Calaboration writes new proposals every week; we do have templates and standards that each new proposal hews to but since we tend to do things that don’t scale, unique proposals are extremely worth it.
The easiest way to ensure your proposals will stick out whether you’re bidding on a project or introducing something completely new to an organization is customization. Proposals that are entirely unique to that client and answer all of their individual concerns will always perform better than any generic proposal that is slapped together by heartless software.
A Standard Proposal
You’ve probably seen plenty of proposals without thinking too much of them — standard documents with some pretty colors, and sometimes, images that ultimately conveys value and includes the price at the end. Any standard proposal should go over the key ingredients:
- Why they’re hearing from you at all (their problem)
- Who you are (your company bio)
- What you’re going to do (the solution)
- How you’re going to do it (scope of work)
Any and all proposals should include at least these things. They’re the minimum requirements for any client to effectively make a decision in regards to hiring your firm or not.
Their problem could be the first thing mentioned in the document — after all, they probably are aware of their problem if you got this far in the process. Just to drive the point of their issues, the problem will act as a good reminder of how badly they need you.
Who you are should be less about you and more about the company and what you’re all accomplishing. If you have helped 50 dentists offices in the state increase their traffic by 25% include that in the proposal! This part of the proposal should be short enough to not seem like you’re praising yourself but long enough to leave an impression. Feel free to include a team photo, pic of the office, or whatever else might convey the right kind of culture you’re looking for.
What you’re going to do is, seemingly, the most important part because this is what the client is paying for. If you’re going to overhaul their entire online presence, you should lay out some of the steps you’re going to take so they can look forward to that. If you are going to increase their YouTube subscribers by 200%, you should outline those benchmarks so they’re not caught off guard in a few months when their channel explodes!
This part of the proposal should be used to get the prospect excited and to manage their expectations. You’re not going to get them 1 million likes on their Facebook page — you’re going to build out an attractive page that will organically build to a few thousand over the next few months. Both results are impressive but one is much less impressive when the other is the one expected.
How you’re going to do it is the most important section to you and your firm. The scope of work outlines things you are going to do and maybe some things you’re willing to do. This is essential since all clients will try to get more out of you than you agreed to (if you agreed to anything).
Unless you declare that your websites include 15 pages with one revision, you’ll be going back and forth on the website design and adding pages until the cows come home. Your specifications and outline before you commence any labor is what is going to keep you accountable to what you promised but also prevent the client from coming at you with mountains of new ideas and features that will keep you spinning your wheels forever.
The Cost is probably the main thing your client cares about — I’ve had prospects say to me they didn’t read anything on the proposal except the price; we ended up working together but that still resonates with me to this day.
Outline everything the project includes and price it accordingly — there are ways to shoot yourself in the foot regarding this, though, as well. Itemize and price slightly ambiguously so you don’t show off your actual operations to anyone. You don’t want prospects coming back and saying that one little facet fo the strategy comes out to this amount according to their dissection of the pricing and if they can scale that one part back.
For example, hosting, technical & content updates, and SEO comes out to a few thousand dollars when we write it all out on a proposal. I’m not going to say that blogging is $x and SEO maintenance is $x — I’m going to say that everything as a whole is $xx. This is because The profit margin on blogging might be very different than it is on maintenance but we make money on that difference when they’re all bundled together. You never want someone crafting their perfect pricing a la carte.
Ultimately, you’re including who you are, what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and how much it is costing them on this proposal — again, those are the minimum requirements each proposal should have. You may even find yourself adding a different section for certain customers. Perhaps if you’re creating a website for a cruise ship, you’ll include graphics and stats of other vacation marketing you’ve done.
How to Write a Digital Agency Proposal
Whether it’s your first or thousandth proposal, you’ll have to sit down and start writing at some point. The best time to start writing a proposal is within 24 hours of meeting with the prospect. I say 24 hours because I want you to think about it and start writing about it directly after the meeting but also after you sleep on it for a bit.
The things you may include in the proposal directly after the meeting might not be the same things you actually wish to deliver on or might be things unnecessary that you’re adding out of impulse instead of strategy.
If you’re thinking of your proposal as a sales piece, you will not do well. If you’re thinking of it as a marketing piece, that is just as bad. You should be thinking of your proposal as an extension of you and what you presented the first time you met. You did your marketing when you cold called the prospect. You did your sales when you came in to present your offer. Now you are taking the best facets of you and the company and scribbling them down on paper so they can perceive the right amount of value, hand it off to their partners for them to look at, and conclude that you are the best agency for this job.
Whether you’re the only firm for this job or the prospect has plenty of other companies pitching to them, you should be considering your proposal a bid no matter what. There’s always an option — they may opt to go with another firm, they may opt out of finding a solution for this all together, they may opt to hold you on their string for a year without ever coming to a conclusion at all; this is the worst option!
Since you’ll always want to be pushing for an answer — whether it’s positive or negative — your proposal should be an obvious hand-holding-tool for any prospect to feel comfortable enough coming to a conclusion; any conclusion.
Ultimately, you want your proposal to be written in a way that sells without seeming sales-y while perceiving value you already demonstrated while meeting them. If you haven’t met with anyone — congrats! You’re skipping steps already.
What to Include in Your Agency’s Proposals
Now that you understand the basic requirements for a proposal (intro, problem, scope, and cost) you must integrate something that is unique to your firm.
Entities looking for digital services are going to likely be having multiple agencies bid for it — in this case, you must ensure your proposal sticks out above the rest and that it’s unique to your firm. You can do this by demonstrating past and similar projects that you’ve worked on that would translate beautifully to this prospect.
When Calaboration was bidding on a municipality’s PR management and news site, we outlined how well we did on a previous political campaign and how well we marketed that toward residents. When we demonstrated how many people in town we reached and how engaged they were, that was a huge statistic for a city that was primarily trying to get residents to view their content.
Graphs, charts, and statistics work really well here because it’s piling on the sales in everything you do. If you should be ABCing (always be closing) you must always be selling as well. Selling within the proposal would likely be frowned upon unless you’re adding more value and making the decision easier on whoever is signing on the dotted line.
Things that can spice this section of the proposal up are images of the team, your office, and other things that might differentiate you from the competition.
You should highly consider Calaboration for this project because we’ve worked with law firms in the past. Our staff includes a copywriter who has been in the legal field for half of her adult life and webmasters who specialize in law compliance.
These are things that, true, should’ve been (and hopefully were) mentioned in the initial meetings and presentations — but remember that proposals are a summary of that stuff as well. It’s still your job to sell this service and understand that people who weren’t in those meetings are very likely to see this proposal as well.
Ultimately, ensure your proposals aren’t too fluffy while adding value and making the decision as easy as possible for them. Remember, you’re holding their hand through the sale.
Making Each Proposal Unique
Now that your proposals are demonstrating value, explaining what you’re going to do for them, and includes unique insights into your company, you have one final section to add that’ll make you soar above the competition — listening to your prospect.
Believe it or not, many agency salespeople still fail to fully listen to and embrace what their prospects are telling them. This is because they are so caught up in what they’ve done in the past or how they think they can help, they’re neglecting to address the actual issue that the prospect is actually facing.
If you’re speaking intelligently with a business owner long enough about things that they have no idea, they will eventually scrape their mind for things there are similar and that they need help with.
Perhaps you’re going into a law firm after they asked you about their Twitter presence. You know you can go in there and easily fix that up with a content strategy and proper planning. 20 minutes into the meeting and they’re now bringing up their Facebook page. The poor salesperson will continue to discuss Twitter since that is what they were called in for while the intuitive and nimble salesperson will see that they have more issues than anyone thought and that you should help them in another way than you originally anticipated.
If you let prospects talk enough, they will spill to you all of their issues and how they wish it was being handled. By merely taking all of these points they explained and coming up with the most basic solutions in your proposal, they’ll love you more than anyone else bidding for the deal. This is because you listened and you understood their problem better than anyone else.
We find that the proposals we work on most have the highest probability of success because they’re the ones that were most custom to their individual and unique problems.
How to Address Exactly What the Prospect Needs
Next time you go into a sales meeting or even a more casual coffee with someone, ensure you’re taking the right amount of notes.
Unless you have a very strict outline for what you and this person are going to be discussing, they’re going to think of it as an opportunity for them to dump all they’ve got to someone who can finally restore their faith in this facet of their business.
Use this to your advantage and record every single little thing that they’re having trouble with. If they briefly mention how they don’t have a YouTube channel and often find themselves worried about where they’re going to post their latest testimonial video, copy that down into the proposal and add it as an entire feature of your services.
"We will create and manage the proper Google accounts that include YouTube so all future videos will be immediately posted"
When they see this on the proposal after only mentioning it briefly, they’ll be astounded by the surplus of attention you were paying them while you were speaking and amazed that this is something you cover as well.
The bottom line when it comes to making people happy while they read your proposal is that you just have to listen to them and give them what they want. Not only what they want but what they’re specifically asking for. There is little need to complicate things and add buzzwords that only people in your industry will understand. You’re not there to show off your skills, you’re there to close this client with a perfect proposal.