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What is a Proposal?

By Kerrie Main
Updated May 16, 2024
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A proposal typically is a tool designed to persuade a customer to purchase a product, or to receive funding and backing for a new project or program. Used in a majority of industries from corporate America to academia, proposals come in many forms. There are informal and formal proposals, as well as solicited and unsolicited proposals. No matter what type, a proposal usually is meant to inform the reader of a problem or need, offer a solution, and give a broad overview of how the proposed solution will work and how much it will cost.

Informal proposals can be quite brief and be used as a follow-up to a business or staff meeting. They usually reiterate what was learned or uncovered in the meeting and list an overview of pricing or a detailed outline of the solution. Formal proposals typically have cover letters, research and numbers or charts, outlined details of all the major phases, schedules, organizational duties, and a cost breakdown of all components. They also typically have a description of the proposing company's or person’s services, a resume, list of past projects, and anything else that would prove qualifications.

A solicited proposal usually is a response to a request for proposal (RFP). Whether it is a company that needs a service or a department that is adding a new program, these types of requests typically are quite common and require a written document to place a bid or submit an idea for a project. They usually respond to the identified problem or requested client specifications with pricing information, a specific description of the solution, an outlined plan of how it will be accomplished, and what makes it the best solution. These types of proposals generally must be competitive, as there can be many submissions offering different solutions.

Unsolicited proposals typically are used to gain potential customer interest by outlining a company’s service or product. Also, they can be used as a form of introduction, or as a way to get in front of the prospective customer. They typically are without many details, as they often are completed with little knowledge of the specific needs or problems of the customer.

Writing a proposal usually is a key step in most business processes. It typically follows a common format with an introduction outlining the problem, a body section detailing the solution, and a conclusion emphasizing the benefits and next steps. The more formal types typically have cover letters, and divide the middle sections into statement of work sections, complete detailed budgets, workflow, and schedules, as well as research with cost analysis, methodology, and evaluation processes.

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Discussion Comments

By LitNerd — On Jul 27, 2010

It is always best to follow a sample business proposal template if you are writing one for the first time. They can be found on the internet and sometimes the website charges a small fee. By using a template you are able to give your proposal a professional look and get the feel of what most businesses expect of certain proposals. If you purchase the template then it is a good idea to save it to your computer for later use. Even the most experienced businessmen and women still use templates. I know I do!

By GardenTurtle — On Jul 27, 2010

Let's not forget the kind of proposal where the man drops to his knee and offers a ring to his potential bride!

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