illustration of a creature reading from a book proposing a good idea

Project proposals are a great way to kick off an initiative. They show a clear path of execution and make stakeholders aware of costs and benefits. They can convince a team or manager to make a change. Or they can show a client what services and solutions you can provide. You can write a project proposal for just about anything: to build a new tool, for a process to improve team workflows, or to create a new website. Here’s how to write a project proposal that’s professional, informative, and persuasive.

What’s included in a project proposal?

A well-written project proposal includes the following:

  • Goals (What problem are you trying to solve? And how?)
  • Timeline of the project (Including milestones along the way)
  • Budget (What’s it going to cost? And what’s the expected return?)
  • Objectives (How will you measure if the goal has been achieved?)

Target your project proposal for your audience

You might not think you work in marketing, but if you want to convince someone to accept your project, then think again! Know your target audience segment and adjust your message accordingly. Think carefully about who you’re talking to—your client? your boss?—and what they care about. Consider their goals, such as driving more leads, or increasing employee productivity. What factors are important to them? And how are they balanced and prioritized?

Think about how they prefer to receive information. Are they looking at the big picture? Or the small details? Would they prefer chart and graph visualizations? Or a short list of bullet points? Or maybe they want to hear a story?

Use all of this information to customize the proposal for your specific audience. If it’s more relatable, they’ll be most likely to grasp the information and respond positively.

Organize your ideas before you write

Choose the right tools to help keep your ideas and your research organized. Create your proposal on a Trello board to sort related documents, ideas, and important information for each section of the project proposal. 

Stay on the board and use it to track progress and activities to reach your objective. With Timeline View, you can monitor the steps to help you reach your goal. Viewing Trello cards in a timeline to see overlaps in work, or identify potential bottlenecks down the road. 

Dashboards help quantify and sort the work on your project. For example, when you assign cards to your teammates, you’re able to sort by person to see who might be overloaded with work all at once. Dashboard gives you a quick visual overview for reference. 

Of course, you can start your project proposal Trello board from scratch, but you’ll save time if you copy and customize this project proposal template at the start.

screenshot of a Trello board for a project proposal with lists for every section of the proposal, and cards for every ideaA Trello board will help you organize the content for your project proposal, and track its progress.

You can also use a slide deck or a text document to kick off your thinking, but only Trello will keep your ideas organized and help you track your progress in real time.

Back up your content with data

Your proposal will be stronger if you have hard facts to back it up. Use statistics that are relevant, such as successful campaigns at similar companies or metric improvements associated with the project. If you can’t find any within your organization, research your project subject matter and look for stats and data that relate to your project. 

For example, if you’re writing a proposal to optimize a client’s website, it’s powerful to mention that 25% of visitors abandon a website if it takes more than four seconds to load.  

Call out the costs and risks

Highlight the positive outcomes that will come from doing the project. But your project proposal will be even more convincing if you also acknowledge the pitfalls and costs. Show the full scope of the project to build trust and transparency with your reader. If risks are known ahead of time, your project will be ready to confront them.

Cost analysis

Provide a total estimated cost for the project, but also list each line item. Get granular to show thoughtful detail, and to show potential points of adjustment. Justify the reason for each cost. Explain why they’re necessary and what you expect to gain. 

Although it’s not always possible, it’s best if you can associate a dollar amount of benefit behind each cost. Calculate the return on investment (ROI) to show why it’s worth it to spend the money.

Keep in mind that costs are more than just dollars. Resources such as software or raw materials or employee time are a cost. Account for it so there are no surprises later.

Risk analysis

Every project has risk. It could waste time and money. Or it could have more serious legal ramifications or an impact on brand loyalty. 

Explain how you plan to mitigate those risks and prevent them. Be realistic. Also indicate how likely those risks are to occur, and what you could do to fix them.

Set SMART goals and outcomes

A persuasive project proposal includes a definition of success with a plan for how to reach it. Create a SMART goal for your project that clearly defines what a successful outcome looks like. Your goal should be: 

  • Specific (clearly defined)
  • Measurable (quantifiable, and include a way to “check off” its completion)
  • Achievable (it’s okay to be a stretch, but don’t make it impossible)
  • Relevant (a positive impact for the stakeholders)
  • Time-bound (include a clear timeframe or deadline for success)

Once you’ve set your target goal, create outcomes and milestones to help measure progress on the journey. Define metrics that show if you’re on track to reach your goal, or if you need to make adjustments to the plan.

If it’s hard to predict exactly what outcomes and metrics to expect, show best-, mid-, and worst-case scenarios. Your best case should show a very optimistic goal of what you think you can achieve if everything goes according to plan. Your mid-case goal should allow for a few hiccups along the way. Your worst-case scenario includes the minimum of what you think is possible, even if many things go wrong.

Here’s what it might look like to create a project proposal for a new ad campaign:

Best-case scenario

Mid-case scenario

Worst-case scenario

1000 new leads at $10 cost per action (CPA)

700 new leads at $20 CPA

500 new leads at $50 CPA

Write the project proposal

Your project proposal will likely be read by multiple people, each with a different level of investment in the project. Include these sections in your pitch to make it digestible and accessible for every stakeholder. 

Begin with an executive summary

Summarize the key points of your proposal, such as the estimated goal and outcomes with costs. Identify the key stakeholders and the resources to make it happen. Quickly share the best and worst-case scenarios, so the range of expected outcomes are clear. Keep this short and easy to read: Just a few bullet points or a single paragraph.

Keep the project proposal simple

Add detail and data to your executive summary, but don’t feel pressured to write a book. More words do not mean better quality. Write to get your point across, then review it to make it more clear and concise.

Add an appendix for all of the details

For lengthy studies, analyses, and reports that will help support your project, lean on your appendix. Keep the project proposal tight; not every reader will want to see every detail. Instead, reference the appendix in your proposal and send readers there for all of the details and nitty-gritty.

Practice your pitch

If you plan to present the proposal on a call or in person, practice your talking points and presentation. Do not simply read the project proposal to your audience, as their attention may wander.

Include your personality and passion, as this will help you sell the project. Be sure to show your enthusiasm. Share why you care about the initiative personally and what motivates you to make the project happen. 

Your drive and your passion—and the right tools—will help position your project proposal for success.

What’s next?

How to write a project proposal that’s persuasive and precise