by Wendy Priesnitz
Q: I’ve been asked to write a proposal for my business. But I don’t know what one should look like or where to start. Can you help?
A: Proposal formats vary, depending on the purpose. Sometimes a formal Request for Proposal has been issued, which will specify everything from the content to what font to use in the proposal. Government programs are often this detailed. So find out if there’s a template or specific format you should be using.
If you’re writing a proposal as a marketing document (as opposed to a grant proposal), you will have more leeway in terms of both form and content. But as a rule, you should keep things simple and direct.
Begin with a description of the project you’re proposing or the service/product you are offering to sell. (If the proposal is longer than a few pages, you might want to precede the description with a two-paragraph executive summary.)
Then write a statement about how your company is the best one to provide for the other company’s needs or to fulfill the requirements of the program. Be specific about your competitive advantage.
This section will include a brief summary of your company’s background and qualifications. Include your mission statement, years of experience, skills of staff, awards won, etc. Let the reader know that you have a good sense of how the proposed project fits with the philosophy of your company.
Propose a delivery timetable and detail expected outcomes so both parties have a way to measure success.
Assuming the purpose of the proposal is to ask for money (either by applying for a grant or soliciting business), you will need include a financial section.
In a marketing proposal, detail the products or services your company will provide for the amount of money you’re quoting. Keeping in mind that this is a marketing document, you might want to provide a cost comparison between your business and an alternative.
If you’re writing a proposal for funds from a government program, you’ll need to write a detailed budget.
Be sure your proposal carries ample contact information, perhaps on a cover sheet. In a more formal proposal, create a series of appendices, where you include letters of recommendation and any other back-up documentation that reinforces your abilities, professionalism and cost-effectiveness.
There are many resources on the Internet, especially to help with grant proposal writing. Just plug “proposal writing” into a search engine and you’ll find lots of help.