5 Tips for Effective Proposal Writing for Internal Software Developers
In my current role, I write a lot of proposals for new software systems which, when starting, can be intimidating. Below are five tips that I’ve developed so you can write effective software proposals for your company.
1. Understand what a proposal is
A proposal is a statement of value; it’s designed to convey a message to an audience that a product or service brings substantial benefit to an organization beyond cost alone. Even if you position as a cost leader that provides only essential services, the savings are still a value you can express. Proposals differ from a quote for services. By giving more than a cost breakdown, proposals show that you understand the problem your audience faces, and you have a solution for it. A proposal is more than a quote; it’s a supplement for a quote.
2. Find a template
The second step is to start writing, the first step is to get organized. But organizing your thoughts and having a concise level of detail can be tricky. Use a template to help keep the document neat to convey what you are trying to do. Organizing at the beginning can help you get your point across so that someone doesn’t have to try and figure out what you are trying to say. I found the Microsoft Word template Services Proposal (Business Blue Design) to be an excellent start with helpful text boxes (make sure you delete the help text included after you use the information) and some boilerplate.
3. Put the grief first
Kind of like the hook to your sales pitch (“Are you tired of losing data to the bit bucket?”), the same applies to proposals. The first section to your proposal should be an overview that is part cautionary tale, part retelling of an issue, and part solving a problem. For example, when proposing a new project to automate backing up files from your teams shared drive that John manually does once a month you can lead with:
“John is going on vacation and won’t be around to archive our project files. Every month our files need to be archived from the shared drive to reduce disk space and adhere to our record keeping policy. Missing this step could cause issues plus data loss, and by automating, we ensure it happens continuously.”
Unless John is the type of person that never goes on vacation, gets sick, or is already a robot, you can guarantee he won’t be doing this manual step forever. Bring to attention the impact of maintaining the status quo in a likely situation or, better yet, provide a time when the current practice has caused grief. Write it out so that your reader understands the impact and knows the value of what you are trying to achieve. This leads us to the next tip.
4. Know your audience
It may seem obvious, but as you get writing and your flow starts, it’s easy to forget who you’re talking to. Keep in mind that the people you make proposals for are busy (otherwise they would fix the issue or improve the system themselves!), get to the point and understand the level of detail they are seeking. When writing a cold proposal (like cold calling, a cold proposal is used to hook new prospective people to adopt what you are trying to improve), try to do some research on your audience via social media, their public website, or even try to schedule an initial meeting. By knowing your audience, you find out the level of detail you need for your proposal to be successful. Too much detail and your audience starts glossing over and likely pass up the proposal, too little and the benefit won’t be noticeable, in both cases the value gets lots. Getting to know the person before writing also gives you an understanding of what is important to then; it allows you to write a proposal that shows them how your solution benefits them or what matters the most to them. This will allow you to…
5. Anticipate need and value
Does your audience care about coming under budget every quarter, how much time is spent on tasks, how customers rate their services? These are their needs. Will your proposal decrease the budget, reduce your work in progress, or increase customer satisfaction? That’s the value you want to deliver. Your proposal should solve an issue that affects a need and increase value. Pinpoint what the need is, what the problem is, so that you can define the solution that will bring value to your audience and your company.
Writing requires effort, but it’s worth it. Putting in the effort up front helps to convey to others what you want to achieve to better not only your life but also the lives of your coworkers and bosses. A last, bonus tip, make sure that you edit your work. As a professional software developer, you wouldn’t want to have a pull request denied due to typos, the same applies here. Give them a proposal you can be proud of.