A proposal is a written document that outlines what you want to do and why. If you are in the midst of creating your first proposal, or if it has been awhile since you have created one, this blog post will help guide you through the process. In this article we will cover the main elements of a proposal so you can structure your document appropriately.
Table of Contents
Elements of a Proposal
Request for Proposals (RFPs) should be followed closely to make your project proposal more likely of getting accepted and not being dismissed.
An RFP typically includes exact details about what needs to be included in a proposal. And sometimes deviating from those directions can result in an automatic dismissal, so always read through them carefully ahead of time.
Beyond what is included in the RFP, or when an RFP is not provided, businesses looking to submit a proposal should include the following:
1. Cover Letter
The cover letter is the first part of your proposal. In this section you should introduce yourself and outline what exactly your company can do for the business you are submitting a proposal to. The main points in this section should cover:
- What services or products does your company offer?
- What specific experience do you have in this industry?
- What are your company strengths in this particular field?
- Why should the client consider you over other competitors?
As a whole, you should try and keep your cover letter brief. If there were any important notes and hot topics brought up during your initial meetings, or in the RFP, make sure to include them here. Generally, cover letters are skimmed by readers, so make sure to bold important items and outline sections with bullets.
2. Project Scope
One of the most important parts of a proposal is outlining the scope of the project. This sets expectations and lets potential clients know that they have chosen the right person for their job.
The project scope section should be extremely detailed. This will prevent scope creep and ensure that there are no surprises down the road. When writing a project scope, you should include:
- key deliverables and what each specific task entails
- points of measurement or review
- any known issues or risks and how they will be handled
- possible exclusions to the list that need to be defined before including in the final plan (in other words, what's not included with the deliverables)
- a clear definition for assumptions as well as plans on addressing uncertain information when it arises
- any/all constraints that could potentially impact the project
3. Project Timeline
Outlining the amount of time that each phase of the project will require to complete is another important element of a proposal. This should be as specific and detailed as possible and include the following:
- a timeline for planning
- the time that each phase will take (such as research)
- time estimates for any tasks or milestones needing to be completed before starting on other phases (like testing)
- any known risks with project timelines and how this information will impact your final product delivery date
Without a clear timeline, clients can't accurately predict when they will receive your product/service. This makes financial planning more challenging and can diminish confidence in your business's capabilities.
There are many different project timelines that can be used for proposals, but it's best to use the one most common in your industry. A good rule of thumb is a 30-day timeline per phase with some extra time added on top of each phase due to uncertainties and unknowns.
4. Cost Estimate
A general cost estimate or budget is another important part of any proposal. This will help potential clients understand what they are getting into before moving forward. It should be a summary of all costs associated with delivering the product/service. This would include:
- general expenses
- direct labor costs
- indirect labor costs (freelancers, contractors)
- third-party and miscellaneous expenses
- any other time and materials required to complete everything outlined in the project scope
If you are bidding for a competitive contract, it's best not to include a detailed breakdown of costs in your proposal. Remember that all of these costs will be negotiated as part of an eventual agreement so including them in your initial proposal isn't going to help you win the job. In fact, it may hurt you as companies will have more insight to shop the project around.
In general, companies who want more specific information about pricing should contact vendors directly before submitting their proposals rather than relying solely on estimates from project research. This helps clarify what is expected up front and prevents hidden expenses down the road when everything has been completed.
Remember that you want to give the client some general ballparks at the proposal process. Sometimes putting together a detailed estimate can lead to a lot of research and development. This can be risky for smaller businesses as you are putting a lot of capital into something without any assurance that you'll actually win the deal.
5. Next Steps
To effectively close out your proposal, you want to make sure that you don't leave the client confused on what happens next. Make sure the client knows:
- How to get in touch with you for more information.
- When they can expect a response from you (in terms of days or hours).
- What your next steps will be after reviewing their feedback on the proposal. This includes what type of contract is required, how long it should take, and any other requirements that need to be met before moving forward.
It's important not only to request feedback throughout the process but also have an action plan set up ahead of time when revisions are needed. The last thing you want is for something like this to come as a surprise during negotiations which could throw everything off track if there aren't clear expectations beforehand. Review potential revisions to the proposal with your team before sending them over and make sure everyone is on board.
Bonus: References and Case Studies
If you have past clients and case studies that are relevant to the proposal, this can be included. This can make a huge difference in convincing potential customers who might not know much about your company.
While case studies can be helpful in showcasing your experience and the potential value that you can deliver, don't include more than three references in a brief proposal.
Your plan should also include what you do and don't offer, as well as any certifications or qualifications that are relevant to the project. This is especially important for businesses who work with very niche markets and have specific expertise in their field which isn't common knowledge among larger audiences.
It's possible that there might be some overlap between your case studies, but remember not to focus on one particular client too much if they're not the target audience for this potential contract. As a general rule of thumb, it's best to include case studies and references as an addendum. You don't want your past work to outshine your proposed solution.
How Online Proposal Software Can Help
Rewriting proposals over and over again is not a good use of your time.
One way to cut down on the proposal writing process is to use online proposal software. This software will help you create different proposals for your clients and keep track of everything in one place.
You can also use this online proposal software to take care of the tedious parts of proposal development like formatting, calculations, and pricing estimates. You can use ready-made templates or create your own. This saves time on revisions, ensures that you hit all of the main elements of a proposal, and enables you to hit aggressive deadlines.
Some templates also come with a lot of pre-built features like banners, graphs, slideshow presentations, video intros, and more which allow you to create high quality proposal materials in less than 30 minutes.
While putting together a proposal can be time consuming, and sometimes overwhelming, it doesn't need to be. If you follow a standard outline and use tools to build templates, you can hit all of the high notes and crank out more proposals with less effort. This should impress clients and put you in a favorable position to move forward with more successful sales negotiations.