I’ve been catching up on some reading over the summer, and Edoardo Binda Zane’s book, Writing Proposals: A Handbook of What Makes Your Project Right for Funding, has come to the top of the pile.
It’s a book about how to write a compelling argument for getting cash to do your project. Aimed predominantly at people trying to secure public funds for their initiatives, I think there’s plenty in here that would be helpful for project managers writing business cases or proposals outside of the public sector too.
The book is split into 3 sections:
- Workflow: this talks about how you gather the information for your proposal and put it together in a way that is the least amount of work and doesn’t require you to keep editing and aligning the main document.
- Writing techniques: Tips for making your writing stand out to the person who is reading a dozen of these proposals.
- Proposal-specific writing tips: Further advice on making sure your proposal is a polished as it can be and that you are totally clear on what you are asking for.
A Practical Step-Through Guide
What surprised me about this book – and I don’t know why, because it’s clearly marketed as a book to make proposal writing easy – is that it’s literally a guide to what to put in what section. It’s almost like cheating.
Binda Zane tells you how to write it and what to say. There’s even a downloadable proposal template and budget sheet in case you need them. It’s a step-by-step guide to getting your proposal accepted. Just do what he says in the order he says and – while it won’t guarantee you funding for your project – you’ll certainly have a far better chance of hearing ‘yes’.
The largest part of the book focuses on how to write the technical proposal. It’s about putting together a work breakdown structure, describing what you are planning on doing and creating a realistic budget.
There are lots of tips in here, and while the author only hints at his past experiences early on in the book, it’s clear this is hard-won advice. You can tell he’s earned his stripes!
Tips for Clear Communication
My favourite tips were around using visual planning to get the message across, and thinking about how your proposal actually looks.
For example, he suggests taking out some of the extra stuff like staff profiles and putting them in an appendix. It saves the document from looking too bulky (and your word count, if you’re limited) while still providing the information required.
Binda Zane also encourages you to use Gantt charts and diagrams to explain the project and your methodology. Don’t worry if you are an Agile team. If Scrum is more your thing, there’s a section on how to create a timeline for your proposal without having to use a waterfall-style Gantt chart.
Sometimes it’s hard to visualise what your finished proposal should look like, so the author has included worked examples, especially around calculating hourly rates and working out your budget. There are also examples of clear writing: it’s a lot easier to tell the difference between poor sentence construction and good sentence construction when it’s right there on the page in front of you.
It’s a short book. I read it at the soft play while my children romped on the giant slide and sat inside a submarine. That points to how easy it is to get through: if I could concentrate on the book, a latte and the kids then it’s definitely an accessible read. I can think of three or four project management books where I wouldn’t have been able to get past the first page due to the density of the writing.
Writing Proposals: A Handbook of What Makes Your Project Right for Funding by Edoardo Binda Zane is available here.