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How To Write a Design Proposal

Do you spend days working on a design proposal that ultimately don’t turn into business? Imagine having a proposal template that helps you win!1. What is a design proposal?2. Why do clients ask for proposals?3. When to send a proposal?4. What do clients want to see?5. What language should I use?6. How do I build a proposal template?7. How to address price objections?8. How should I deliver the document?9. How to follow up with clients?In this article I will show you how to write proposals in a fraction of the time, increase your close rate, and stop leaving money on the table.If you're working on some kind of a design project, whether it's a logo design, branding or website project - use this guide and proposal template to win your next job!Sending a proposal comes in after you've interviewed your client, or compiled a creative brief.Remove the guesswork and rely on my decades of experience with closing new design projects.In this article, you will learn:

  • How to structure the design proposal.
  • How many options to provide
  • Why to focus on benefits, not deliverables
  • How to anchor your prices to the outcome (not hours)
  • What pricing terms to include

I have a proposal template pdf that I use for all my consulting projects.I usually keep proposal down to 5-10 pages of actual copy with some extra cover pages, comparison boards etc. to make it look nice and clean.

What is a design proposal?

Your design proposal is simply a document that states what you propose to do for your client.

Keep in mind that a proposal is not a pitch.

So never send one without having a conversation with your clients first.It's kind of like proposing to a girl. You don't just go up to her and say "Will you marry me?".

First you need to get to know each other a bit to see if there is a good chemistry - same with the client.Design proposal is the document you send after talking to your client either on the phone or in person.Clients will usually reach out to multiple service providers in order to find a good fit for their project.So they use design proposals to gauge the risk of going with a particular vendor.

Why do clients ask for proposals?

Clients ask for proposals because they have many options to choose from.

You're not the only one who can do the job.

And even if you had some special power or outstanding design aesthetics, they still want to compare your offer to other options.

Other proposals should feel like comparing apples to apples.Your design proposal should stand out so they can see the value.Think about the last time you were shopping for something.You've probably done a lot of research comparing different options and prices before you made a purchasing decision.Same is with clients, they will comparison shop to find the best fit.The best fit, however, doesn't mean the least expensive option, or the best design portfolio.It means that you can move the needle for them and help them with something they need to get done.If you can communicate that better than others, then you won! - even if you're way more expensive.So make sure they know you CAN do the job done right at first and then make sure they see other options less desirable.Challenge them: You can hire a designer on Fiverr or Upwork for $500 and it will take longer, there will be many revisions and they probably won't deliver the outcome you want.What happens if you got stuck? How much it will cost you?To put it simply: you must appear as the least risky option.

When to send a proposal?

Before you even think about putting together a design proposal for your design client, you should have a WHY conversation first.

Never send a proposal before talking to your client.

It doesn't make sense to send proposals without finding out what the project goals are and what's important to them.

Otherwise you will most likely just waste time, or you will compete on price.Either way you didn't differentiate yourself from other designers and therefore you have small chances of closing this project.So before you even think about crafting a proposal for you client, first you have to have a sales conversation.If you don't want to read my other article about _how to talk to design clients_, just remember ask them these three basic questions:

  • Why this? (Why you need to design this?)
  • Why me? (Why you want to work with someone expensive as me?)
  • Why now? (Why do you want to do it now? Can't this project wait?)

The goal of these questions is to uncover real motivator behind the project.Do this before sending your proposal.Whatever you work on (logo, branding, website etc.) - your project must be important to you client, otherwise is really hard to charge premium rates or even “fair” rates.The goal of the first question - Why this? - is to uncover the real business objective of whatever they want you to do.Why bother doing this at all? - They need to have in mind some outcome in mind.Otherwise is hard to justify the price, so they will go for the cheapest option.So if this is a new website, they may say “We need a new website”, then you ask “why you need it?” and they reply “because our website is old, not responsive, doesn't communicate who we are (they list problems)”.Then you dig deeper “Why you need responsive website? You don't convert? You want to generate more sales? etc.” - here we're trying to learn what is the value of what this new website.So they will hopefully sit back and think how amazing it would be if the new website could achieve some target.

Based on their answers you can estimate that e.g. Their bounce rate is over 90% and they're potentially loosing let's say 1M of business a year.So with that, you can say that this project will cost $100k which is only 10% of projected value of what this project will bring to their business.The purpose of the next question - Why now? - is to make sure that is project is urgent.If this is something they've been trying to do internally for over 6mo but couldn't achieve their goals, you already know that they need to get it done ASAP.Or perhaps they have a certain deadline in mind e.g. they need a new website ready for a special event.If the project is not urgent, client will slack with making a decision, they'll be putting it off.So make sure this project is urgent and needs to be completed by some specific date, otherwise they will keep losing money or simply won't grow as fast.The last question - why me? - is to actually to see why they think you’re a good fit for the project.

What do clients want to see?

They want to see what do you bring to the table and how you can help them achieve their business goals.

Clients want to see the value you can create.

They want to know what they're getting with each option and how this is going to help them grow.

When value exceeds cost, then transactions take place.So if you can explain that whatever you're designing is going to make them 10x more money than their investment - that's value.You proposal should include sections like the background or “Why me?”, pricing, timeline, deliverables and terms & conditions.Make sure you explain what they get in option two, that they don't get in option one and so on.Then of course they want to see the prices and terms & conditions - there is some new language, but everything else should be pretty straightforward.

What language should I use?

The proposal should include everything that you've discussed in the sales interview (the WHY conversation).

Your proposal should be full of language the client gave you.

There should be no surprise in the proposal when the client reads it.

You should have talked about all this stuff already.You need to sort of take the words out of their mouth and put it into the proposal.The only thing that they should be curious about is only the breakdown of the three options.And of course terms & conditions.

How do I build a proposal template?

So how do you build a proposal?The first page is the cover page.

Design proposal: Cover Page

The next page is the situation appraisal.

1. Situation Appraisal

This is where I describe the current state of the client's situation.

Describe the desired future state, where they want to go.

Then I describe why they're talking to me at all.

Design proposal: Situation Appraisal

So this is a one page introduction, that consist of two or three paragraphs, not very long.and then I go into 3 different incremental options: small, medium and large.

2. Project options

This is where I describe what I can do to help move the needle at particular price point.

Give them fixed prices for an outcome (not deliverables).

Incrementally, option two would include option one, but you give them more benefit.

Design proposal: Project options

Option three would give them even more benefit than the previous two options.The first option will include what they actually want e.g. new logo and identity design.

Design proposal: Option one

The second option will be logo, identity and website redesign.The third option could be logo, identity, website and a marketing campaign.So that you give them different options they can choose from with the bottom tier being what they came for and the two other options building on that and providing even more value. (up-sells).After that I'd put a section “why me”.Sometimes I'd omit this section if I already know the client, or if the trust level is through the roof for some reason.

3. Why me section

Generally I'd include a “why me section” saying something like:

There are a lot of smart cookies right there, why would you pick me?

And then I talk about my experience and reasons that makes me unique or a good fit for this project.

Design proposal: Why me section

After that I include estimated project timeline.

4. Timeline

This section is just to give the client a visual overview of how long each option can take.Also somewhere in between I would include comparison board for each of the three options.

Design proposal: Timeline

Then I get into pricing, terms and availability.

4. Terms & Conditions

Here is where I say that my prices are fixed prices, not estimates.That's a big deal and I want to emphasize that as much as possible.

Then I'd list the prices for the different options.

I don't include prices in the options section, but I put them in the end.

Design proposal: Terms & Conditions

I do this, so that they're kind of forced to actually read the document not just jump to the numbers.Next I will give them very clear steps on how to execute the agreement.I usually embed PayPal buttons in the PDF document so that they can pay online.That's really it - it's been very successful for me over the years.It doesn't have to be a giant proposal for even a huge project.

How to address price objections?

This is something you should do before you even send a proposal - during the sales interview (why conversation).

Separate time from money and refer to business goals.

In the proposal you don't talk about why it costs so much and you don't even talk about how many hours it will take you to do that project.

You just say what you're going to do, what kind of value you can deliver for this price.Shift focus to achieving their business goal whenever they talk about the price.You need to address their objections before you even take time to put together your design proposal, that should be no surprise for them when they see the pricing.So give them a range of how much the project could cost: “Based on our conversation similar projects have cost anywhere from X to Z (give them a range) Do you think it's worth your investment to achieve Y goal?”If they say “yes” or “maybe” then you add: “Ok it seems like a good fit.I'm going to put together a proposal for you with three different options so you can see exactly what I can deliver and for what price. How does that sound?”

How should I deliver the document?

You can use some online services like Qwilr or Proposify, but please don't use any of their standard templates.

I simply email the PDF document to my client.

Never send a free proposal template with the exact language you found on the internet because it will make you sound unprofessional.

Instead, create your own simple template, with your branding and the language that only talks about specifics of this particular project.In the email I shortly state what is the goal of the project and then I add that I will follow up in 3 days if I don't hear back from them.You also want to know who deliver the document to, or whether you should send a copy to someone else in their company.

How to follow up with clients?

As I mentioned earlier I usually give the client three business days to answer before I decide to reach out again, unless they say e.g. “we need a week to make a decision”.This is how I usually follow if i don't hear back from the client:

We're planning work for the next month and I was wondering whether you're ready to move forward.

If you've done everything right and they understand the value of what you offer and they see you as the least risky option, then there shouldn't be really much of following up.

However, projects are uncertain and there might be decisions made internally to go another direction and you don't have control over that.In this case don't try to bother when you hear back “we've decided to go another direction”.You may follow up in a month or two asking “Have you hired another agency? Are you happy with the project? If not, are you open to resuming our conversation?"Hope that helps. If you have a question for me - just leave a comment below.

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