How to write winning proposals, again and again

Girl celebrating a big win for her company

In our endless search for the perfect client we inevitably send out a lot of proposals, lots and lots of proposals. But how many of them are winners?

We invest valuable time in writing and designing them, time that we hope will further our careers as designers and help to take us closer to creating the perfect pitch and a winning proposal.

A winning proposal displays the very best we have to offer. It displays our professionalism, our craftsmanship and our commitment to the client. It also demonstrates the benefits and value that we bring to the project. Creating a winning proposal is no easy task, it’s a continual learning curve.

Trial and error play a part in any process, and having systems in place that track our successes and failures will help us to create a better, stronger proposal.

Template is a dirty word

Starting a proposal from scratch is a lengthy process. If you have to create a new one every time you get an enquiry, then you’re going to be in for some pretty long days!

It’s not unusual for designers to cringe when hearing the word “template”, but if we look a little closer at an average work day then I’m sure we’ll see that we use templates in a variety of situations.

When we’re wireframing a new app, do we start off with a blank canvas, or do we pull in a template created at the right size, with guidelines, status bar and tab area?

When creating a landing page, do you start with a blank page or do you open up a predefined document with the appropriate grids, folders and initial fonts setup? It’s very hard not to use templates in some form or other.

We use templates to save time, increase consistency and to eliminate repetitive steps in our workflows.

The proposal template is no different, it helps us to create smarter, more focused and more consistent proposals.

But, don’t forget, templates are a starting point.

Cookie cutter proposals can be spotted a mile off. A client’s pain is unique, and so should our proposals be. A one size fits all approach will rarely wield favorable results.

A template is a basis, a structure that helps us to be consistent. While there may be sections that are common to multiple proposals, content should be written exclusively for each client.

Woman working from a cafe

The basic proposal structure

Creating a proposal template helps us to think about the fundamental elements needed for a winning proposal.

We can usually split a proposal into 5 sections:

  • Introduction to you and your services. (not always necessary)
  • Needs of the client. Show your potential client that you truly understand their problem.
  • Proposed Solutions. Here we shine, we offer precise solutions for specific problems.
  • Costing and Fees. Be clear and concise. Sell yourself on the value you bring to the project. There will always be someone willing to work for less, so don’t compete on price alone.
  • Next steps. Here you can close the proposal and leave the client with a call to action. Leave no doubt as to what their next steps should be. SAY IT LOUD AND CLEAR.

This is of course an initial structure and can be expanded to accommodate larger, more complex projects. Don't be afraid to experiment.

Presenting and managing proposals

A typical process for drafting a proposal might be something like this;

  • Open Word/InDesign/Illustrator
  • Create a template
  • Copy and paste sections
  • Write new sections
  • Create a PDF
  • Write email to client and attach PDF
  • Send email
  • Cross fingers

This is a lengthy process, and not one that most of us particularly enjoy. We have no real way of knowing anything after we hit send. We’re at the mercy of the proposal gods.

Having control over your proposal system is an absolute must. We need to know what’s happening, when it’s happening and if possible, why it’s happening.

  • How long did it take you to write that proposal?
  • How long did it take the client to open it?
  • How long did it take for the client to get back to you?
  • Did you win the contract and why?
  • Did you lose the contract and why?

(As a side note, next time you lose a contract try asking the potential client why you didn't get it? You'll more than likely gain valuable insight into what went wrong and how to correct it for the next.)

While it’s possible to do this manually, it can be taxing and sometimes even detrimental to your approval rating.

Online proposal systems allow you to create, manage and send proposals without even having to open up your applications folder, in fact you won't even need to be on your own computer.

Templates can be created for multiple project types, and commonly used sections will always be at hand. You'll know what’s happening with your proposals at all times and feedback can be immediate through real-time alerts.

Of course online proposals save you money as well.

For example if you charge $50 an hour and it takes you 2.5 hours to write and prepare a proposal, then that proposal has cost you $125. Say you send out four proposals a month and your total time invested in writing proposals will be in the region of $500. That’s a lot of money potentially lost that could be better invested elsewhere.

With an online proposal system you can hope to save at least 50% of that time, reducing the cost by half. $250 can go a long way. Add to this the fact that online proposals have a higher acceptance rating and it would seem like a great option.

Managing proposals with a system that is designed to do just that can leave you free to concentrate on other areas of your business.

I recommend you try my own online proposal system. It's called Nusii and it will save you time and money. It goes without saying that it will also help you to win more proposals! Try it free for 14 days.

Whichever way you choose to work, be thorough. Give yourself a structured system that allows for easy proposal creation, tracking, followup and approval.

If you have any killer proposal tips, something that’s worked for you and puts you ahead of the pack, or even something that’s causing you real pain with your proposals then be sure to drop me a line.

If you'd like to know more about writing better proposals then make sure you download a free copy of my ebook. “Five ways to write better proposals”.

All plans come with a 14-day free trial. Sign up today and see how Nusii can help your business.

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