The Ultimate Guide to Proposals: Stop talking about yourself

Man explaining during a zoom call

When a potential project comes through the door it’s easy to get excited and throw yourself straight into a proposal. You think how much you need this job, how the bills are stacking up and how this will be the last client to ever contact you. The problem with this initial frenzy is that you’re in “I” mode.

You still don’t know enough about the project to talk about anything other than your skills, talents and accomplishments. And you know what? Past a certain point the client couldn’t care less about you, your skills or accomplishments. He cares about himself and his problems. So what do you do, how do you get around this? You stop talking about yourself, and you focus on the client.

It's not me, it's you.

I’m sure at some point you’ve received one those spammy emails from offshore outsourcers. (please note, not all offshore outsourcers work this way :) The ones who offer you every service under the sun. (If you haven’t, check out the redacted version below) As you can see, the focus is entirely on the provider. You never hear about how their service will benefit you. They don't mention how much time you'll save by hiring them, or how much extra money you'll make by outsourcing your projects.

I’ve cut out the majority of this example email, as it was waaay too long to show here:

I am web application Designer having 6+ years of experience in web development and designing. I have worked on various PHP/MYSQL, CMSlike (Wordpress, Joomla) along with creation of modules, plugins, and components. Also have good exposure to theme development and integrations. I can also implement Jquery / AJAX to improve the User Interface of the design. I have worked on the Facebook Apps, Facebook Connect, API Integrations with twitter, FB, Google Maps, Amazon, EBay, etc.


  • Take broad, conceptual ideas and turn them into something useful and valuable
  • PHP, MYSQL, CakePHP, Javascript Expert
  • Worked on PHP, MySQL, Jquery ,Ajax, Dojo and Other Web Technologies.
  • Good Exposure to Open Source products like Joomla,
  • Wordpress,Drupal, Magento, custom CMS, SugarCRM
  • SEO knowledge and experience
  • Good expertise on Photoshop, Illustrator, Flash and DreamWeaver (CS3)
  • Excellent verbal and written communication skills
  • Ability to think at a high level about product strategy and vision

The list was nearly 3 times as long as what's above…

So you might be thinking, "but I need to know everything he’s just told me. It’s important". And while kind of true, he’s gone about it the wrong way.

  1. A: He’s made it all about him… I couldn't care less about him. I care about me.
  2. B: He’s written something that nobody will want to read. It’s an epic email. In short, it’s too long.

Two agency members looking at a proposal

Sorry, no one cares about you

Does that sound a little harsh? I bet it does, but tell me this; what do you care about more, your business or mine? I’m sure you didn’t have to think for too long. It’s a no-brainer, right? So if people only care about their own problems, how do you write a proposal that sells your services?

Make your proposal about your client, not your awesomeness

More often than not clients won't care which technology you use. They won't care whether you're a Photoshop fanatic or a Sketch convert. They won't care whether you use PHP or Ruby. They care about how working with you will benefit them. If there’s no direct correlation between you and a better tomorrow for your client then you can say “Adios.”

How do I measure benefits? I have no idea of the ROI

Benefits don’t always have to be measured in 0’s and 1’s (although it will certainly help). Benefits can be directly or indirectly measurable. If you can’t give a measurable benefit because you don’t deal with data (imagine you're a UI designer and not an A/B tester) then you can talk about perceived benefits. You can talk about potential benefits. You can discuss your reasoning behind certain decisions, such as how a one step opt in will result in higher trial conversions than a two step opt in (merely an example). It doesn't need to be a fixed ROI. Use your knowledge…

Another example of non measurable benefits (i.e. results): Your client has seen that some of the cool kids are using hamburger menus on their desktop sites. He's even cited as an example.

“If they’re doing it then it must be good right, I mean they will have tested that out the wazoo, right?”

While you might not have any solid data to the contrary, you can use your knowledge to save your client money. You know that your client’s target audience is retired military staff. They’re not typically the most up to date with the latest UI trends. You can talk about the confusion these “mobile only” menus would create and how this confusion could cost your client multiple page views, trial signups and ultimately money.

Your knowledge can help your client in ways you may never have considered. It’s part of the reason why the word “Consultant” conjures up images of a consummate professional. A consultant advises, and so do you! Use this knowledge to benefit your client.

Start focusing on your client's needs

It's natural to focus on the "I", after all we're the most important thing in our lives. "My family", "My business", "My needs". But step back for a moment and be mindful that you're selling to someone who's interested in his or her "I".

Stop talking about what you can do and start focusing on what your client needs. Tell them how you'll make them look better at their next board meeting. Tell them how you can double their email signups. Tell them how swapping from Paypal to Gumroad will decrease checkout fall-off and increase revenue by at least X%. Let them know that by working with you their life and business will be better off.

Letting go of the "I" is hard, but you can do it. Be scrupulous.

Incase you missed earlier posts in the series:

Part 1 “What’s a proposal”

Part 2 “Why proposals fail”

Part 3 “Client Interviews”

Part 4 "Full frontal buzzword attack"

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