This is a guest post by Ruben of Bidsketch, proposal software that helps creative professionals get more clients and grow their business.
You became a web designer to create great web sites and applications. The plan didn’t include dealing with slow paying clients or spending countless hours trying to find work.
It also didn’t include having to write proposals after you find prospective clients. Unfortunately, this is what you face every day. This is the reality of the situation.
What can you do about it?
If you plan on paying the bills, you can’t avoid these painful activities. What you’ll want to do is become more efficient at them. Outsource what you can and hack the rest. Take a Tim Ferriss approach to things you don’t like.
Here we’re going to take a look at hacking the proposal writing process. We want to invoke the 80/20 rule towards proposal writing. We want to expend 20% effort to get 80% of the results.
Anatomy of a Proposal
Before you can quickly and efficiently write amazing proposals, you’ll need some basic background on what a persuasive proposal is made of. I say a persuasive proposal because that’s exactly what your proposal has to be. It must convince the reader that you’re the absolutely best person for the job.
A persuasive proposal has three parts:
- Problem statement
- Proposed solution
- Pricing information
You’ll have everything you need as long as you include these essential elements.
An effective proposal describes a client’s needs and their drivers. To persuade someone, they must believe you understand their needs; describing the underlying reason, shows exactly that.
The best way to show what this means is by example. Let’s use a website redesign project for this example. Say a client wants to have their website redesigned.
You might see something like this on a mediocre proposal:
ABC Company is looking to have their website redesigned to give them a fresh new look. The redesign should include a way for customers to contact the company and a way to find locations.
Why is this mediocre? There’s no problem statement here. Redesigning a website to obtain a “fresh new look” isn’t a problem statement.
A persuasive proposal would sound something like this:
ABC Company has lately seen a drastic increase in competition. These new competitors have modern looking websites that are starting to attract some of ABC Company’s long time customers. ABC Company needs to redesign their website with a fresh new look to ensure existing customers are kept, and new ones are converted.
The redesign should include a way for customers to contact the company and a way to find locations.
See the difference? Keep in mind that most clients will not tell you this information; you’re going to have to dig. Keep asking why until you get to the business driver. Something is driving the project, and it sure as hell isn’t wanting a “fresh new look”.
Now that you’ve been armed with the knowledge of their motivation for the project, you’re ready to offer a solution.
Yes, you’ll want to ensure you directly address their needs, but make sure your solution is business-centric.
We recommend a complete redesign of the existing website. This would include a new updated logo, location search, contact form page, etc.
So a good solution for the previous example might be:
To effectively recapture the market from new competitors, the website design must implement a marketing strategy focused on this goal. This will start with a needs analysis session that will indentify the key elements of the website, different customer types, and all necessary calls to action.
Needs analysis will be followed with a content plan focused on specific goals, and will move into the design phase which will include the following…
Which one sounds more promising? This second one includes more work so it’s probably going to be more expensive, but it’ll still win the job.
The last piece of a persuasive proposal is the pricing information. You want to make this information easy to digest, so keep it high level. From a typography point of view, it’s best to place it in a grid. This is usually known as the Fee Summary section.
Depending on the length of the project you might want to tie payments to specific milestones. This would be included in a section called Fee Schedule.
Below you’ll find a list of the three elements, followed by some common titles used for each section.
Problem Statement — Client Needs, Client Goals, Client Objectives, Goals and Objectives
Recommended Solution — Recommended Solution, Recommended Strategy
Pricing information — Fee Summary, Fee Schedule, Project Pricing
Now that you have basic knowledge about the elements of a persuasive proposal, you can start to work on a process to put together proposals in no time.
The best way, is to use proposal software because it takes care of a lot of the manual steps, but we’ll look at templates so you get a low-level understanding of how they should be put together.
To get started you’ll want to create two templates in Microsoft Word. You’ll classify these templates by proposal size: large and small.
This makes it easy to know when to use which proposal. A small project like a three page website will get a small proposal. That’s because you can get away with a simple estimate on these jobs. Pricing information isn’t enough, you want to include an element of persuasion.
Small Proposal Outline
- Client Needs
- Recommended Solution
- Fee Summary
- Next Steps
This would probably come out to a two page proposal. Notice that I included a section calledNext Steps. It’s a smart idea to include a call to action here. This way, they know exactly what needs to be done to get the ball rolling on the project.
Large Proposal Outline
- Goals and Objectives
- Recommended Solution
- Fee Summary
- Fee Schedule
- Estimated Project Schedule
- Next Steps
- Terms and Conditions
The large one isn’t much bigger than the small one but it includes timeframe information which helps the client envision how your process is going to work.
Now that you have your two templates and their outline in place, it’s time to look at adding a little style to your proposal.
Create an elegant design (easier said than done) and use it as a header and footer in your Word template. This should be kept to a minimum, you don’t want to overpower the content. It should be tasteful and only hint at your creative ability.
Last, add some help text to your proposal outline. This text will remind you what to write in each of these sections. You can copy and paste some of the instructions in this article if you need to, just remember it’s a placeholder for the real content.
What about paragraphs of text that can be included in every proposal? Don’t do it.
Every project is different, any content that you can reuse like that is garbage in the eyes of of the client. Remember, they’re only concerned with their own project and how you might be able to help them.
If you want to include a Company Information page or a Clients section, feel free to do so as long as it comes after the pricing information. We want to structure the information in the most persuasive manner possible, so keep things about yourself (or company) towards the bottom.
Resources and Tools
Like I mentioned before, you’ll get the highest return of your time by using proposal software. If you have to use templates, then follow the instructions above to create your own templates. I’ve made a few web design proposal templates available to help you get started if needed.