proposals are not jobs….chicken counting



Someone contacted me last week regarding a project that is a perfect fit for me. So I visited the job site, met the General Manager, spent hours learning about the project and walking the site, and quite honestly made a new friend. By the end of the day we were talking freely and I think getting on famously. He won’t be the final decision maker about which designer is hired for the project, but I’m certain his opinion will be counted. So do you think it’s time to start counting chickens? Maybe not.

After the meeting I went back to my desk and uploaded photographs, organized notes, and began my proposal. I have a standard format that I use, substituting information as necessary to customize it. I finished take 1 then sat back to read email and lo and behold there was an article about writing proposals and why we don’t win projects with our proposals. Thank you Jeff Archibald! Here are a few of Jeff’s thoughts, some of which might have cost me this project had I sent out my first draft (don’t worry….I didn’t send it).

  • The client isn’t a good match: do you have the skills and experience to provide what the client wants?
    • check
  • You didn’t set expectations: during your face to face did you tell the client how you work? What information would be in your proposal? What steps you would follow and why you are a good fit? Did you let the client get to know you as you were getting to know them?
    • check
  • No chemistry or bad chemistry: one of my favorite sayings is ‘never work with someone you wouldn’t share a meal with’. You need to build rapport from the first meeting.
    • check
  • Talk about the budget: it’s part of the project, and one of the most important components to your potential client. If they don’t have one, help them make one.
    • check
  • Don’t forget value: what will you bring to the project? Don’t just tell them what you cost…tell them how that cost translates to value. Will your design bring more customers? Higher prices therefore a better margin?
    • dang….missed this in the first draft
  • Differentiate yourself from your competition: what can you provide that your competitors won’t/can’t/didn’t think of? Why you and not them?
    • missed this one too
  • See the proposal from the client’s perspective: what will they get? How does this benefit them specifically? Be clear about their gain.
    • uh oh…missed that one too
  • Don’t disappear after the proposal goes out: check in once, twice, maybe more. Offer to talk through sticky items or anything unclear.
    • yes, as soon as I finish the re-write and send it out

The biggest change I made in the first draft was to add a cover letter that was personable and responded to those items that are missing in the nuts and bolts of the proposal. My proposals are long and wordy and full of minutae that describe the project. What they lack is me. So I added a heaping bowl of me, since in actuality it is me that will be doing the work and me that needs to get along with them and me that they are entrusting with their project. Seems like a no-brainer now that it’s done, right?

Keep in touch and I’ll let you know what happens,

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