The potent power of proposals
I can’t remember the last time I showed my portfolio to a prospect. It’s sitting there in the corner gathering dust. What wins work these days are my proposals. As a matter of fact, if I get to the point of doing a project proposal, nine times out of ten, I’ll land the gig.
For a lot of folks, writing a proposal is often wrought with angst. Where to start? What to include? Don’t sweat it. You’ve come to the right place. I’m going to walk you through the process so you’ll be whipping out potent proposals that close the big deals.
Since many of my readers are graphic designers, the following focuses on a design proposal. But, with a wee bit of adaptation, the basic structure will work for any type of consulting-oriented project.
Before you start putting a proposal together, you’ll need a prospect. To find one of those elusive critters, read through some of my other posts. What you’ll learn should jump start your efforts.
Next, you’ll need to know what kind of information to gather. For instance, I use a fairly detailed questionnaire to gather information for web projects. You can find several questionnaires to jump start your interrogation, on the Resources section at Creative Latitude.
After meeting with your prospect and picking their brain, you’ll want to roll up your sleeves and get the scoop on what the competition’s up to and also get a take on the audience for your project.
Fire up your browser and begin checking out competitive sites and review any material that's been supplied to you by your client. Where are the holes? What's good? What’s bad? Where can you position your client for maximum impact?
If applicable, make some phone calls to vendors and suppliers. Ask their perceptions about your client and some of their competitors. What do they like? What don't they like?
From this you'll start to get a picture of the competitive environment. Write out your findings. If there's stuff the competition's doing better, don't be shy. Tell it like it is. Your client needs to know and you'll have the facts to back it up.
Next, look at the audience. Who are you talking to and what pushes their buttons? You can ask friends, family members and business associates that match the profile for their input and opinions. Cruise the net for forums and discussion groups where your audience may be hanging out.
Oh yeah, the profile. It's a good idea to distill the audience down to a single, albeit fictitious, character. This "person" is the one you'll be persuading (you little devil, you). You'll likely want their demographic info along with any other info you can gather such as color preferences, images that turn their crankshaft, web surfing habits, etc. You get the idea.
Okay, now you've got some ammo to play with and it's time to start playing Shakespeare. Typically, my proposals are divided into 10-13 categories:
1. Executive Summary
2. Current Situation
3. Project Goals
6. Creative & Marketing Strategies
8. Fees & Reimbursements
9. Billing & Schedule
11. Company Overview
Here's the scoop on each.
The Executive Summary is a one or two page overview of the entire proposal. It's also the last part of the proposal you'll write. Clients will usually go here or to the budget first. It's your job to direct where they go and when during the presentation meeting. Flex those bulbous biceps in the meeting and keep control. You don't want to let the cat out of the bag too soon.
This section is ... er ... your client's current situation. It's a recap of why they've called you in. This section will contain stuff like:
Although Client XYZ has a site in place, it is unfinished resulting in a poor visitor experience and erosion of the brand. The key issues are:
- Most links are * not functional
- Overall design is outdated
- Top navigation area takes up too much screen real estate resulting in most content falling "below the fold."
- The splash page (homepage) is unnecessary
- The focus is on the company, rather than fulfilling the needs of the audience
- There are no meta tags in place for search engines to index resulting in poor, if any, search engine rankings
- The homepage is made entirely from graphics. Search engines require text in order to index pages and sites
(The above came from a real live proposal.)
On the heels of the current situation are the project goals. What the heck are you trying to accomplish? Well, this should be a no-brainer. You simply restate what you learned during your initial interview.
This is where any misunderstandings should crop up. It's better to address them now and not when you're 30 hours into the project and find you're totally off-base.
Here's where you're going to regurgitate all the stuff you learned doing your competitive spying ... er ... research. You'll want to document what they're doing poorly as well as where they shine.
This section is pretty much the same as the competition section. Spill your guts about who you're talking to, what's important to them and what motivates them. You'll want to either start or finish with a profile of a typical audience member — the person that reflects the entire audience.
Creative & Marketing Strategies
Here's where you'll strut your stuff — without doing any layouts or other creative work. The idea here is to explain what you plan to do — how you're doing to meet the project goals and make the audience drool, while scaring the heck out of the competition. All this while keeping within the budget and on schedule. Boy, are you good or what?
This is where you explain all the stuff you have to do to make your client the bee's knees in their industry. Detail each and every task you need to handle to get from the beginning to the end. It helps to justify those high fees you’re about to quote.
Fees & Reimbursements
This is the budget. The bottomline. Your meal ticket. List out every task and assign a dollar figure. Pretty straight forward. If you need help, swing over the Resources section at Creative Latitude and download the estimating spreadsheet.
Leave no stones, or tasks, unturned. Remember, the dough is much better off in your bank account than your client’s. They'd just spend it on frivolous stuff like payroll, supplies and such. You'd spend it on meaningful things like a Mazarati, a trip to a balmy South Pacific island, or a Rolling Stones concert. You know ... the important things.
Billing & Schedule
This is the area where you'll lay out the production schedule along with how and when you get da moolah. Be sure to give yourself some breathing room. Always, always, always under-promise and over-deliver. If you do this, you'll always be the knight in shining armor. As a rule of thumb, add 20% to keep yourself covered. Things always take longer than you expect.
You'll want to cover copyright issues here, too. What rights you'll be giving and what you'll retain. This includes a line that says you can use the work in your promotional efforts and include it in your portfolio. Reality check: Just because you did it, doesn't necessarily mean you can show it in all cases.
This is the first cousin to the Executive Summary. It should be a recap of what you're going to do and why your client was utterly brilliant in choosing you over your competition.
Company Overview, Clients & Awards
This final section is where you'll talk about your business' background, who you do work for, awards you've won, etc. It's the final section where you lay it on thick. Here's where all your experience comes to a head and shows the client that you're the right person for the job. You may want to include some current client testimonials to back up your ego-centric ramblings.
And there you have it. Piece of cake, no? Follow this prescription and you'll be whipping out professional proposals that will meet or beat your competition, every time.
Be sure you create a nifty cover and table of contents. Shoot your tome over to Kinkos or similar place and have it coil-bound with a clear cover and vinyl backing. You're potential client will be bowled over and you'll be smilin.'