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How to write a one-page proposal

How to write a one-page proposal

Business proposals can be challenging documents to write and can range from one to hundreds of pages. While there’s no optimal size, ever-shortening attention spans (8 seconds!) mean shorter proposals are more likely to be read. 

Whether you’re closing a sale, raising funds, or introducing a new product, a one-page proposal written clearly and concisely is well-equipped to deliver the desired result.

Write your one-page proposal with your reader in mind  

The elements of a proposal range from a cover letter to testimonials, but a good one-page proposal eliminates many details. So, when should you send one?

When time is of essence, as in “we need this yesterday,”  or a project is so simple you could write it on a napkin. Those are signs it’s time to whip out the one-page proposal. Also, of course, when requested. 

From the title to the final call to action, every word of your proposal should drive your reader to your desired course of action. If it helps to start with a template, then take that template and make it yours.

There’s no shame in taking out what isn’t necessary for your situation and adding a section that makes sense for your reader. If responding to an RFP, make sure you answer all of the points or questions included in the request.

One-page proposals lead to faster decision times, respect your readers’ time, help you achieve more clarity on your objectives, increase the likelihood of approval, and demonstrate your knowledge and expertise without fluff. Keep it simple and write concisely.

If you’re looking for a handy guide to the one-page proposal, look no further. We’ve got you covered.

One-page proposal structure

Every proposal contains some essential information. The five Ws (Who, What, When, Where, and Why) and Mr. How are the backbone and nervous system of the one-page pitch. Leave them out and you’re more likely to miss the mark.

Below are six questions your one-page proposal must answer.

  1. Who is it from? This is critical — especially if you’re competing against other proposals. When the recipient is ready to act, they should be able to identify quickly who to respond to.
  2. What is the scope? Outline your project, new idea, or course of action clearly and briefly.  
  3. Why is it important? Without a strong why, the what may not matter. Tell the recipient why your proposed course of action is necessary. What benefits will they receive if they take your recommendation? What will happen if they don’t?
  4. When will the action be performed? Include a timeline for project execution and deadline for deliverables. An open-ended proposal may never be answered.  
  5. Where is the point of delivery? It may be concrete or abstract, physical or virtual, but you must have a final destination. Where your proposed course of action takes place is a necessary component of your one-page proposal.
  6. Finally, how will you deliver? Define your deliverables, if there are any, succinctly. 

A one-page proposal is a scaled-down version of a full proposal. Every detail you include must support your recommended solution and drive the reader to a decision point.

Anything that doesn’t do both must go. For instance, a title page isn’t necessary. You don’t need a table of contents. You may opt not to include testimonials unless you can get them in without skimping on other essential elements. Any way you look at it, you must slice and dice to get your proposal down to one page.  

One-page proposal outline

Now that you’re familiar with the basic structure, here’s a brief one-page proposal outline.

  1. Title. Your title must grab your reader’s attention quickly. No need to be cute. State what your proposal is about and get to the content.
  2. Executive Summary or Description. Summarize your proposal in two or three sentences. Describe the challenge your reader faces, your proposed solution, and what life will be like after a successful execution. 
  3. Deliverables. If your project involves deliverables, define what they are.
  4. Timeline. Communicate the major milestones or benchmarks of your project, and important deadlines.
  5. Pricing. Make sure you spell out your rates and payment terms clearly. Tables are a great way to communicate pricing in a brief, visual format.
  6. Additional terms. If there are important details not previously discussed, mention them briefly toward the end of your one-page proposal. But make sure they are absolutely necessary.
  7. Call to action. A single sentence inviting your recipient to take the next step.
  8. Contact information and signatures. At the end of the proposal, provide a place for signatures. This ensures both parties understand the details of your agreement.  

There’s no reason to be religious about section titles. Clarity is the goal. When necessary, combine elements into one section.

For instance, pricing, deliverables, and timeline can be communicated in a table for projects focused on deliverable assets. If your proposal is an invitation to meet, the topic of discussion could be paired up with three potential meeting dates. 

The bottom line on one-page proposals is to present your solution to your reader’s problem succinctly, briefly, and with all the information necessary to make a decision.

Tips for writing your one-page proposal  

“If I had more time, I’d have written a shorter letter.”

Mark Twain

One-page proposals are more challenging to write than longer proposals because it takes time to trim the fat. Since it is a time-intensive exercise, we offer the following tips to make writing your one-page proposal easier and to help streamline the process.

  1. Before writing the first word, gather all necessary information. Place your research in a single document for quick retrieval. 
  2. Tackle the easiest parts of the proposal first. For instance, if your prices are fixed, add the details to your proposal early on in the process. It will save you time as you gather the rest of the information you need to complete the proposal.
  3. Fine-tune your Executive Summary or Description. These are prominent parts of your proposal. If they aren’t well-written, the rest of your proposal may not get read.  
  4. When stating the problem and your proposed solution, be as clear and concise as possible. 
  5. Be succinct. Brief. Bullet points are the perfect tool for brevity.
  6. It’s cliché, but an image is worth a thousand words. Tables and graphs speak volumes.
  7. Finally, we recommend saving the title for last. Brainstorm several titles and choose the strongest one. Use action verbs and don’t make it too long. 

To summarize

The key to writing the one-page proposal is to say as much as you can in as few words as possible. 

Ready to start? Schedule a free 15-minute demo today to learn more about PandaDoc — including our one-page proposal templates.

Frequently asked questions

  • Outlines can be helpful to ensure you have all the necessary information for your one-page proposal. Be sure to include an Executive Summary or Description, a timeline of important milestones or deadlines, pricing, and a call to action. Oh, and don’t forget a place for signatures. Alternatively, use a template — it has a built-in outline that’s fully customizable.

     

  • Use a one-page proposal when information can be easily simplified, when you want to stand out from the competition, and, of course, when requested. If you feel you need a full proposal, you can always send a one-page proposal with a note that the full project proposal is on the way.

  • Identify the critically essential elements and take out the rest. Remember, your proposal must answer these six questions succinctly and conclude with a call to action. Also, look for ways to shorten sentences or communicate effectively with fewer words. If you need help, ask a colleague to look it over and make suggestions.

    1. Who’s the proposal from? 
    2. What’s the project scope? 
    3. When will you deliver? 
    4. Where will it take place? 
    5. Why is your solution the best one? 
    6. How will you make good on your promises?

     

  • To be honest, you don’t need a template. However, a template can provide a basic framework for your one-page proposal so that you don’t start from a blank slate. And the beautiful thing about templates is that you can modify them for your own situation. PandaDoc has a library of more than 160 business proposal templates. We’re sure you’ll find one you like.

Yauhen is the Director of Demand Generation at PandaDoc. He’s been a marketer for 10+ years, and for the last five years, he’s been entirely focused on the electronic signature, proposal, and document management markets. Yauhen has experience speaking at niche conferences where he enjoys sharing his expertise with other curious marketers. And in his spare time, he is an avid fisherman and takes nearly 20 fishing trips every year.

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