The Perfect Proposal: Outline, Example and Template!
It’s 2 am, and you’re still working on the “quick proposal” you promised to send to your potential client. Sound familiar?
Proposals are a necessary evil as part of the process of landing a client. But, they don’t have to take 30 hours to create, nor do they need to be an agonizing exercise in trying to read the client’s mind. In this post, I’m sharing the elements that go into a perfect proposal, a real life example that I sent for a project I won, and a template that you can duplicate and fill in yourself!
Why do I believe in this proposal framework? Because it works. I have sent dozens of proposals (that look nearly exactly like what I’m about to outline) to a range of potential clients, from large companies to solopreneurs. Only twice did it not turn into a paying project. It’s based on a framework from my years working as a management consultant for PwC, the largest professional services firm in the world. I’ve adapted it based on the attention span of my clients and the scope of my work as an independent consultant, but it’s rooted in an outline that has landed billion dollar projects!
There are a few important notes about how to approach the proposal creation process before we dive in:
Your client already told you everything:
Well, almost everything. In your initial conversations, your potential client outlined a problem, and probably provided additional information through their tone, context, urgency, etc. A big chunk of your proposal is going to focus on restating what your client already told you. Your job is to summarize it succinctly and then directly pair it with solutions.
In the same way that people love to hear the sound of their own name, your client will subconsciously love that you are using the same language they are using. If they call their marketing team the “Marketeers”, that’s what you should call them!
The more work you do on the proposal, the less work you’ll have to do on the project:
I think of proposals as my first draft at the project plan. The more information I put in and the more I think through what exactly I need to do in order to help the client, the easier it is to take it and run with it once the client says “alright, deal!” Plus, most clients love seeing all the detail (and—I don’t care what other Internet thought leaders say—it is highly unlikely that someone is going to steal your work and do the project themselves). As an added bonus, the more time you spend writing what you will do allows you to think through (and note) what you won’t do. Which is just as important for a successful project!
Time spent on formatting is time well-spent:
In our information overload society, sending a proposal that looks like a multi-page long read article can be a hard sell. Make your proposal something that your potential client wants to read! I prefer to use slides, and love a site called Slides Carnival that has amazing templates for simple designs. But, it doesn’t take much to make a work document look nice! Pick a font, use a color for your section headers, add in tables and bullet points. Think about what you’d read!
THE PERFECT PROPOSAL OUTLINE
The following outline is meant to be copied! There are a few different ways you can do that: try using the exact headers and subheaders on your presentation or document. Or, use the outline as a checklist to make sure you’ve included the right stuff.
If the potential client had a job description, lift sentences and include them in this project overview section! It’s okay if it’s word-for-word, it shows that you are listening to them.
Try to chunk your work into “phases.” Why? If your quoted price is too high, suggest simply starting with one phase.
The more specific you can be in your deliverable section, the better. For example, instead of just “marketing plan” you could say “3-month marketing plan in Google spreadsheet focused on new market launch.” Thinking through exactly what you are going to hand over to the client throughout or at the end of the project saves you from any miscommunication.
If you don’t know what’s going to happen at every stage of the timeline, just outline the first few weeks of activities. I often times pick 4 weeks and showcase what work will get done then. Thinking through this in the proposal also gives me a head start so I can hit the ground running the second they say yes and accept the proposal!
Price your proposal by phases. That way, if your price is too high, you can suggest only one phase.
If I price hourly (which I don’t do often - but that’s for another post), I show my rate at $400-$600/hour. I know, that’s a lot! But I discount it from there, depending on how much I want the project. If it’s a startup I’m excited about working with, I’ll discount the project (sometimes as much as 50%). Now, they think they’re getting a slam dunk deal, and I still get paid a fair price.
Not entirely sure how much budget a client has? In one of your introductory calls, ask them if they have already decided on a budget for the project. Tell them you have a standard hourly or retainer rate which you are happy to quote, but want to make sure you design a proposal that fits their budget, and you’d be happy to adjust the time spent or tweak your rate to fit. Of course, only if it’s really enough money for you!
Outling the next steps makes it clear exactly what they do next, and is your roadmap for what you say in your next follow up emails.
TEMPLATE AND EXAMPLE
Take a look at a real life example (I changed the client name, but everything else is real, even the pricing!). And, copy the template yourself and fill it in.
Hope this makes your next proposal a breeze!