How to write universe-conquering proposals

The how should parallel the why Featured

Ian Lurie Nov 6 2012

AKA: ‘Because I said so’ doesn’t work

This is a really long post. But before you TL;DR it, give it a quick skim. The first half is hand-waving stuff about answering ‘Why?’ The second half is specific tips on doing proposals that build imputed value.

Writing a great proposal is hard. The question you’re trying to answer is “Why should I hire you?” But we spend a lot of time ducking and dodging around that question, instead. Typically, our proposals translate to ‘because I said so!’. Which really doesn’t work. So, I gave this presentation at Distilled’s most excellent SearchLove conference.

I use the learning from a fantastic book called Starting With Why, by Simon Sinek. I cite it a few more times. You should just go read it now.

Kids: Nature’s way of teaching us to write great proposals

My son turned 12 in March. He’s a great kid, but he’s definitely hitting the “Let’s see what makes dad produce that ‘grrrnnpphhhh’ sound he makes when someone cuts him off on the freeway” phase of his life.

Harrison’s growing realization that I’m a festering dolt has led him to use one word a lot, in a tone that indicates his complete, biologically-inspired scorn at how stupid I’ve become:

Me: Harrison, stop playing video games.
Harrison: Why?
Me: Because you need exercise.
Harrison: Why?
Me: Because otherwise you’ll turn into a hairless tribble.
Harrison: That’s dumb. Really, why?
Me: Because otherwise (sound of plug pulled from video game)
Harrison: DAAAADDDD!!!!

To be fair, I’ve only hit the plug-pulling stage once or twice. Like I said: He’s a good kid. Usually I take a bouncy detour straight to “BECAUSE I SAID SO!” which in my mind is actually “BECAUSE I F---G SAID SO!”

I tend to exaggerate (cough) so I though I should test just how bad the ‘why’ epidemic is in the Lurie household: I did a quick experiment this week. I told Harrison I’d pay him $5 if he could go an entire day without asking me ‘why?’ in response to a request. He made it 15 minutes.

With kids, we can occasionally get away with “because I said so”. Now and then, though, we have to do a really good job of answering ‘why’. Sometimes, “Because you’ll feel a lot better the rest of the day” works better than unplugging the video game

With potential clients or bosses, we can never, ever use Because I Said So. But we try it all the time.

I had this lesson pounded into me over 12 years of parenting and 17 years of proposal writing. You can take a shortcut: Read the rest of this post.

Stop playing it safe

Whether a potential client asks this question or not, when you write a proposal, you’re usually answering it:

If you’re working with an internal client at a big company, the question is something more like “Why should I do what you ask?” But the effective question is the same: “Why?”

They’re asking ‘why?’ and your first impulse is to write something like:

Because I said so

Luckily your brain intervenes and stops you. It says: I won’t be standing there when they read it. That’s true. So smart-assery probably isn’t a good idea. Unfortunately, your brain keeps going, and you think I’d better avoid anything that could be misinterpreted, and make sure I list every possible option.

So, you deliver a laundry list like this:

Throw it all in!!!!

Throw it all in!!!!

You answer with a babble of ‘how’, trying to bury the reader with information.

Sometimes, you answer with a weasel of ‘what’ instead: Something like “We’ll help you improve ROI.” Either one lumps you in with five other yawn-inspiring proposals. The client responds by skimming the first page or two, then skipping to bid.

Both of these answers equate to a shrug and “Because I said so.” You failed to answer the reader’s question, and guaranteed that she’ll remember you only for your estimate.

If you want to really learn the thinking behind ‘why’ versus ‘how/what’, then read a awesome book called Starting With Why, by Simon Sinek. Sinek dives deep into the subject—you’ll learn a lot of great stuff about successful leadership. Read it.

Because I Said So doesn’t create relationships

I’ve never had a great client relationship start with a client telling me “You had the longest list of services” or “You promised us the highest ROI” or (god forbid) “You were the cheapest.” Those are what and how issues.

I have had lots of great relationships start with “We really enjoyed talking to you!” or “We just felt like you get it.” That kind of connection happens when you answer Why.

Great, Ian. How do I answer ‘why’?

First, you need to understand why you do what you do. I find the easiest way to figure that out is to fill in the blank in this statement: “I run my business because I believe ______________.”

That’s should be the easy part (if it’s not, definitely read Sinek’s book). You have to explain that belief in the context of your potential client’s own beliefs. That’s a lot harder. My short cut is to fill in the blank in this statement:

If you ____ then we’re the agency for you.

Take my favorite TV show. If you asked the Eleventh Doctor for his Why, it’d be something like this:

Doctor Who's Why

It’s just true

Translate that to the viewer’s point of view, and he’d say something like:

Doctor Who's client why

It’s why I watch

I know: That’s fake. What about a real example? Here’s Portent’s Why:

We are in business because we believe that great marketing can save the world by connecting people to what matters.

And, here’s our proposal-friendly version:

If you think what you do matters, and want to work with folks who know that means it all matters, then we’re your agency.

Why is our value. It’s what we can bring to our clients. Not SEO. Not PPC. Not rankings or links or even ROI. Lots of folks can bring that. And, if the clients are nodding up and down when we talk about it, then we know we’ll work well together.

We can write this in our proposal, and/or say it when we meet with the potential client. But the real trick is making your proposal ooze this from every pore. It must be imputed.

The How must parallel the Why: Imputed value

Steve jobs believed in imputed value: The idea that customers should see, feel and know the Why not just because you say it, but also because everything about the product they have in their hands, or the ad they just saw, or the store they’re in is in sync with that ideal. In other words, the How must parallel the Why. Get those in sync and you’ll have a fantastic proposal.

The how should parallel the why

How Parallels Why? You win.

Your Answer must be implicit. If you say “If you want an agency that has an incredible attention to detail, we’re the agency for you” and then send a proposal filled with typos, your Answer is lost. If, on the other hand, you send an impeccable proposal document, then it’s easily imputed.

Building imputed value: Lots of little things

There are lots of little things, and some big ones, make an imputed Answer. Here are the ones I find are the most powerful done right, and worst when done wrong:

1: Change your frame of mind

The proposal you’re writing isn’t just about the text. It’s about imagery, typography and layout, too. Vomiting a bunch of words onto a page and e-mailing it off may be easier, but it also screams Because I Said So But if you’ve got a major potential client, or a really important project that has to get funded by your boss’s boss, you’ll have to answer the Why, and to do that, you need to go way beyond a glorified e-mail.

2: Pick your tools

I use Powerpoint or Apple Keynote to do my proposals. Other folks use Word or similar.Use what you find easiest. Clients seem to expect a slide deck, though, and I’ve found they’re a lot more comfortable with that format. Plus, I like the one-thought-per-page structure that slide software makes me use.

Apple Keynote

You may also need:

  • Your favorite fonts. I love Gotham, Myriad Pro, Minion and a few others. Unless you really know what you’re doing, don’t use more than two typefaces in one proposal.
  • A stock photo resource. See below for a warning about this. I like iStockPhoto.
  • A creative toolset: Adobe Illustrator, or something as simple as Comic Life (I love that program) to help you create callouts and such.
  • A screen capture and markup program. I use the built-in screen capture software on my trusty Macbook, plus Omnidazzle or Skitch depending on my mood.
  • A dictionary. Yes. A real dictionary. For, you know, spelling and definitions and stuff.
  • A simple image editor. I like Adobe Fireworks, which makes me a freak. Use Photoshop if you really want.

3: Start with the Why

Do start with your Answer: Whatever you used to fill in the blank.

Put it front and center. I like to start my proposals with something like this:

(I’ll explain the rat later on. Yes, we really do sometimes send proposals that are rodent-narrated.)

I adjust how I say it for different clients—I want them to understand it—but one way or another, the client hears that we take our work seriously.

That sets the tone for the rest of the proposal. Then I go into the standard stuff about how great we are, all our clients, etc. etc. That’s the What. It follows the Why.

4: Have a personality – writing

First and foremost: Write with personality. Write like you speak. I completely understand the fear that your tone might be off-putting. You could hide your tone behind acronyms and jargon. You could ‘speak executive.’ But can you do that for your entire relationship with the client? I doubt it. More important, will the reader even notice you among all the other jargon-ridden executive-speak proposals? Nope. This is one more instance of Because I said So.

Here’s an example I lifted from a proposal I wrote in 2002:

“Portent will conduct a three-week brand discovery, reviewing your customers, talking to your sales force and marketing team, and building a complete model for your brand…”

Does that actually say anything? Yes. It sounds like we’re going to put your company through a colonoscopy. It’s sure as heck not how I speak.

How about this, instead:

”…our team researches your target market and your online presence.”

That’s from a proposal written by Distilled. It brings tears to my eyes. So simple. And it reads so much more naturally.

It’s really hard to write just like you speak. You can use freewriting for practice. But I’ve never gotten to perfect, speech-like writing. Just aim for it. Abandon the corporate speak filter, unless that’s really how you talk in real life. I mean, someone must, right?

This may be the most important single tip in this entire post: If you can’t write like you talk, you’ll have a very hard time dealing with the ‘Why?’ and delivering your answer, because your proposal will lack authenticity. You’ll sound like another sales guy cranking out proposals. That’s not how you set yourself apart.

Also, check out Writing with Style by John Trimble. It’s filled with great tips for finding your natural writing voice.

5: Have a personality – imagery

A picture really is worth a thousand words. Check out how Distilled impressed Hipmonk:

Distilled Hipmunk

Gotta love these guys

They even got a puppy in there! While I’m not sure ‘cool’ is quite the right word (guys – you’re imitating a flying cartoon chipmunk), this image totally underlines Distilled’s Answer: “If you like to work with smart, creative people with a sense of humor who really love your brand, we’re the agency for you.”

Here’s how we do it at Portent. Our CCO long lacked a photo. I had some fun with it:

He's not really a meerkcat

Hey, he was a muskrat, first.

You don’t have to be funny, or silly. It just fits my particular personality and tone, so we run with it. Use what fits your approach.

6: Get to the point

Regardless of your audience, they’re short on time. Get to the point by:

  • Writing in active voice. Joe [verbed] the [noun]. Not The [noun] was [verbed] by Joe. And keep your dirty thoughts to yourself, thank you very much.
  • Avoiding word pads. The phrases you used to make your 240-word essay 300 words. Don’t use “went into” if “entered” will do. There are some great ones in the EU Internet Handbook
  • Avoiding empty phrases, aka ‘weasel words’. “A number of” is really just “many”, yes? You can get a decent list of empty phrases here, here and here.
  • Dumping the jargon. Try to avoid stuff like ‘ontology’ and ‘information retrieval’. It makes your audience’s eyes roll back in their head. Just a tip. Not that I’ve ever done that. Cough.
  • Clearly, some words are just worthless. Or should I say: Some words are worthless. See what I did there?

Unless you want to answer “Why should I hire you?” with “Because we’re really hard to understand and you’ll hate talking to us!” I recommend that you get to the point.

Again, I recommend reading John Trimble’s book, Writing with Style. And practicing a lot.

7: Illustrate whenever possible

Which would you rather see?

meh

meh

or this

Sooo much better

Sooo much better

The second one’s no work of art, but it’s a lot easier on the eyes, and it illustrates the point. You don’t even have to read the text if you don’t want to. The message is clear: We create reports that aren’t yanked out of Google Analytics.

Here’s how we talk about our process:

Our marketing process

That’s 5 or 6 pages worth of information, packaged up in a nice, easy-to-digest graphic.

Whenever possible, illustrate. Human beings process images more easily than words, no matter how nerdy we are. And, illustrations are a huge opportunity to strengthen your imputed Answer.

8: Avoid an assault

If you pour thousands of words into an endless document without a break, your reader’s going to cry surrender and head for the bid page again. You’re not connecting with them. You’re just bullying them with Because I Said So.

I like to use a large, readable font with wide line spacing, and minimal words per page:

What we'll do

Yes, that means more pages, but most folks will read these on-screen. So more pages > more words per page.

Try to use images, good typography and a little forethought to avoid a proposal that makes the reader’s eyes bleed. That’s never a good way to introduce yourself.

9: Make eye contact

When you use images with people or animals, use ones that look at the reader or at the subject of the page:

Eye contact!

Doesn’t that little guy tug at your heart strings?

When you write, make eye contact. Use ‘you’ not ‘the client’. And use ‘us’ instead of ‘you and whatever firm you work with’. It’s better for brevity and it tells me you’re speaking to me. It makes your proposal feel less like a template.

10: Choose stock photos wisely

Unless there’s a really good explanation, this image is pretty off-putting:

Uh, ok

Uh, ok

Sorry, but it’s just really hard to figure out how two snails making baby snails (or something) helps get any positive message across. Unless your proposal addresses a snail farm…?

Imagine reading through a proposal and happening on this little gem:

Yikes.

If you’re using stock photos, choose carefully. Go with images that fit your Answer. Or at least images that don’t pick up your Answer, shred it, stomp on it, then dump it in a garbage disposal.

11: Don’t use bare stock photos

I got a proposal a week ago that had this image on the cover:

Such happy, shiny people

My god, I thought. Look at all these happy attractive people. This company must really have their poo together. I guess we’ll be their token ugly client.

Then I did a quick reverse image search:

Such shiny, happy fakery

Nothing says ‘I’m a tool’ like a slapped-together proposal bookended by stock photos you’re passing off as your team.

Don’t use bare stock photos. If you’re going to use stock images, use them as they’re meant to be used: As raw material for something else.

Unless, of course, you want your Answer to be “If you want to work with a company that hasn’t had an original idea since we opened, we’re the agency for you.”

12: Use data sparingly (and well)

Don’t bury your reader in data. I once sent a potential client a 45-page proposal that included a complete review of their online revenue sources, one by one. I also sent someone this gem:

data vomit

Painful. I can practically hear them: “OH GOD MY EYES MY EYES I CAN’T SEE WHAT HAPPENED IAN FRIED MY VISUAL BRAIN CENTERS WHAT A BUTTHEAD.” Don’t wear data like a sequined disco suit. You’re not impressing anyone. And, it’s just another way of saying Because I Said So.

Follow principles of good data presentation. Use data to support case studies, or to show opportunity:

Always give good data

Always give good data

But use it sparingly, and well. Ask yourself: Will using this data reinforce why the reader should hire us? If the data is just going to answer what you’ll do, or how you’ll do it, think twice. If it’ll answer why, as well, then use it.

13. Be consistent

If you use a program like Powerpoint to do your proposal, make sure you use a consistent layout. Don’t have page headings and images jumping around like they’re in an early-20th-century silent film. It’s not artistic. It’s just annoying.

If you’re using a word processor, make sure fonts, line spacing, etc. stay the same from page to page.

In both cases, apply formatting rules consistently. And use consistent naming conventions.

I know: “Ian, no one notices this stuff.”

True. They don’t notice it. They just find your proposal a little bit harder to read, or not quite what they wanted.

Imputed. Value. Make sure you’re consistent.

14: Think about typography

Think a lot about typography. Your proposal’s largely words. Making those words easier to read makes it a lot more inviting:

  • Set leading (line spacing) so that your pages don’t look crowded. I like to use 1-to-1 line spacing in proposals: I use the same line height as my font size.
  • Set paragraph spacing so there’s at least 50% more room between paragraphs as between lines.
  • Pick a typeface that’s easy to read and fits your personality as a company. San-serif is very direct and no-nonsense. Serif is sophisticated and creative. That’s a huge generalization, though. Use your judgment.
  • Space bullets, numbered lists, etc. so they’re readable.
  • Use left-justified for left-to-right languages. Do not use full justification! It’s a pain to read.

Which would you rather read?

or

The first version is Powerpoint’s default settings. The second uses a wider leading and better paragraph spacing. Little things make a big difference.

For a humungous list of resources, check out Vandelay Design’s 101 Typography Resources for Web Designers. For quick overview, read The Top 10 Typography Rules
by Webitect.

15: Use PDF!

Finally, no matter how simple your layout, no matter how ‘safe’ you think you are, send your potential client/boss the PDF (Portable Document Format) version of the proposal. If you put in tons of great work and create something like this:

Pretty, PDF version of your proposal

Pretty, PDF version of your proposal

But the client, or your boss, opens it and it looks like this:

Nooooo! What happened to my beautiful proposal?!

Nooooo! What happened to my beautiful proposal?!

…you may have lost your chance.

PDF packages up fonts, images, etc. and ensures the document will look the same to the reader as it does to you. It’d be a shame to put all that work into your proposal, only to have the whole effect ruined because the reader doesn’t have the Gotham font on their laptop…

Little things, done right

If you want to write a winning proposal, you have to address the ‘Why?’ before you do anything else. That’s how you set yourself apart. That’s how you get in the door to talk about the What and the How.

Part of this process is explicit: You need to tell the reader the answer to ‘Why should I hire you?’ or ‘Why should I approve this project?’ Talking about specific services (the how), pricing (the how) or ROI (the what) won’t work. You have to appeal at a more basic, emotional level by tying your company’s value and motivation directly to the kind of work you’ll do for the client. That’s the ‘Why?’

And, while part of answering ‘Why?’ is explicit, a lot of it’s imputed. You reinforce your message by handling all the details, from typography to imagery to writing style. As Renny Gleeson says, little things, done right, matter.

And, I’d suggest that this is about a lot more than proposals. This is about your next report; your meeting w/ your boss; great outreach. Know why you do it. Make it work through ‘how’ you do it.

Oh, and here are the slides from the presentation:

tags : case studiesdata analysisproposals

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39 Comments

  1. Great and timely!! I’m creating a conference session for a group that contains a number of potential clients. I’m going to use your process to put the session together. Can’t say Thanks enough.

    • K – please send checks to…

      Kidding. I hope the session goes well!

      • Could you wait to cash the check until the second Tuesday of next week? ;-)

  2. Well done. Good tips

  3. I really enjoyed reading this, thanks Ian.

    I wonder: do you apply any aspects of this approach to your contracts at all?

    • You mean, the legal contracts? Noooooo we stick to horrifying legalese. But the whole ‘why’ ‘how’ ‘what’ structure totally works for any kind of marketing.

  4. Pure gold, Ian!

    I compare a proposal to a resume… there’s only one shot at the first impression.

  5. Hi Ian, This post is MUCH APPRECIATED.
    I, too, am a lifelong pursuer of great proposals.

    Some of my own notions are around “telling the story.” In the narrative arc, a hero begins with the need for a quest. Who’s the hero? NOT us – but the client. We’re the hero’s helper (think Obi Wan, as opposed to Luke Skywalker). We will go through certain challenges, and this is how we will emerge with the golden fleece. OK, I’m spreading it on a bit thick here, but you get the picture.

    Perhaps someday we’ll get a chance to share proposals – in the quest for the holy grail of proposals. (mixing metaphors now, sorry).

    -Ric

    • Not possible to mix too many metaphors when it comes to proposal writing :)

  6. Wow, brilliant! If your proposals are as funny/readable/useful/enjoyable as this post then I’m buying :)

    Proposals are the bane of my existence. Hate them. Have written them a million times, rewritten, unwritten, written more, written less, re-re-written. Always hate the process and usually hate the end result!

    To be honest this sounds like a lot of work. I imagine you can repurpose a lot of this across proposals because if I had to create these graphics and think about all this wording and formatting for every proposal I’d never actually have any time left to work.

    I’ve been thinking recently about putting together some “generic” documentation in this vein so that I don’t have to rewrite the wheel with every prospect. I know that there needs to be different specifics based on the actual client needs but the how and why is pretty stable. I’m totally bookmarking this to inspire me as I work on this.

    • I do re-use a lot of my proposals. I customize a lot of the stuff about what we’ll be doing, and how we’ll do it, but the ‘why’ remains the same much of the time, and I find that part to be the hardest.

      Funnily enough, this whole thing with proposals started, for me, as an effort to make them more fun for ME to write.

  7. Awesome post, Ian. Even better than the slidedeck from the SearchLove Boston conference, since it also has your explanations. We’re definitely working toward putting these tips into practice.

    Question: do you put dollar amounts for your services into these proposals, or does that come later in a separate “contract” document? In other words, is this an initial “why you want to work with us” to get potential clients interested, and then you close later, or this a contract-style proposal with a sign-on-the-dotted-line final page?

    • I do put a general pricing structure at the end, but the final price is something we hash out after the client has read the proposal.

      The proposal is “This is what it’ll be like to work with us” including the general project structure.

      The contract is the scope of work and precise pricing.

      Hope that helps

  8. I thought there were some great design and psychology tips in here, but I find a one page proposal works best for me.

    I start out with the objective then action steps, timeline, deliverables, and costs. I attach a credit card authorization form with it too that itemizes out the costs.

    We have a template and takes us 30mins from start to finish. Avg sale size is $5k/mo. Maybe you are talking about for bigger deals?

    I’m not trying to contest your method. I see the beauty in it. I’m trying to decide where mine ends and yours starts.

    • Oh, I love the 1-page proposal. And I do use them on occasion, but generally for much smaller gigs. Most of the $5k/month-style clients we get want more information than I can put into a single page.

      But we have a lot of smaller packages around PPC, social media and consulting that are perfect for a 1-pager.

      Also, sometimes a potential client says “Please don’t send me a whole dog and pony show.” And I’m happy to oblige.

      Great points, Justin!

  9. I think the personality aspect is one of the more important items. Proposals are very similar to resumes, your not the only one they’ve seen so it’s very important to stand out. Whether it be content, design, or personality.

  10. Flynn

    Great read! It was lengthy, but you had me locked in the whole way. We recently spent the time to design a proper proposal style guide and we have had a lot of comments like “that proposal was awesome, you guys are obviously creative and know what your doing”

  11. If you really want to take your proposals up a notch, I’d recommend going digital with them with TinderBox. They’re a client of mine but we’re also users of the system. It’s nothing short of amazing and I’m able to personalize and build an interactive proposal with rich media in a matter of minutes. Great post!

  12. Marita

    will you tell us what program you’ve used for the infographic and which one did you use for “WHY” and “1. Why should I hire you?”

    Yes it was long, but I still read till the end. Great info! And yes, the rodent is cute :)

    The only turnoff for me was seeing the number “90” in the slideshow: I got a pretty hefty eye-roll back and grunty “ghaawd” reaction from that.

    • Sorry about that – I tend to do lots of brief slides, one idea per.

  13. I’m writing a proposal for a major client this morning (it’s early here in Denmark). I think I’ll be a little delayed as coming up with the ‘why’ apparently isn’t done by the minute. It better be there though. Thanks for your input

  14. I was just thinking of doing a group photo like the one “distilled” did… I’m so going for it now!
    And that snail picture, I am so: “Ooh so that’s how they do it!”

    Was worth the read, thank you for sharing with us, Ian.

  15. Excellent post Ian! One thing that put me off though is the use of the mouse in your proposal. Don’t you think that this image can put some clients off while making the decison to sign a contract with you?

    • Definitely. I’ve seen it happen. But it more often gets folks’ attention, makes them sit up and take notice, and gets them to listen.

      This kind of creative is all about risk. You need to decide which risks are worth it and which aren’t.

      I’m also a little, uh, eccentric, and my proposals reflect that. You might want to use imagery less likely to make people shriek like little girls.

  16. I have a webdesign and development company providing Web development and SEO service. So i have to provide my clients proposals. A number of times deals were not ended successful. I didn’t found the actual reason for that. But after reading your blog how to write a great proposal i think i missed many things in those proposals. I used to send them in just Word Format without using graphics. Now i learned how to embed power point to make it more visual, interesting and focused. I will definitely use power point. PDF is also a new concept for me. Overall it will be a great help for me. Thank you.

  17. Ian-
    Love this! Too many people speak “executive” and “play business.” This is great information. Thank you so much!

  18. Excellent post. Creativity and simplicity are really the key to creating winning proposals.

  19. Andrea

    Excellent article and perfect timing to improve proposals to the next level. Won’t thank you enough for sharing this great article and slides :)

  20. Harsh

    I vouch you for this content. I lost a 3K client who came to me for marketing his law firm a few days back just because I was unable to answer a simple question, “Why should I work with you and not others”.

    It would have been much better to send a PDF or PPT presentation (as you mentioned) rather than saying, “we are marketers and we know our shit better than most of the other marketing agencies out there”. The later obviously won’t create an impression when you know that the client will probably hear the same from each and every other marketing agency he approaches.

    Thank you Ian.

  21. Greg

    Thank you Ian! As others have said, it was a bit long, but I was engaged the entire time. Well written and most appropriate. My agency still believes in burying the prospect with as much info as possible. I have been trying to bring them the Steve Jobs approach more and this article will help.

  22. Cheers for the post. Funnily enough I got this post in my inbox the same day a (potential) client handed me one of our competitors’ proposals to ‘work from’, something that has never happened before, in 10 years of business.

    So now I have 3 proposal formats to think about today- our existing, your recommendations, and our competitor’s.

    And I have a proposal due by COB today, so I’d better get back to work!

    Very good points though, if I get this job, where do I send the 12 pack to?

    Ally

    • Hah. Just raise a Diet Coke in a toast to me, and it’s all good.

  23. Allan

    Suddenly, I have a desire to re-write our company proposal template. Is it bad that I don’t even want to read our entire proposal? (rhetorical)

    Thanks, Ian. This was very enlightening.

  24. I’ve been toying with the idea of renovating my proposal tempalte- now I’m definately going to do it! Thanks,

    Great article Ian

  25. Thanks Ian, it is very reassuring to hear of someone clearly successful, like yourself, investing so much into the creativity of their proposals. I find that mine evolve a fair bit ‘creatively’ every time i write a new one.

    I also recently moved a bunch of longer winded explanations to web pages via links in the proposal as i cant seem to let go of it completely.

    Obviously if a client prints out the proposal then the thing doesnt work quite so effectively but i feel like i need to explain things thoroughly.

    At what stage do you introduce detailed explanations and T’s n C’s or is it something you try to leave out?

    • We deal with all the contractual stuff later, once we’re at that point. For us, the proposal is JUST about pitching what we’ll do.

  26. Mike

    Good stuff here. I’ve always tried to use good images w/ simple charts and graphs to explain technical concepts, but I’ve noticed that you still have to be careful if you throw too much into the proposal.

    Another strategy that I’ve gleaned from speaking to clients is that they like analogies and parables. If you can take a really complex idea and communicate it with a succinct analogy, you’ll get a lot less “glazed eyeballs” staring back at you from the other side of the table.

    Thanks for sharing this. I’m jumping into Photoshop right now to create some new graphics for my proposals. You’ve inspired me!

  27. I loved this. So awesome.

    Is this how you pitch EVERY client? It seems like a “creative” company would think this is awesome and a “corporate” company would have sweaty palms.

    It’d be interesting to hear if you have any general insights on when it’s not necessarily wise to engage in your voice…

    • One way or another, every company gets some version of this. We change the illustrations and style a bit, but the toughest lesson I’ve learned is: If you have to change your voice to win a client, they won’t be your client for long.

      Not fun. But true.

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