How to Write an Engineering Project Proposal
Author: Ian Lauder
January, 2013 Issue
The term “engineering” can encompass so many different types of businesses these days, but there’s one thing they all have in common: Whether your company is automating a factory, fabricating parts for marine engines or improving the efficiency of wind generators, you constantly need to line up new partners, secure new contracts, get projects approved and find new customers.
Because engineering is all about details, you can’t simply dash off a list of the products or services you offer and hope to finalize a deal that way. Instead, you’ll need to write a business proposal.
If you’ve been assigned the task of writing a proposal for the very first time, you may be feeling a surge of anxiety. You know your business and you can explain your plans, but maybe you’re not a writer. Don’t fret—writing a proposal isn’t nearly as difficult as it may seem. That’s because all good business proposals follow a basic principle and share a common structure.
The basic principle is: Customize each proposal for the reader. This means always keeping the reader—your potential customer or partner—in mind when you present your information. The first question in most people’s minds is, “What’s in this for me?” So focus on explaining the benefits of your proposal to the reader. Also, keep in mind the reader’s knowledge level—what do they already understand about your organization or your project? What questions and concerns will they have?
The common proposal structure has four parts: an introduction section, a customer/partner-centered section, a detailed project description section, and a section describing your organization and experience.
Introduction section. The introduction section is short. You’ll simply write a Cover Letter that explains who you are, why you’re submitting this proposal now, provides all your contact information and asks the reader to take the next step (call for a meeting, approve the project and so on) after reading your proposal. Then, create a title page, which simply names your proposal. Examples might be “Proposed Retooling of Cutting Machines to Improve Efficiency” or “Smith Engineering’s Proposed Design for New Solar Panels.” Next, if your proposal is long, you may want to include a table of contents and an executive summary (a list of your most important points), but you can come back later and insert those.
Customer/partner-centered section. This should be all about your potential customer or partner. Describe their needs and requirements. If you’re responding to a formal request for proposal, then restate the requirements specified in the RFP document, as well as adding any others that you may be aware of, such as a general need for efficiency, cost savings or matching the capabilities of competitors. Pages in this section will have names like background, problem statement, needs assessment, requirements, limitations, budget, deadlines, responsibilities and so forth. Your goal is to describe in detail what your potential customer or partner wants and expects.
Detailed project description section. After you’ve described the situation from your reader’s point of view, it’s time to explain how you propose to meet all those needs and requirements. In this section, you’ll include all the details of your proposal, including what it will cost. Obviously, the topic pages in this section will vary widely from one organization to the next and from one project to the next.
At the very least, you’ll want pages like project plan, schedule, cost summary and benefits. If you’re describing a complex project, you might want to include specifications, blueprints, process summary, milestones, subcontracts or oversight, just to name a few—the list of possible topics is long. Be sure to include all the pages you need to describe precisely what you have in mind. Including details shows you’re an expert who knows what it takes to carry out a big project.
Describing your organization and experience. Now’s your chance to brag about yourself. Include all the information you have that will persuade the proposal reader that you have the expertise to deliver on your promises. You’ll want a company history or about us page, perhaps a list of personnel or team members who will work on the project, a list of clients served or similar projects you’ve worked on, and descriptions of any special training or certifications you have that make you especially qualified to take on the project. Referrals, testimonials, awards and achievements go a long way in convincing readers that you can be trusted, because it’s always more credible when outside parties recommend you than when you brag about yourself.
Before you send the proposal out the door, make sure the pages are free of spelling and grammatical errors, and be sure they look neat and attractive, too; you want each proposal to represent you at your professional best. You might want to use your organization’s logo, incorporate special bullet points or fonts, or add a colored border around the pages—graphic touches like this can help your proposal stand out when the competition’s tough, or when you simply want to “wow” your readers.
Now you know the basic principle and the common structure for a good proposal. You don’t have to start with a blank word processing screen, either. A predesigned proposal kit can speed up the writing project with hundreds of template pages, and completed sample proposals. Each template in a good proposal kit will include instructions and examples of information to include on that page, so you won’t waste time wondering what to write. Make sure to use a kit that includes samples that show you how a variety of proposals might look and what they could contain.
Ian Lauder has been helping small businesses and freelancers write their proposals and contracts for more than a decade. For more tips and best practices when writing your business proposals and legal contracts, visit http://www.proposalkit.com.
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