Creating proposals is a task that most sales people or service providers need to do on a pretty regular basis (you would hope). And it’s a hated task, especially if you are doing your first one, or you just aren’t experienced at creating proposals.
You sit there in front of a blank screen, with lots of information in your head but no idea of how to present it. If you only had a proposal template. So you do what anyone in your shoes would do. You google “proposal” and get a list of creative ideas of how to pop the question to your girlfriend.
Then you google “business proposal template”. You’re in good company because, according to Google, around 6,600 queries for “business proposal template” happen every month in the US. So you get a list of sites offering hundreds of free proposal templates, although in most cases you need to actually subscribe to the respective proposal software service to actually use the “free” template.
At this point you’ll either sign up for a free trial on one of the proposal services, or find a template somewhere on the web and copy it into a Google doc. It can all get very frustrating, fast.
Before you start going crazy browsing through dozens (or hundreds?) of online proposal templates, I want to let you in on a little secret: the design of your proposal doesn’t really matter too much to clients.
It’s all about the content.
Let me explain.
Not a Sales Pitch
The first thing to understand is that a proposal should not be a sales pitch.
As Alan Weiss, the author of Million Dollar Proposals, says, “Proposals are not part of the sales process. They are part of the implementation process. The sale occurs before the proposal is ever written.”
In other words, you should only be sending a potential client a proposal if you’ve already had at least one, or several, conversations or meetings in which you’ve learned what exactly your client is looking for and how much he’s looking to spend, and you’ve told him how you can help him accomplish his objectives. If, and only if, there is a meeting of the minds and a mutual desire to work together do you then create and present your proposal.
Since the client has already gotten to know you a bit and has bought into the fact that you can help him, the only things he wants to know at that point are the exact services and deliverables you will provide, how long the project will take and how much it will cost. He already knows about your company and your bio, because you told him that during your first conversation. He doesn’t need a sales pitch. You already did that, and he bought it.
All he wants to know now is:
- What you’ll do
- When it will be done
- How much will it cost
Unless you happen to be a creative design or advertising agency pitching creative work, you don’t need to worry about fancy images, colors, graphs, special fonts. What you do need is a neat, professional looking, proposal that concisely presents the What, When and How much.
Your proposal should have:
- Your company logo or branding (can be in color or b&w)
- A title -> client name -> date
- A brief Objective section where, in a couple of sentences, you explain the objective of the project.
- A bulleted list of deliverables or services that you will provide
- (optional) A description of your process — how you will carried out your project. This could also be a bulleted list.
- Timeframe of project
- Pricing — you should ideally try to give the client 3 pricing options, each one providing more services. This has both practical and psychological benefits.
- Terms (payment schedule, payment form, cancellation policy etc — there shouldn’t be too many of these)
- A way for the client to sign the proposal. No need for a separate contract to get the lawyers involved. Simple is better — and just as legal.
Will it hurt you to present a design and image heavy proposal?
It depends on how you’re presenting it and who is reading it. If it needs to be printed out, then it’s probably a horrible idea, especially if the client is the one who’ll be printing it. And if the executive reading it wants to get to the important info, the images and design frill could get in the way and frustrating.
I’ll go back to proposal guru Alan Weiss again, who says that a proposal should be as short as possible, definitely no longer than 2 or 2.5 pages. Any longer than that and you’ve probably added stuff that shouldn’t be there, and you run the risk of confusing or boring your client.
So why all the hundreds of design templates?
If what I’ve just told you is correct, why in the world are there hundreds of proposal templates created by proposal software companies?
Because that’s how they get get you to sign up and pay them. By convincing you that your proposal will be accepted based on its design. Wrong.
Clients choose vendors based on skill, experience, deliverables, timeline, price and, most important of all, trust. Timeline, price and deliverables are laid out in a proposal. The other elements are developed during relationship building conversations and meeting.
If you haven’t developed any sort of relationship or trust with the potential client, then you’re better off asking for a meeting then simply sending a proposal that will be added to the pile of other proposals received. You don’t want to be in a pile. The chances of winning in a pile are very slim, unless you’re willing to be the lowest price in the pack or you already have a known reputation.
Before you follow my advice, I need to make one qualification to my comments. My experience in proposal writing is primarily with small to midsized companies. I don’t know first hand if my advice would apply to massive, fortune 100 companies, although Alan Weiss uses his 2 page proposal to land multi six figure consultant gigs with those same companies.
But I can only speak from personal experience. The 60 year old owner of a $50 million metal manufacturing company will be happy reading a concise, 2 to 3 page proposal, that clearly presents him the information he needs to make a deal. He doesn’t need graphics, images or colors.
Don’t knock yourself out searching for a design template that will magically transform your proposal into some sort of irresistible element that cannot be refused. It’s a waste of your time.
Go neat, professional, and simple.
You can do exactly that with propfire. No design templates to mess with. Just concise, professional looking business templates that you can create super fast.