The average client looks at 15+ design proposals before deciding who to go with. If it’s a large website design project (contracts worth over $15,000+) that goes up to 30-40 proposals. This is why every serious design company needs to invest in a great proposal template that will actually help your company stand out. Investing hours in creating each proposal you send is unrealistic. So how do you create a great proposal template that lands you clients?
Note: this proposal statistics referenced above and throughout the rest of the post come from in-house data collected via Folyo’s Design RFP Newsletter.
And guess what? We’ve found that 90% of all design proposals never see the light of day. They are instantly discarded by the client because of 3-5 common errors. Simply avoiding those errors (and making a few strategic decisions outlined below) will ensure your company creates a persuasive design proposal template that helps you win more projects.
Before Designing a Proposal Template
Sending a persuasive design proposal starts before you ever open up your proposal document.
Before you even start to work on your proposal, you need to decide on a few things. Here are just a small number of questions you should consider:
- What is your pay rate?
- What are your terms and conditions?
- What does your work process look like?
Again, this is just a start. But I’ve found answering basic decisions about how your company operates is crucial to sending a good proposal – because if you don’t have a vision for how your company works, you can’t sell that vision to clients. Instead you’ll come off shaky and unconfident whenever it’s time to talk about logistics.
This is exactly how a large number of design proposals I come across present themselves. They haven’t taken the time to establish a process, and therefore lack the confidence and professionalism to make clients comfortable.
Remember, a proposal will not only determine whether you win a project, but also how much money you make, how you work, and what the client is expecting.
So it’s important to invest in your company’s vision, standards, and processes. For more on this, I recommend the book Traction by Gino Wickman.
Only when you figure out and decide what your company stands for, can you truly prove you’re the best option for the job in your proposal. Because until then you don’t know if you are.
If you want success, figure out the price, then pay it. It sounds trivial and obvious, but if you unpack the idea it has extraordinary power … Wishing starts in the mind and generally stays there. When you decide … it means you acknowledge the price and you’re willing to pay it. – Scott Adams, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big
For you, this might mean deciding your pay rate on website redesign projects is $15,000. Making this decisions comes with a cost. It is saying no to $10,000 projects. Are you willing to pay it? If not, then you haven’t decided.
And it goes beyond just your rate too. Choosing how you work (with a fine level of detail) regardless of what client is in front of you, is a super power. I cover how to create systems and document processes in detail inside of Endless Clients, a training program on finding high-value work for small design shops. It’s currently closed but you can sign up and get access once we open back up.
Read the Project Brief
Once you have your company’s terms and processes in place (again check out Gino Wickman’s book Traction for more on that), the process of writing a proposal can begin.
Why start here? Because a project brief or job description will outline exactly what the client is looking for and what the budget is – in their own words.
This is a gold-mine. Client’s often discuss what problems they have encountered, and what solutions have been tried and more. You want to know these things, you will use them later when we create the proposal.
So as you thoroughly read the project brief, copy and paste as much of the relevant quotes into a blank document as possible. In particular, highlight any area where the client mentions their pains, hopes, fears, and dreams.
- You or someone on your team should read the post thoroughly and make note of any special instructions to be sure you hit all of the client’s requirements.
Remember, the client will most likely receive a ton of proposals. They will likely use any excuse to remove yours from the pile. Make sure you don’t give them one by failing to include a requirement.
Once you have a list of everything that needs to be included in your proposal, as well as quotes from your future client’s mouth about the solution they desire, you’re ready to move on to the next step.
If you have to read the every project description anyway, what’s the point of a proposal template?
It’s true that reading through a client’s post can be time-consuming. But these are five and sometimes even six-figure contracts. There are areas we can automate for sure (and the rest of this post is mostly dedicated to that) however nothing will replace the advantage that reading and digesting the entire project brief yourself will bring.
If it isn’t worth it for you to do this part yourself, hire someone to help.
After you read 5-10 project briefs you’ll start to notice something:
Yes, almost all RFPs and design project solicitations are 80% identical.
Almost 100% ask for the same 5-10 requirements. Not only will you be able to take note of the recurring themes and challenges your client’s face – you can create these recurring elements once and re-use them again and again.
So look for patterns in the briefs you review, don’t skip this important market research.
A note on emails:
Before we continue, I should mention, your initial email (and your follow up strategy) is absolutely critical to a winning design proposal.
A lot of shops make the mistake of thinking that a persuasive proposal equals great copywriting or mouth-watering presentations – and while those certainly help – I’ve found the bigger determinant to persuasive proposals is simply not making mistakes… this is true especially in your emails.
Now, I have a whole email swipe file product, but for our purposes in this article you can just internalize 2 key concepts:
- Don’t make your initial email about you – make it about the client.
- Don’t forget to follow-up.
For an in-depth look at how important email really is – and what separates good initial proposal emails and bad ones – here’s a video one documenting the behind-the-scenes email review process of REAL client project:
The Design Proposal Template
With your requirements outline in place, it’s time to start building a great design proposal.
You might be asking, what exactly should I include? The answer: as little as possible. Keep it short and sweet.
Focus on giving the client exactly what they asked for and making each element as awesome as possible.
Well, it isn’t just less work for you (short proposals take less time to create), but it also helps boost the odds that the client will read it.
After all, who wants to sit and read a long proposal, especially when you’ve received so many?
To help, here is a few of the most common elements with real sample templates to use:
Introduction or Cover Letter
This is the most common request from a client. A short letter that introduces you and/or your company. Sometimes clients ask for it’s explicitly and sometimes they don’t. Almost always, you’re going to want to include some sort of introduction in your proposal. The key is to make it not make it about you at all. Instead frame your introduction in terms of what you can help the client do. Here’s a template you can use:
Thanks for your time on the phone the other day. Below I’ve outlined [number] monthly retainer options of increasing complexity for the engagement. The options are incremental, meaning that each includes and builds upon the previous option(s). This will allow you to pick a level that suits the urgency, your level of comfort with risk, and of course, your budget.
When you get a chance, please review and let me know if you have any questions or comments. I’ll touch base with you on Thursday if I haven’t heard back by then.
As you can see, you’re introducing the client to how you work and structure your offer. That’s why it’s important to have standards in place.
Another note, you always want to tell the client what the next step is directly. Don’t leave it up to chance. Tell them exactly what they should do if they want to move forward.
You sell a solution to a client’s problem. A problem statement is your proposal’s opportunity to identify your client’s struggle to deepen their interest. This is often how you “hook” a client into reading your proposal.
This is where reading a client’s project brief becomes a huge advantage. What statements exhibiting the reason / rationale behind the project can you pull directly from your client’s mouth? Do it here.
The Client Co website has been quite successful for you but the codebase, which is at the heart of your business, has become difficult to extend and maintain. For example, at least one potential partner (i.e., Managed Hosting Company) has told you that they’d prefer not to touch the code because it was setup in a non-standard way that doesn’t make sense.
If you don’t have a problem statement you’re confident in, don’t move forward until you do. Re-read the brief, schedule a call with the client, whatever it takes to truly understand their struggle.
And remember, your problem statement might not have its own section. It might go in your cover letter or in your project overview – all that matters is it clearly identifies the key problem your service will solve.
Until you recognize this problem, client’s can’t move on because they won’t be interested in your proposal if they don’t know what they will get out of hiring you. Here are some more elements to think about in you problem statement:
- A description of how things are supposed to be
- An explanation of the problem you see
- Why the problem is important to address
- The impact of the problem on the client’s business or finances
Proposed Solution or Recommendation
The next step is to outline what you’re proposing, in general, and why you’re proposing it.
In other words, you’ll want to discuss what you’ll be doing on the project. More specifically, you’ll provide the objectives for the project, along with deliverables.
Scope of work
In this part of the proposal, you’ll discuss the boundaries around what will and won’t be included in your project. Be specific here.
This can follow a format that includes the following: Deliverables, Timeline, Milestones, Reports.
So, for example, if you were writing a proposal for a writing project, your deliverables might be a list that includes your outline, first draft, second draft, and final draft. Your timeline might include specific dates on which the outline and each draft would be submitted. The milestones might specify what content is completed in various stages. And the reports section might outline how you’ll communicate with your client to keep them informed of your progress.
This is a statement that discusses what the client will get out of working with you. Again, you should identify the problem, along with how you’ll work to resolve it by the end of the project.
Here’s an example of a benefits statement:
My team of writers has more than 20 years of combined experience in creating content for small business clients. We can help you convey your brand’s personality and ideas so that people relate to your products and services in new ways that will generate higher sales by the end of this year.”
Project fee estimate
Before you write your proposal, you’ll need to figure out how much you’ll want to get paid for the work, based on what you need to put into it in terms of hours, labor, and tools and supplies.
This is where you’ll discuss how much the project will cost, and you might even want to separate this into line items that the client can select à la carte.
Sometimes, a project fee might be as simple as your labor. So, for example, if you think a project will take you 10 hours to complete, and you want to be paid $50 per hour, the total cost for the project would be $500.
The harsh reality is that most people don’t really know how to write a proposal. What they usually end up doing is merely submitting estimates. This isn’t the way to win more clients and projects.
While an estimate is focused on price, or what you want to get paid to do the work, a proposal will focus on what the client will get if they hire you. It explains why it’s important to choose you rather than someone else.
Bottom line: if you send a true proposal, you’ll be more effective than 90% of your competition!
The freelance proposal template that’s included in this article is the result of carefully analyzing thousands (yes, thousands!) of RFPs and proposals so I could gather the most effective tips to help you succeed.
Call to action
The call to action is how a client can get started. This should be a simple way that the client will get in touch with you to get the ball rolling.
For example, you might write:
To get started, contact me at [phone number] between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. PST, Monday through Friday.
You can also email me anytime at [email address], and I’ll get back to you promptly.
Terms and conditions
Your terms and conditions should also be included in your proposal. These will outline the following:
- Your payment terms.
- A schedule of fees, taxes, and total fees and expenses, along with a recap of the milestones and total timeframe.
- A schedule of billing that details invoice amounts and when they’ll happen throughout the duration of the project.
- Choose either Full Terms & Conditions or Condensed Terms & Conditions, which include how payments will happen, the refund policy, payment schedule, and payment process.
Let’s say you’re working on a writing project, as we mentioned above in other examples. In that case, your terms and conditions might look something like:
“Fees will be paid from [client’s name] to [your name] via direct bank deposit at the end of each month from [date] to [date]. Each month, [client] will submit a payment of [amount to be paid] to [your name].
After the full project fee has been paid to [your name], all content produced will be given to [client] for use on the [company name] website. [Client] has full rights to the content, and becomes the sole owner upon full payment of the project.
This agreement will become effective when all involved parties have agreed to the terms and provided a signature. This agreement is the only agreement between [your name] and [client] regarding the items in it.”
This is where you and the client provide signatures to agree to start the project.
There should be two signature lines – one for you and one for the client.
A signature line basically looks like this:
Optional or less common proposal requirements
- Work samples – This would include examples of similar work that you’ve done in the past for other clients. Check out our article on work samples to learn more.
- History – This is a brief history of your company and the work you’ve completed. You can include locations, when you started your business, any press or media coverage you’ve received, past clients you’ve worked with, and more.
- Team members – This is where you can introduce the client to the individuals who will be working on the project. It might even include meeting the founder of your company.
- Services and capabilities – This is a list of all of the services that you offer.
- Process and approach – This is a description of how you work, along with your guiding principles.
- Values – This is a description of what you believe in when it comes to your work.
What Are the Must-Haves in Your Proposal?
This is a lot to take in, I know. But, what are the things that you must have in your proposal when you want to keep it simple?
Whether your proposal is just 1 page long or 50 pages long, be sure to answer the following:
- What problem is the client experiencing?
- What would a dream outcome look like for the client?
- How can you produce this outcome?
- Why should a client hire you instead of someone else?
- What should a client do next if they want to move forward?
How to Land More Clients with Proposals
If you want to make sure you can land more clients with your proposals, be sure to do the following:
- Keep them short. A couple of pages is fine.
- Provide multiple options when it comes to solutions you can provide, and how much those solutions will cost.
- Send the proposal sooner to prove that you’re responsive. Within 24 hours is perfect.
- Send more proposals — increase the volume to increase your potential revenue.
Before you submit your proposal, be sure to read through the application instructions carefully. You’ll want to hit all of the client’s requirements to prove that you pay attention to detail.
Then, it’s a matter of creating your proposal by making a document outlining your company’s requirements, before submitting it according to the client’s instructions.
Always remember that the client will probably end up receiving a lot of proposals. They’ll need to pick the best one, so your goal is to make yours outstanding.
What to do next
My next article is going to cover how to find RFPs (requests for proposals). To make sure you get it, sign up for my newsletter using the form at the bottom of this page.
If you don’t want to wait, you can also sign up for the Endless Clients waiting list. It’s my training program on how to find 10+ $10,000 projects and RFPs in less than 30 minutes anytime you want. It’s currently closed but by signing up you’ll get notified when the next spot opens up.
The most important thing is to focus on making it easy to create your proposals. That’s it!
And that’s why this template that I’m sharing with you uses a few common proposal requirements that you can use as a base to work from.
Remember to carefully read through your client’s requirements. Then, remove anything from the template that isn’t relevant to that client’s needs.
In other words, you’ll have a template to start with, but the information that you’ll ultimately include will depend on the specific RFP or client. Always refer to the RFP for the proposal requirements for every specific project you hope to grab.
Here’s a list of the most common requirements that clients expect you to fulfill, and a brief explanation of what they are: