Your proposal — the document that details what you propose to do for a client — is an important marketing tool, but may not be as intimidating as you imagine.
Its objective is to outline your approach and your strategy, plus provide details about your background and experience that’s relevant to the project. But most proposals are too long and filled with too much generic material, conveying heft rather than substance. And while proposals are essential to the selling process, especially if you’re pursuing complex projects from large corporations, designers who shy away from selling tend to use the proposal to do the bulk of the selling for them. But it can’t. That’s not its purpose.
Yes, you need a template for your proposals so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel each time you create one (keep reading and you’ll find an example); but the proposal you submit should be anything but generic. Find out as much as you can from your prospect, then customize your proposal so that it reads like a document written expressly for them. Include as many details and references to conversations you’ve had as you can. Go out of your way to think through the project and let that thought process be reflected in the document. You might even include additional research you’ve done.
Next, think about how your proposal will be used (and if you don’t know, ask). For example, if your contact isn’t the decision-maker, your proposal will probably be used to sell your services up the chain to their management. Those people won’t have spoken to you or met you. They won’t have seen your website. All they have is the proposal. So if you wonder whether to include an idea that was discussed during your conversations or additional samples you showed to your direct contact, go ahead and include them. Make sure your proposal presents the full picture of your services and makes the strongest possible argument for why you’re the best candidate for the project.
At the same time, don’t put too much weight on the proposal itself because there’s more to the process than what’s on paper. What matters more is how well you communicate and follow through, how reliable you are, how you speak to them and how well taken care of they feel, including during the follow-up process.
Allison Manley of Chicago-based design firm Rogue Element Inc. has generously offered to share one of her firm’s winning proposals for a major web design project for a law school. (We thank her sincerely for that. No one else wanted to share.)
Manley emphasizes that this proposal (a response to an RFP) got Rogue Element into the final three firms being considered, but it was the interview that got them the job.
Notes on the Proposal
- The client specifically liked pages 11–12, where they outline their creative process via case studies. “For this particular RFP, they wanted a maximum page count, so we gave abbreviated case studies,” Manley says. “We have since updated our RFPs a bit so our case studies are now fleshed out more comprehensively with Challenge/Solution/Results areas so we can list metrics. Plus, we added some awards we won in our bios, and a communications section that provides more info about the working process and billing procedures.”
- The client asked for the Terms & Conditions, so that’s why they are included. Manley always asks whether they want them included.
- For more from Ilise Benun pick up her Proposal Bundle for Designers: 25 Resources for Project-Winning Proposals. In the new Proposal Bundle, you’ll find 11 actual proposals that you can use as models to create your own template, improve your existing template and/or to customize a specific proposal you’re working on.