The Art of Proposals

It's been a long time since I have had to write a proposal. An offer summary.

So I went ahead and consumed all the notes I had on them before writing one. And then I did. And was left with fresh info and notes.

This is a general (probably incomplete) summary.

What is a proposal, really?

Generally the sales process looks more or less like this.

  1. Prospect. Present people with what you can do for them.
  2. If they say 'yes', they become a lead.
  3. Then you sell them.
  4. Then when they say 'yes', you send them a proposal.
  5. If they like it, they send you money, and you work.

Simple stuff. Or is it...?

The Art Of The Proposal

Proposals in business are not unlike proposals in relationships. You're asking for a large commitment. So you better do everything you can do get it.

To write good ones, you need to keep diligent notes. Every conversation you have with your leads. Every phone call and point they bring up.

And then summarize them neatly into one document.

There is a general idea that a proposal should be short. That's a misconception. The proper answer is... it depends.

For every client you might encounter, you'll have to decide whether to write long, short, or not at all.

For instance, if the deliverable is simple and well-understood by both sides, you can get away without one.

If they know more or less what they need, but it's more complex, then it's a good idea to put it as a short summary.

But what if they have no clue?

Let's say, your prospect saw "this will make you money", and they just said 'yes' out of greed, perhaps curiosity.

What then?

Then you need to flex your copywriting muscles. You need to take all the notes you've collected. Then sit down.

Get a nice outline going.

And write a sales letter.

Wait what?

You heard me.

A proposal is nothing more than a sales letter. Yes, they're nurtured better. Yes, they might be ready to buy immediately…

But you need everything on paper for the contract anyway.

And you don't want to have to keep on going back and forth with your lead. Because they will fail to understand or like your proposal. Not everyone, granted, but that's a common occurrence.

When do you really need a proposal?

When you work with pretty much any corporate entity.

The problem is that you're going to be facing multiple decision-makers. And the only way to handle that is by writing about everything.

You need to take your time, and cover everything possible. From the basic assumptions, through deliverables and research, all the way to everything else that you might not even end up doing.

You should spend a lot of time talking about the outcomes you'll bring. Yes, the deliverables are important. However, high-level business is about profits.

Ideally, you'll want to position your design/ branding/ copywriting/ social media/ &c. offer not as the main course.

You want your service to be a done-for-you consultancy add-on.

Consultants get paid more. And they're paid to consult. What is consulting? Little more than taking the time to research your client's problems, and advise them with solutions.

Which is something you're likely already doing. Being helpful is a brilliant asset that cannot be overestimated.

This brings us to another important point.

Price Anchor

I mentioned before that you want to model your proposals after a sales letter. Go into a lot of detail, outline how each part is useful and necessary, etc.

And that's great. But you need to anchor your prices somehow. You can list estimated time spent on each task. You can list the estimated resources you'll need to expend. You can do a lot of things.

The general idea here is that you want to ultimately inflate the perceives size of what you're offering, and minimize the expense.

Yes, you'll cost them $5,738 each month on retainer. But what do you deliver?

Do you spend a ton of time doing research and compiling information? Do you break keyboards with the amount of typing you do?

Do you do interviews and collect video testimonials from relevant people? Do you contact experts to get their opinion on the product?

Do you then transcribe those manually? Do you outsource? Do you have to hire additional people to cover the volume?

Do you use the product yourself? Do you have to buy access to studies?

What are you doing, exactly?

You need to know every part of this. Not on an off-the-top-of-my-head basis, but at least have an entire list written down somewhere.

Lists are indispensable.

Now, if you enjoyed this foray into the world of "let's pretend this isn't sales copy", share it around.

PS. Important Warning

You never want to make things up. Ever.

First, you don't know who'll be reading your proposals. If anyone in the process says you're lying, you've lost the deal.

Second, if anyone talks about how you lie, you're burned and nobody will work with you again.

Third, if you have to lie to get business, you're doing things terribly wrong and should get a normal job.

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