Creating proposals that get you the job and are just generally awesome.

So, yesterday we were talking about the niche. But niche or not, when you want to get clients, you have to show them what’s on offer and make your case. Enter, the proposal. Imagine a sturdy, stunning document that you have at the ready to not only dazzle people with – but to show them that you mean business and that you’re professional.

Here are my elements for a successful, sensational, first-class proposal:

  • Context. Set the stage, give stats, set up the problem(s) that you are going to solve. What’s the state of the union in the world of underwater basket weaving? Give your view.
  • Why. Why does the problem need to be solved? Why is your solution the right one? Why is the reader missing out if they don’t solve it?
  • Offerings. What are YOU going to do, how are YOU going to solve this problem for them. Tell them exactly and clearly what you will do for them.
  • Prices. Get to the good stuff or get off the stage. You can tell me all about the world’s best toaster, but if it costs $1000, I’m outta here – so simply tell me the price so I can decide if I’m in or if I’m going to just eat cold bread.
  • Who are you? Give the background about yourself and/or your company, show that you’ve got the goods. And don’t write your life story – only include information that is pertinent to this proposal. They only care that you’re good, have credentials and aren’t crazy. They don’t care that you once won a pie eating contest (unless you’re pitching Hostess).
  • Who do other people think you are? This is the place for testimonials and/or stats and results from your previous work to date. Humans are pack animals, so if we see that other people think you’re stupendifying, we’ll assume that it’s true.
  • Case study. Walk the reader through a real life example of what it’s like to work with you. Let them live life with you for a few bullet points.
  • Portfolio. Show us what you’ve accomplished and show it proudly. Links, screen shots, you name it.
  • Length. We all struggle with the Goldilocks syndrome here – looking to get it just right. Here’s the thing: it needs to be full and complete, you’ve got some ground to cover. So can you do that in a way that doesn’t look like you’re writing the great American novel? Big fonts, headlines, sub-headlines, pictures, different layouts and bullet points all help here. Make it easy for the potential client to get in, get the info they need and get out. Don’t make them feel like they have to read every word – because they won’t and they’ll be annoyed by the assumption that they should.
  • Proofread. I couldn’t not say this. I know you will – for typos and content clarity. Tricks: 1) read it out loud as our minds like to make misspelled words look right, and 2) give it to a different and fresher pair of eyes to read through as well.
  • Make it purty. If you’re still using a PC, you’re kind of screwed here. I kid, I kid. But seriously, creating a presentation in Keynote (via Apple’s iWork program) is the equivalent of giving a 3 year old one of those painting books where you rub a wet paint brush over the paper and the Mona Lisa appears. In other words, a good design/presentation program even makes someone artistically challenged, like me, look brilliant. Find a computer program that formats and designs beautifully, OR hire a designer to do this part for you. It’s worth it. (and I know a few, so just ask me). And, if you aren’t a writer, hire a writer to write the proposal for you (I know a few of those as well). Because remember: people really do judge you by your looks. It’s a shallow, shallow world out there.

…but hopefully that means someone will pluck your proposal out of the ankle deep waters.

Have some additional proposal tips, favorite design platforms? Please, by all means, add them in the comments below…

Image credit: Derek Purdy

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