Proposal writing is an art form. It’s a combination of psychology, good writing skills, and timing.
These three principles will dictate if your proposals are good, better, or best in terms of hooking the prospect as your client. In the CYLL Network we teach you all about how to find where these people are, but even if we can get you the leads, it only is as good as the proposal you send.
Understanding your client is the #1 most important rule to a good proposal. If you go fishing for Striper, don’t bait your line with flies or worms. Bait it with Bunker (proud dad moment right here).
Here are three common archetypes you’ll run into:
- Prospects who are super busy and stressed
- Prospects who are super new and confused
- Prospects who are super anal and detail oriented
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How can you identify which archetype your prospect is?
The language – How do they outline the scope of the job? It is rambly (a sign of either confused or stressed), is it long and involved (anal and detail oriented), is it filled with digital marketing lingo (not a newbie)?
The response time – Are their emails and PM’s short and curt or do they take a while to get back to you (a sign of busy and stressed), do they talk about money a lot (super new), or do they ask a TON of specific questions (detail oriented)?
The amount of times they mention $$ – Busy and stressed typically want help NOW and are willing to pay, super new prospects are always talking about their modest budget, and the detail oriented ones have a lot of discussion of amounts, contracts, timing, etc.
Once you know, you can tailor your proposal according to the archetype.
Proposals for prospects who are busy, stressed, and not new to the online market
- Talk tangibles
- Keep it short (huge mistake to make your proposal super long for these people)
- Make your correspondence super short
- Try to do your research ahead of time to minimize questions
- Take initiative and show them you can think, not just do
Proposals for prospects who are super new and confused and not sure what kind of help they need
- Talk tangibles
- Don’t be afraid to educate them upfront (about your prices too)
- Take control early on (they need you to know more than them)
- Ask LOTS of questions
- In some cases, you might want to watch the scope of the project and keep it to a min. because these people don’t have a ton of money
Proposals for prospects who are super anal and detail oriented
- Talk about the process you use rather than the tangibles (they already know the tangibles)
- Don’t try to show off your strategy and education
- Take the position of an implementer, not a leader
- Ask LOTS of questions
- Outline your pricing and scope with great amount of detail as related to their job description
I can’t express ENOUGH how important it is to write well…and FORMAT. Big blocks of text will cause your prospects to skim. Use bullets, numbers, and tables as much as possible.
If your prospect values detail, spelling errors, poor formatting, and convoluted language will turn him/her off. If your prospect is super new, your writing FIRST and FOREMOST needs to show that you know the way out of their maze, and you can lead them to a solution. If your prospect is very busy, the worst thing you can do is ramble. Keep it short.
As much as this feels not fair, timing is everything. Speed counts. It counts so much more than you want it to count. With the exception of the super anal and detailed archetype, get a proposal out within 24 hours of speaking to him/her on PM, phone, etc. The detailed prospects are more okay with waiting, if they know it’s going to be comprehensive. Forgetting a detail is a nail in the coffin with these types.
The Anatomy of Writing a Proposal
Before you start, it’s good to know that there are a number of documents that pass between you and the prospect prior to working together. The Proposal is just ONE of those documents.
- Initial Pitch – This could be a Facebook message, post, or email.
- Phone Call/Follow Up – After they see your message and respond, you usually have an exchange over the phone or over PM.
- The PROPOSAL – After that follow up, it’s time to write the proposal. The proposal includes the scope of work, your role, and the price. That’s it!
- The Contract – This is different than the proposal. This is the legalese that dictates how to deal with termination, non-compete, late payments etc.
- The Invoice – This is the document that shows the price and payment schedule.
- The How I Work Doc – This is the document that explains how you operate (what project management software you use, what time you’re in the office, official channels of communication, etc.)
With some programs (like 17hats), it’s easy to send the Proposal, Contract, Invoice, and the How I Work Doc…all in one big packet. If you’re slingin’ it gangster style with Google docs, you can add a quick Table of Contents at the top of the proposal so they can see how it lays out.
IMPORTANT NOTE! The busy and stressed archetype doesn’t want to see ANYTHING other than the proposal. You give them everything and they’ll get annoyed they have to read so much. The newbie or the detailed archetype won’t mind the whole packet at once. The detailed prospect will want EVERYTHING.
Because so many leads DON’T turn into clients, it’s perfectly acceptable to send JUST the proposal, and save the contract, invoice, and How I Work for after the proposal has been accepted. This is truly a judgment call and must be decided on when you are first inquiring with the prospect.
Should the Proposal Seem Negotiable?
When you separate the proposal from the invoice and contract, you send the message that says “This is what I can do for you” without making it seem like there’s no room for negotiation. Now…I don’t mean negotiation on price. I mean…a prospect comes back and says, “Well…can we add this, or remove this…etc.” You want them to feel that freedom. It’ll endear them to you. Adding a bit of text that says…
Based on our conversation, this is the proposal I’ve come up with. If you seem something listed that doesn’t fit with your business goals, let me know and we can hop on a call to make revisions to the proposal before proceeding.”
Things to Include In Your Proposal
- What you’re going to do
- How many hours it’s going to take to do it
- What tools you’ll be using
- When the job begins
- When the job ends
- Strategy you’ll take towards the job*
- How much it’s going to cost
*Leave this out for the detailed people UNLESS they’ve specifically asked for strategy help. Remember, the anal prospect is nervous about delegation. Show them you will follow their lead.
Things to Leave OUT of the Proposal
- Your bio
- Your past experience
- Your testimonials and references
- Your legal contract
- Your How I Work (a.k.a onboarding document)
- Your invoice
As I stated above, these can be included with the proposal when you send it, but taking these out of the proposal itself helps keep the prospect’s mind clear on WHAT you’re offering.
PLEASE UNDERSTAND: There are MULTIPLE ways to do this — so if you’re not following this methodology exactly, don’t stress and freak out. It’s simply my recommendation after 5 years as a freelancer.
The Perfect Proposal for the Super Busy
- Short email with a sentence to start that says, “I’m following up on our _______ to give you a proposal for __________”. Then, include a quick bulleted list of references, and a link to your LinkedIn profile for experience. Don’t clutter the email!
- Attach the Proposal.
- Close the email with, “If this looks good to you, I’ll follow up with a contract, invoice, and how I work document so we can get this show on the road.”
The Perfect Proposal for the Super New
- Email with a sentence to start that says, “I’m following up on our _______ to give you a proposal for __________”. Then, include a quick bulleted list of references, and a link to your LinkedIn profile for experience. Add in a few lines of education about why/how this is the methodology you chose, etc. Reassurance is the name of the game. Remember, as a newbie, they might not know how long things take, or WHY you do what you do.
- Attach the Proposal and How I Work. A newbie will need more explanation as to what it means to work with a freelancer.
- Close the email with, “If this looks good to you, I’ll follow up with a contract and invoice.”
The Perfect Proposal for the Super Anal and Detailed
- Email with a sentence to start that says, “I’m following up on our _______ to give you a proposal for __________”. Then, include a bulleted list of references, and attach your resume or list of experience/testimonials. Add in a few lines about how important communication and workflow is important to you (and how you do this). Assume a posture of implementer with stuff like “Please look over the proposal and send me back whatever questions, details, or revisions might be needed.” Invite them to critique you. They’ll love it!
- Attach the Proposal, Contract, How I Work and not the invoice. A super detailed person will want to go over it with a fine tooth comb before making payment.
- Close the email with, “Once we’ve discussed the proposal and come up with an agreement that’s amenable to both parties, I’ll get an invoice and payment schedule set up.”
Happy Proposal Writing!
In CYLL, we have templates for everything, and more are added constantly. This alone is worth the cost of one month in our membership! 🙂