Why Your Proposals Aren't Leading to Deals

Group of colleagues discussing a project

It can be frustrating to send out proposals to clients only to be ignored. You spent hours researching and crafting a perfect pitch. Your spelling was impeccable, your graphics were original and unique. You even went so far as to make your proposal from scratch so it was perfectly tailored to the project.

After a few days of silence, you start second guessing yourself. You think, “

Relax. There’s a bright side to every rejected proposal and that’s a growth period. You have the opportunity to learn from a mistake, refocus, and try again.

Each rejected proposal gets you one step closer to landing the right deal. The key is making the necessary adjustments to fine tune your pitch to perfection.

After taking an analytical look at my failed proposals, I noticed that I committed one or more of the following errors each time. These costly mistakes could be preventing you from closing deals, too.

You haven’t identified their goals

As a freelance web designer, you’ll often see jobs for building or designing websites for clients. But building a website is probably not your client’s only goal. In fact, that may be just the tip of the iceberg.

Clients want more than a simple website, regardless of how sleek or cool it is. The website you build might be used for brand awareness, as a means to promote events and registrations, or even as an e-commerce store. By keeping a larger scope in mind, your goal should be to pitch a project like: increasing sales by making a simpler and more user friendly site or driving more event pre-registrations through a unique website layout that guides visitors to the end goal.

If you don’t understand or haven’t identified the larger picture, your proposal will reflect that. Your pitch may come off vague and your potential client may wonder if you really understand enough to help them given unique situation.

That’s why it’s important to ask your prospect what his or her goals are for this project. You want to dig as deep as you can without taking up too much of their time. Ask questions like: How will this new website help you reach your goals? What key features do you need to meet these goals?

This helps you craft a proposal that is so tailored to the client’s needs, they’ll want to sign immediately.

Remember when we previously discussed the biggest mistake you can make with a proposal in this article? It’s worth mentioning again, which leads me to my next point.

You pitched ideas that you didn’t discuss in person

As a creative freelancer, I know firsthand that ideas can strike anywhere at any time.

New ideas are great. They can take projects to the next level and open up possibilities that expand beyond the original concept. With that said, there is a time and place for ideas.

Pitching new ideas in a proposal is not one of them.

Not only will it be hard for the client to imagine, it may also overwhelm them.

If you have a new concept for a client, pick up the phone or schedule a Skype meeting and introduce the new idea then. If the client agrees, it’s ready to be added to the proposal.

Otherwise, new ideas stay out of your proposals. The proposal is a reiteration of what was discussed in person and solidifies the fee to carry out the services discussed.

You haven’t mentioned previous successes

In my early days, I was always a bit timid when it came to sharing previous successes. I wasn’t sure how to approach them or how to balance tooting my own horn with how I could help in future roles. The end result: I barely mentioned my past accomplishments.

There’s no doubt that this mistake has cost me a few clients.

The trick to balancing previous successes is showing how that success will be applied to the current needs of your client’s project.

For example, let’s say you have a potential client who is looking to design a virtual boutique store. Her goal is to design an easy-to-navigate website that makes shopping convenient and hassle-free.

In your proposal — which you can download a free proposal template here — make sure to mention that the design you’d like to go with helped a previous boutique owner increase conversions by 16% due to your simplistic and clean design.

By casually dropping that you’ve helped someone similar in her situation increase sales by almost 20%, you’ll show two things:

  1. You understand her needs
  2. You have had success in the past helping to fix those needs

This essential acknowledgement showcases your potential value to a client.

Two people reviewing proposals together

You haven’t shown enough value

Now that you’ve shown your client that you’re capable of doing the work they want, how do you make sure they want to hire you? Being the right candidate may not matter if you can’t show your client why your services will bring them value. This could definitely be a mistake that’s costing you deals.

Have you spent time outlining what you are willing to do for a certain fee? Don’t get me wrong, you need to explain your scope of work and how much it will cost, but if your proposal just ends there, you can bet your prospect is looking elsewhere.

Let’s use our boutique website again.

For a certain fee, you are willing to build a website for your client that allows her customers to shop online. If the proposal stops here, your prospect reads: Pay X amount to receive a new website.

Your fee, while well-deserved, may be a significant price tag for a business owner, especially a startup business owner. That’s why it’s important to show them what kind of value your services bring to the table.

You already know to mention that the previous success of your last website job increased sales by 16%. Elaborate further by explaining that the websites you build also act as a digital salesforce. Your websites give the client a web presence that’s working while they sleep. It’s like having a sales employee working at all hours of the day, every day of the year, for free.

Who wouldn’t want to sign up for that?

You oversold the project

Another key component to proposals is sticking to the agreed upon services. If the job calls for a website design, but you also offer search engine optimization services, you should only highlight your great design abilities in your proposal.

By adding additional services to your pitch, you run the risk of overwhelming your prospect with too many options. On top of that, the client will only see the additional dollar signs and may assume you are out of their budget.

Don’t waste your time, or your prospect’s time, by including additional services that expand or deviate from the project’s original scope of work. Those services should be offered after the initial project has been completed.

Your price is out of their budget

The last mistake you could be making has to do with your client’s budget.

In your initial stages, you should be asking questions that help you gauge the amount of money your prospect budgeted for the project. If your prospect mentions that they don’t want to pay more than $300 for a website, but you normally charge a minimum of a $1,000, you don’t want to send them a proposal hoping that they’ll see the value of your work and fork over the additional $700.

Find out your client’s budget early on so you’re not wasting your time or theirs.

You’ll also want to quote out as much as possible prior to getting to the proposal stage. This way there are no surprises once the client has the proposal in hand.

Take notes in your initial stages about the prices you discuss and make sure your proposal reflects those prices. If there’s a change in fees, for example the client added on services, talk to the client about those additional charges before tacking them on to the proposal.

If you end up out of their budget, you most likely won’t have a deal.

Double check each proposal you send out

Before you send out your next proposal, make sure to check this list to see if you’ve made any of these six costly mistakes. These errors are easy to fix and will be worth the time if you sign new clients as a result. And don’t give up; remember that each proposal that you don’t hear back from offers the chance for a fresh approach to the next one.

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