I have a proposal for you.
I can build you a house, complete with walls, windows, doors, and a roof for $350,000.
Do we have a deal?
No. I didn’t think so!
To make a decision like this, you need cold hard facts. You need details, clarity, and proof! You need budgets, breakdowns, and solid guarantees.
That’s exactly how a project stakeholder feels when they receive your project proposal, and to further complicate things, calculating an average proposal win rate is next to impossible.
Project stakeholders will, on average, receive around 50 proposals a week. To choose you out of this huge pile, they need clarity, details, specifics, lateral thinking, and a whole heap of persuasion.
You need to learn the art of how to write a project proposal, to stand any chance of winning their investment, and increasing your proposal success rate.
So, join me in this Process Street post where we will take the following lessons in how to write a project proposal:
- Lesson #1: What a project proposal is
- Lesson #2: What a project proposal reviewer is really looking for
- Lesson #3: The surefire way to succeed with your project proposal
- Lesson #4: The 4 types of project proposal & how to create them (with tips & templates)
- Lesson #5: A little more about Process Street and how it can help your project proposals
If you’re in a hurry, grab this Project Proposal Template Checklist, and catch up with the class later:
Lesson #1: What a project proposal is
You might think this is obvious, but a project proposal often gets confused with a business proposal.
A business proposal is a written document that outlines the legal terms & conditions of the project. Check out the below Business Proposal Template Checklist for an idea on how to write a business proposal:
To use this checklist, log in and add it to your account. If you don’t have an account yet, sign up for a free trial.
Anyway, let’s get back to how to write a project proposal.
A project proposal, although also a written document, establishes the concept of a project and what it will accomplish. It outlines the project objectives and describes how they will be achieved. It either offers a solution to a problem or a course of action in response to a need, but it doesn’t go into legality specifics.
The primary purpose of a project proposal is to sell yourself and the project you are proposing. The goal is to persuade the reader to take the course of action you propose.
Submitting a project proposal is like going for a job interview. It’s your one chance to convince the organization that you’re the one for them.
To do this, you need to:
- Stand out from the crowd
- Prove that you are what they’re looking for
- Demonstrate that you have the capabilities they require
- Make a first impression that counts
You’ll probably face stiff competition from other, similar, organizations – so you need to stand out.
You’ll need to do your research into the organization and understand what they need and how you can fill their hole, provide a solution to their problem, or support them in their endeavors, help them to meet their objectives.
You’ll need to gather together all the experience you have and present it in an easy to understand way.
You’ll need to make sure you’re on time, that you’re organized, presentable, and error-free.
So that’s an introduction to what a project proposal is. The next three lessons will cover how to write a project proposal. We’ll discuss what a proposal reviewer will expect to see in your proposal, and the quickest, easiest way to create winning project proposals.
Let‘s get learning!
Lesson #2: What a project proposal reviewer is really looking for
“I used to just plod through each proposal, focusing on all the details…now I get to the gestalt, the big picture coherence first. If I like it, then I’ll go on to the details. If I don’t, I’m done reading” – Robert Porter, Ph. D, What Do Grant Reviewers Really Want, Anyway?
Like we established earlier, a proposal reviewer will probably receive over 200 proposals a month.
With so many documents to review, when a proposal lands in their inbox, a proposal reviewer will actively look for reasons to cut it from their shortlist.
Rather than read the entire proposal from cover to cover, they will merely glance over your proposal and check it meets the following criteria (as a bare minimum):
How to write a project proposal criteria #1: Does it look good?
This is where first impressions count.
If you’re responding to a request for proposal (RFP), you might have guidance on how they want you to write your project proposal.
Follow this guidance, to the letter.
Use the stipulated font, size, and structure. Don’t exceed the word count and include all the sections they’ve asked for.
It will show them that you’ve read, paid attention to, and respected their instructions.
If you don’t have any formatting instructions, then make sure your proposal looks attractive and uncluttered. Use only one font and size, ensure it’s clear and easy to read, and include images and graphics where you can.
Top tip: Don’t assume they’ll print it. Maximize on-screen readability by avoiding multiple columns, using dark text on a white background, and making sure that tables, charts, and images can be seen in full, without needing to scroll.
How to write a project proposal criteria #2: Is it easy to understand?
Your proposal needs to be easy to read, but it needs to be even easier to understand.
Avoid jargon. If you have to use abbreviations, define each one.
Don’t assume they’re an expert in your field, but equally don’t patronize them by stating the obvious. They know that the Earth is round (hopefully), that the sky is blue (sometimes), and that the grass is green (usually).
Paint a picture and tell the story of your project. Make it flow nicely. Make each sentence simple, but also fun and interesting to read.
Top tip: Read your proposal out-loud. If you stumble over a sentence or have to read it more than once, change it.
How to write a project proposal criteria #3: Does it work?
Will it work? Does it fall within risk tolerances? Is it price-competitive? Is it best-in-class? Have all the benefits of the solution or approach been pointed out?
These are the questions that will likely run through your proposal reviewer’s mind when skimming through your proposal.
They’ll be looking at whether the solution or approach you’ve provided solves their problem or satisfies their need.
First, make sure that it does, and second, make sure that you’ve clearly explained how it does. If they can’t work it out, they’ll disregard it and move on.
Top tip: For added bonus points, look to include alternative approaches or highlight unforeseen problems and establish how you will solve them. This will show innovative and lateral thinking, which is always good to have when running a project!
Your proposal needs to meet these three basic criteria to stand a chance of even making it to the shortlist.
Now comes the tricky part.
How to write a project proposal that takes you from the shortlist to the winning spot.
Lesson #3: The surefire way to succeed with your project proposal
If you’ve followed lesson number two, your proposal should be good enough to land a place in the shortlist.
But, before we start popping the champagne, you haven’t won the contract yet.
Depending on the size, type, and requirements of the project, you could spend anywhere from three days to three months writing the perfect project proposal.
It’s a lengthy process and it can take a lot of hard work. And, after all that time and effort, seeing your proposal make it to the shortlist, only to be rejected at the final stage, can be devastating.
While there is no surefire way of guaranteeing that your proposal will win every time, there is a surefire way of giving it the best possible chance of winning.
And, if nothing else, there is a surefire way to make the proposal writing process quicker and easier, so if it doesn’t win, the blow doesn’t hit you so hard.
Processes and the part they play in project proposals
When I think about how to write a project proposal, I think; ‘processes’.
I know. Proposals and processes aren’t an obvious partnership, but hear me out.
Processes are a set of steps that streamline the way you get to your end result.
Processes allow you to successfully complete tasks without thinking. You don’t need to work out what to do next, you can avoid silly mistakes, and you can create cost-saving efficiencies by following the same set of steps each time you complete a task.
For instance, every time I write a blog post for Process Street I follow a process.
I work my way through 75 steps (yes, there are 75!) to make sure my writing matches the Process Street tone of voice, meets our SEO objectives, is free from silly mistakes, is full of reputable sources that back up the points I’m making, and is irresistible for readers, like you.
The same concept can, and should, be applied when you’re looking at how to write a project proposal.
A process will streamline the entire task of writing a proposal, making it quicker to complete each time you write one.
It will ensure you don’t miss anything out, and it will stop you from making mistakes.
It will also allow you to meet every single one of the proposal reviewers requirements (I’m talking beyond the basics), so you stand every chance of getting to that top spot.
More on this next. Don’t be late!
Lesson #4: The 4 types of project proposal & how to create them (with tips & templates)
Project proposals tend to fall into four common types:
- Solicited project proposals
- Renewal project proposals
- Continuation project proposals
- Supplemental project proposals
Each type of proposal has a unique set of requirements that the proposal reviewer will expect to see (on top of the three basic requirements we went through earlier).
I’ll take you through each one and explain how you can create a process to help you write a winning project proposal.
Solicited project proposals
What a solicited project proposal is & when you’d create one
A solicited proposal is created and sent in response to an official request for proposal (RFP). An RFP is a detailed description of what the customer wants.
How to write a solicited project proposal
Solicited project proposals are hugely competitive so you need to bring your A-game for this type of proposal.
To help you bring it, we’ve created a Solicited Project Proposal Template that you can use, for free, when you begin the task of creating one.
Follow this process to make sure you:
- Adhere to all RFP guidelines
- Extensively research your customer to find what they really want
- Write an incredibly compelling proposal and stand out from the crowd
Solicited Project Proposal Template
To get this pre-made template (and any of the other templates in this post), log in and add it to your dashboard. If you don’t have a Process Street account yet, don’t worry; sign up for a free trial, and bag it then.
Renewal project proposals
What a renewal project proposal is & when you’d create one
A renewal project proposal is created and sent when your involvement in an ongoing project has finished, contractually, but you want to renew your existing contract and continue to work on the project.
How to write a renewal project proposal
This proposal type is one of the easier proposals to write because it’s less competitive and you already have a relationship with the client. Rather than explaining who you are, what you can do, and how you can do it, it’s about providing evidence on what you’ve done and why they should renew your contract.
When you start to write your renewal project proposal, follow the below Renewal Project Proposal Template process so you can:
- Emphasize your past results
- Show how you can exceed these past results in the future
- Prove that the ROI will be higher if they use you, as opposed to hiring someone new
Renewal Project Proposal Template
Continuation project proposals
What a continuation project proposal is & when you’d create one
A continuation project proposal is created and sent to update the client on the latest project status. It’s as much for the client as it is for you. You need to make sure that the client is still on board with the approach, timeline, and budget you proposed in your original project proposal.
How to write a continuation project proposal
A continuation project proposal is quick and relatively simple to create. It’s a follow-up to your original proposal and can be put together easily.
Use the below Continuation Project Proposal Template to speed the process up further and make sure:
- The client is fully aware of how you’re progressing with the project
- The correct funds are provided for the next phase
- You’re aware of any changes, before moving forwards
Continuation Project Proposal Template
Supplemental project proposals
What a supplemental project proposal is & when you’d create one
A supplemental project proposal is created and sent when more resources are needed, to complete a project, than originally proposed. It’s a request for more funds, supplies, materials, or labor.
How to write a supplemental project proposal
These types of proposals can be difficult to get right. You’re asking for more money, so you need to justify the reasons why.
The project may have changed or grown exponentially, or you may have miscalculated the amount of resource that’s needed to complete it.
Regardless of the reason, this type of proposal needs careful consideration.
Use the below Supplemental Project Proposal Template process to make sure you clearly:
- Explain why you need additional resources
- Prove the value of the extra resource
- Update the client with a revised budget and timeline based on the new plan
Supplemental Project Proposal Template
I’ve given you four pre-made project proposal templates, built by the team at Process Street, that you can use, for free, whenever you need to create a project proposal.
But you’re probably wondering what Process Street is?
Lesson #5: A little more about Process Street and how it can help your project proposals
Watch this video, or read this article. It’ll explain what Process Street is in more detail.
You can create a new project proposal template, or grab a pre-made template (like the ones above) from the template library, and run a checklist from this template every time you want to complete a project proposal.
Below are some other pre-made proposal templates that you can use right now, or find later in our template library:
- Bid Proposal Template Checklist
- Budget Proposal Template
- Construction Proposal Template Checklist
- Consulting Proposal Template Checklist
- Contractor Proposal Template Checklist
- Event Proposal Template Checklist
To automate and manage the processes and workflows within your project proposal templates, you can use Zapier, webhooks or API integration to sync your checklists with the tools and apps you use regularly, like Outlook, Slack, Word, or Google docs.
Watch this webinar to find out more about automation:
As each proposal you create will be different, you can tweak, improve, and optimize your new or premade templates with these extra features:
- Stop tasks
- Dynamic due dates
- Task permissions
- Conditional logic
- Approval tasks
- Embed widget
- Role assignments
Before we close-up, if you’re interested in finding out more on how to write a project proposal, check these articles out.
How to write a project proposal related articles
- 6 Types of Project Proposals That Get Approved (and How to Write Them)
- How to Write a Proposal and Get What You Want (Free Templates)
- 12 Free Proposal Templates: The Only Way to Win Business
- On Writing Well Review: 6 Mistakes I Never Knew I Was Making
- Use this Interactive Project Proposal Template (and Ditch Microsoft Word)
- Grant Writing: How to Win Every Time (8 Free Checklists)
- 4 Writing Mistakes to Avoid (Unless You Like Sounding Silly)
- Business Writing Tips: How to Write Processes for Human Beings
- How to Use Evernote to Optimize Your Writing Workflow
- 10 Checklist Tips for an Optimal Web Design Proposal Template
- How To Write A Good Values Statement For Your Business
- Legal Writing Principle 10: Build Your Processes
And there we have it; how to write a project proposal to win investment.
I will leave you with this key takeaway:
Your success depends on sending winning project proposals. To send winning project proposals, you need to create and follow a process.
That’s it! School’s out for summer!
We’d love to hear your stories and experiences with writing project proposals. The good, the bad, and the ugly would be more than welcome! Who knows? You may even get featured in an upcoming article!