A Modest Proposal

by Nathan Peretic

9 Reader Comments

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  1. Thanks Nathan! Great article and great things to consider. I’m left with a question I hope the collective ALA wisdom can help answer for me. Proposals are intended to respond to core client needs, not just explain our services. More than being companies or businesses or decision makers, clients are people, and people are trying to process the world at a very basic level. That “how much will it cost?” or “how soon can you finish?” are asked by all potential clients acknowledges this, but then the article goes on to dismiss them as superficial questions. Many will respond to “how much does it cost?” with “how much does a house cost?” but I feel this type of thinking is a disservice to the person behind the role of client. If I’m looking to build a house, I don’t expect the same architect to be designing shacks and mansions. Even when the cost of services is a range rather than a fixed number, when we are crafting messaging for someone else, we are quick to include as much information as possible- up front- to answer anticipated questions for our clients’ clients. When I see web agency sites that claim to know the psychology of online communications, and then fill their pages with self-serving “we” speak and never address the core client (human) concerns (including “how much” and “when”), it starts to seem that the complaining we do about our short-sighted clients is perhaps a bit deflective. Custom work requires custom services and therefore custom pricing, but why don’t we do a better job of communicating the basic elements of our services/project lifecycle early and clearly to our prospective clients? Shouldn’t much of what’s being communicated in the proposal already be clear to clients (a quick review rather than a long-awaited document with answers)? Isn’t “what you get/what’s in it for you” a more compelling question to answer than starting off with “who we are”? and “why we are bidding on this project”? I’d love to know the rationale for the industry’s standard approach to pricing and proposals.
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  2. “Is it any surprise creative professionals cringe when it’s time to put one together?” This is an unfortunate truth for most companies in our industry. It all depends on how your company approaches proposals. I’ve worked at companies where being assigned to a proposal meant you had to work on the proposal in addition to delivering your other client work. Translated: lots of late nights. At our company, we treat proposals like any other creative client work. We break the proposal down into tasks, assign time estimates to those tasks and create milestones. This approach makes the proposal feel like a proper project, as it should. Our proposals have improved a great deal as a result, and people actually look forward to working on them.
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  3. Hi, Amy. I don’t think we’re far apart on how to pricing ought to be communicated to clients. What you suggest—a range—is a fair (and efficient) solution, but it’s also possible that no helpful range can be supplied at the outset. In those instances, we prefer to inform clients what our minimum viable budget is so we can be sure we’re at least talking with someone who is prepared to pay the going rate for professional design and development. We would also agree that much of what is in the proposal ought to be discussed during the process leading up to the proposal delivery—especially conversations about budget and timeline. Those questions are only superficial in the sense that they are often assigned undue weight and answers are requested before the proper context has been established. For more information on pricing, you should absolutely read “Andy Rutledge’s article on calculating hours”:http://www.andyrutledge.com/calculating-hours.php . Finally, we completely agree on the precedence of the “what you get” part of the proposal. I may have given it short shrift in this article by partially burying it at the end of the “What, When, and How Much?” section, but I hope it was clear that from our perspective _who_ you get is at least as important as the particular deliverables you are promised in the proposal. I hope that answers some of your questions, and thanks for kicking things off. I too would love to hear more from others about their approaches to pricing and proposals.
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  4. When I started my business almost ten years ago as a one man show, I stumbled over an article in german from the “Institut für Jungunternehmer”, a spin-off from the university of St. Gallen, Switzerland. I follow their suggested structure ever since and I must say that around 90% of our proposals turn into an assignment. One reason is because agencies of our size (up to 10 noses) mostly just present a one-pager with some numbers on, the other reason is because the suggested structure makes very much sense and is as follows: 1. Starting point
    Describe the clients current situation and their needs why they want to get this project done. Repeat with whom you already where in contact and what where the basic agreements. 2. Clients requests and goals
    Stipulate again what you think the client was asking for, what he wants to achieve with it or what problem it should addess. 3. Your solution
    Describe your solution or product and how exactly it fits every issue raised in #2. 4. Advantages and benefits
    Describe the clients benefit he gets buying your service / product and why your solution is standing out from the crowd. 5. Your strength
    Exactly what Nathan pointed out: Present your company, your profile, your methods, your way of doing things 6. The clients investment
    Don’t say “this cost this and that”. Instead say “with your investment of so and so much we will be able to reach your goal”. That sound more like a partnership. 7. Schedule and next steps
    Suggest or rather nail the client on the next steps to go, so he can just say “off we go then!” Bonus material
    Make a summary: With our solution we address your specific needs — orderly, in time and with full transparency on costs. My proposals usually have a range of 8 to 12 pages. Obviously not all of them are written all over. Sometimes I call it “parrot marketing”, especially in #1 and #2. Repeat what the client said with your own words. It makes him feel that you where listening to him. Plus both of you can validate that you’re talking about the same goals.
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  5. I find that being succinct is the key to our proposals as, as much as I hate to admit it, I don’t think many of our clients ever bothered to read them properly. I think they skim through them, check out the main areas and then look directly at the quote. Ultimately, being incredibly detailed in one’s offerings doesn’t mean much unless you want/can use it as a bat to beat client’s over the head with further down the line to make them toe the line. Probably the most vital and useful part of any proposal - in my opinion - is the way it looks and feels. Shallow I know but presenting the client with something that visually impresses them and represents the quality and style of your business can be tremendously potent.
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  6. I’ve got to say that while proposals can be worthwhile to template and re-use, most times I don’t even make them.  I combine my proposals with contracts.  Why?  Because it makes more sense to do this in one document, and get it all observed and reported on by the client in a limited amount of time and effort. I usually do a confidentiality agreement, proposal for work, timeline, and copyright agreement all in one convenient little document that they sign…. it seems to work well for my company.
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  7. This is a really interesting article. Writing a proposal is something that I haven’t yet come across doing, however is something that I assume one day could be part of my job role.
    It sounds like getting it right is extremely important and time consuming. The part that stood out to me is making your reason clear. I think showing your passion to the client would really help to portray your devotion to the job at hand.
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  8. From the proposals that I have created for prospective clients, getting an idea of the budget beforehand is definitely crucial. Smaller clients often have unrealistically low assumptions on the level of budget that would be required to create a first-class website. I’d rather find this out before spending a huge amount of time writing their proposal. On the flip side, some clients surprise you when they suggest a high budget, which gives you the option of either coming in under budget, or addding in a range of additional functionality to enhance the site. I also agree with one of the previous comments, I couldn’t believe it when a potential client the other day said ‘oh, we didn’t actually read the text we just looked at the pictures!’. Arrrgh!
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  9. As a relatively new developer, I haven’t had to submit any proposals yet, but this article will most definitely be saved and referred back to when required.  Thanks a lot for sharing!
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