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Writing a Proposal For Yourself and Others

proposalA business woman I know called me in somewhat of a panic because she’d been asked to write a proposal for her services.

I was surprised because I know her to be articulate yet she seemed to have little idea how to get even a brief proposal started. Plus, she felt she hadn’t been given enough information to be able to provide what her client wanted.

We talked it through and she got it done. But it got me thinking about proposals in general, and to recognize a potential new market for me and others.

What, exactly, is a proposal?

Google defines proposal this way: “1. a plan or suggestion, especially a formal or written one, put forward for consideration or discussion by others.”

That works I think, although I’m a bit puzzled by the idea that writing a proposal makes it formal. Perhaps that’s because a proposal often forms the basis for a contract.

When I create a proposal for a client I spell out the project in as much detail as makes sense for me. My goal is to make it as clear as possible to the client what I expect to do for them. The proposal, or a contract based on one, also serves as a way for me to stay clear on what we’re trying to accomplish which, when the project is big and takes months, comes in handy more often than you might expect.

Fill in the blanks, almost

Here is a list of what I want to include in a proposal:

Vision for the project – this is often expressed as the purpose and goals of the project and states the ultimate result, like a book, or a speech or an article or an article series, etc.

The audience or readers – for a writing project to be successful the audience must be defined clearly.

Description of the finished product – here go some details, like proposed word count or page count, number of chapters or parts, how it will be delivered, etc.

Method of work – how the information will get from the client’s head to yours. This could be a series of recorded phone calls, followed by a draft sent to the client, etc. There are all sorts of other ways – working from recordings of talks, past articles, article drafts, etc.

You need to spell out both your roll and the client’s roll in some detail. If, as in book ghostwriting projects, the client doesn’t understand they must turn the drafts around fairly quickly the whole project can fall apart. The time to educate the client about these kinds of details is in conversation backed up in the proposal itself.

Term of work – some writing has hard deadlines and those should be spelled out, as should consequences if the deadline is missed. Bigger projects like books usually don’t have hard deadlines, but clients want them completed in a fairly specific amount of time, like six months or a year.

Ownership of the work – here you define who gets the copyright and what, if any, rights the writer may have.

Price and payment – The total price for the work needs to be stated and then how payment should be made. For example, when I’m ghostwriting a book I may ask for monthly payments; if the book is to be complete in a year, then I spell out 12 monthly payments. For articles and shorter works I often ask for half up front, or even for total payment before I start.

If the contract can be changed and how – I generally say something like “This is a personal service contract and may be changed in writing by either party with 14 days notice.”

What constitutes acceptance by the client – I want to be certain that the client accepts the proposal and agrees to the terms. I often will close with something like “payment of $xxxxx signifies acceptance of this proposal.” That payment would, of course, be the first payment as indicated above.

Not just  writing projects

These guidelines can, with some editing, be used to create proposals for almost any type of project, not just writing projects. The details will be different of course. If you’re asked to write a proposal for someone, make sure you address each of these issues with the client.

You might find these links helpful: How to Make Your Writing Proposal Work9 Elements Of A Great Writing Proposal. I’ve also got an ebook called How to Write a Non-Fiction Book
Proposal that $ells! you might find helpful.

Write well and often,


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