Want More Clients? Follow These 3 Tips to Create Killer Project Proposals
Running an SEO agency? A design consultancy? An engineering firm?
It doesn’t matter what business you’re in, if you’re serving clients and running projects, you need to send project proposals.
A project proposal is a crucial document in the process of winning a deal. Even if it’s not a formal part of the deal process (such as an RFP - Request for Proposal), it moors the project in ground realities and gives structure to the entire negotiation process.
In other words, a proposal turns your broad ideas and vision into specific deliverables, goals, and results.
Most of you reading this likely understand the formal, legal structure of project proposal documents. Even if you don’t, this information is just a Google search away.
What’s harder to figure out is how to frame project proposals to win deals. That’s exactly what I’ll cover in this article. You’ll learn crucial tips on positioning your proposals, justifying the project’s existence, and timing the proposal’s delivery.
Understand Different Proposal Types
Most project proposals fall into one of three categories:
- Formally solicited: These are proposals requested through a formal RFP (Request for Proposal) process or creative brief. An RFP means that the company is actively looking for partners and has fixed formats and criteria for selection.
- Informally solicited: This is when you send a prospect a proposal based on an informal request (say, the prospect asks you to “send some ideas” over). Informally solicited proposals don’t have any fixed formats -- it all depends on your own process and the prospect’s expectations.
- Unsolicited: This is when you send a cold proposal to a prospect. As the term implies, an unsolicited proposal wasn’t requested or even expected. For an unsolicited proposal to be successful, it has to be extremely persuasive.
These are your core “deal winning” project proposals.
But what if you want to renew a contract or extend an existing one to new activities? In such cases, you can send the following proposal-types:
- Renewal: As the name suggests, renewal proposals are sent to existing clients to renew a contract or service agreement.
- Supplementation: With this proposal-type, your objective is to get additional (i.e. supplemental) resources for an existing project.
- Continuation: Have a project that’s going great guns but doesn’t have any fixed start/end terms? In such a situation, you can send a continuation proposal to remind clients of the original terms, objectives, and requirements.
Understanding the differences between these types of proposals is important. What you emphasize in each proposal will vary depending on its purpose and category.
- In renewal and supplementation proposals, emphasize the results you’ve achieved so far and why the business should give you additional resources/contracts.
- In a formally solicited proposal, adherence to the RFP requirements is paramount.
- In informally solicited and unsolicited proposals, focus on your results and case studies for similar clients, specify the exact deliverables you’ll deliver, and your resource requirements.
Keep this in mind and you’ll see a far better response rate for your proposals.
Focus on the Decision Makers
A proposal is, at its heart, a marketing document. And like any marketing activity, it, too, has a specific audience: the decision makers.
These are the people with the authority to approve or reject a proposal. Winning them over is a requirement if you want to win the deal.
For any proposal, you can divide decision makers into three categories:
- Approvers, i.e. the individual with the actual authority to approve a proposal. In small and medium businesses, this is usually the department head and other C-suite execs.
- Influencers, i.e. individuals who can influence the final approver’s choice. These can be outside consultants/advisors or trusted senior position within the business.
- Intermediaries, i.e. individuals who have the power to pass on or reject a proposal to a higher authority. They can’t approve a proposal on their own, but they are the gatekeepers you need to win if you want to get the proposal to the approver.
Which kind of decision makers you target will depend on your target client and the scale/scope of the project. If you’re trying to win a deal with a Fortune 500 client, you’ll likely need to work through several influencers and intermediaries before you can get to the final decision makers.
On the other hand, if you’re contacting a small business, you can address the final decision maker directly.
Regardless of who you target, you always have to keep your audience -- the decision makers -- in mind. Think of it as a marketing exercise. What do your decision makers care about? What are their goals? What do they want to achieve from the project
Image source: Workamajig.com
Remember that a decision maker’s goals will not always be the same as the company’s goals. A business might want to grow customers, but to a decision maker in the IT department, “reducing server outage incidents” might be a higher priority goal.
So when you’re creating your project proposal document, consider the following for each decision maker you target:
- Their position and department in their company
- Projects they’ve approved in the past
- Their personal career goals
- How they make their decisions -- with data or storytelling?
For example, you might have a project that can improve a website’s loading speed and increase website conversion rate (and thus, increase revenue).
If you’re pitching this project to the client’s VP of Sales, you’ll want to highlight the conversion rate increase as a key benefit. To the VP of Technology, you’ll want to highlight the faster loading times.
A proposal might be a formal document, but it doesn’t have to sound like one. Even if you’re writing 200-page proposals in response to a complex RFP, you don’t have to drown it in jargon and legalese.
Remember what I said earlier: a proposal is a marketing document. You have to see it as a persuasion tool, not just a checkmark in a formal process.
What does writing persuasively look like in a project proposal? Follow these tips as a start:
- Catch the reader’s attention early with a punchy statistic, statement, or data point in your opening. Make sure that this data is relevant to your audience (i.e. the decision maker). Think something like “By reducing page load time by 1ms, Acme Corp can make up to $100,000 more in sales this year.”
- Use an eighth grade writing style -- moderately complex sentences that anyone can read. Use the HemingwayApp or Readable to check your writing level.
- Avoid jargon and legalese. If you have to add legal terms, tuck them to the bottom of the proposal. Try to reframe jargon to be more approachable. Say, instead of CTR (click-through rate), use a more descriptive phrase such as “number of clicks per hundred visitors”.
- Use the 1-2-3-4 copywriting formula where you a) identify what you’re selling, b) highlight its benefits, c) your experience and expertise, and d) next steps.
- Attach a dollar value to the problem you’re trying to solve. Decision makers are people who control budgets, and hence, tend to think in terms of the impact on their bottom line. Instead of telling them that you’ll improve their site load time or their conversion rate, tell them how doing so will help them save or make specific amounts of money (something like “by increasing conversion rate by 10%, you can make an extra $20,000 each month”).
One simple trick to improve your proposal persuasiveness is to think of it as an elevator pitch. Try condensing the key value proposition into a one-sentence statement that identifies the what, who and why of the proposal's existence.
For example, you can use this mad libs-style template (borrowed from music PR) and apply it to your proposals:
Far too many proposals are written in the dry, droll manner of legal documents. While you don’t have to turn them into splashy direct-response sales letters, it helps to make them more approachable and pleasurable to read.
Writing great proposals is an essential skill for any service-based business. Whatever you’re selling, you will have to create proposals to pitch it.
Use these three tips to supercharge your project proposals and win more deals.