How to create a (really good) project proposal

Every project starts with a proposal. 

It's your pitch to a client that not only can deliver the project for them, but you can do so in a specific timeframe, budget, and most importantly—get them the results they want. 

Creating successful and detailed project proposals is also crucial for your agency not just to boost your bottom line, but so your agency and your clients are on the same page from day 1. According to PMI's 2018 Pulse of the Profession report, some of the main reason projects fail come down to inaccurately gathering requirements, undefined risks, and inaccurate cost estimates:

Project proposal's project report image

The good news is that all of these causes can be overcome with a well-researched and presented project proposal. That's because a successful project proposal will have detailed breakdowns of a project's costs, goals, timelines, and objectives that each stakeholder must approve before you get started. 

In this piece, we're going to breakdown: 

  • What is a project proposal, and what are the core elements?

  • 6 Different types of project proposals

  • How to write a project proposal that gets approved

  • How software can help create perfect project proposals

What is a project proposal, and what are the core elements?

A project proposal is a framework that outlines key concepts, objectives, costs, and timelines of a project between an agency and a client. 

It's this one crucial document that signals the start of any project that ends up reaching your project pipeline, whether it be a new client or existing clients, or extra work for a project your team is already working on. 

When you put a proposal into perspective, it's arguably one of the most essential pieces of any project. It is the piece of communication that a client receives that clearly outlines what you can do for them and how much it will cost, and it's your best chance of persuading them that they should pick your agency to work with instead of your competitors. 

Every project you write and pitch to a client will include some core elements, such as: 

  • The problem: What is the problem that the project will solve?

  • ⏱️ Timeline: What timeline will the project be completed in? When will certain milestones be hit?

  • 💵 Budget: How much will it cost the client? 

  • 🥅 Goals: What are our client's strategic goals, and how does our proposal align with those goals?

  • 😀 Benefit: What benefit will the completed product bring to the client? How will it help solve their core problem? Does it meet the project's goal? 

  • 👨‍👩‍👧‍👦 People: Who will be working on it and in charge of delivering the finished product?

  • 📈 Project deliverables: A clear, concise list of everything that will be delivered to the client once the project is completed, including any metrics that show the project has delivered what you promised. 

Beyond these core components, there's also another (often overlooked) part of writing a successful project—persuading the client that your agency is the right one. 

In a sense, a project proposal should also be looked at as a marketing proposal. You should keep your client in mind when writing every section and keep doubling back to make sure every sentence you write addresses their problems and goals somehow. 

If your proposal fails to persuade the client, you risk losing the project contract altogether. A good way to master your project's persuasion power is to adopt the Problem-Agitate-Solve (PAS) formula:

🕵️ Identify a problem

😠 Agitate the problem

✔️ Propose a meaningful solution

Author Dan Kennedy once claimed the PAS was the most powerful persuasion formula ever invented. 

“When you understand that people are more likely to act to avoid pain than to get gain, you’ll understand how powerful this formula is," he said. 

Let's say your client wanted the copy on their website rewritten. You could use the PAS formula as a persuasion technique in your proposal by writing something like: 

  • Problem: To get customers to buy, you need persuasive copy that showcases your services clearly 

  • Agitation: However, finding a copywriter that can achieve this is next to impossible thanks to demand, and trying to write the copy yourself is a daunting task. 

  • Solution: Our team of copywriters can quickly create copy for your website that will draw potential customers in and persuade them to look at your products further. 

See what the formula does? It takes the client's chief problem (not having good copy on their website) and gives them a solution. 

Your persuasive language should also trickle down into the "benefit" section of the proposal, where you clearly outline the results your project will deliver for the client. For example, your new website copywriting might increase conversions by 10% or boost newsletter subscriptions by 5%—so make sure these benefits are clearly laid out for the client. 

How to write a project proposal that gets approved

You already know the key pieces of what a successful project proposal should have—persuasive language, a clear budget and timeline, and a client problem that your team can fix. 

Now, it's time to look at where each of these pieces fits into a successful project proposal. Each project proposal you send out should have 6 different sections:

  1. Key project information

  2. Project summary

  3. Methodology

  4. Costs & budget

  5. Testimonial/T&Cs

Let's take a closer look at what you need to include in each of these proposal parts.

Part #1: Key project information

This is the bare bones of the project, including:

  • Name of the client

  • Project Title

  • Timeframe

  • Who wrote the proposal

  • What documentation will be in the appendix

  • Contact information for your agency

That's it. Short, sharp and sweet. This part of the proposal shouldn't take up more than a page. 

Moving on...

Part #2: Project Summary

Next, you need to write a clear, concise summary of who will be involved in the project,  what it will achieve, and how much it will cost. 

Start with writing a paragraph or two about the project's background, such as what problem the proposal will solve and why it's important to the client. It's here that you can utilize the PAS formula we looked at earlier to persuade the client that you have a solution to their problem. 

The proposal's project summary should also outline key project objectives, as well as provide information on: 

  • Who will be working on the project

  • What product/service you are providing

  • What your team will be doing

  • What objectives and goals you will reach for the client 

  • A timeline for milestones and final delivery

  • Where you will be completing the project (remotely, your office or the client's office)

  • How much the project will cost

Part #3: Project methodology

The project methodology is the real beef of the proposal. 

It's where you outline to the client, in detail, how you will reach the goals and objectives you outlined in the project summary. 

To make this section easier for your client to digest, we recommend breaking it down into project deliverables, tasks, and an overall timeline. 

🚚 Deliverables: This can be a list of everything the client will receive from you. For example, if you are a design agency and the client wants a branding package, the list of deliveries will include logos, color swatches, and branding guidelines. Each deliverable should be attached to a date your team will deliver it by. 

📝 Tasks: A detailed breakdown of when tasks will be completed, so your client knows when they can expect to start receiving their deliverables. This will also help you break down how long the project will take so your client can see how the project's budget is being spent. For example, if you expect it'll take your team 10 hours to design a new logo, present that as a task with the estimated timeframe on it. 

⏱️ Timeline: The project's timeline will plot every deliverable from the project's start to  its completion. This should include kick-off meetings, client check-ins, and project milestones. A timeline is important because it shows customers what to expect and when they can expect them. For example, a design agency may schedule a check-in meeting with a client once draft approvals for branding guidelines have been sent over. If you schedule this two weeks from the project kick-off, the client then knows when they can expect to see some progress from your team!

Part #4: Costs & budget

Although you've already given the client an overall figure about what the project will cost them, you should also break down each deliverable. 

The budget should be delivered by line-item, so your client can see exactly where their money will be spent. For example, if you are designing a magazine for a client, you should give a line-item breakdown of each task, like concept approval, design, and fulfilment. Once you're done, it should look like this:

Image of project proposal budget

If your team needs to travel or buy supplies for the project, make sure you include these in as expenses in your initial proposal, so surprise costs don't catch your client off guard. 

It's also helpful to explain why you've put each of the line-items into the budget. You don't need to spend pages on this, just a quick paragraph or two that justifies the expenses (which also helps cut back on how many questions you'll get from the client, too!)

Part #5: Testimonial/T&Cs

Now it's time to wrap your proposal up. 

As we've already talked about, persuading the client that they should pick you to work on the project is the ultimate goal—and this is your last chance to do it. Better yet, add a glowing testimonial from a previous customer to help you win them over, like this proposal example:

Image of project proposal words of encouragement

Once they're ready to sign the dotted line, layout your terms and conditions using a clear, concise, legal framework. Your T&Cs should include what material you will deliver to the client, the project fee, retainment rights, and the place you and your client entered into the agreement. Here's a great example of a proposal T&Cs from Bidsketch:

Image of Bidsketch's Project Proposal

How software can help create perfect project proposals

Crafting a successful project proposal can be quite a task—but using the right software can help. 

Because there are so many parts to a proposal, it's hard to piece them together, especially as different departments will be in charge of each part. What does make the process easier is keeping everything in one place. 

That's where a tool like Kanban boards come into play. 

You can use them to split your project proposal into separate parts and then assign each section to the relevant department. For example, the costs and budget will need to be estimated and worked on by the project team leader, while the T&Cs will handled by your legal department. 

Using a tool like Teamwork's Kanban boards, you can create separate columns and task cards for each part of the proposal, like this:

Image of Teamwork's Project Proposal

As you can see, each part of the process from website appraisals to objectives is given its own card, due date and assigned to a specific team member. Once the team member starts working on their task, they can then attach files, cost estimates, and comments to each card to keep everything in one place. 

When they're finished compiling their piece of the project proposal, they can tag their team leader to let them know.

All that's left to do is put the proposal together, send it over to the client and hopefully—win the project!