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Detailed Proposal Outlining - 7 Tips

One of the quickest and easiest ways to create a detailed project proposal is to start with a custom-built proposal template - like these ones.

To help with filling these out, here's a list of tips. I have seen hundreds, if not thousands, of signed proposals in my time as the owner of Better Proposals. These seven tips will give you a head start and hopefully set you up for success.

The seven tips

  1. The Discovery Phase
  2. A Great Introduction
  3. Case Studies
  4. Timescales
  5. Pricing
  6. Next Steps
  7. Terms & Conditions

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Ask questions in the discovery phase

The best way to know what your clients are looking for is to simply ask them. In the discovery phase, make sure to ask as many questions as possible. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a meeting with a client, a simple phone call will do. Your aim is to understand what the client is trying to achieve and find out ways to help them.

For example, you run a PPC marketing service and a client comes up to you looking for more sales. When you dig underneath the surface, you may find that, instead of a comprehensive marketing plan, all they need is some SEO, niche edits, or PPC ads.

Finally, note the expressions the client is using during the discovery session. They may know exactly what they’re looking for or they could be a complete newbie. Depending on the language they use, you will create a different proposal.

The discovery phase is the foundation of every good detailed proposal outline, so spend a nice chunk of time here. You’ll save time anyway since you’re using proposal software, so you’ll have an hour to spare.

Write a great introduction

Armed with the knowledge from the discovery sessions, it’s time to kick off your proposal with an amazing introduction. Our research has shown that this is the second most read part of every proposal, after the pricing. As such, it deserves your utmost attention.

You may be tempted to write about how awesome your company is and how you’ve achieved goal X in X years or some other self-loving mumbo jumbo. That has a place too, but leave it for later.

To capture the client’s attention right off the bat, use the introduction to explain the client’s goals and show that you understand their situation. For example, you understand that they’re having a hard time getting leads from search engine traffic. You also know that they can use SEO and pay-per-click ads to solve this problem.

Remember the notes from the discovery session? This is where you use them. Talk back to the client and use their own words to describe their situation. If you go too technical, they won’t understand you and you will lose them as soon as they’ve finished the introduction and before they even glance at the other sections. State to your clients exactly what they told you – their problems and what they want to achieve.

This is the spot to describe what you’re going to do and how you’re going to achieve it, but once again, without going too technical. For example, you’ll place 10 PPC ads for them, which will get a 30% increase in the number of their leads. There’s no need to go into details about keyword research, traffic, different versions of copy, etc. Keep it simple and don’t overburden the client with things they don’t really need to know.

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Have a case study prepared

There is nothing better to convince the client that you can do your part of the job than seeing that you’ve already done it before. Case studies are one of the most powerful marketing tools out there, and while you can’t (and shouldn’t) include a full case study with each proposal, you can create it as a separate section from the actual proposal outline itself.

In this section, make sure to list an example of a similar job you’ve done for a client before and what you were able to achieve. For example, you’ve run PPC ads for someone in the same industry and managed to get them 300+ leads per month. The more specific you can get with your case study, the better.

Problems can arise if you don’t have a similar success story from the past. Don’t worry too much and try to find something as close as possible to the client on the other end of the proposal.

The timescales

Time is money. Besides the work being done and how much it’s going to cost, clients want to know when it'll be done. Make sure to include this as a separate section and break down when you’ll be able to do each part of the work. If the client has an upcoming event such as a launch or anniversary, factor this into the timescales.

As a bit of common sense, always underpromise with your timescales. You never know what may come up and the client may include additional work. It's always a good idea to track your time with any projects you do so you can know how much time you'll need in the future.

The pricing

This is the second most important element of each proposal. Naturally, the client wants to know how much your services are going to cost them and whether they can afford it at a given point in time.

The first trick to use here is to mind the words you’re using. Our research consistently shows that naming this section just 'pricing' gets the worst results. To really convince clients to pay, name the section investment, ROI or return on investment. You want clients to think that they’re investing and not paying for something.

The second tip is to have a single, convincing offer. Although Better Proposals has the ability to include more than one pricing package and traditional marketing knowledge says that upsells are great, we’ve seen that they don’t always work so be careful when including them as part of a detailed proposal outline.

If you have a single offer, it will increase your chances of conversion by 20.6%, no matter if you have a one-time offer or a monthly retainer. To keep it very simple, have one offer per proposal and maximize your chances of getting a signature.

The next steps

Imagine buying a table from Ikea without any instructions on how to put it together. That’s what most hand-written proposals look like. You need to include a section that tells the client what they need to do after signing and what happens next. For example:

  1. The client signs the proposal
  2. They get an invoice for the first part of the payment
  3. They’re invited to a kick-off meeting
  4. You start with work on their project

You can add as many steps as you wish, but make sure to include this section at all costs.

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Terms and conditions

You may think that you don’t need this section and the truth is, clients will most likely skim over it. However, you absolutely need it in your detailed proposal outline. This is the spot to include all legal details and ensure that if things go wrong, both parties are covered.

Wrapping up

None of these sections are absolutely necessary. However, if you leave out any of them, you considerably hurt your chances of the client reading and signing your proposal.

Do you include all of these in the proposals you send out? Do you add something that we haven’t covered here and it works for you? Let us know in the comments!

Adam Hempenstall's profile image
Adam Hempenstall is the CEO and Founder of Better Proposals. He started his first web design business at 14 and has since written four books and built an international movement around sending better proposals. Having helped his customers win $500,000,000 in the last 12 months alone, he’s launched the first ever Proposal University where he shares best practices on writing and designing proposals. He co-runs a once-a-year festival called UltraMeet and is a massive FC Barcelona fan.