all the necessary elements of your proposal have been addressed.
7. Edit/proofread your proposal
After writing your project proposal, make the necessary edits to ensure it’s clear, helpful, and persuasive.
Ensure the proposal is attractive, organized, and visually appealing.
Check the tone and language too, and don’t forget to proofread for grammar, punctuation, and spelling mistakes. Asking for feedback is vital.
What are the different types of project proposals?
These are five of the most common types of project proposals segmented by their different goals and requirements.
1. Formally/informally solicited project proposals
A formally solicited proposal comes with specific directions.
It’s created in response to an RFP (request for proposal) and is often initiated by project managers.
If a formal project proposal is well-written, there’s a high chance that it’ll be approved.
An informally solicited project proposal is usually requested verbally or via an informal communication channel, which makes writing this type of project proposal trickier.
As it doesn’t come with the same level of context as a formal one, the proposal writer and their project team will have to do a lot of research to get the idea approved.
2. Unsolicited project proposals
An unsolicited project proposal is one that no one asked for but that they may want to see.
They usually come from those “aha” moments we have throughout the workday. Essentially, they’re more complex than an elevator pitch but perhaps less structured than solicited proposals.
To get this type of proposal approved, you’ll need to do a lot of work when writing, but it could have a positive impact on your business nonetheless.
3. Continuation project proposals
These are usually done on a calendar basis and are a considerably lower lift in the proposal department, as the project itself has already been approved.
This type of project proposal is created when a project enters a new phase or new resources are needed to guarantee its continuance.
4. Renewal project proposals
Marginally different from a continuation project proposal, these are written when a project has ended and needs to start up again.
You’ll typically use data from the previous project in your renewal proposal.
5. Supplemental project proposals
These proposals are written when you need more resources than you initially requested or if you’ve gone over budget on the project.
What’s the difference between proposals vs contracts?
A project proposal is not a contract, and it’s crucial not to confuse it with a business proposal.
Unlike a business proposal,which outlines legal terms and conditions for acquiring a product or service, sponsors sign a project proposal to approve its contents.
Once the proposal is signed and approved, the business starts drafting a contract along with a project plan, project charter, project timeframe, and similar contractual aspects.
Project proposal vs project charter
A project proposal is what comes first — it’s the persuasive document that hopes to convince your client to sign up.
If your proposal is accepted, you can then create an optional ‘project charter’ before really getting things off the ground.
If the proposal was meant for outsiders to read, the charter is for your internal team’s eyes.
It officially authorizes the start of a project, confirming its existence to everyone involved.
A good project charter will be brief and formal. It should talk about a project’s expected timeline, scope, and key parameters. In doing so, it creates a clear mandate for your project manager to hold their staff accountable and work to set deadlines.
Project proposal vs project plan
So, the project proposal comes first, followed by a project charter. What next?
Ask any project manager, and they’ll tell you that a plan is the next priority.
Your project plan is a comprehensive roadmap for success, containing the operational and tactical details of the project.
As you can imagine, it goes into much more detail than the proposal or charter.
It will elaborate on how you will achieve your goals with a breakdown of tasks, resource allocations, risk management, quality control measures, and anything else to lay the foundations for the project.
This is because it’s crucial for team members to know exactly what they should be doing on a day-to-day basis.
And, if things go wrong, a solid plan can help managers pinpoint where the problem lies.
What’s the difference between a project proposal and a project?
A project proposal is the first step in the pipeline of any project.
It’s essentially a preparatory document that ensures everyone — including senior business figures, sponsors, and stakeholders — is on the same page.
Writing this outline provides clarity on objectives, gathers backing from the right people, and establishes overall feasibility at an early stage.
Skipping over this vital step means the project doesn’t have a ‘green light’ to begin.
Everyone will have a different idea of the scope and budget of the project, and there will be no plan of action that dictates how it should be run, monitored, or reported on.
Perhaps most importantly, there will be no system of accountability.
A proposal is crucial in that it empowers management teams to take control of their projects.
It also establishes responsibility for both successes and failures and ensures transparency for everyone involved. You simply cannot start a major project without one.
10 Project proposal template samples and examples
Using a template is a great way to boost conversion rates for your project proposals, especially if you’re relatively inexperienced in the field.
Even if you’re well-versed in proposal writing, templates can still save time and are a great source of inspiration.
In this section, we’ll explore ten of our most versatile ready-to-go templates, and suggest how to write a proposal for a project example.
You can use all of these for free when you sign up for PandaDoc.
1. Standard sales proposal template
Sales proposals are perfect for business development teams, as they’re a concise way of delivering a highly persuasive piece of copy.
As a formal document, they’re usually reserved for high-value clients with complex requirements.
This means they tend to be quite adaptable and can be used for a variety of purposes. Here are some of the most common.
- Bidding for contracts. Sales proposal templates are often used by bid writers to help win government or private sector contracts. They set out a roadmap for how you’ll fulfill their requirements and convince them you’re the best choice for the job.
- Client acquisition. Attracting big buyers requires careful thought, and a sales proposal is perfect for explaining how your services match their needs.
- New product launches. If your company is introducing a new service to the market, you need a way of targeting potential customers and distributors. A sales proposal can help you highlight your value proposition.
- Investor presentations. For startups and small businesses, a sales project proposal can replace lengthy presentations. It’s a chance for you to describe the market opportunity, how your service is the solution, and the investment required for growth.
- Strategic partnerships. Sales proposals can also be used to highlight the mutual benefits and terms of a business partnership. A concise and eye-catching document is key to cutting through the noise and getting a serious response.
2. Digital marketing project proposal template
Digital marketing is all about grabbing people’s attention and holding onto it.
As it turns out, that’s exactly the same purpose your marketing project proposal will serve.
A project proposal document is where you can link to glowing testimonials from previous clients or to successful case studies.
You have a chance to craft some truly convincing stories and invite your reader to be a part of the next one.
Remember that visual aesthetics is a big part of marketing, so be sure to attach eye-catching pictures and data presentations.
Finally, make sure to include a full list of your offered services, packages, and discounts that the reader can capitalize on.
Everyone loves a good deal, don’t they?
3. Sponsorship project proposal template
Entering into a sponsorship isn’t a decision that businesses take lightly.
This is understandable, as they only want their brand logo displayed at events and on products that reflect their values and mission.
A project proposal is the perfect chance to highlight your value proposition and stand out as a credible option.
In your outline, it’s a good idea to include sections on the ‘Purpose of the event’ and the ‘Average attendee profile’ near the top of the document.
This is how you’ll craft your brand image and gain ample opportunity to talk about the business you could generate for your client.
As always, try to tailor your proposal to the niche of the reader, such as highlighting previous successful case studies.
4. Recruitment project proposal template
Workforce trends, like hybrid working and “the Great Resignation”, have created a highly competitive environment for recruiters.
This means companies are increasingly looking to recruiting agencies to find top staff, while also having higher standards than ever before.
A recruitment project proposal is your chance to stand out from the rest.
Typically, you’ll want to include a personalized cover letter, the reason being that your submitted example of how to write a proposal for a project will showcase your persuasive writing and presentation skills — both of which are crucial in the field of recruitment.
Along with this, you can point to your successful track record in talent acquisition — for instance, by displaying relevant statistics or case studies.
Then, you can talk money, and name your price for the different services you offer.
Including all this information in one place is bound to make for a persuasive sales pitch.
5. Software development project proposal template
Success in software development is defined by your ability to create programs that work reliably.
A digital project proposal is a great medium for communicating this, as you can link out to any relevant websites and examples of your apps in action.
Besides this, your clients are mostly going to be interested in your expected deliverables and timeframe.
It’s best to go for a no-frills approach, getting straight into the granular details of what you’ll build and when you’ll have it completed by.
Agility is a big part of software development, so provide clarity on how clients can request changes in specification.
Finally, be sure your proposal conveys a complete transfer of intellectual property rights to the client.
6. Accounting project proposal template
Just because accounting isn’t the most glamorous industry, it doesn’t mean your beautifully crafted project proposals won’t stand out.
In fact, this is a great chance for you to secure long-term partnerships that will grow with the accounting needs of your clients.
What you’re trying to achieve here is a document that makes your company sound proficient, competent, and with a stellar eye for detail.
You can do this by emphasizing your knowledge of the regulatory framework of the reader’s industry and providing fully-costed breakdowns of your service costs.
Talk about the accounting software and processes you use and how your aspirations align with the recipient company.
7. Real estate development project proposal template
A proposal document is perfect for real estate projects too, in that it blends comprehensive detail with stunning visual aesthetics.
Inside, your readers will be able to see pictures of your previous projects, along with aerial views and technical sketches, which will be sure to grab their attention.
From here, you can really get stuck into the details of your proposed real estate development.
You should include separate sections for financial, environmental, and location analysis, wherein you can discuss your methodologies for risk monitoring and resource allocation.
This approach is particularly favored by property developers who want to win government or private sector construction bids.
It’s a highly competitive industry, so creating a comprehensive and compelling proposal is crucial to ensure a winning document.
8. Search engine optimization (SEO) project proposal template
SEO is another one of those technical topics that most businesses understand the importance of, though few have the time to devise an in-depth strategy for themselves.
This is where a project proposal comes in, as it translates your line of work into comprehensible terms for those outside your industry.
You may want to begin by explaining a bit about how SEO works, before presenting your services as the answer to your client’s needs.
If all else fails, cold, hard statistics will do the trick, which you can demonstrate with ‘before and after’ comparisons of your previous clients’ performance.
9. Venture capital project proposal template
When we talk about short attention spans in business settings, venture capital takes it to the next level.
Since the industry is so fast-moving, investors are constantly looking for the next cutting-edge company that can provide a demonstrable business case and ROI.
As such, you need to make your proposal urgent and rapidly get to the point of why you’re making it.
Be sure to highlight your value proposition at the top of your document, alongside a summary of your goals and what any investments will go toward.
10. Artificial intelligence (AI) project proposal template
The development of artificial intelligence has taken the world by storm, and there are many lucrative contracts to be won by developers.
However, securing a project is by no means an easy task.
A project proposal is one of the best ways to foster trust in your company’s solutions and deliverables.
Be sure to specify what types of AI you specialize in, and explain their applications to the reader in layman’s terms.
As the space is changing at such a rapid pace, it’s a good idea to highlight your agile methodologies and ability to adapt to market forces.
You should talk about your company culture and how you attract individual expertise, as this will be the defining part of a proposal that gives you an edge over competitors.
Top tips when considering how to write a proposal for a project
Before writing a project proposal outline, make sure you consider the following:
- Identify your target audience, as they are your primary decision-makers.
- Focus on the type of relationship you’re looking to cultivate with them and think of ways to accomplish this.
Here are some questions to ask yourself before crafting a project proposal:
- How familiar is your audience with the proposed project scope? What do they know? (And what don’t they know?)
- What do they want to hear? What would be the best way to communicate your idea so it’s easily understood?
- Does your proposal need to provide background information and supplemental material on a particular topic?
Potential drawbacks and pitfalls
The root causes of why project proposals get rejected within organizations comes down to these four factors:
- The proposal is poorly defined
- The proposal isn’t aligned with the goals of the organization
- The proposal doesn’t clearly and credibly define the benefits of the project
- The proposal isn’t effectively presented and sold
Data and research
When looking at how to write a proposal for a project, remeber that this should be backed up by facts, graphs, figures, and charts.
Do some research on past projects — both successful and unsuccessful — to gather as much useful, data, evidence, and examples as you can to evidence your assertions.
Examine previous case studies to be able to compare them with your present project objectives and proposed solution.
This should help you create solid project proposals that lead to successful outcomes.
Discover how to write a winning proposal for a project using effective software from PandaDoc
Check out how the PandaDoc platform can meet your needs when it comes to drafting proposals and so much more.
Just sign up for a free 14-day trial and see how we can assist in making all your project proposals a thing of beauty!
Frequently asked questions
The 4 Cs are guiding principles for writing effective project proposals.
- Clear. Your proposal should be straightforward to read, follow a predictable structure, and avoid technical jargon.
- Concise. Your proposal should also be to the point. Don’t get sidetracked with unnecessary information or excessive detail.
- Complete. Your proposal should leave no stone unturned. It must be comprehensive and answer all your reader’s questions.
- Compelling. Your proposal should be persuasive too, conveying the value of your idea.
It depends on the complexity of the proposal and your relationship with the client. However, it will usually wind up being anywhere from three to 20 pages long (with three to five being typical).
Remember to balance the 4 Cs in your proposal. In particular, it should be both concise and complete. Start by writing an outline, populating it with content, and then cutting out verbose or wordy sections.
Ask for a second opinion before submitting it.
Just because you know how to create a project proposal, doesn’t mean you’re any good at writing persuasively.
The trick is to really understand your audience. You’ll never write a cover letter that appeals to everyone. Learn what matters most to your reader and target this. Don’t shy away from using eye-catching visuals or quotes.
Above all, make the problem you identify seem both relatable and urgent. Once they recognize the issue, they’ll actively seek a solution.
The most important formatting decision you’ll make is your proposal’s structure. Yes, you should always have a title page and table of contents. Beyond that, you can order the remaining sections however is best to create a convincing and comprehensible story.
Focus on page design too. Write short, punchy headers, and include bullet points for legibility. Use bold or italics to emphasize points, along with standard margins, wide letter spacing, and a readable font.
Your proposal shouldn’t be sent immediately upon its completion. First, it needs to be internally reviewed by project managers and stakeholders. If it’s accurate and satisfies the 4 Cs, then they should attach their signatures.
Next, you’ll need to submit it to the client in person, via email, or using a specific project management software/portal. Maintain records of when and to whom it was submitted, and be ready to follow up promptly when you receive a reply.
It depends. If you’re writing a fairly basic sales proposal, then a copy-and-paste executive summary should suffice. But that’s only if the content is relevant to your reader and answers all their questions.
If you’re reaching out to a client for the first time, or proposing a complex project, then it’s a better idea to write a tailored cover letter. This is your chance to put those persuasive writing skills to good use.
Once your proposal has been submitted, it’s time to play the waiting game. If you’re using project management software, be sure to track the status of your application. Or, if you’re using email, check your inbox and junk mail frequently.
If you don’t get a reply, common etiquette is to wait one to two weeks before following up.
Generally, yes. The only disadvantage to using project management software is the cost of a subscription.
If you’re balancing multiple clients, you’ll need a centralized platform for tracking proposals, assigning tasks, and planning your calendar.
This will also give you access to document management tools, which are perfect for enabling collaboration and maintaining secure access. You can also integrate PM software with your other apps and use it to monitor analytics, which cuts down on manual processes.
Originally published December 16, 2021, updated December 8, 2023