What is a project proposal?
A project proposal is sent by a design, consulting, or other type of firm to a potential client in order to present important project details like deliverables, timelines, expected outcomes, and costs. When the terms of service are included, a signed project proposal can double as a contract for the legal protection of both parties.
A project proposal is not to be confused with a request for proposal (RFP), which is sent by a corporation or government agency to multiple consulting firms in order to receive the maximum amount of proposals and pricing options for a project that they’ve already defined internally.
A project proposal, on the other hand, is created as part of a consultative selling process and can benefit a client even if they don’t move forward with the work because of the helpful project breakdown.
Types of project proposals
There are many different types of project proposals, from different lengths to fee structures.
Short, one-time project
Longer, phased project
Retainer or ongoing project
Paid discovery or audit project
Hourly with estimated hours
Hourly with min and max hour range
Hybrid flat rate and hourly (common in interior design, event planning, and other fields with hard costs and hourly costs)
Architecture and engineering
Construction and property services
Payroll and HR management
Market research and analysis
Solicited proposals sent in response to an RFPs
Unsolicited proposals sent without a prior RFP
What to include in a project proposal
A successful project proposal will include all or most of these important sections. You can mix and match them to craft the perfect project proposal outline.
The cover page is the easiest page to write.
It typically includes:
Your company’s name
The client’s name or project name
A photograph or graphic design
You might also choose to include your contact information on the cover page, but this is usually reserved for the About Us page or a dedicated contact page.
Executive summary or letter
The executive summary is where you offer an overview of your methodology and the proposed project. Consider it elevator pitch. Shoot to write approximately 75 - 200 words.
Use this free AI-enabled character counter to help both get through writer's block as well as make sure your executive summary is the right length.
Many other parts of the proposal will be written as bullet points or very short phrases, so use this section to really paint the full picture of the project with language that is on-brand.
Goals or objectives
You can include the project goals and objectives of the client in the executive summary, in the project summary, or in a section dedicated just for this purpose.
You might write 75 - 150 words describing the goals, or utilize a bulleted list of 3-8 goals.
The approach section can go by a lot of different names, such as “solution” or “methodology.” In this section, you’re describing the strategy behind your approach. It sets the stage for the project details and budget to follow.
This is particularly important when winning over new clients who aren’t familiar with what sets your business apart from the competition.
A catering company might use this proposal page to talk about the sort of experience or quality of food they provide.
Meanwhile, a marketing company might include its brand ethos or core beliefs here.
Project summary and deliverables
While the previous section is about the strategy, this section is all about the specifics. Spell out exactly what you’ll do for the client.
Here’s what you might include in the project summary:
A quick description of the project
A list of project deliverables
A description of project phases with their own deliverables
A project timeline or roadmap
Your project management process
The collaboration or communication software you plan to use
Measurable or specific milestones in the project
A description of the project team and the talent included
About the company
You can write an About Us page, an Our Team page, or both. An About Us page should include a description of what your company does, your target audience, and the results you provide. An Our Team page will feature bios of important people on your team.
You need to spell out the project costs. Depending on the nature of your business, you might show a flat rate project total, your hourly rate alongside the number of estimated hours, or a variety of package options for the client to choose from.
Terms and conditions
Next up: terms and conditions. When using a proposal management software with e-signatures, your proposal can work as a binding contract. Include your master service agreement and allow the project summary to serve as the statement of work.
Social proof and samples
Prospective clients will need some reassurance to help them trust your business.
Star rating averages
Mini case studies
How to write a project proposal
Ready to pitch a new project? Here’s a step-by-step process to create a winning project proposal.
1. Discover the client’s needs
The first step is to understand the client’s current challenges and goals. As part of your discovery process, you might conduct a single sales call, or several.
Some companies actually charge for a longer discovery or audit process, and use a proposal to sell that introductory service. They will then later upsell that client on a project based on their findings with a custom proposal. However, most firms conduct the discovery process for free and then make project recommendations in their first proposal.
2. Define their core problem and goals
Next, you’ll want to distill everything the client has shared with you. You might take some time to gather your notes, talk it through with a colleague, and then determine the most important objectives. These project objectives will guide all further decisions.
3. Determine the best approach to serve them
Now it’s time to decide which method or approach will lead to project success. If you have a templatized project process and always serve similar clients, you can offer your usual solution.
But if you offer custom work unique to each client, then you’ll need to decide on the approach. For example, an event planner might decide to offer event marketing, registration, setup, and breakdown services if a client doesn’t have any in-house resources, but they might only offer setup and breakdown if the client has in-house marketing and ticketing specialists.
4. Breakdown the project into deliverables, timelines, etc.
Now that you’ve done your research and decided what to pitch to the client, it’s time to break the project down.
Determine the project costs or pricing options, break up work into phases, and clarify deliverables. You can jot this down on a piece of paper or work directly inside of a proposal template.
5. Add all necessary sections and details to your proposal
Write out your proposal and make sure that you’ve covered all of the bases. It’s worth noting that longer isn’t necessarily better. Through our analysis of 1 million proposals, we found that winning proposals have 7 sections and 11 pages on average.
The most common proposal structure is:
Approach or solution
About the company
Terms and conditions
Keep in mind that you can alter and rename these sections to match your services and unique brand voice.
6. Send the proposal to the client (with e-signatures)
Now it’s time to send the proposal. You can save time and reduce your software needs by using one software for both proposals and contracts. Just make sure that you’ve included your terms and conditions.
Proposals with e-signatures assigned to both the sender and recipient have a 426% higher closing rate. And if you sign the proposal first (before the client opens it), you’ll increase your chances of closing by a further 36.8%.
7. Handle change requests promptly
Be on hand to make changes per client requests, whether they want to change the project scope or adjust contractual language because of their picky legal team.
Being asked to revise a proposal isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, proposals that are revised a couple of times are more likely to close.
5 examples of proposals for a project
Need some inspiration? These project proposals offer examples of exactly what to include in your next pitch.
1. Printing project with optional items
This printing proposal offers an excellent example of how to clearly communicate your pricing and offer interactive options. When we analyzed 1 million proposals sent with our platform, we found that proposals with fee tables have a 35.8% higher closing rate than those without and that proposals with editable quantities have an 18.5% higher closing rate.
You can use this proposal template with your free trial of Proposify and easily customize it for your unique business offerings.
This example project proposal template includes these sections:
2. Marketing proposal with project timeline
A project timeline is an important part of any project proposal. This marketing proposal template offers a great example of how to share this timeline in a simple format.
Break your project down into distinct steps so the client knows exactly what to expect.
This example proposal template includes the following sections:
Overview & Goals
Scope of Services
3. Accounting project with goals and batches of work
Our next example is an accounting proposal.
This proposal stands out because it includes the client’s goals in the Project Summary section. See those short and sweet bullet points? They serve as a smart way to let the client know that you understand their goals and will be able to satisfy them.
This proposal also includes a breakdown of work that is categorized into four different batches, or chunks: QuickBooks Startup, Data Migration, QuickBooks Data Build, Overall (throughout the project). You can use this example when breaking down a project into different stages or services.
Access this accounting proposal template with a paid subscription or a free trial of Proposify.
The template includes the following sections:
4. Construction project with project summary and exclusions
Do you need to include exclusions in your proposals? If the type of work you offer is contingent on other service providers or lends itself to complications, then you might want to start adding exclusions. This can help protect your business from the many risks associated with project scope confusion or misaligned expectations.
This construction proposal template, available inside of Proposify, offers a perfect example of an exclusion section, which follows what is included in the project.
The project proposal template includes the following sections:
Meet Our Team
5. Event management project with hourly work estimates
Event planning is complicated—that’s exactly why the event industry serves as a great example of how to charge for both hourly work and fixed costs at the same time.
In the Budget section, the proposal kicks things off with a fee table including all of the hourly costs.
This project proposal also has a second fee table to estimate the hard costs, such as catering and photography, and the hourly costs and hard costs are then added up for the full project total.
This template includes the following sections:
Who We Are
Our Understanding of Your Needs
Tips for writing a project proposal
Writing a great proposal is a lot of work.
Here are some project proposal best practices that will help you save time and get better results:
Create templates for different services, projects, or clients. The faster you send a proposal, the more likely it is to close. Try creating a few different templates to make it easy to generate a new proposal based on the clients’ unique needs. And of course, you can always speed up the process by beginning with one of our templates.
Get the client’s opinion on your plan before you turn it into a proposal. Try pitching your project idea to the client at the end of the sales call. Check to see their reaction. If they love what you’ve suggested, turn that into your proposal. If not, ask what they have in mind. This way, you’ll create a proposal that is more likely to close.
Ask the client what they want the proposal to include. If your client has given you a detailed RFP, you’ll know exactly what to include in your proposal. If not, don’t be afraid to ask. Especially when working with large corporations and government agencies, your main point of contact should be able to share what all stakeholders will expect to see in the project plan.
Offer dynamic pricing options. Proposals with both optional rows and editable quantities have a 20.2% higher close rate. Consider add-ons and options that will cater to decision-makers while customizing and perfecting the project scope. Clients should be able to select the options directly in the business proposal to create an accurate project total in real-time and then sign off on it.
Include multimedia content in your proposal. Proposal content shouldn’t just be in a written format. Accompany your writing with mages and videos to help them visualize the project. Proposals with images are 72% more likely to close and proposals with videos are 41% more likely to close. Try including pictures of your team and your previous work and illustrations of your process or typical ROI.
Write and automate follow-up emails. Proposals with just one automated follow-up email are 35% more likely to close. If you use Proposify, you can easily turn on automated follow-ups for every proposal. You can use our follow-up email templates, or create your own templates for different types of clients or projects.
Next steps: write your own project proposal
An excellent project proposal should include the project roadmap, milestones, budget, and any supplemental information that will help the client really understand the value of the project and secure buy-in.
To make any proposal more likely to close, make sure you include multimedia content, pricing options, and e-signatures.