The guide to writing killer proposals

by Aaron Beashel 

In the past, proposals were long, boring documents delivered via PDF. Entrepreneurs couldn’t get data on how clients engaged with the document after it was sent. As a result, follow-ups were hit and miss. Unfortunately, some people still deliver proposals in PDF form. I will show you why that is wrong, and a couple other key things.

In short: a proposal is designed to convince a client to hire you. It should be easy to read, persuasive and make it easy for the client to take the next steps. If your proposal doesn’t get read, the client won’t take action, and you won’t get the job. All that time spent putting it together would have been for nothing.

A proposal should answer three questions effectively:

1) “How can you make me more money?”

Every client is looking to make a profitable investment. The higher the potential return, the more likely they are to sign up. However, you shouldn’t make any outrageous claims. Aim to under-promise and over-deliver. This is what builds long term relationships.

Your proposal should emphasise your skills and experience. Seeing is believing. Instead of describing what you can do, showcase it by adding videos to proposals. For instance, you could use Loom (free) to record your screen as you explain how you would execute an SEO strategy. Video, flowcharts and graphics are an excellent way to stand out. Video also enables you to add testimonials and past results. From experience, visuals make a massive difference.

You may want to use a business proposal template tool for creating interactive proposals. When I use this tool, I get notified when a client opens up my proposal. As a result, I can follow up promptly. I also get access to analytics, which gives me some insight on how to tailor my response.

2) “Why should I pick you?”

Your proposal should showcase why you are different to others who offer the same service. This is where good branding comes into play. Besides your proposal, clients consider other factors before signing up. Here are the top ones:

– Clean website design and attractive logo: This suggests the level of professionalism they can expect.

– Communication: If English isn’t your first language, use the free version of Grammarly to check your emails before sending. Moreover, emails should be written in a professional manner. Don’t use Whatsapp speak.

– Pricing: There are several gurus out there who will encourage you to set a high price. But the internet puts you in competition with people all around the world. If you are just starting, portfolio building should be your top priority. This might mean taking projects at a lower rate in the beginning.

3) “What is the next step?”

Clients hire you to solve a problem. Therefore, you should make it easy for them to work with you. This begins at the proposal stage. Show what you will need to get started. Getting everything you need at the very beginning makes life easy for the client.

Clients should trust you to get the job done; however, they also need a way of monitoring progress. Trello is an easy way to showcase progress. Alternatively, you could simply create a Google Sheet and update it with links to deliverables. Showcase how easy it is to work with you and clients will feel more comfortable signing up.

Make your proposal persuasive

Before hitting “send”, there are a few checks you should make. Firstly, use Grammarly to check for errors in structure. After doing so, read your text out loud. This enables you to detect awkward-sounding statements. If it doesn’t sound good out loud, it won’t sound good to the client.

According to Dr. Robert Cialdini, a master of persuasion, the elements of persuasion can be broken down into the following:

1) Authority

We are more likely to believe those who have credentials and who “look the part.” Here are some things you can do to raise your authority.

– Write a small guide about your work and make it freely available.

– Gain industry-specific certifications.

– Clean up your social media and website. Get rid of controversial posts or make them visible to loved ones only. Public images should showcase your work and professionalism.

2) Reciprocity

When someone offers us something for free, we feel obligated to give back. For instance, you could share useful information with leads and current clients. For example, you could create a weekly newsletter with the latest trends in your industry. Not only does this make leads feel compelled to interact, but it showcases your commitment.

3) Liking

Business is all about relationships. Rarely do people transact with individuals they hate. You don’t have to be best friends with clients but should share some common ground. Spend 3 minutes of every meeting having a friendly conversation. This will help you to unravel their passions and desires. You can draw upon this later to make potential clients feel like you have a lot in common.

How to take your proposals from good to extraordinary

A secret to increasing the effectiveness of your proposals begins at the prospecting stage. Most entrepreneurs don’t know who their target client is or how to reach them. They are keen to state how their offering is “for everyone”. As a result, they spend a lot of time and money on marketing which doesn’t hit the mark.

Trying to run a business without a customer avatar is like driving without a sense of destination.

Secondly, a crucial part of winning more proposals lies in your follow up process. Just because a client doesn’t get back to you doesn’t mean they aren’t interested. Sometimes other projects get in the way. As a rule of thumb, send a reminder every week for 3 weeks. If you don’t hear from them, they aren’t interested.

Working for yourself isn’t easy. You don’t get paid just for turning up. You have to promote your business every day in order to keep your leads pipeline full. The proposal is an overlooked part of that process, and nailing it should help you convert more leads into clients.

Image credit: Photo courtesy of Lukas Goumbik.