Writing proposals that win you projects

3 Reasons You Should Be Roadmapping

By Brennan Dunn

Today I wanted to share with you three reasons why you should be mandating Roadmapping with each and every one of your clients.

A quick recap of what Roadmapping is:

Here’s the typical sales cycle for a freelance consultant:

  1. We get a new lead.
  2. We qualify them (by making sure they’re serious about the project and have a budget that we’re willing to bite at.)
  3. We spend some time learning about their project and their goals, with the intent of moving the lead closer to the point of letting us issue a proposal.
  4. We write a proposal.
  5. We send it off and cross our fingers.
  6. Sometimes we have a few more meetings to address any concerns the prospect might have.

Roadmapping changes the usual sales cycle by offering a low cost, low risk productized service as a pre-requisite to doing any project together.

If you’re used to building websites for clients, Roadmapping would have you discussing what you’re building and why the client needs it. It’s a high-level discussion about their business that includes a concrete set of deliverables, like wireframes, workflow mockups, story cards, and the all-important custom Roadmapping report.

Roadmapping allows your clients to get a feel for what it’s like working with you without committing to an expensive and time-intensive engagement. And Roadmapping allows you to deliver early value to clients and ensure that you’re able to do the due diligence required to put together a solid proposal.

Reason #1: Reduce your “Sales Overhead”

I surveyed my list and asked them two questions:

  1. How much time do you spend courting leads? That is, meeting with them about their project, writing a proposal, and any post-proposal meetings that sometimes pop up. The average freelancer spends 3-4 hours per lead. The average freelancer spends 3-4 hours per lead. And they’re not getting paid for this time.
  2. What percentage of your leads turn into paying client projects? The average freelancer closes 25% of the projects they issue proposals for.

Some basic math shows that freelancers tend to spend 14 hours to land a new client.

This is a lot of time, especially when you consider that time is a non-renewable resource. That’s time you could have billed for or spent with your family.

When you preface projects with Roadmapping, you’re getting paid for that time. The time spent learning about a new project and offering consultative input is part of a bigger product that you have for sale.

And because your clients are paying for this consultative access to you, they’re going to value it more. What’s the value of a free meeting? Or a proposal? The answer is they’re worthless.

When you’re framing the discovery process that is probably now something you’re offering for free as a paid consultation, the inherent worth of that consultation skyrockets. How many free ebooks have you downloaded, only to have them collect digital dust in your downloads folder? Now compare that to ebooks you’ve paid for — if you’re like me, the difference is night and day.

Roadmapping allows you to package the consultative and discovery time that typically is offered for free, and allow the time you spend learning about the project to be more valuable because…

  1. You’re incentivized to focus on giving the best possible scope, budget, and timeline assessment that you can. Otherwise, if you’re not getting compensated for this time, you often want to rush through this process just so you can land the project (even if your… slightly optimistic estimate ends up backfiring at the 11th hour.)
  2. Your client perceives the knowledge transfer and resulting diagnosis that you give them as something they’ve bought, rather than an attempt to win their business.

Reason #2: Increase the value of your time

Let’s say you’re working on a new lead and you end up getting into an animated and intensive discussion about their project. You’re coming up with great ideas for them to consider, and you just know that they’re really impressed with what they’re hearing from you.

You know you’ve got this.

So you win the project and go about doing your thing. A few weeks go by and it’s time to invoice your new client.

Development: 25 hours @ $100/hr = $2,500

Design: 15 hours @ $80/hr = $1,200

Meetings / Project Management: 3 hours @ $80/hr = $240

“MEETINGS? What’s this?!?!”

I’ve been burned many times by clients who were insulted that they were charged for things that didn’t involve me typing on my keyboard for them. And, admittedly, I didn’t exactly understand why. After all, attorneys charge people for their time — regardless of what they’re doing. Why should I be any different?

Well, here’s why:

Back when I was attorney-shopping many years ago, I remember the first person I called. The very first thing his secretary asked me was “what’s your address?” I figured this was a formality and they were keying me into their CRM, so I gave it. I ended up talking to the attorney and telling him about what I was planning on doing (opening up my agency’s brick & mortar office) and also chatted about how I was thinking about getting a new contract written. I ended up not actually working with him, but guess what arrived in the mail a few days later?

An invoice.

That lawyer knew his time was valuable, and charged for it. (Granted, I sort of wish he would have told me that I’d be billed for that phone call. I wouldn’t have let it go on so long.)

If you’re not charging for the consultative advice you’re dishing out before they actually become a client, then why should your clients expect to pay for that advice after they become a client?

(On a side note, this is another reason I love either billing by the week or charged a fixed-rate. It removes this problem from ever arising in the first place.)

Reason #3: Roadmapping lands you more paying clients, and they end up paying you more

Finally, to tie everything together, another reason (and probably, the most important reason) that you should be mandating Roadmapping is because it will help you get more clients and get them at a higher rate.

Just take a look at our ever-growing directory of student success stories. Just skimming will show you that Roadmapping has been instrumental in the success of so many consultants.

When the first thing you have to offer a prospective client is a very risky, very expensive, and very time-consuming engagement, many clients naturally want to drag their feet, shop around, and maybe even try to mitigate their risk as much as possible. Next to their time and the opportunity cost of spending a few weeks or months on a project that might end up failing, by paying you less, they’re exposing themselves less. They end up not putting as much on the table. So the natural recourse for many clients is to try to reduce their costs (remember: most of your clients run businesses — they do this stuff for a living.)

What separates you from someone who charges 10x what you do probably has little to do with technical skills.

I’ll bet they aren’t 10x better at whatever it is you do than you are.

But they probably present themselves as lower risk, which makes them a safer horse to bet on.

If you can offer your clients something low risk — a Roadmapping engagement that isn’t going to break the bank or take too much time — the likelihood that they pay your premium rates after successfully going through your Roadmapping process goes through the roof. At that point, they trust you. You know their business. You know what they need, and what they don’t need. You’ve helped them put together the best plan of action that’ll help them get to the end-goal they’re aiming toward.

As an example, I bought a Roadmapping engagement with one of my readers who offers managed YouTube advertising. Hiring him outright would have cost me a few thousand dollars a month and at the time I had no idea if it made sense to even run ads on YouTube. But he offered a Roadmapping product that cost $297, where I’d have the opportunity to meet with him over Skype for an hour and see just how viable running ads would be. I submitted some data to him before our call, and when we met he shared his screen and walked me through a Google spreadsheet that had all my numbers plugged in alongside typical results for YouTube ads (cost-per-click, click-thru rates, etc.) I was able to make an educated decision about whether I should even consider running ads and learn a bit about how awesome Jake is.

Another student, Janelle, helps course creators learn more about their customer base through her services. Like Jake, she offers a quick Skype consultation and provides an actionable report that her clients can use to decide if engaging with Janelle to build out their full course makes sense. When all you have to go on is someone’s ability to write marketing copy and their portfolio, Roadmapping serves as a great way to test the waters.

Decrease risk and the elasticity of what clients will pay goes up. It’s as simple as that.

By giving a prospect who has no relationship with you and has spent $0 on you an opportunity to try you out and get some early guidance at a price point that literally makes Roadmapping an impulse buy for their business, you’re going to get more prospects turning into clients. And if you do a good job in providing an incredible service to these new clients, they’re going to want to hire you for the full engagement — and at the rate you command.

Some ideas of Roadmapping in practice can be found in our student success directory.