Joey Kirk is a customer of mine who owns a small web design firm in Indianapolis. A few months back he emailed me to tell me he’d won a six-figure project. The company initially issued a Request for Proposal for a Website Design Project and he won it. A little while later we sat down to talk about his winning RFP response and below he’s provided some wonderful examples of what to do to repeat his success.
You can listen to the conversation here:
Like Joey, once you have a systematized process for responding to these RFPs, they can be almost a guaranteed way to add six-figures + to your bottom line. Here’s what an actual winning RFP response looks like:
A Winning Cover Letter
This is one of the most common requests from a project RFP. A cover letter is a short letter that introduces you and/or your company. Sometimes clients ask for it’s explicitly and sometimes they don’t. But almost always, you’re going to want to include some sort of introduction in your proposal.
The key is to make it not all about you. Instead frame your introduction in terms of what you can help the client do.
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.
Remember, you’re introducing the client to how you work and the structure of your offer. It’s important to have an idea of what your processes are.
Another tip to include in your cover letter: always 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.
A Crispy Problem Statement
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
Your 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.”
1. Initial LinkedIn Message
You might be expecting a long, detailed proposal to be what wins you the job, but Joey actually credits something much simpler. Yes, he sent in a bid that had everything requested in the RFP, but something else made the difference.
The key was actually sending a simple Linkedin message after hearing about the project. It was something like this:
Hi my company is interested in submitting an RFP do you have any more information for me?
It doesn’t seem like much, but because Joey took the initiative to send this message, it opened up a dialogue and allowed him to build a much stronger relationship with the client.
2. Simple Follow Ups
Once you’ve opened up a line of communication via Linkedin, next it’s important to use it. That’s exactly what Joey did. He ended up getting additional insider information like when the RFP due date got extended, and why they were looking to do the project in the first place. Details that were not included in the initial RFP.
“Honestly, I was sort of fearful about coming off as pestering but I just wanted to make sure they had me in the back of their mind and knew they could reach out if they needed anything.
I always told them: “if you have any questions please reach out. if I don’t hear from you in the next couple weeks I’m going to reach out.”
This set the expectations on both sides and they’d immediately respond.
I wouldn’t respond every day, because that would be annoying but if you’re waiting and not getting any feedback, it’s perfectly fine to touch base every week or 2.”
3. Staying Connected
Because Joey connected with the client via Linkedin, he learned when they got funding, which had an effect on the client’s their budget amount. Joey also learned the following information outside of the RFP:
- How many responses the RFP director had received in total: just 6.
- The story behind how the project grew into a six-figure project (adding a second site on along the way), much larger than the original RFP specified.
- Why the RFP October deadline got extended: the client had changes in staff and needed more time to review the RFPs.
That information came in handy when it was time to send in his bid because he knew he was close to what they had in mind instead of just making a wild guess.
Another key to winning this RFP for Joey was his persistence despite a long sales cycle. Most agencies drop out or ghost the client once the project starts to go long.
Joey took another approach. He put himself in the clients shoes. He knew that great companies made decisions slowly. He knew that sometimes things changed, and companies got new information.
As such, he stayed professional and responsive.
Even though they delayed the hiring decision from October into November, into December, and finally, into January. Joey made sure to stay in touch every week or 2.
“Communication was incredibly important. Ultimately they made their decision based on how quickly they were able to communicate to questions.
When they had questions about adding a second site to the project, we were able to submit the update bid within a few hours, where as the other companies had taken more than 24 hours.”
Instantaneous communication was important to the client, so providing as much info as possible at the drop of a hat, helped them realize that Joey’s firm would provide excellent service throughout the project.
5. Playing the Odds
The biggest surprise Joey found in the process was that this six-figure project had only received 6 responses total.
You can’t control how many firms reply to an RFP, but you can improve your process with RFP templates and tools, so that you never miss an opportunity.
The best way to do that is to save as much time as possible. My new course Endless Clients, provides exactly that. We teach you how to find 10+ $10,000 RFPs in under 30 minutes whenever you want.
It’s currently closed but if you sign up here you can get a notification when we open up a new spot.
It’s important to put yourself in the right position and signing up here is the best way to get started.
“This six figure contract for our team of three will help sustain our company as we look to continue to grow.
We’re not looking to add designers or engineers so the money that we’ve made from it is going to pay our salaries and saving for a rainy day.
As an agency owner you have your ebbs and flows, and over the past 2 years theres been a lot of valleys… but landing a project of this size really helps us prepare for a better future. It’s helped us calm any stress and fears we had and approach our business calmly.
Without landing this project through Folyo we’d probably be in the same place we were 6 or 8 months ago, stressing to find as many projects to pitch as possible.
This is the biggest project we’ve ever landed on Folyo but I’ve been connected with a number of different people and opportunities to win work. So it’s been incredible.”
RFPs get a bad wrap
There are many good organizations that have to go through an RFP process to hire anyone. And those are good jobs to go after. People who tell you they don’t go after RFPs and people who tell you they don’t have meetings are both lying to you. – Mike Monteiro, Design is a Job
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