How to write proposals and actually win them

A few months ago I adopted a new proposal system and I have been astonished by the results.

I am closing twice as many clients and at higher budgets than ever before. 

I wish I could say I pioneered this one myself, but truthfully I borrowed it from Alan Weiss's famous book Million Dollar Consulting

While Alan's book is focused on business consultants, I found his proposal process to be perfectly spot on for creative professionals as well.

Below I have outlined Alan's proposal process.. 


What a proposal is and is not

Before diving into Alan's proposal process, I must first explain a few things about what a proposal is. 

A proposal is an agreement on the scope that you previously discussed with the client. 

One of the biggest problems that many consultants have with proposals is that often they try to throw out their ideas in the proposal. 

When you are throwing out ideas in the proposal form, you are making the client question not only your budget, but also question your approach as well. 

If you have ideas for the clients needs, get those out on the table and discuss them with the client before ever presenting the proposal. 

Proposals aren't a place to pitch your ideas.

Proposals a place to outline your scope, pricing and payment terms on the scope you previously agreed upon with the client. 


The 8 Part Proposal

1) Situation

This first section covers the clients current situation.

If they have a project that needs completed, you can write about that here.
If they have a need that you can fill, you can write about that here.

When a client comes to you they have a situation. Here is you place to outline that situation so the client knows you understand them and their problems. 


2) Objectives

Here you outline all of the objectives for the project.

Keep them broad but hit on each of the objectives that the client has for their project. Generally this section can stay in a bullet point form


3) Value to the organization / individual

This one may seem a bit strange or foreign at first but it is crucial to the proposal process.

What are the physical, emotional, financial and business benefits that you are bringing to the client?

Often in the creative field, this may fall under an umbrella of 'Improved brand perception'. Don't underestimate the power of good design or compelling copywriting.

In the consulting field, if you can demonstrate value in terms of ROI or dollars earned, then that is even better.

When discussing value, don't just focus on the business benefits.

If you are doing work for someone that is based around a project that is very personal to them, write about the emotional benefits as well. 

Make it a no brainer

When putting together your proposal, hammer in the value. Go big on this section and make it an absolute no brainer for the prospect to hire you. 


4) Methodology and Options

Here is where you will outline the different options, packages and add ons for the client.

With any consulting project, you want to try to give the client at least a few different options to choose from. This isn't always possible but if you can present options here, it will greatly increase your chances.

Generally, I try to present three packages. 

The middle package is the ideal project. It accomplishes all of the clients primary goals based on our conversation. 

The lower priced package is for the budget shopper. It accomplishes most of the clients primary goals but maybe pulls out a few objectives.

The higher priced package is the luxury piece. This includes some upsells that you discovered in your call the client was interested in. Maybe these are dream features the client wanted or add ons that are not within the primary objectives of the project.

When you present three options like this, it does a handful of things for you. 

1) Mindset shift - The clients mindset shifts ever so slightly from 'Should I hire this person' to 'Which package should I hire this person for'. That is a very powerful change

2) Lower rates means lower value - If the client has a limited budget, then they can choose a package according to their budget. In these situations, never negotiate on your rate. Instead if the client is going to pay you less, offer them a lower package or strip away value from an existing package. 

3) Earn more -  Package options gives you potential to earn more money. More often than not, if you design your packages properly the client will go for the middle package. Every once in a while a client will take the high end package and you just earned extra dollars that you wouldn't have otherwise.

While you will outline your packages and options in this section, don't include pricing with your options.

That comes later. 


5) Timeline

What is the timeline that you and the client agreed upon during the previous discussions. Outline that timeline here along with any milestones 


6) Joint Accountabilities

Nothing is worse than a client who doesn't hold up their end of the project. Here is where the client agrees on who is accountable for what pieces of the project.

I outline this section in 'My accountabilities' and '[Clients name's] accountabilities'.

Under each I have a bulleted list of what they are responsible for. 

Often I include timely responses to e-mail and drafts as part of the clients responsibilities. 


7) Terms and Conditions

In this section you list out all of my fees for the previously described packages. Keep it simple.

The fee for 'Package 1 is ___'
The fee for 'Package 2 is ___'
The fee for 'Marketing Retainer is ___'

Following your fees, include your other conditions associated with the project. Here is what I generally include:

Payment terms - I generally ask for 50% up front and 50% upon completion of the project

Optional Discount - Underneath the payment terms I offer the option "A 10% discount can be obtained if the full fee is paid at the start of the project".

This discount may cost me a bit of money in the long run but it does wonders for cash flow. Getting that money in the door fast is worth it if you ask me. 

Additional costs - Often there will be stock images, hosting fees, travel, or other costs associated with the project. Here I always outline if those are my costs or billed back to the client.

Signature statement - "Your payment in absence of your signature below will also indicate acceptance of this project and the terms and conditions described within".

People are busy, and often they don't even want to sign these kind of proposals anymore. Truthfully, for most small projects like this it isn't going to go to court anyway.

Don't sweat the signature and just focus on getting paid by the client.


8) Acceptance  

This section is simply a listing of the previously outlined options along with a checkbox and signature line for the client to choose.


Add a case study for a cherry on top

At the end of every proposal, I always add a case study with a raving testimonial as the final additional page.

This is just one additional piece to remind that client that they are working with a professional.



How to send a proposal and follow up

After I get off my initial call with the client where we discuss their needs and come to an agreement on the scope of the project, I tell the client :

"I will have a proposal to you by ______. Would you like to go ahead and like to schedule a call to go over it and any questions you have?

The key here is to schedule your next call while the client is live on the phone. Most of the time, if you ask they will agree to that follow up.

Once you schedule that call, then deliver the proposal in a timely manner while they are still excited. By getting your proposals done in a timely manner, you are taking advantage of that clients initial excitement about the project and getting them to commit to a 'Yes' while you are still fresh in their mind. 

Why this method works so well

Alan has a psychology behind how he has outlined this proposal. 

It first starts with what a proposal is. As we outlined before a proposal is an agreement on a previously defined scope.

Because of this, there should be no surprises for the client.

When they read through this proposal, they should be nodding their head yes in agreement to every piece of sections 1-6. There should not be a single question or doubt in their mind at this point.

Then, when they hit #7 with the pricing, they should be in agreement with everything and now it is just up to them to choose which package to hire you on. 

Since switching to this proposal method, I have closed twice as many projects that I submitted proposals for and often at higher budgets as well. 


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