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How to Write a Proposal

The Seven Sections of the Can't-Miss, Killer Proposal

November 27, 2009 at 9:30 am by Blair

Friends, have you ever struggled with how to write a proposal? Sure you have, but I'm here to help. After years of reviewing written proposals from hundreds of marketing firms and about a dozen years of writing my own 100+ page proposals, I give to you, The Can't-Miss, Killer Proposal. Read this before your competitors do, and be sure to include every section, following every step. Then sit back and watch the money roll in! 

The Can't-Miss, Killer Proposal contains seven sections. Make sure your next written proposal includes each of these sections, in order. 

1. The Secret Weapon

This is one of my top secrets that I don’t share with just anybody. It’s pure gold. Put your firm’s logo and the client’s logo next to each other on the front page, and then on the top corners of every page thereafter. There’s a good chance this will seal the deal on it’s own, especially if the logos are of similar shape or color. Good clients know a good marriage when they see one. 

2. Background

Now begin the meat of the proposal by giving the client as many words as possible on their own company. Tell them you know how long the company has been in business, how many employees they have, and what their core products and services are. Four or five pages into reading, the client should be satisfied that you were listening in the meeting and that you know how to use Google.

3. Challenge

Now it’s time to start diagnosing the client’s problem. No, you haven’t been hired yet and the client hasn’t actually given you the proper access required for a reliable diagnoses, but it’s a good opportunity to demonstrate your guessing skills and your willingness to give something to get something. If you’re not sure about their challenges, the stand-bys of “lagging brand equity” or “unrealized brand synergies” are rarely far from the truth.

4. Strategy

Don’t hold back here, just give them the whole plan. Strategy, media, timeline. Tell them everything they need to do. They should be able to shop this part around to see what others would charge for it. Just make sure to save the price for later. 

5. Why Us

Unleash your creative powers and list everything you can think of: experience, interests, enthusiasm. Sell hard. Consider providing links to YouTube videos of you and your staff professing your passion for your craft and enthusiasm for the client’s business. Don’t forget to mention that your people bring their dogs to work. Clients love that stuff. 

6. Budget

It’s important to leave any discussion of price until the end. Most clients have no money and will clutch their heart if you deliver this bomb too early. The longer you can put this off, the better, so make the preceding sections as lengthy as possible. By about page 50 the client should be thinking, “These guys are so smart, I don’t care what the price is!”

7. Sign Here!

While it’s true that clients sign contracts and not proposals, if you don’t ask for the deal here in writing then you’ll have to look them in the eye and ask (out loud!) if they’d like to work with you. That is way too sales-like and beneath the dignity of a marketer. Better to just put a place to sign, head back to the office, put the champagne on ice and wait by the fax machine. 

Two Final Tips on Delivering the Proposal

First, be sure to drag the presentation out as long as possible. The longer you go beyond the allotted time, the better you did. 

Second, if delivering the proposal by messenger before or after the presentation, put it in a pizza box! Also consider throwing in some free stuff like food or drink, just not so much that it violates any HR policy or catches the attention of their legal department. Clients love food.

For further reading on this subject, consider Proposal or Contract?


Comments RSS

Cal said:

Reading this made me smile and chuckle all day...

Kirsten johnston said:

better still - don't even bother with the proposal, just exploit your own ideas at 99designs.com hoping you might win a 'prize' for your work... then hand over all the copyright and original artwork for enough money to pay your meals for a day.... who needs to work??

Blair Enns said:

I fear I may have confused people with this one. Yes, I wrote it with tongue firmly planted in cheek - a spoof on the written proposal.

Don't do any of the above.

D said:

wow - glad this was a spoof! - I was thinking, seriously? This guys must be a moron... But with that said, I hope my competitors read this and take your advice seriously. =) lol

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