- Write it first — let it guide the tone of the other proposal elements
- Umbrella statement of your case and summary of the entire proposal
- One page; two on a larger proposal
What you say: Lead with value — the impact and benefits of what you’ll do, not the laundry list of tasks. Focus on the fit between your team and the project at hand.
What you demonstrate: Banners flapping in the breeze — create the vision of what success looks like.
Statement of Need
- Why the project is necessary
- Ideal place to show strategic knowledge of how the project fits into a bigger picture
- One to two pages
What you say: Lead with knowledge — start strong with information that shows you know the lay of the land, but finish even stronger by pivoting to experience that exceeds what the client has in-house or leverages your expertise from other projects. Remember: Showing that you know the industry, issue or product as well as the client isn’t enough; to sell premium services, the client has to feel like your domain knowledge far exceeds their own.
What you demonstrate: You’ve done your homework, this is not your first rodeo, and you get it — ideally, with insight beyond what’s been demonstrated by the client.
Project Description / Statement of Work
- Nuts and bolts of how the project will be implemented and evaluated
- Resist the urge to go into deep technical detail
- Scoring (in a competitive bid) matters a great deal in this section – be sure all RFP elements regarding scope are answered
- Three to five pages, generally
What you say: What you’ll do, how you’ll do it — including schedule issues and nods to any external or client-induced constraints.
What you demonstrate: You’ve got a plan, it’s cohesive and it has contingencies.
The scope of work isn’t just about laying out how you’ll do the job — at the proposal stage, it’s about providing a level of emotional comfort (“These guys know what they’re doing!”). Remember: People buy for emotional reasons, then back it up with data to rationalize the decision.
- Financial description of the project plus explanatory notes
- One page (two if a particularly detailed or large budget is involved)
What you say: The minimum required to clearly explain your pricing and the value delivered. This is not the place for fine print and three pages of footnotes.
What you demonstrate: Value (which is not the same as price), low risk (through warranty, fixed pricing or other measures) and transparency (through streamlined pricing and billing practices).
- Organizational bio (one page, edited every single time to make it relevant to the project at hand)
- Senior team member bios, as needed and edited every single time for relevance, to demonstrate appropriate expertise
What you say: Here are the people you can expect to interact with, and they all have relevant expertise.
What you demonstrate: Your team isn’t just good — it’s the only rational solution to their challenge.
- Summary of the proposal’s main points
- Focus on value delivered, not specific tasks
- Generally just 1-4 paragraphs, certainly no more than a page
What you say: Focus on unique value propositions; ask for the work (it’s surprising how seldom proposals fail to explicitly ask for the work)
What you demonstrate: The yin to the executive summary’s yang — a chance to bring the process full-circle back to an emotional (albeit not too emotional) appeal.
Do I follow it myself? Sometimes, but there are a couple of clear exceptions:
- With public-sector work, potential clients tell you (usually in mind-numbing detail) how you have to structure your proposal.
- For most private-sector work, I’ve developed an unusual format that works and has a high close rate — something I’m happy to share one-on-one but less eager to post on the wide-open web.
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