The 15-Minute Proposal

A familiar feeling

“Great! Would you mind putting together a proposal for us?”

Isn’t it awesome when you hear that?

The possibilities. The excitement about the project. THE MONEEEEYYYYY!

Nothing gets the creative juices flowing like the possibilities of a new project. It’s such a buzzing feeling.

Then what happens? You have to go back to your office computer and convince them, through a boring document why you are the best people for the job.

It would be great if you could just convince them through your work, but we all know that’s not viable.

So what do we do, charge a day-rate, put that in a document. Explain the technicalities of what you plan on doing and throw that in there, link them to your portfolio or website and maybe put something about your experience.

You spend ages formatting it, making it look nice and trying to keep it on the fewest number of pages possible.

You finally turn it into a PDF and reluctantly send it, kinda knowing you probably should do better.

You might get the job, you might not but you know deep down it’s not the fool-proof system it could be.

Something new

Today you’re about to experience something new. You’re going to be introduced to some new ways of thinking, new software, new approaches to automating a completely manual process all in the confides of an entirely new format of book.

You’re not just reading words. You’re about to experience a new, engaging and multi-layered way of learning.

At various points throughout the book, we can deep-dive into certain subjects with videos I’ve recorded to further illustrate points in ways you just can’t explain with words.

This is the last of any kind of pre-able or fluff. Everything has been stripped out to leave the raw material. If you’re a slow reader, it might take you 45-minutes to read. For fast readers and amateur speed-readers, you’ll be done in 20-minutes excluding the videos.

Go get yourself a coffee and lets do this.


Most important document in your business

The document you send to your prospects in order to win business is the most important asset your business has.

Employment contracts, your terms and conditions, your partnership agreement. All important documents but technically you could survive without them.

Your proposal document? No chance can you be a serious player in business without a kick-ass proposal document.

It funds everything. It pays staff wages, the bills, the office, growth, your holidays every year, the house you live in and the food you eat.

There is no argument. Your proposal document, be it a Word document you edit each time, a professionally designed PDF or the content inside a web based proposal system like Better Proposals. It reigns supreme as the most important collection of words you have as a business.

You need to view this thing like an asset. How seriously do you treat your investments, your savings or the due diligence when you buy a home?

It’s that serious and that much of an asset. It’s time to start thinking of it like one.

Why send anything at all?

Before we go barrelling into exactly what to write in order to create the ultimate proposal, we first need to look at why you’re even going to send one at all.

When you go to the supermarket to buy bread, they don’t give you a proposal.

When you buy a plane ticket, they don’t give you a proposal either.

So what does sending one actually do? What’s the point? There are two reasons:

1. It’s a chance to answer questions in a single document
2. It’s to give your client something to agree to.

Without sending a proposal you’d have an endless, confusing thread of emails with answers in it and neither you nor your client would have a clue what you’ve both agreed to.

That said, this starts to paint some pictures as to what a proposal really is. Let’s clear up a common misconception. What’s the difference between a quote and a proposal?

Difference between a quote and a proposal

There seem to be three different phrases kicking about, depending on the industry.

  • Tradespeople and printers use the term quote
  • Accountants and the legal industry tend to use the term engagement letter
  • Marketing agencies, consultants and web people tend to use the term proposal.

Here’s the problem. If someone’s after a ‘quote’ what they’re really asking for is a price. I’m sure you’ll agree there’s a lot more to your service than simply being the best price.

That, my friends is exactly why you should never send just a quote. If that’s all you send, it’s all you’ll be judged on.

You might find you don’t have enough information to send a full-blown proposal.

That’s fine. Ask more questions.

If they won’t give you the time then that shows they are price shopping and it’s probably not the client you want.

A proposal doesn’t have to be 40-pages long.

A proposal in my mind is simply you proposing a solution to a client’s problem in a single document.

If it takes 40-pages to include everything you need in order for them to make an informed decision then so-be-it.

The average length of signed proposals in Better Proposals is 8 pages.

If you want to avoid sending just a quote, and don’t want to be going back and forth asking questions, how do you get all the information you need in one go?

Discovery Process with the client

It’s been called many things. A needs analysis, initial meeting, a fact-finding session. I prefer to call it a discovery process.

It’s the process you walk your client through in order to discover the issues they face in their business that you can help them with. I have broken this down into two sections:

Section 1 - “Do I even want to do this job” questions to ask yourself. These would be questions to work out:

• Do we/I have the technical skills to do this?
• Is it the kind of work we want to do?
• Is this the kind of person we want to work with?

Section 2 - “How can we help get this person the best results possible” questions to ask the client:

• What are your goals?
• Where are you now?
• Where do you want to be?
• What does success look like for you?
• How much do you want to spend on this?

You will need to go into a lot more detail in section 2 about your specific client to really work out exactly what you need to know.

My suggestion is to think about a project start-to-finish and detail all the questions you need to ask in order to get to the point where you can complete the job.

You won’t need to ask all of those things up-front but it will allow you to get a deeper understanding of the project far earlier, making your proposal that much better.

All you need at the very least, are the questions you’ll ask each client saved in Notes on your phone and to simply ask each one. This keeps all your discovery sessions consistent and makes the proposal writing part effortless.

How to Create a Discovery Process
Shot at a fancy lake in Saint Nazaire in France

New mindset: The Unasked questions

The questions they never ask to work out if they can trust you to do your thing.

The last thing we need to attend to before walking you through writing your proposal templates is what I call ‘The unasked questions’.

These are the questions your potential client can’t ask through not wanting to be rude or making him or herself look and feel pathetic. Here are some examples:

“What happens if you run off with my money?”
“How do I know you’ll do it how I think you will?”
“What will my boss think of me?”
“Will I lose my money on this?”
“What if it’s wrong and our customers leave us?”
“How do I know these testimonials are real?”
“Is this guy going to be like the last guy?”
“How do I know it’ll be done in time for the event?”

These are genuine concerns but no self-respecting human can bring them up. Sometimes people do. I’ve been asked when we were running our CRM business this…

“What happens if you get hit by a bus or a car and you die and we can’t contact you?”

The guy actually point blank asked me this to my face. He’d not just considered not being able to get hold of me. He’d considered me being dead and even worse, the METHOD in which I died!

So that guy has no problem asking mad questions.

It’s the other 99.9% of the time when someone sits there at home thinking possibly “Is this the right company to deal with or should I go with another company instead?”

You need to address these issues, not head on. Circumvent the issue but still hit the root issue. Here’s an example:

Unasked Question: “What happens if you explode in a ball of flames and I can’t access my data anymore?”

Pre-emptive response:

“Of course, it’s reasonable to wonder what might happen to your data in the event of a disaster. We have two solutions. Firstly, anyone you assign permissions to can download the data from your settings area. In addition, the two co-founders of our company use a service called The Soldier’s Box. It’s a secure way of storing information like passwords and mortgage documents etc. The way it works is by ‘checking’ if you are alive. If you ever don’t respond for a certain period of time, you’re declared dead and your assigned beneficiary will have access. We do this for the safety of your data."

Consider these questions. It’s not about making the whole proposal depressing but you do need to be savvy enough, or more to the point, not deluded enough to consider that these types of questions are real. They need addressing in the proposal somehow.

If you do this effectively you will be seen as transparent, trustworthy, caring, considerate and the type of business who puts the needs and concerns of their clients first.

That is the type of company you’d want to do business with and it’s the kind of company they want to do business with too.

What Dan Kennedy can teach you about proposal writing

A hell of a lot actually. The guy’s a genius!

The world famous copywriter, Dan Kennedy, famously explained how to buy print advertising. The old-school thinking at the time was to buy the biggest ad-space your budget would allow you to buy then think of the copy and the creative to fill the space.

Dan’s thinking was to write the perfect copy and creative first. Once you’ve done that, then buy the sized space that you needed rather than the other way round.

Too many people I’ve spoken with over the years do this the old school way. They think about the branding of their proposal, the imagery and the colours rather than the content first.

This is a content first task. Once we have our copy, then we make it pretty.

That’s exactly what we’re going to work on now. Writing the copy for your proposal.

Part 2, lets go.


The Introduction

Get this right and you can play at an extremely high level. It gives you the chance to put your prices up much higher than you could otherwise.

The most important part of any quote or proposal is the introduction. Most people reading any proposal will assume that the only bits that are custom to them are the introduction and the price. 

It's the part that sells for you when you're not there.

It's the bit that tells them you've understood exactly what they want.

That said, how do you write a brilliant introduction?

Understand their reason for buying.

There will be 1, sometimes 2 reasons they are buying your solution logically. Of course, there is still an emotional decision to be made too but that we'll come to later in the series. 

You need to find out what those reasons are. Are they to increase revenue, improve the perception of the brand, save money, what is it?

You don't just need to be clear what it is, you need to be clear how THEY DESCRIBED IT. What words did they use and in what order. What emotions did they give off? Try asking:

"Look, aside from improving the look of your website, what's the main, real reason you're making this decision?" - If they say:

"Our competitors are crushing us because they can lower their prices and undercut us by miles. We need to be competitive"

That's told you a lot. It says they're worried. There's a lot of fear in that statement. They are worried about their future and they're acting while they still can. Your proposal introduction should say something like:

"The objective is to bring ABCCompany to forefront of the market for [whatever they sell]. You'll be positioned as the market leader and the obvious choice in the eyes of your potential customers. Your competition will be panic buying advertising while we carefully and systematically crush any competing companies with intelligent marketing campaigns. Lastly, the powerful technology we'll set you up with will future-proof your business and make you a force for decades to come"

In there, we've addressed their fears. You're not the company that's going to build their new website. You're the company that's going to help them crush their competition.

Notice there's no mention of Wordpress, responsive design or how beautiful your code is.

You're giving them what they actually want. A website is just the vehicle. 

If we go back 50 years, they'd still have the same problem and you'd still sell the solution in the same way. The difference being you'd be selling them signage or a TV ad or a PR campaign.

Next time you're in a meeting...

Dig deep. Find out what the real drivers are and you'll be able to write a powerful introduction which will get your proposal read like it's a love-letter from Angelina Jolie.

Don't accept anything weak.

"We need a new website" is not a reason.

"But why do you want one".

If they can't come up with a good reason then they're unlikely to spend a good amount of money with you.

The Specification

This is the part of the proposal which will get the most attention along with the introduction and price. It needs to be comprehensive, non-confusing and specific.

In its most simple form, it needs to describe what you are proposing you’ll do for them.

Before you put pen-to-paper you need to define what’s called the ‘benefit lens’. The benefit lens is a ‘lens’ through which you write the specification but with the client's main business drivers interlaced.

I’ll give you an example.

Let’s say you are doing a proposal for a marketing campaign and the company’s main driver for buying is that they want to increase profit. You might be tempted to write something like this:

“Every month we will keep track of your Google Adwords campaigns and make sure they’re performing as well as possible”

Sounds good! It doesn’t address their needs though. Write something like this instead:

“In order to increase the profitability of your company, we keep track of your Google Adwords campaigns to make sure you’re not spending on keywords that aren’t performing. This gets you more quality clicks for your budget and ultimately more sales”

Boom. We’ve addressed their needs, explained our point then given it some logic and tied the two together. Simply saying you’ll increase profit by checking on keyword performance is fine but explaining HOW that affects profit makes it logical.

Now, I know what you’re thinking.

“I’m not doing that for the entire section of the proposal”

Absolutely. That would be awful. It’s simply a lens to filter your writing through. You’ll know when it makes sense to link it back and when not to but getting clear what the benefit lens is first, means you’re in the right frame of mind when writing.

Potential Disputes

Not all relationships end in a fairytale. Some end up going to hell in a hand basket and there’s really nothing you can do to prevent it.

Or is there?

Writing a good specification will go some way to doing a number of things:

1. It means they can ask specific questions in the early going (before they sign)
2. It forms some kind of contract if you fall out or end up in court.
3. If you track your proposals, you can call them out if they don’t read this (meaning they don’t know what they’re buying).

It’s for both of you. Your terms and conditions are for things like payment terms, responsibilities, clauses etc. It’s not for specifics of the job. The spec is.

Avoid Having Disputes with Clients
Shot in Edinburgh, Scotland

Connecting your discovery process to your specification

Now, remember earlier when we spoke about the discovery process? The answers on your discovery process should more or less be your specification. That’s the idea anyway.

You’ll of course need to go over it, put it through your benefit lens but the framework should already be there from the contents of your discovery process.

Get a recent proposal that was a fairly big job that you won. You’ll have detailed a specification somewhere along the way (at least I hope so).

Take the spec and reverse engineer it so you end up with the questions. Here’s a simple way to look at it. What questions would I have had to ask to end up with these as the answers.

Now it’s time to look at the standard content that will be present in most of the proposals you send.

Case Study

I’m of the firm belief that no-one really cares what you’ve done before. They care about the results. Now the only caveat to this would be some sort of home improvement or maybe branding where visuals are 95% of what you're buying.

There’s a reason for buying everything and the real question is, did you give your previous client the value they were after? Using our example from earlier, yes, you set up some Google Adwords campaigns but did you increase the profitability of the company?

Yes, you designed a new website but did the number of leads increase?

The work is only important if it produced the desired result.

This is where case studies come in. Now, they don’t have to be long, unless what you did was super detailed or the company you worked for was a major brand name.

A basic case study just needs to follow these 4 sections:

1. Their problem
2. Solution
3. Result
4. Comment or proof from your client to verify.

This is relatively simple to throw together and in some cases you only really need a sentence or two for each.

You don’t need more than two case studies in each proposal. In most instances, one is enough.

Try to avoid falling into the trap of putting a catalogue of all your best work into the proposal. It’s not a showcase they care about. They already know you can do your job well or they wouldn’t be speaking to you in the first place.

If you can, use video for case studies. There is no requirement for it to be in any way professionally produced but getting a video testimonial from your client is about 30,000 different kinds more awesome than a piece of text. Worst case, get them to call your voicemail and leave a message saying the testimonial then use the audio in a video.

If not, include a picture of their face and put their testimonial near it. You have creative licence to design this nicely.

Remember the ‘unasked questions’ earlier? You need to make them feel that this is the right choice to make. The testimonials need to reflect that and help appeal to how they might be feeling. If you have a particularly good client, maybe lead them with some guidance on the wording of the testimonial.

Once you have your case study, write another one and another. Get yourself a library together of case studies you can drop in to suit the client’s situation. If they’re looking for a re-brand then dropping in a case study about reliable web hosting isn’t really that relevant.

Think about your client. Think about what they’re going through and make choices based on that.

How to write the perfect Case Study
Shot at The Olympic Park in Barcelona

Things you do that are different

Every business does things that are required in order to do the job to a decent standard.

If there are things you do to go over and above that no-one else is doing, you need to shout about them from the rooftops. This is the easiest way to stand out from your competition. If you can't think of anything, as a fallback, think of the things that a lot of businesses in your industry are doing but no-one really mentions and make a point of those.

An example of this would be a building company tidying up after themselves. Few builders say they do this and it’s pretty common for them not to. If you make a point that “it’s your home, you treat it with respect and we’ll treat it with that same respect too” that’s likely to go down well.

The best examples of this are coming up with 3 or 5 (nice round numbers) “Pillars of a successful project”. Let’s use a web design example:

1. Test on the 9 most common devices
2. We’re on-call in the evenings to help you with any content issues in the week leading up to launch
3. We launch over the weekend to give us time to iron out any issues

These are made-up but you hopefully get the idea. Most web designers would probably do those things but by shouting about it in advance, it portrays your business as one that cares and looks after the details.


There are a few absolute no-no’s with this.

1. Do not send your price without checking with someone else that it is 1000% clear exactly what the deal is. You’d be shocked at how easy it is to confuse someone when there’s money involved.
2. Do not put a price without justifying every single penny. Failure to do this will leave you without the job most likely.
3. Don’t just have the price on the page. Include a testimonial saying it was great value for money.

Justifying the price

Really dig into this. Say you’re a search engine optimisation firm and you’re proposing they pay you to get to #1 at £500 each month. That’s probably a fairly big decision for most small companies so how do you make it seem like peanuts. Like this:

"Your desired keyword gets 50,000 searches per month. #1 position in Google gets 60% of the clicks which is 30,000 visitors to your website. You’re converting 1% at the moment into leads which with 30k visitors is 300 leads per month. Your product is £1,000 with a 30% markup. You’re closing 1 in 5 which is 60 additional sales per month times £300 profit per sale which is £18,000 per month in additional profit."

How expensive is £500 a month now?

It’s not even a decision is it? This is a mathematical example but where possible, this is the kind of thing you want to be doing. Anything to do with business improvement should use this kind of logic.

You could do it with conversion rate improvement, time saving, efficiency, money saved on man-hours - anything.


According to our statistics across our customer base, in 61% of cases, the price page is clicked within 3 seconds of landing on the first page of a proposal (typically the introduction).

In almost every other case, it’s the second viewed page.

Knowing that, what can you do differently knowing the first thing they’re going to do is click the ‘Price/Cost/Investment’ tab? My suggestion is to do two things:

1. Include a testimonial stating a metric of improvement “Profit up by 32%” or “Increased conversion from 1.2% to 5.8% on our homepage”.
2. Re-state a shortened version of the introduction. Don’t go mad, just enough to put the price page in context and remind them why they want this.

Now if your client is reading this thinking “Yeah yeah, and if I go with you and I don’t get this result, what’s going to happen to my money?”

That’s what we deal with in this section. Their guarantee.


You have to offer a guarantee of some sort. I walked past an estate agent today, Cubitt and West I think and it said this, “If we don’t adhere to our separate expectations document you’ll only pay 0.75%”.

Now I can only assume standard rates are 1.5% and it’s supposed to be half off but I’m going to call this what it really is.


We are not like this. You’re not like this. We are people. We meet, have a chat about the football, have a laugh and a joke, get down to business and work out if we can help each other. We operate with dignity and morals. If I can’t help you, I don’t want your money. Most people are the same.

That said, at the very least, you should offer a 100% money back guarantee. I know that sounds mad in some cases but it’s so standard you have to offer it really. If you’re still not on-board, answer this.

What does it say about your confidence if you aren’t prepared to offer money back on your work that didn’t do the job? Doesn’t exactly scream self-belief does it?

If you are absolutely dead set on not offering money back. At least offer unlimited revisions or whatever the equivalent might be in order to get it right.

The absolute ideal situation is to create a scenario in which even if they lose, they win.

What I mean by that is creating a situation where if they were to call the guarantee in, they not only get their money back but they get something else too, like an iPad Mini or something for the inconvenience.

I know, I know. Stop freaking out.

If you are concerned about it, maybe it’s an incentive to make sure your ship is watertight, your processes are epic and your work is world-class.

If your work isn’t as good as it needs to be yet, just set clearer expectations and make sure your pricing is in alignment with the value you provide.

Don’t sell an agency style re-brand to someone for £30,000 when you’re going to jump on and give them a clipart logo.

Obviously, that’s going to end as well as sitting with the away fans, cheering your team on at a football match.

Be smart about it and get your value vs pricing in alignment with each other.

If someone does call in the guarantee, sod it. Give them their money back. If you have ever got rid of a toxic client then you'll know it's the best feeling ever. No amount of money is ever worth it. It ruins everything

I think I fired about 12 clients in my years of running a web design agency and I’d do it again every time.

Never put up with bad clients. Nothing promotes bad work like a bad relationship.

Here's a video I shot about how to come up with the perfect guarantee for your business.

How To Devise The Ultimate Guarantee
Shot at the castle at the top of a mountain in Barcelona

Contracts and Terms and Conditions

We had the misfortune of having to take an ex-client to court once.

We also had the absolutely ecstatic feeling of kicking a barrister’s ass all over his home town court room. To put the guy’s character into context, he tried running over the poor fellow that was helping me with the court case.

I’m glad we won!

What we learned was invaluable and can help you make sure you are completely covered.

1. Get your proposal signed

If you don’t get your proposals signed currently you are mad. Click the button on the right, create an account and use Better Proposals to get your contracts signed. Not doing this is leaving you massively open to trouble.

Yes, I know a reply in an email is “legally binding” but let me tell you. It makes any court case, or dispute an absolute disaster. It’s a game of he said/she said, highlighting stuff in emails. It’s a mess. Get your legal documentation out of your inbox.

2. Get good terms and conditions

If you don’t have a contract, get one. If you run a web design agency, ping me an email [] and I’ll send you what we used to use. Tailor it to your needs but it’s got me out of enough scrapes over the years so I know it works.

3. Your specification will save you if you write it properly

When you write your proposal, you do need to be careful not to promise things you can’t control. No promising number 1 rankings in Google for instance. Promising effort with an aim to be number one though. That’s different.

Make sure your spec sets out what you’ll do clearly and in detail. You’ll use this as your reference point when delivering the job. When asking the client to sign it off, you’re not saying “Here, what do you think?”. You’re saying “Here, look, we did this this this this and this. This is the end result, as per the spec you and I both signed”. Big difference.

4. The proposal is a point of reference

If you do genuinely have a miscommunication issue with the client - they thought you were going to build one thing and you are building something else - at least you can bring them back to a single document for the entire project and go through it with them again.

It’ll keep you in check and your client in check.

5. It stops ‘scope creep’

Scope creep is where the client wants to add “just this little thing”. It’s 5-minutes to you so you just do it. What’s the harm right? Well, the harm is, it’s 2 months past the deadline and the dude is still adding “just another little thing”. It’s okay a little bit, but keeping jobs to specification helped us reduce this down by about 90%.


This is my take on how to write proposals, backed up by data provided by the metrics in Better Proposals. You might want to add different things to your proposal.

It goes without saying that everyone will have a different take on things but this is what worked well for us and helped us generate a lot of profitable revenue from website sales and business system sales.

Now let's look at some of the practical elements to getting your proposal created and sent out!


Actually creating your proposal document

There are a couple of main ways of doing this. We recommend you use Better Proposals. You can sign up by clicking the button on the right. That will let you send 2 proposals each month for free and more each month with the paid plans.

If you're not convinced online proposals are the way to go and you want to do it another way, here are three popular but frankly, not very good options:

1. Designing it in Microsoft Word

Now, let's get real, this is only really viable if you don’t want to inspire anyone or ever have positive feedback on a proposal. The formatting tools in Word are awful and it’s pretty clear exactly how you’ve designed it. Even the best designers are going to struggle. At best, it’ll look presentable.

2. Designing it in InDesign

The better option for sure. You have almost complete freedom to design something however you like but the downside is the time it takes to get it right. If you’re not a designer then you’re looking at £500-£1000 to have this done with the design flair and professionalism needed.

3. A combo of both

Create some standard pages, such as a cover perhaps or a back cover then insert them into your Word document. This means you have editing power relatively quickly but with an element of professionalism.

The problem with these methods is none of them are particularly quick nor do they give you consistently amazing design without spending a lot of time or money. Even then, what are you left with?



I’m sure crappy 'E' signal is going to love that! *where’s the sarcastic thumbs up emoji*

4. Use Better Proposals

Web based proposals are for smart business owners who want their proposals to look awesome, function well (even with crappy signal on mobiles) and allow the proposal to be signed off quickly.

Sign up and you’ll be impressed with your decision.

Now, once you have created your proposal, it’s in whatever format you like, be that a PDF or ready to send in Better Proposals, what now?

Send it right? Not so fast.

How to use templates

Most of us use some kind of starting point with any proposal we send. The branding is the same, the company information is the same. The list goes on.

What I don’t think people do is structure this correctly. The have a company template and that’s it.

Experience tells me there’s a better way to do this.

Look at it on 3 levels:

Proposal Layers

Company level:

This is your branding, your company specifics. 99% of this will never change.

Product/Service level:

If you’re selling a website to someone, then you should use your website template. There are many things you could say about your company in a single standard template that would be irrelevant at this point. Cut that out.

If you’re a custom furniture maker, then maybe you’d have one for just making the furniture and another one for people who want it fitted. It’s an entirely different service and should be treated as such.

Client level:

This is where the client specifics go in. Your introduction, your spec, their price, the case study that’s relevant.

Each level gets more specific. You always want to be cutting anything out that isn’t directly convincing your client that you’re the right company for the job.

Creating Your Proposal Template The Right Way
Shot at the top of Marjan in Split, Croatia

The best way to use images

I would encourage you not to use stock photos. They are horrible and cheapen anything they’re attached to.

Instead, get a photographer into the office and take photos of team meetings, having lunch, chatting, sharing work, drawing things, making things.

Those photos are worth so much more because they are real.

Definitely add photos of your work. If you do work on a screen, instead of using a screenshot, have a photo taken of your computer screen with the subject on it. It just looks so much cooler.

Get creative.

Your photos will get attention so don’t make them boring. What’s the more interesting of the below two photos?

Interesting Photos

You see?

So much more interesting to look at. You could argue that you can see the detail in the screenshot clearer but it’s not about being accurate, it’s about making them feel like they are making the right decision.

However you get them to that point is the right way. Another way to do this is by using the fastest growing medium in the world, despite it being one of the oldest.


Using Video

Before we dive into video, let's back up a second. Can we all agree that you’d win more jobs if you went through the proposal personally with each client? You are there, you can answer their questions as they come up and you can convey more emotion, passion and desire to do great work when they can see your face, hear your voice and read you.

Video is the closest thing we have to a face-to-face meeting

One of our customers Kevin Ashcroft at Blinkered records a personal video for each proposal he sends. This might sound crazy to you but his conversion rate is one of the best I’ve seen in the industry.

He’ll record a 1-2 minute piece saying why he wants the job, what value his company is going to provide and why they specifically are the right company for the job. It’s a class move. It screams quality and helps comfort his potential client. It’s another way of explaining he understands their business drivers too.

If you’re not great on camera, don’t worry. You’re not going to be judged on your speaking ability. You’re judged on your ability to care, do the job and understand their needs. If you do that and don’t stumble over your words too much then it’s fine. Remember it’ll only be seen by the client.

3 Ways to Use Video in Your Proposals
Shot in Podstrana in Split, Croatia

That’s not the only use of video though

Case study videos are amazing. You don’t even need the client’s input if you don’t have it. You can just use screenshots if you’re doing website/graphics/digital work but if you’re a flooring company or a furniture company, using video to show detail of your work is so much better than just using pictures.

Video testimonials

If you ever see your clients face-to-face then getting them to record a video testimonial is always going to be worth the effort. They will last you years. Even if you stop working together amicably, in most cases, people will still be happy for you to use it as it helps you.

One of our old CRM clients Ben Stringer at Sussex Academy of Music recorded a testimonial for us 5 years ago. That’s still online and he’s more than happy to have it floating around on the internet if it stands a chance of helping us even though we no longer officially work together.

You obviously can’t put videos into a PDF so if you’re not going to send online proposals then I suppose it was a bit of a waste of time reading that. Too bad ;-)

That wraps up Part 3. Now we’re going to dive in and look at some more advanced ideas.


Right time to send

Like with email marketing, there’s both a good and bad time to send any email to get it opened there and then.

If I want you to open it right now, sending it at 3am is probably a stupid idea. We can all agree on that.

Think about someone’s average work day. You get to work about 8 or 9am. You work hard until about 11. Take a little break, get yourself some coffee *catch up on email* and maybe return a few calls. Then that nicely takes you into lunch and when you come back you have the same kind of pattern until you go home.

There is borderline no point whatsoever sending an email to anyone between 8am - 10:30am. No point at all. It’s going to get missed because they’re busy sorting a million other things out.

Be smart. Send it between 11am and 12pm and you’ll be shocked at the open rates.

Proposals are the same. It's still something in their inbox

Apply that same logic with your proposal. It is something they’ve asked for, so it will get opened but you want it to be opened and have them pay attention not just skip to the price page and close it down.

The number of proposals that are sent from Better Proposals in the evenings is mental. Trust me when I say this, send them mid-morning or mid-afternoon. You might find responses are slightly quicker.

Here’s another way of getting a response quicker.

Sending quickly (within 24h is best, no later than 4 days)

Send the proposal as close to the time they asked for it as possible. On this incredibly scientific graph of ‘Time’ vs ‘Give a crap’, you can clearly see the longer you leave it before you send it the less they care when it gets there.


Ideally, with some of the tips from the discovery process and the templates we’ll talk about shortly, you should be able to get most proposals out within 24 hours. This is long enough for it not to look factory farmed but close enough that everything is super fresh in their mind.

Any longer than 4 days and you are seriously going to struggle.

Do everything in your power to get the proposal to them within 24 hours and I promise you’ll see an uplift in response, speed of their response and most likely an uplift in approvals too.

The Perfect Time to Send Your Proposals
Shot at Krka Waterfalls in Croatia

Proposal Automation

Proposal automation is something you should work towards. Don’t read into the term ‘automation’ too much.

What we’re focussing on here is streamlining as much as we possibly can. If you have to do everything from scratch every time you’ll not only be highly inefficient as a business owner but you’ll be re-inventing the wheel each time.

The common argument from most service businesses is that what they do is custom work and therefore the proposal can’t be automated. I agree, it can’t be completely automated but it can be streamlined. A lot!

Systemising the proposal process

There’s no need to be formatting a document every time. If you have a proper, efficient system in place, getting proposals out the door is fast, streamlined and better than doing them all manually.

If you think about your proposal sending as an automated process with some manual parts, it puts you in the mindset of improving the process by seeing the different stages as individual tasks rather than just having “doing proposals” as a task that takes up half your week.

If you run a busy company then you’ll spend a lot of time working on quotes and proposals. Any time you can save a good chunk of that time, I would suggest is worth taking pains to do that.

The long term gain is worth a tiny amount of effort upfront.

How to use tracking to your advantage

I’ll preface this section by explaining this is only possible by using Better Proposals. That said, if you’ve got this far and you’re still thinking of creating your proposal in Microsoft Word then I really need to consider a career in something other than writing.

Analytics in proposals is a pretty new thing. There are a few ways of doing it but the big question is “What do I do with the information?”.

It really depends. If you’re selling big(ish) ticket items £3,000 upwards, then I’d pay careful attention to the analytics and make a follow-up battle plan based on what they read.

Being smart with your time

You only have a certain number of hours in the day. If you’re going to spend 5 or 10 hours a week chasing business then it would be worth while to spend 8 of those hours on the 4 most interested people and do token effort follow-up with the others.

In Better Proposals, it tells you the following:

• When someone opens your proposal
• When they forward it to someone
• When they download it as a PDF
• When they sign it

The thing is, it doesn’t stop telling you when someone’s opened it. This gives you a seriously good indication about when to put that follow-up call in.

12,000 reasons to track your proposals

True story. We put a proposal together for a £12,000 Business Automation System for a high end furniture company in London. I send the proposal. Radio silence. A month later I get an email saying “We’re putting the project on hold”.

17 MONTHS LATER I get a notification saying she’s opened the proposal.


A day later (I didn’t want it to look too creepy) I pop her an email saying I was in a Hilton recently and I saw one of her lights in there and it reminded me of her and thought I’d say hi.

She replies immediately and asks to pick the project back up and apologises for not going ahead before. Boom.

Would she have contacted me anyway? Maybe. Who knows, but this put me in control, not leaving things up to chance.

You’ll have this same power and control.

Now, knowing when to follow up is all well and good but knowing what to say is always tricky without sounding boring so here are some creative ideas.

Following up with precision, class and minimal effort.

So you’ve spent hours on the thing, you triple check everything and finally you hit send.



We’ve all been there. Now with your analytics you can at least tell if they’ve opened it and what they’ve looked at. It doesn’t change the fact that they haven’t replied to you but now the ball is in your court.

If someone opens and just looks at the price, you’ll follow up differently than if they opened it, printed it, forwarded it to everyone and read every page in detail.

At least if you don’t get that job, you’ve lost it on merit (or lack of), not because someone has judged you on price alone.

So, if you open your analytics and see if they have just looked at your price and not looked at much else, here’s what I’d do.

I’d wait a day, then send them a case study about someone who has made money, saved money, gained leads or whatever and equate it back to your price being a good deal.

Remember earlier in Part 2 we talked about justifying your price? If you did that well you might not be in this mess but seeing as you are, you need to backtrack.

You’re doing the business equivalent of walking up to a hot girl, saying ‘Hi’ in a really awful way, muttering and stumbling over your words then when she walks off, confidently shouting “Hey wait! That was awful, I’m sorry. Come back!”.

This case study can be titled “How to increase profit with a simple money-saving trick” or some equally attention-grabbing headline but inside it is the story of one of your customers saving money with… Yep, you guessed it, the exact thing in their proposal.

Now, if your potential client opens your proposal and gives it a good read, maybe forwards it and opens it on a couple of occasions then you know they are considerably more interested.

You don’t need to be as aggressive but you do want to put more effort into this person. Here are some ideas:

Results in advance

A term coined by Frank Kern. This is the idea of giving someone the easiest to implement 20% of your product or service to demonstrate that you know your stuff. The idea is to get them thinking “Shit, if this is the stuff they’re giving away for free, how good must their paid stuff be?”

In some cases this is not possible at all. You can’t make someone 20% of a table.

If you are going to do some Pay Per Click marketing for someone then maybe setting up an ad for them, or setting up Google Analytics properly for them would be a great start. Do this free. Just explain you’d rather put more effort into companies like theirs than work on a volume basis. This logic isn’t super tight but it doesn’t matter. As long as it seems logical, you’re all good.

More case studies

These are amazing if they are framed as tips, or lessons. Don’t overcook it and keep them super relevant but they’re great to drop in to keep the conversation moving along.

I forgot to include the guarantee

If you’ve put effort into your guarantee and come up with something incredible then this will work amazingly well for triggering non-responses. A basic money back guarantee won’t work here but something that fits into that “Even if I lose, I still win” category is what you’re looking for.

When we built custom Business Automation Systems for companies, we would design all the screens with just a 10% deposit which was paid into escrow. We’d then go and demo the proposed system in their offices. If they felt that we hadn’t understood their business then we would go and as long as they emailed through that day, we would happily refund the money.

We were so confident, we’d do nearly a month’s work on the chance that they would continue.

No-one ever took us up on it in 5 years.


This is one of the coolest ways of keeping in touch with someone. Email them introducing them to someone. Now ideally if you have a lead for them then that's the best scenario but introducing them to someone like a media contact or anything that will help them is equally as effective.

Use your network. When everything else is stripped away, it’s the only thing you have.

Try to make your follow-up pure value. You really only want to be sending “We sent you a proposal, what’s going on with it?” type emails weeks or even months down the line. There’s plenty you can do before resorting to that.

Looking forward. Improving your conversion rate

Before now, your proposal either won the job or it didn’t. While that’s still true, you can now analyse which parts of the proposal are pulling for you and which bits aren’t. If you have a page called ‘About us’ and no-one ever clicks it. It’s not helping you so get rid of it.

If your case studies aren’t getting clicked on, then maybe re-name the page to ‘Meet Suzie’ or something more intriguing.

You know about the concept of split testing, right?

Run one piece of marketing against another and see which performs best. Why do we do this for headlines on our homepage but don’t do it for the most important document in our business.

I said earlier in this book to think of your proposal document as an asset. This means you need to continually improve it in order to make it work harder for you.

Treat it with respect, improve it and give it the attention it deserves and it’ll look after you.

It’s important to keep an eye on your conversion rate at the different stages of your sales process, but specifically what your conversion rate is from proposal to sale.

“We get 2 out of 5” is not good enough.

How about this instead:

“Currently we’re at 43% in our last 50 we’ve sent.” Keep track of what that number is and keep working to improve it.

Once you have your conversion rate recorded and kept updated, it gives you something tangible to improve. In Better Proposals, your conversion rate is sitting right there on your Dashboard and is updated constantly.

Closing (continual improvement)

I started this book with this statement.

“The document you send to your prospects in order to win business is the most important asset your business has.”

Having now written this book, I feel even stronger about that statement.

Nothing comes close.

If you’ve got this far through this book then I commend you. Take what you like from it and discard the rest but if I could leave you with one final pearl of wisdom it would be this.

Take proposal creation seriously. Everything you work towards in order to drive traffic to your website, go to boring networking meetings, posting on social media, building a following, sitting in traffic en route to meetings.

All of it is for nothing if when someone says “Great, send me a proposal” you send them a load of rubbish.

It has to be absolute top priority to make your proposals as good as they can be.

We have put our life’s work into finding out why proposals get accepted, ignored or rejected. You now get to benefit from that research and discovery by using the software that has been built around that research and testing. Try it free and only upgrade if you ever need to.

You are welcome to ask me any questions about this book or our company. Just email

Thank you for reading.


PS: Now, you can go and enjoy some coffee and chocolates.

Coffee and Chocolate

A software company that makes it easy for creative agencies to write and send proposals in 15-minutes or less.

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