A proposal is a sales asset.
It's not a formal document.
It's not a brief.
It shouldn't act or sound like one.
The only goal of your proposal is to sell your project.
You do that by:
- Being clear and concise
- Answering all asked questions
- Answering all unanswered questions
- Reiterating your pitch
- Making it crystal-clear you’re all on the same page
A big misunderstanding is your proposal ties a bow on things and seals the deal.
You haven't landed the gig until the client signs on the dotted line.
I'm here to tell you the traditional proposal you think you should create isn't what your clients want to read.
Let me explain.
Imagine you're replacing your roof.
Two different contractors, Roofer Ron and Builder Bill, come out to take a look.
You have similar conversations with both, and they say they'll follow up with a proposal.
Understandably, you know squat about roofing. All you know is you need a new roof.
Roofer Ron sends you a straightforward proposal.
It looks something like this:
Now, it's not a bad proposal.
But, Builder Bill knows a bit more about sales and took the time to get into our mindset.
Take a look at what he put together:
Take a look at what he put together:
Builder Bill took the time to deeply understand what we, the customer, care about. We want our life to stay as normal as possible and for the roof to look good and work. We don't give a rat's ass about shingle material or grout type.
This is the same for your clients.
Remember, they're looking for a freelancer to solve their problem.
Your proposal is all about them and actually has very little to do with you.
I assume most of you aren't roofers, so I'll lay out the sections that go into a proposal you might actually use and some tips to consider.
Don't start with the word “summary.”
The first line someone reads in your proposal should draw them in.
They're probably coming at it in the mindset of skimming, so you need to hook them. And make it about them.
For example, if you're a UX writer redesigning an onboarding flow, a headline could read, “Consider your onboarding drop-off solved.”
Much more enticing than “summary.”
You always want to put the important details in the headline. Don't make people dig for them.
The first paragraph is your opportunity to set the tone for the rest of your pitch.
You need to show that you:
- Understand their problem
- Understand how to solve it
- Will be enjoyable to work with
You don't need to repeat their KPIs verbatim.
Continuing with the UX writer example, your introduction might read like:
How we’ll get the job done
So, you've hooked someone with your introduction.
Now it's time to get more into the nitty-gritty, but not too much.
Again, the potential client wants to feel confident you can solve their problem, but too many specifics can go over their head.
Here, you want to include your timeline and touch on how different phases work toward solving their problem in an effective and efficient way.
Let's take a look at what this UX writer would say:
Notice how this fictitious UX writer didn't dive into lofi and hifi design phases.
Does the CEO of a 3-person startup really know the difference between lofi and hifi, or even care?
If we were sending this proposal to a product design director, that'd be important to include to show we know our stuff.
Remember, you're writing this for a person, and you need to understand their world view.
Don't say “costs” or “fees.”
No one wants to pay for something. But they do want to invest in something.
Here, you want to keep it pretty straightforward. Say your price and shut up.
Don't break down the price too much, because clients can start to nitpick.
And include your standard payment schedule and terms (net 30, etc.,) so they know what to expect.
Again, your proposal is a sales asset.
Don't assume your potential client fully remembers everything from your sales call and your website.
They may not read this proposal word-for-word, so it doesn't hurt to back yourself up.
This section is your opportunity to explain your credibility and why you're the best person for the job.
Make sure it's catered to where this company sits and their position in the market.
For example, if you're sending this proposal to a crypto startup, saying you've done work for fintechs ranging from Coinbase to “stealth startup” shows you understand their industry and their speed.
If you don't have experience in their industry, comment on the size of the company or how you've achieved similar goals in general.
This is also where you should include testimonials and link to your case studies.
It never hurts to thank your potential client for taking the time to read what you put together.
It makes you look human and the whole thing less transactional.
It doesn't have to be long or over the top, and I think signing your name also gives it a nice touch.
And that's your winning proposal.
Writing proposals like this will make you stick out like a sore thumb (in a good way.)
Don’t forget to make sure your proposal matches your personal brand.
Writing proposals that sell takes work and customization, but it literally pays off.
Happy UX writing 🖖