Writing proposals that win you projects

Writing And Winning High-Value Proposals

By Brennan Dunn

This summer I’ve written a lot of proposals.

When I was running my agency, this was pretty much my job — I had to bring in six-figures of project revenue each month or it was out of business (or dramatically downsizing). So I was a machine when it came to pumping these things out.

But these days, I’m no longer running my agency. I’m more-or-less a freelancer (but remember, I’ll never admit that to a client) but with one big difference: I’m charging a heck of a lot more, and selling consulting instead of the usual design and development work I used to sell.

Just last week, I completed an engagement for a Bay Area client and have also been planning a few future engagements, and I wanted to take you on a behind the scenes tour of how I’ve been proposing and landing $10k+/week jobs…

Here we go!

How do I propose to clients, and what makes it different than the typical project proposal?

The first thing you’ll notice in my proposals is that they’re more like a story that a statement of work.

I start with the pain — why is this project on the table? Obviously, the client knows this. After all… they TOLD me this already. But by stating it right away at the top of my proposal, I remind everyone why we’re all here: there’s a business problem that needs to be solved.

And then I write a bit of realistic fiction — what does tomorrow need to look like for the client? What should suck less?

Finally, I bring in my offers — ways that we can connect today with tomorrow.

As I’ve been writing my proposals this summer, my focus has been exclusively on the business problems that I’m proposing to solve… which is totally different than the way most proposals read (e.g., who am I / who are we, what will we be doing, what will it cost / when will it get done).

Much of the inspiration for the way I write these proposals comes from my experience having written sales letters for my products (which is the result of having studied a lot of direct response marketers). It’s just psychology. Understand what someone’s needs are, and present a solution to that problem. Listing out requirements and deliverables, timelines, budgets, whatever are not solutions — and if this is how you structure your proposals now, you’re leaving it up to your client to mentally put two and two together… and this is where people fall off the wagon, because not everyone wants to think things through.

How do I make sure clients aren’t surprised by my rate?

Next week I’ll cover a bit about how I justify my rate, but the long and short of it is that I include other dollar figures before I ever present my cost.

In the early parts of my proposal, where I list out what’s at stake if this project doesn’t get done and what’s to gain if it’s done right, I throw out numbers. Big numbers. Based on back of the napkin calculations.

And if my final cost (which I’ll talk about how I present in second) doesn’t outweigh the potential upsides I can deliver, I don’t take the project. And I tell the client this, and give recommendations on what to do instead (and let me tell you… this has paid DIVIDENDS for me and my business).

But next week I’ll talk more about how I anchor my cost against the payoff, along with what to do what that numbers not clear or not determinable, so stay tuned for that.

How do I describe exactly what I’ll be doing?

I always, always, always present different offers, or packages, for the work I’m planning. This gives my clients the ability to choose an offer that fits their budget and gives them the results they’re looking for.

But most importantly, it allows me to compete against myself. Does the client pay me a little, or do they pay me a lot?

I can’t share exactly what I proposed for a recent engagement of mine, but here’s a sanitized version:

Option 1
As discussed above, you have three phases a typical customer goes through. The most important phase is the first — if we can make these early customers more successful, they’re more likely to buy from you again. I’ll work with you to make sure that we can onboard and educate early customers with what they need to be most successful with your platform, which will deliver a huge bump in initial conversions. This will cost $X (plus expenses).

Option 2
This will have me do what I described in Option 1, along with additional campaigns for later stage customers. Namely, if we can make your existing customers even more successful, and empower them to take your platform to the next level, they’ll not only be financially better off, but they’re much more likely to refer you to others. You’ll get more customers (per Option 1), but the lifetime value of your customers will also rise significantly. This will cost $2X (plus expenses).

I’m not saying, “I’ll do X, Y, and Z” — instead, I’m offering two paths to the solution they’re looking for, one intense (and more expensive) than the other.

How do I “close the deal” with clients after I send out a proposal?

Because I have rough calculations of what tomorrow will look like for my clients, I create a sense of urgency through hinting at the opportunity cost suffered by delaying that tomorrow. I don’t do things like, “This proposal is only valid until X date” or any other sort of artificial urgency tactic.

Rather, I plainly state that they’re literally losing money by not moving forward on this project right now. And I’m also busy, and I haven’t stopped all sales and marketing to wait for their positive response. I have upcoming availability, and while I’d love to work with this client soon and bring this tomorrow to them, if they don’t act I might get spoken for… which just means the opportunity cost is even greater.

Two other quick things I want to close with:

When I deliver my proposals, I never come across as desperate. Maybe this is because I’m now in a position in life where I don’t need to consult, but no one wants to work with desperate people who aren’t confident in themselves.

Secondly, you should never promise immediate availability. When hiring a professional, you typically tend to fit around their schedule (or pay a LOT more for rush service). So try closing your proposal with a strong sense of urgency, but list a starting date that’s at least a few weeks out. You can always start sooner — no one’s ever gotten mad because something they were expecting to start a month from now can now start next week.
I hope this gives you a little more insight into how I work and why I think you should work this way too. Is this helpful? Are you getting some good takeaways that you can incorporate into your business? Comment below and let me know.

And if you want to consult and freelance like a pro, then I’d strongly suggest enrolling in Double Your Freelancing Rate if you haven’t yet. We dive much more in-depth into both the mechanics and psychology around proposing projects.

Here’s an awesome testimonial from Cindy I got the other day:

“Since reading just the first couple of chapters and applying what you’ve suggested I’ve gotten a few more clients and many more leads. I am more confident and find it easier to ‘sell’ myself as a consultant instead of a freelancer. I’m more focused on the solution rather than just giving them what they want.”

Go win some deals!