effective proposal

How to create an effective business proposal

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Creating proposals can be stressful for consultants, freelancers and agencies, whose livelihoods depends on pitching projects to clients and closing deals. That’s why it always surprises me how many of these professionals are clueless regarding how to create an effective proposal.

The Prerequisite

The first thing to remember is that a proposal is not a sales tool or pitch. It should only be presented after you’ve already spoken with the potential client and have a meeting of the minds regarding the work that is required and the budget.

If you’ve done that, then the client has already bought into using you. Now he only needs to know what exactly you’re going to do, how long it will take and how much it will cost. The proposal is a summary of what you’ve already discussed.

How important is design?

Contrary to what proposal software companies would like you to believe, clients do not choose vendors based on the design or beauty of their proposals (unless you are a creative design agency, in which case design does matter).

As long as your proposal is professional looking and neatly laid out, it’s the content — specifically timing and pricing — that are going to make or break you at this stage.

Beautiful design templates do not win clients. Relationships, trust, service and pricing do.

In fact, using design templates can end up distracting your client. It can also force you into a specific format that might be right for certain situations — but not yours.

Elements of an effective proposal

Here’s what your proposal should have:

  1. Your company logo or branding
  2. Proposal title (ex. web design proposal), client name, proposal date
  3. Brief “Objective” section where, in a couple of sentences, you explain the objective of the project. This shouldn’t be a pages long analysis of the clients business challenges. Just a concise summary of what you’ll do.
  4. Bulleted list of deliverables or services that you will provide. Bullets keep it concise and easier for the client to read. You’ve already discussed most of these services and deliverables with the client. This is just a summary.
  5. Description of your process, explaining how you will work the client to get the project done from start to finish. This should preferable also be a bulleted list, to make it easy for the client to read and digest.
  6. Timeframe of project.
  7. Pricing — you should ideally try to give the client 3 pricing options, each one providing more services. Research shows that doing this has both practical and psychological benefits — and makes it easier for the client to accept an option.
  8. Terms (ie, payment schedule, payment form, cancellation policy etc). Don’t go crazy with terms. The last thing you want is for the client to feel like he has to get his lawyers involved. Alan Weiss, author of Million Dollar Consulting Proposals says, “You want to stay out of the other person’s legal department because it will slow down the process and may stop the sale all together.” The less legalese in your proposal, the better.
  9. A way for the client to sign the proposal. No need for a separate contract — your proposal is your contract. Simple is better — and just as legal.

Timing is Important

Once you’ve created your proposal you need to get it to your client as quickly as possible. The longer it takes you to get it to your client, the more time he has to get busy with other things and forget about you. As the man said, “strike while the iron is hot”.

You don’t take a few days or a week to create a proposal — which is really easy to happen if you’ve got other work and distractions pulling you away.

If the client is ok with just viewing the proposal online, great. In most cases the client will probably want a PDF copy he can print out (another reason why lots of design elements and images is a bad idea).

Follow up

Emailing your proposal to your client is not the end of the process. You need to follow up in a day or 2. If you’ve built a relationship of trust, it shouldn’t take the client long to accept your proposal.

But unfortunately, the client might have other, more pressing, concerns to deal with and your proposal might end up getting lost — which is why you MUST follow up at regular intervals.

Don’t stop until you get a YES (or a no)!

A better way

Propfire is built to help you do exactly what I just described in this post — create effective proposals faster and easier.

Try it free for 14 days — no credit card required — to see if it’s a good fit for you.

10 Elements of an Effective Proposal [checklist]

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