Presenting a proposal can be a nerve-wracking experience. You know your work is great and you know you can give your prospects what they want—but you never know what your proposal is being compared to out there. Most clients are looking at a handful of proposals at once, so you’re likely up against some of your top competitors.
Thus, your proposal needs to push your prospective clients in the right direction so that they can see the full value of your services. In many cases, it’s your first impression which means it has to speak for everything you have to offer—not just your work, but also your client experience. What is it like to work with you? What have you done for similar clients in the past? How will you achieve their vision? All of these questions need to be answered not just adequately, but better than your competitors if you want to seal the deal.
Although you may never see a competitor’s proposal, you can still enhance your own to ensure that it’s doing as much as possible to attract your prospects. Here are a few things that may be missing from your proposal.
A presentation of what they actually want
It’s one thing to throw out ideas, but it’s another to truly capture a client’s vision in your proposal. This signifies to them that you’re actively listening and prepared to meet their expectations. A proposal is the most client-centric document your company can create, so it needs to be about them, not you. Sure, you’ll want to include your credentials and a brief introduction of your company, but clients are looking for that ‘click’ when they realize that you fully understand their needs. They don’t want to feel like just another client, so your proposal needs to show them that their ideas are being heard and represented.
A descriptive way with words
Your choice of words always matter when you’re selling, but they’re particularly important in your proposals. Most of the time, prospects will be reviewing your proposal with direct input from you; you don’t get to clarify any points or answer questions on the spot, so it needs to help them visualize the ideas you have in mind. Get creative and use descriptive language to evoke their imagination. Instead of ‘a vase of red tulips,’ try elaborating with ‘a glass cylinder enveloped in birch bark bursting with scarlet French tulips.’ The first description tells you what it will be, but the second truly paints the picture of what they can expect.
A custom feel
You know when you receive an email that you can just tell is a template? Clients can tell when proposals are all boilerplate, so you need to make it as personalized as possible. Having a framework to start is great for efficiency, but you still need to take the time to make it unique. Start by giving it a creative title that captures the client’s vision; something like “Jack and Jill’s Winter Wonderland Wedding” or “XYZ Company’s Black-Tie Extravaganza” will go much further than a basic title. The same goes when including their names and ideas throughout the rest of the pages—it needs to feel like their vision is laid out on paper.
An organized structure
People have short attention spans and you need to grab their focus from the start. If your proposal winds on for pages without getting to the point or if it’s lacking any order, your potential clients will be left confused and will likely move onto the next one in the pile. Format your document to make use of headings and subheadings to organize your sections, then include a table of contents in the beginning to make it easy to navigate.
A look at your work
In an industry where everything is visual, you need to have some photos in your proposal to show off your work. Add in photos from your portfolio where relevant and, whenever possible, align the photos with the prospect’s expectations. Beautiful wedding photos may not tell a corporate client much about what you can do for them, whereas pictures of an awards gala won’t show an engaged couple you understand their design ideas for the ceremony space.
This one sounds like a no-brainer but you’d be surprised how many proposals are missing a call-to-action with contact information. Even if you end with one, consider including your contact information on every page (perhaps in the footer). In many cases, clients print all of the proposals they receive and you wouldn’t want your great work to get shuffled in with the rest.
A winning proposal is one that showcases your talent and your commitment to a client’s needs. It takes some effort upfront, but it’s well worth the investment as you watch your booking rate rise and welcome new clients onboard. The truth of the matter is that you only get one first impression, so that proposal needs to pop!