The secret to winning more proposals

A team of people working on a new proposal

A common problem for those new to writing proposals is knowing what to actually write. What the hell should you include in a proposal anyway? Too many clients are lost to poorly written proposals and that needs to stop. Today I'm going to tell you the secret(s) to winning more proposals.

The first proposals I ever wrote were based on my assumptions of what a proposal should be. And it took me a long time to learn from my mistakes. Why? Because writing proposals is hard if there’s no one in your corner. You need a friendly nudge in the right direction. However, proposals are a not dark art. Writing a great proposal starts with a few essential elements:

  • The Problem (the pain your client is facing)
  • The Solution (how you’ll solve this pain)
  • The Cost (Katching!)
  • The Outcome (this one is often overlooked. If you can’t promise a better tomorrow to your client, you can forget about closing the deal)

In today’s post I'm going to show you how exactly how to increase your chances of winning your next proposal.

Proposal Introduction

Not everyone agrees on the need for an introduction, but personally I don’t see any reason not to include one. If a prospective client is talking to several service providers it can be a good idea to remind them who you are before jumping straight in (this goes doubly if you’re replying to an RFP). It can also set the tone for the rest of the proposal.

Here’s an example of an introduction:

Our Studio Inc. is a digital agency that puts results above all else. We know a pretty website will only get you so far. If the needle isn’t moving, it’s all for naught. When your business succeeds, so does ours. Some of our happy previous clients include: Nusii, Cabify, InVision, toggl, Weebly, BBVA, Hall and SchoolCraft.

Client Needs

This is where you repeat back to your client everything you learned during the getting-to-know-you period. If you listened carefully you’ll have a good understanding of their needs, making this the easy bit.

Repetition is one of the best ways to show you’ve processed what someone is saying. You can and should repeat what your client has already told you throughout their proposal. It’s one thing to nod your head every now and again but quite another to actively listen. Take notes; look for deeper meaning behind phrases, and watch for tip offs in their language, intonation and emotion. The more actively you listen, the more in tune you’ll be with your client’s needs… and it will show.

Here’s an example of what a Client Needs section might look like:

Your Company Inc. must establish itself as leaders, as the point of reference for online meetings. The current branding and website come up short against the biggest challenge facing Your Company Inc., that of differentiation in a crowded industry:

Immediate Goals:

  • To better express the core values of Your Company Inc.
  • To better communicate the Your Company Inc. service offerings.
  • To inspire clients to buy from Your Company Inc.

2 people at a desk with a laptop and a calculator

Project Objectives

Objectives can be outlined by the client, but be careful, finding out what your client wants might not coincide with their real needs. Simply regurgitating what the client discussed without digging deeper, may leave you open to failure if the true underlying goals aren’t tackled. Make sure you do your homework. Get to the root of the problem Failing here can mean ultimate failure.

Example of a project’s objectives:

Your Company Inc. needs to set itself apart from competitors while maintaining a consistent message. Your Company Inc. is small, nimble and passionate about online meetings and we need that to be at our core.

Given the state of your competitors web sites I think Your Company Inc. has a real opportunity to differentiate itself through world class design, a consistent message and in-house support with people who give a damn.

Current competitor websites are cold and very "business" orientated, but people like to deal with real people. We like to know there’s someone on the other end of the phone and that they genuinely care. I believe that by focusing on the service, the people and the experience behind Your Company Inc. we can create something that will elevate the Your Company Inc. brand to a point of reference for online meetings.

Measures of Success

A website redesign is nothing without a return on investment. Based on our previous discussions I believe that by achieving the following, we can bring Your Company Inc. to the forefront of the market. We intend to:

  • Decrease cart abandonment by X% and subsequently increase revenue by X%
  • Increase average time on site by X% and increase engagement with brand
  • Increase return visitors by X%
  • Increase newsletter drip campaign subscribers by X%

Proposed Solutions

This is the big sell. Forget about technical solutions. Forget about your bogus skillz. Concentrate on how you can really improve the client’s business. It’s unlikely your client will care whether you use JavaScript or Objective C, design in Sketch or Photoshop. They’ll care more about how your solution will affect their bottom line. As corny as it sounds, you need to make it all about a better tomorrow for your client’s business. You don’t necessarily need a separate section for Proposed Solutions, personally I prefer to mix this into the pricing section. And I’ll explain why below…


This is where everyone gets twitchy. Too much, too little, my competitors will undercut me… Stop it. Stop it right now! You beat yourself up over every little decimal point and you end up working for half of what you’re worth.

So what if there was a way to compete with yourself on price? What if there was a win/win available?

Surprise. There is!

Give your client real options by packaging your pricing into bundles (think SaaS app pricing). By bundling your pricing you’re essentially giving your client options, instead of a simple Yes or No choice.

Which of the three packages below do you think offers more value?

  • Package 1 at $1000 which includes ABC
  • Package 2 at $1500 which includes ABCDE
  • Package 3 at $5000 which includes ABCDEFGH

The answer: It doesn’t matter. Any option is a good option for both you and your client. It’s a win/win. If you’d just listed out the costs for a single solution, you’d have limited their choice to “Do I hire Nathan or a cheaper designer”. Packaging your pricing turns the choice into; “Should I buy package 1, 2 or 3 from Nathan?”

You’re effectively making it easier for your client to select an option that fits both their budget and expectations.

To go back to why I don’t always include a separate Proposed Solutions section… See my Pricing examples below. You’ll notice they’re very much an overview. Focus on the value it brings the client. You won’t see any line by line accounts of how much each element will cost. Focus on value, not cost.

Pricing Option 1:

A pretty design is meaningless without great usability, a higher engagement of visitors and an overall increase in revenue. We will undertake a complete evaluation of before putting the figurative pen to paper. In our experience redesigns can be potentially treacherous, they tear down the good the bad and the ugly. Which is why we measure everything. We won’t remove an element that is making you money! By looking at the numbers, seeing what currently works and what doesn’t we’ll be in a solid position to build a website that will hit all of your previously mentioned business goals… and it goes without saying that you won’t lose potential revenue from limiting the visitor’s experience from one device to another (mobile, tablet or desktop).

Pricing Option 2:

This includes everything from Option 1, and will also include setting up and managing a drip email retention campaign. Getting visitors to your website is only one part of the battle. Getting them to stay around long enough to purchase is another altogether… Will they come back?

Drip email campaigns can help potential customers learn about Your Company Inc. and educate them as to how online meetings can save their businesses money. A solid drip email campaign, for both pre and post-purchase customers will add a significant increase in revenue. As mentioned in our “Measures of Success”, we aim to increase signups by X% and subsequent revenue by X%.

Pricing Option 3:

This includes Options 1 & 2, and will also include a 6-month content marketing plan. Having already increased the number of visitors staying on the website, signing up to the drip email campaigns and ultimately purchasing, the only thing left to do is to increase the number of people arriving at your website. Content marketing is an essential strategy that not only works in the short term but will also bring you traffic for years to come. We’ll plan out and write 6 months worth of content for the Your Company Inc. blog. Furthermore we’ll make sure it gets in front of the right people, through redistribution and social marketing. Solid evergreen content will increase overall traffic to your blog by X%. This gives more people the chance to sign up for your drip email campaign and ultimately purchase.

Closing notes (or Next Steps)

Never leave your potential client guessing about what to do next. Ending a proposal with your pricing will feel like a very abrupt end to what has hopefully been an engaging read. If your client needs to perform a specific action to get the project going, tell them what that action is. Here’s an example from a “Next Steps” section:

We require a deposit of $XX to begin your project. You can make this payment by credit card or bank transfer. We have availability to begin this project on [date]. If we start on this day, we expect to see an uptick in revenue by [date+X].

Simply click on the Accept Proposal button to get the ball rolling!

We look forward to working with your team, and hope that this might be a step towards a continued working relationship.

Sincerely, Your Name

In the above example it’s enough to click on the Accept Proposal button because I use Nusii to write my proposals. If you're using more traditional methods, don’t forget to detail out the necessary steps. The clearer you are, the easier you’ll make the transition from potential to new client.

We built Nusii to help speed up this very slow, laborious process. When proposals eat up so many billable hours there’s a real danger of working for peanuts, and that simply can’t happen. So saving your best content as handy snippets, great off the shelf styling, automatic reminders and the ability to create proposals in record time are just some of the advantages of using online proposal software like Nusii.

If you have any questions about your own proposals, big or small leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you ASAP.

Good luck Nathan

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