Knowing how to approach a business project proposal can be tricky.
What if you oversell yourself—or worse, what if you shy away from talking up your skills? How do you convey that you are the right person for the job in a way that will appeal to a prospective client? Plus, there are the nuts and bolts of how to organize your proposal correctly, which can feel intimidating.
Not only that, but you need a solid, persuasive project proposal in order to win the business you want. If your proposal is lacking, you might end up losing out on valuable clients—even if you offer the best work and would be the best fit for the job!
Luckily, the reality is that writing a business project proposal isn’t as complicated as it sounds. Think of it as the cousin of a business plan, except that rather than using it for internal organization or submitting the plan to investors, you are submitting it to a business in the hopes that they will hire you for your work.
To learn more about how to write a business project proposal, keep reading.
What is a project proposal?
A business project proposal is a document that Business A sends to Business B, detailing why they are the best candidate for work that Business B needs completed. It’s essentially a version of a pitch, only instead of asking for funding, you’re offering your services and asking to complete a project for another business.
When should you submit a business project proposal?
Generally, businesses who need work done will put out an RFP, or “request for proposal.”
As it sounds, this is where the business will detail what work they need done, information about how they want the project to go, and any other relevant details on the scope of the project.
This is what is known as a solicited proposal—Business B puts out a request for proposal, and Business A prepares their proposal, sends it in, it’s reviewed with the others submitted, and a winner is chosen.
It’s worth noting that you can also submit an unsolicited proposal, in which you approach a business and detail the work you would like to do for them. However, this is definitely less common, as the business may not have any intention of hiring someone to do this type of work at this particular time.
How to write a project proposal: 3 key areas to consider
While the content of a business project proposal will obviously vary greatly depending on the specific project, client, and industry, every business project proposal aims to address three key things:
- Problem statement
- Proposed solution
- Pricing information
To summarize each quickly, the problem statement is the thing your services solve—it’s the reason the client needs work done in the first place. The proposed solution is your service, and pricing information is pretty self-explanatory.
While it’s best that each proposal be specific to your client, much of what we’re covering can be created into a template that you can quickly create with proposal tools, like the top-ranked proposal software, Bidsketch.
We’ll go over each in more detail here now:
Be careful that you do not get thrown off by the use of the word “problem.” It can be strange to think of needing services rendered as having a problem, but it helps to think of it this way for a business project proposal.
For instance, a client needs graphic design work so that they have various branded elements for their business. The problem? They lack cohesive, professional branding that fully captures what their business is all about. Now, when you phrase it that way, it actually becomes clear that this is, in fact, a problem!
If you are still at a bit of a loss for how to think of this in terms of your own business, go back to your initial business planning and brainstorming documents. What problem are you solving for your clients or customers? What need, desire, or solution do you offer? Use similar language when discussing the problem statement to your customer in your business project proposal.
This section of your project proposal should focus on articulating that you understand why the client’s problem is important to them. You want to demonstrate that you have a clear understanding of the importance of the work, and how the completion of this project will benefit your client.
You also want to show that you understand your client’s specific needs. Let’s go back to the graphic design example; if the client’s brand is modern, professional, and clean, you want to express that you understand the importance of having design elements for their business that represent these qualities. You wouldn’t want to spend time talking about how businesses need a brand that is “edgy,” for example—because that isn’t the vibe your client is after. This section is a chance for you to articulate that you understand not only the actual problem your client is facing, but the way in which they want the solution handled.
Speaking of solutions, here’s where you move on to defining yours. This is where you get to brag a little—and seriously, don’t hold back. You want to use this section to convince your prospective client why you are the absolute best person to solve their problem.
You also want to use this example to paint a picture for your client of your vision. Detail exactly how you plan to use your work to solve their current problem. Use this section to marry both a description of your expertise with a clear articulation of what you envision for their business, should they choose to work with you.
For the graphic design example, this might look like a discussion of what type of design work would best capture the spirit and intent of the client’s brand, and what you would deliver that would help the client create a more cohesive brand image.
This aspect is obviously pretty straightforward; here, you will detail how you plan to price your services.
Make sure to go into detail about a pricing schedule, if you plan to implement one, and include any information about up-front deposits if you ask for them. You can use this time to detail what you will deliver at what point in time, and how much payment you expect at each point, if that’s the way you do business. Of course, if you ask for just a deposit and the full amount at the end, you can stick to the basics and make this clear here, too.
It’s also worthwhile to consider breaking down exactly what your services cost on a line-by-line basis. Sometimes clients might experience a little sticker shock when they see the bottom line, but by showing how you’ve worked out the cost (by hours worked, the different type of work you need to do for each step, and so on), you can demonstrate your value to your prospective client, and make it clear that you are worth the price you are charging.
The format of a business project proposal
Now that we’ve gone over the central aspects that your proposal should contain, it’s time to address the nuts and bolts of formatting and constructing your proposal.
The structure of a business project proposal is similar to that of a business plan—but, it’s important to note that the two are not the same. Keep your internal strategy, extensive discussion of your company vision, and financial data out of your proposal; it’s really all about the client in this instance, and how you can help them, rather than about the details of your business in general.
So, here is a sample layout that you can follow. Keep in mind that this layout is exhaustive; depending on your business and the project you are hoping to secure, you may not need to include all these steps.
To start, your proposal should open with a title page, which should include your name, the name of your company, the name of the company and person that you’re submitting the proposal to, and the date you are submitting the proposal.
Table of contents
While not necessary, for more detailed proposals, a table of contents is a nice touch and will help organize your proposal for the reader.
Executive summary and introduction
If you have a business plan (and let me just say, you probably should have one that you work on regularly!), you can draw from your existing executive summary here. However, pay more attention to really selling your business here, a little more so than would be expected in a business plan executive summary.
This is your first chance to hook your reader and make them see why you and your company are worth considering. You can go into some detail about your business’s history, the services you offer, previous clients, and any other information that you think will prove persuasive.
Problem description and background
Going back to the section above, here is where you will go into detail about the problem at hand. While you should weave the idea of the problem statement and proposed solution into your proposal wherever applicable, this is the specific section where you can articulate the problem the client is facing.
Objectives, goals, and scope
On the similar note as the section above, the objectives and goals section is where you will go into detail on your proposed solution.
Not only that, but this section is where you can lay out the “what” behind your solution. Go into detail on how you plan to approach their problem, the steps you’ll take, resources you will employ, and process you go through. Obviously, the detail needed here will vary greatly by industry, but here is where you can clarify exactly how you will do your work, should they choose to hire you.
As a note, however, be sure to minimize the use of industry jargon and specificities here—keep the information to that which your client will actually be interested in. The detail will vary based on industry, but you do not want to risk losing their attention by going into exhaustive detail that they will not be interested in (or maybe even understand).
While you may have touched on past experience in your executive summary, the qualifications section is another area where you can go into more detail on why you’re the person for the job. Did you attend a prestigious school with a respected program for your specific industry, or did you intern with a well-respected influencer or company? Include those details here.
Also include information on how long you have been doing what you do, extra additional learning you participate in, accolades you have received, and any other information you think will bolster your case.
Requirements and timeline
This section may be lengthy or concise, depending on the scope of the project—it may just include a final date of deliverables, or it may be a detailed schedule that goes into what will be delivered on what date, when you will have meetings to touch base, and so on.
Make sure that you are realistic here; it’s not a good idea to over promise and then under deliver. Even though you might hope to excite your client by being able to deliver sooner than the competition, the risk to your relationship with the client (and your overall reputation) should you not be able to complete the project by your scheduled deadlines is not worth the potential business you might snag.
Additionally, you can have a requirements section here as well, that will lay out anything you will need from the prospective client to complete the project. For example, perhaps you need to access their website to do work on it, or you need access to their building on certain days and times.
The “pricing information” will go here, as well as information about how you will accept payment, and anything else pertinent.
As mentioned above, depending on your schedule of deliverables and how you accept payment, this might be more or less detailed. A section simply titled “fee summary” may be enough, or you may need to break out a “fee schedule” to show when you are owed what.
Key stakeholders and personnel
If you or someone on your team is uniquely positioned to solve the business’s particular problem, you would detail that here. This can also be as simple as a list of who will be involved in completing the project, and any information about the management structure that is necessary to include here.
If there are areas where permits and licenses are required, include any necessary information on legal matters in this section. If this isn’t applicable to your industry, you can skip this section entirely.
Monitoring and evaluation
What will the prospective client need to do in order to make sure that the project is going smoothly and being completed on schedule? Not only that, what does “completion” of certain aspects of the project look like?
You will want to discuss these aspects in this section of your business project proposal. Be sure to be specific when you mention what will be delivered when, and how your prospective client will be able to determine if each stage has been completed to their satisfaction.
Risks of undertaking the project
Now clearly, this section applies more to certain industries than others, as some industries are inherently more high-risk. If, using our example from earlier, you are offering graphic design services, there may not be a lot of risk inherent period. However, if you are dealing with physical materials, sensitive data, or certain types of intellectual property, you will want to include a breakdown of the risks here.
As touched on in the monitoring and evaluation section, you’ll want to clarify what completion looks like, in this instance for the final project as a whole. Detail what success will look like in terms of what the final deliverables and outcome will be.
If needed, you can break the success criteria into multiple steps, as you’ll likely have a handful of aspects that, when accomplished, will indicate success and completion of the project.
This is essentially a way for the client to determine if you’ve done the job they hired you to do. It also serves as insurance for you; if you meet the success criteria the two of you have agreed upon, you can clearly prove that you have completed the project as mutually agreed upon.
Endorsements, next steps, benefits, and appendix
Depending on your proposal and the industry you are a part of, you may need to provide final supplemental information.
If the project is endorsed or supported by any key individuals, list them here and add their contact information. You can also include a section entitled “next steps” where you will indicate what the receiver of the proposal should do next to contact you.
You can also work in a final “benefits” section, as the “next steps” section serves as something of a call to action. Here, you have one last chance to sell your prospective client on your services. Don’t hold back; make your most persuasive case for why they should work with you, and not a competitor (without throwing others under the bus, obviously!). Reiterate why you are the best choice, the vision you have for their business, and why your experience and past work clearly demonstrates your aptitude and right fit for the project.
If needed, end with an appendix. If you have supplemental material that needs to be included to bolster your case (research studies, statistics, external quotes, financial information, and so on), include an appendix and supply that information there.