For many agencies, writing proposals and pitches is seen as a necessary evil, the painful, time-consuming process that is required before the ‘real work’ actually begins. But agencies shouldn’t be scared of writing proposals.
With the right tools and approach, writing proposals can be a fascinating and rewarding process, and not just from a financial perspective.
The process normally begins by receiving a request from a potential client for more details. A proposal differs from an estimate in that a proposal clearly outlines the scope of the project as well as any timelines and costs associated with the project. The proposal should also include details about you or your company as well as any testimonials or case studies you may have.
When starting out many freelancers don’t take the time required to create a winning proposal and instead just send an estimate. Putting in the time to create a winning proposal takes time and effort, however, the time and effort can be worth it.
At Flarecom Digital Marketing generally, we will always try to meet a potential client before writing a proposal. This way we try to find out more about their business and let them tell us more about what they are doing.
This way, when our proposal document arrives, it’s tailored around thinking about their issues. With an informal discussion, you get to pull apart and challenge the expectations of what they want. This often means that you find a whole bunch of issues they haven’t considered, and you end up reinventing their brief based on that discussion. Ultimately you get a much more insightful document that raises solutions to their problems.
There have also been instances whereby this first meeting reduces the need for a formal proposal. If they’ve had good face-to-face interaction, then they’ll think they can work with that person. It generally seals the deal.
Writing good proposals takes time and if you’re going to spend time writing proposals, then you need to know what you’re talking about. This takes time and preparation counts for everything. So, if you’re going to take the plunge then take the time to do it properly, or you might just be wasting your time.
You need to have a sound understanding of the client’s business objectives. You need to know what they’re looking to achieve, and what they want the user to do. They may be hoping to sell a product or service. But how? What message are they trying to sell to the public? Who are they reaching out to?
Go through their website with a fine-tooth comb, learn their message and discuss it with your colleagues. Research the client’s competitors. What are competitors doing that your potential client is not doing? Can this be broken down by channel to show the opportunities?
And talk to the client – ask them those questions directly. You need to gather enough information and insight in order to develop a strategy and design that will meet and exceed the client’s expectations.
The amount of time you spend researching will, of course, depend on the potential size of the project as well as how confident you are of winning the business.
One of the most useful pieces of research you can do is to find out who is going to be reading your proposal and who the decision makers are.
As ultimately this may guide the kind the of proposal that you are going to submit. For example, if it’s a large business it may have to be a more formal document with creds and case studies. Whereas for smaller business a less formal and more conversational approach will be needed, while for others it may be more of an education piece.
That will guide the kind of proposal you’ll be able to submit. Either way, try to clarify what format the client is expecting and their level of knowledge beforehand.
Formal presentations can feel like a safer option than the conversational approach. With discussions, you may have to wing it a bit and you’re bound to encounter some tricky questions. But don’t feel afraid to say “I don’t know”. Bluffing will only get you so far. Just promise to follow up with more information and make sure that you do so as quickly as possible.
Occasionally you may be thrown a deliberately nasty question aimed at the heart of your company. In this case, focus on your track record, throw around a few big names, emphasise your processes and stick to your guns.
At Flarecom Digital Marketing, we love using online proposal software for creating beautiful proposals slides for our potential clients.
Make sure each page serves a purpose and engage the client as you go through them.
Whether you’re putting all your points into a fancy powerpoint presentation or writing them down as discussion points, you’re there to convince your potential client how good you are, and that you’re the right agency for the job. Have a story to tell about the kind of services you offer and the business benefits they provide.
You need to stand out from other companies, so don’t be shy about sharing your story, although you shouldn’t make it the focus of the meeting. You need to spend the majority of your time talking about the client, not you.
Quickly outline your company (just cover the basic makeup in about five minutes) and then start discussing the client’s project. Clients need to know that you’re design competent, technically competent, can deliver on time and to budget, and have project management systems in place. They want a sense of safety and security, but they should have got this from your proposal document.
What they need to know from the proposal is that you understand their goals and that you know how you can fix their problems. They need to be assured that you’ll listen to their issues and, most importantly, that they can work with you on a personal level.
One of the most important factors in winning proposals is creating rapport with the client, they won’t hire you if they don’t think they can work with you or they simply don’t like you.
You’re aiming to walk out of the room and for the client to say it was one of the most useful meetings they’ve had in years. You want them thinking: if that’s what you can do in the first hour, what are you going to do in the first three months?
Think about what you wear when presenting your pitch or proposal. Do you want to be seen as the stiff in a suit or the trendy hipster? Depending on the type of client chances are that neither character would win the pitch. Remember that you don’t always have to be attired in the same manner as the people you are meeting. Pitches are not job interviews. It might be a company of suits actually wants to meet casually dressed creatives. As with everything in your job, it’s about knowing your audience.
Clients will expect you to be professional and to show courtesy and respect, but you’re not trying to be slick or outsmart them.
You’re trying to show flair and style. We’re in the business of making a first impression. A website lives or dies in the first few seconds, so if that’s what you’re trying to sell to a client, you’ve got to achieve the same in the real world as well.
In the end, writing winning proposals is about researching the potential client and who you’ll be meeting; talking to the client early in the process; working out their problems and finding solutions; being friendly and helpful; and, of course, listening.
Create a rapport with the client. 99 times out of 100, they won’t hire you if they don’t think they can work with you, so work the room one by one to get each person on side.
Aim to be helpful, listen, and ask questions. Be enthusiastic, likable, and interested. It’s all about having empathy with the client’s requirements and problems, willing them and getting them to trust you
But ultimately it comes down to that intangible something called chemistry and occasionally a bit of good fortune.
So good luck and look forward to writing your next proposal!
Brian O’Grady is the founder of Flarecom Digital Marketing, a leading Sydney digital marketing agency, offering; SEO, Adwords Management (PPC), Content Writing and Content Amplification, Facebook Advertising, Paid Social.