How to write an effective project proposal?
A lot of people write project proposals. Grad students write them for thesis and dissertation research approval; researchers write them to get grant money; consultants write them to woo clients, and individuals within organizations write them to gain approval from C-level execs and boards of directors.
Can all of these types of proposals have anything in common? Yes, in fact. And that commonality is the format that should be used.
In short, a project proposal is a framework – it introduces the concept, the goals and objectives, and a plan for the activities that will achieve those goals and objectives. Most will include a budget; some may not. But, no matter what, the proposal is a marketing tool – something to convince decision-makers that it should be approved/accepted.
Key Elements of All Project Proposals
Before you write one word of a project proposal, you must get your thoughts in order (and down in writing) so that you have the key elements you will be addressing:
1. Who is Your Audience? The style, tone, and even language of a proposal may vary a lot depending upon your audience. A project proposal for a traditional, conservative client will not be the same as that written for a risk-taking investor who wants to see some pizazz and creativity. And you must understand not just the demographics of that audience. What are their values, their pain points, etc.? You can use translation services, such as The Word Point, to make sure the information sent is correctly written. This will show a lot of consideration and will ensure everyone knows at least what the main topics of discussion are.
2. What problem are you solving? If you are answering a “call for proposals,” the problem has already been identified. If you have had initial discussions with a potential client, you understand the nature of the problem that the client wants solved. Getting it down in writing will keep you focused on that specific problem.
3. Do the research. You want to sound knowledgeable and as an authority on the problem. What are the potential solutions and the current state of the problem? This research may include discussions with members of the organization for whom you are preparing the proposal.
4. Define the outcomes. What impact will your project have on promoting the success of your client?
5. Set your timeline. Identify phases of project completion and deadlines for each of those phases.
6. Identify the resources you will need, and this will include both people and money. Who will you be bringing in to assist with the project? What access will you need to client personnel? Will you need to subcontract out some of this project work? These things have a direct impact on your budget.
The Framework (Format)
Most project proposals will include seven key sections, as follows:
1. Basic Project Information: This is a no-brainer and simply provides the project title, along with a brief summary, general timeframe, preparer(s) and contact information.
2. Detailed Project Summary: You will want to answer a number of questions in this section: What are you looking to accomplish through this project? What is the problem you are tackling? This, of course, is the major concern of a client or an investor. You should include some key but brief research and/or stats, but keep it brief. Exactly what will you do?
● How will you complete this project?
● When will you complete this project? (a more detailed explanation of a timeline should be presented here)
● Where will you complete the project?
● What is the projected budget/cost for the project?
3. Goals and Objectives of the Project: You should already have goals and objectives in mind if you have had a discussion with the client or with your superiors within the organization, and even with potential investors. These should be clearly and simply identified and defined.
4. Methodology: This section will include how exactly you intend to complete the project – people, resources, research, etc.; a detailed schedule of completion must be provided, breaking down the tasks into a timeline; and, finally what will you be delivering in the end? Research analysis and results? Action plans? A full report? Products (e.g. a piece of software). The reader should come away from this section with a full understanding of exactly what you will be doing.
5. Risk and Risk Management: In this section, you will need to try to anticipate and issues that may arise or changes that may need to be made as the project moves forward. This might include changes to the budget, timeline, scope, etc. You will need to state how you will monitor progress and what efforts will be taken if identified risks indeed come to fruition
6. Project Budget: You will need to provide all of the detail that you currently anticipate in terms of costs. Divide it into categories for the reader to clearly see how the budget is broken down – salaries, travel, outsourced activity, equipment/supplies, etc.
The other aspect of this section is to provide a short narrative that will further clarify any of the budget items, as well as provide a justification.
7. Your conclusion: This should provide a brief summary of the sections in the proposal and to provide evidence of this project achieving the goals of the client, decision-maker, or investor. You may also want to address the fact that you have done plenty of research for solutions and believe yours is the best one.
This is the section of the proposal that will include any graphs, charts, visuals, or resources that have been cited in the proposal.
Clearly, project proposals are complex pieces that require considerable discussion, thought, research, and organization. They must be presented in engaging and compelling ways so that decision-makers are moved to believe that your proposal will provide the solution(s) they need or are willing to invest in. While you may have an excellent understanding of your proposal and what it will accomplish, translating those ideas and concepts to the written word may not be your strength. And yet, that written document is what decision-makers will study, as they consider their options.
Using these seven guidelines, along with a compelling presentation, both written and verbal, should vastly improve your chances of approval.