Proposals. No one likes writing them but they’re often required if you want to win over a new client. I’m going to help you up your proposal game, so you can spend less time writing and more time closing your next deal.
You just wrapped up a great conversation with a potential new client for an ecommerce project, when she utters those wonderful words, “so how do we get started?”
In most cases, the next steps are to send a detailed proposal outlining the project scope and the cost of your services. Now, you could just send an email with some high level pricing, or a boring looking estimate from your invoicing software, but is that really going to help you stand out from the competition?
A well-written, beautifully designed proposal can be a massively powerful tool in your sales arsenal, taking a lead from warm, to hot, to ‘shut up and take my money.’ Ready to get started?
Before you begin
Proposals are typically at the very bottom of your sales funnel, the last step required before the client signs on the dotted line.
While sales is a numbers game, to a certain degree, sending proposals to leads that aren’t qualified will not necessarily result in more sales. Instead of the spray and pray approach, be super targeted about who gets a proposal.
So what makes a lead proposal-worthy?
How to qualify your lead
If you haven’t already created client personas, stop reading this and do it now!
To create a client persona, look through every client you’ve taken on in the last 12 months and circle the best ones — those who returned the most profit and your team enjoyed working with.
What do they all have in common? You should be looking for patterns, like job title, company size, industry, and location. It might be hard to find commonalities among all of those attributes, but generally speaking you should be able to find that your best clients have something in common.
Once you’ve put together your client personas, it will be a lot easier to determine who makes a good lead.
Next, look at the following criteria before starting a proposal with the lead:
- Have they articulated their needs?
- Can you solve their problem?
- Do they show serious interest, or are they just kicking the tires?
- Do they have budget authority or do they need to get approval before buying?Make sure you talk to the person making the decision!
- Is there a sense of urgency to the project? Projects without deadlines take much longer to close, if they ever close at all.
You’ve decided the lead is qualified and are ready to start the proposal. Before doing so, consider the most important thing.
Understand your client’s pain
One of the biggest mistakes I see web design agencies make in their proposals is that they make the proposal all about them instead of their client.
People are inherently self-absorbed. Research has uncovered that when people talk about themselves it triggers the same chemical reaction they experience during sex. While that may not be the kind of “oh, yeah” you’re going for with your proposal, you do want your client to feel like you understand them and aren’t just showboating your design skills.
There’s a difference between a need and a pain. A need gets someone shopping around. A pain moves them to take out their credit card.
Need: “I need an ecommerce site to sell bilge pumps”.
Pain: “Sales are down with my bilge pump business and if I don’t increase sales I’m going to have to downsize next year”.
Need: “I am not happy with my current ecommerce back office and am considering Shopify but I need someone to help me”.
Pain: “I am losing money because my current ecommerce back office is missing one key feature that will solve my problems”
Once you know what’s causing your lead pain, your proposal should constantly reference how you’re going to solve that pain for them.
People make buying decisions with their gut first, and then look for facts to back up how they already feel. So when you’re talking to a new lead, try to dig beneath the surface and learn what really is moving them to talk to you.
You might also like: 5 Questions You Should Ask Your Clients Before Every Web Design Project.
What’s your unique value proposition?
You should already know your unique value proposition and align that with how you’ll solve your client’s pain.
If their pain is syncing data between Shopify and other systems and you specialize in building Shopify add-ons that handle large amounts of data, then consistently reference how you’re about to make their life easier instead of tech jargon around JSON arrays.
People use jargon to make themselves seem smart, but all this does is confuse a potential client and when people are confused it cools down their buying impulse.
Another thing to keep in mind is that there’s a difference between your client’s pain and your client’s customer’s pain.
If you’re addressing your client’s pain, it might involve organizing products better, syncing their inventory, or calculating shipping costs. Your client might also want their customers (think website visitors) to have a better user experience, and to be able to purchase products easier.
Be sure to speak to both your client and their customer in your proposal.
Basic proposal outline
Proposals aren’t rocket science. Most proposals have a fairly common format, and although everyone has their own preference, here’s the general format I follow:
- Intro Letter
- Case Studies
- Scope of Services
- About Us
- Terms and Conditions
Cover pages should be visual with limited text. Include your core value prop (like a tagline), the client name, proposal name, and date. Consider adding the client’s logo for that extra bit of personalization.
2. Intro letter
This should be the most customized part of the proposal. It’s your hand-crafted note to the lead where you reiterate their pain, and why you’re the ideal partner to solve it. Learn more about writing an executive summary for your proposal here.
The approach shows how you’ll solve your client’s problems. Do you have a methodology you’ve refined over the years? This isn’t a detailed scope section, but more a look behind the curtain at how your agency works.
4. Case studies
If your approach is your recipe for success, case studies are a sample tasting. How have you solved this similar type of pain for other clients in the past? Learn more about writing effective case studies for proposals here.
5. Scope of services
The scope section should offer a detailed look at what is and isn’t included in the price. Your fees section should reference the scope section. Be very careful here.
This is where clients tend to look first. I’d recommend calling it “Your investment” to frame it as more a profit centre than a cost centre. There are more pricing tips later in this article.
7. About us
People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. Tell your “why” story here.
Clients like to see who will actually be working on their project. This makes you seem more personable and transparent. All your team section needs is a name, job title, photo and short description of each team member.
9. Terms and conditions
Some companies choose not to include a contract in the proposal but I think it makes signing off more simple and straightforward than having to send a contract after the proposal is accepted.
This is it, your CTA (call-to-action). Make it easy to say yes. Outline what your client needs to do to accept, and include a line with their name and title under it with a “Sign here” button or label.
Sell your niche
You’ve worked hard to dig into Shopify, study the API, and learn Liquid — feel free to brag about how much you live and breath the platform. Show off your listing on the Expert marketplace, and call out those awards and client testimonials.
However, remember you are selling YOU — not just Shopify.
This is your company, your brand. So make it clear that while your deep knowledge of Shopify makes you an ideal choice to partner up with, it’s something else, like your experience in the client’s industry vertical, or your design methodology, etc., that really makes you stand above the rest for this particular project.
You might also like: The Counter-Intuitive Approach to Getting Your First Client.
Make pricing clear and easy to understand
A mistake that a lot of agencies make is that they either show too much pricing detail or not enough.
Saying, “The cost of this project is $X” doesn’t really show the client what it is they’re paying for. At the same time, you wouldn’t want to break the project down into too much minutia. This can bite you when the client wants to take out QA testing to save money, thinking it’s an upsell rather than an essential component of the project.
A good format to follow is to break out the project into three separate pricing tables: Shopify fee, project fee, and optional add-ons.
Here’s an example:
Breaking the project out into separate projects makes it clear and easy to understand. For example, notice how the theme design isn’t broken out into project management, testing, front-end development, or anything else. They are buying it all as one single unit. This approach also leaves room for upsell opportunities.
As you know, design isn’t just about making something look ‘pretty’. Design has purpose. It’s about communicating a message to an intended audience. It’s as much about pragmatism, flow, and semantics as much as it is visual beauty.
Companies make use of great design when it comes to advertising, ecommerce, and other commercial activities where the desired outcome is to get someone to buy, so why do so many proposals look like crap?
Case in point, Google the term “proposal template” and this is what you get:
Ask yourself, do any of these proposals look like I’ve put as much care and attention into it as my agency’s website, or does it look like a Word document my sales guy hacked together using clip art?
So get your designer working on your proposal template! Here’s an example of a well designed proposal to offer you up some inspiration.
Present it personally
Your proposal is written, designed, and spell-checked. Now what?
Here’s where a lot of agencies go wrong — they just send the proposal and hope their client accepts it.
To drastically improve your close rate, I recommend scheduling a conference call with your lead before sending the proposal. Once they’re on the call, send the proposal and walk them through it using screenshare software, like UberConference.
This allows you to guide the lead through the various benefits of hiring your agency instead of having them jump right to the price. If there are any misunderstandings you can address them right away.
At the end of the call, ask them if they have any more questions. If not, tell them you’ll need a decision by a certain date, and give them about a week.
Introducing scarcity is an effective way to push people to make a decision. You don’t want to be left wondering if this proposal will ever close as it sits in your sales pipeline for six months.
Make it easy to say yes
Traditionally, if you were going to send a proposal to a client you’d attach a PDF to an email, hit “send” and call it a day. But then you’re left wondering:
- Did my client get the email?
- Did they download the attachment?
- Did they read the whole thing or jump right to the price?
- Should I follow up? When?
- How do they “accept” the proposal?
In recent years, proposal software has helped thousands of businesses streamline their proposal process. It allows you to save sections of content in a library, slam out proposals in record time, and provide a seamless client viewing/sign-off experience. It also lets you know when your client opens the proposal and where they looked.
Google “proposal software” - there are a number of good platforms to try out and see what works best for you.
Write a great proposal
Proposals don’t have to be a pain in the ass. Take the time to write a great proposal that you can repurpose easily. Use plain language that speaks to the buyer's pain, make pricing clear and easy to understand, and make the viewing and sign-off experience seamless.