Time to Show Off
The almighty proposal (or estimate) can be one of the most stressful and time-consuming chores of running your business. Yet it’s a necessary evil: Proposals seal the deal.
A well-constructed proposal will manage a client’s expectations, give you an opportunity to present your fee without having an awkward conversation, and serve as an official agreement in the relationship (however, it doesn’t replace a contract). In other words, it’s a sales tool that will win you business.
Here are four steps to crafting a killer proposal.
Define the Relationship
Start with an introductory meeting so you can get an idea of what they want. Jot down the specifics so you can later demonstrate that you understand. Be sure to really listen — otherwise it could cost you a client.
“I had a potential candidate submit a proposal that wasn't even a fraction as thorough as the initial hour-long meeting we had to discuss my needs and her abilities,” says Julia Ford-Carther, a relationship expert and founder of The Self-Love Formula. “That completely turned me off, especially coming from someone whose role it would be to keep me organized and on task, and thus, be more thorough than even I am.”
Then educate the client on what exactly it is you do. Remember, they’re hiring you as an expert. They can’t do what you do — or, at least, they aren’t as skilled in that area. And even though they’re looking for your services, that doesn’t mean they understand it will benefit their business.
The proposal is a sales document, meaning you should sell yourself. Be clear about how your involvement will directly add to the company’s objectives. Include your strengths and past accomplishments if you feel it necessary. List what the client will receive if they decide to work with you.
A Word on Layout and Design
When it comes to design, the expanse of your proposal depends on what you’re selling and who your client is. In the case of Cristina Fundora, founder of Lilliput Design Studio, a beautiful, one-page estimate is enough to satisfy her clients, who are mainly brides and stationery enthusiasts. “The work is pretty straightforward and needs minimal details other than the design specifications of the product and quantities,” she says.
But if you’re going after a large collaboration — like a brand sponsorship or a book deal — you want to create a more robust presentation. Ford-Carther believes you should meet the client where they are. “Do you get the sense that your client lives by a less-is-more philosophy? Then you probably don't need a massively intricate document with all the bells and whistles,” she says. “Conversely, if your client doesn't retain much understanding of your particular field or skill set, you can use a robust proposal to showcase the whys and hows of your work, and help sell your services.”
As you decide on the layout of your proposal, be sure to include these key elements:
- Client name
- Project title
- A brief summary of the client’s objective
- A list of services you’ll be offering
- Disclaimers or any terms for the agreement
Determine Your Rate
Putting a price tag on your work can be overwhelming. If you don’t yet have set prices, or if you’re creating a custom package, consider calculating how many hours the work will take. For your own reference, add a time allotment to each line item you’re including. (Make sure to delete those numbers before you send the proposal!) Next, come up with your hourly rate. Your rates are your rates, so be honest about what you want to make per hour to make this a worthwhile project. Don’t apologize.
Know that you can work on a sliding scale. I like to categorize my clients into three categories: Well Funded, Opportunity, and Passion. Depending on what category they fall into, my hourly rate will go up or down. Create your own categories and assign an hourly rate to each.
Justifying Your Fee
Once you determine your rate, it’s time to let the client know why you’re charging what you’re charging. You know how time consuming and valuable your work is, but does your potential client have the same understanding? Probably not.
It’s your responsibility to list every single task involved in your service. Imagine you’re writing to a six-year-old who has no idea what you really do. Leave out jargon; use lay terms and mention everything the client will receive. For example, will the contract include any in-person meetings? How many? Be specific where you can.
Lastly, remember to be realistic. There’s nothing worse than over-promising and underpricing. We all get excited to collaborate on interesting projects, but don’t let that cloud your sensibilities. Three weeks, in if you find yourself working 14 hours a day for $10 an hour, you can’t go back and ask for more money (you signed a contract).
Asking for a large sum can be scary. We’ve all been there. “I've accepted substantially lower rates at times because I wanted the job or wanted to include that client in my portfolio,” says Ford-Carther. “But it's never worth it. Now I trust that if there's a huge discrepancy between fee and budget, then the client is simply not a good fit for me, nor am I a good fit for the client.”
Undervaluing your time will ultimately lead to resentment and a bad business relationship. If the client wants to negotiate, welcome them to, but if their number is way different from yours, have the faith that more work (with the right price tag) is just around the corner.