So, you know your ideal client, you’ve got your branding and messaging sorted, you know what you’re offering, and the enquiries are coming in (or aren’t far away). Now you’ve got to knock each client’s socks off and win the contract, but how? Sending out a simple email response might work (in some scenarios) but an inspiring client proposal document, well… that could be the difference between an ‘I’ll think about it’ and ‘when can we begin?’!
What is a client proposal?
I think of client proposals as somewhere between a quote and a bespoke brochure. Sure, they still give the client the costs and details (as expected in a quote) but, instead of just presenting the client with a set of figures and information in a written email, proposals also visually present what you are offering in a way that makes the client fall in love with you and your work…at least that’s the plan.
A client proposal doesn’t have to be complicated; it doesn’t even have to include lots of bells and whistles, if that doesn’t suit your brand or service/product; a simple, but well designed, PDF is all that’s needed. There are many software options out there to create such things; from the professional and more technical – such as Adobe InDesign, to the more widely used and straight-forward – like Microsoft Word.
‘But, what should I put in a client proposal?’ I hear you ask. The short answer is: it really depends on your business and what you are offering. The longer, more helpful, answer is: in my opinion there are a few key things to include and a couple of additional extras to consider…
The client’s name
To some this will seem obvious, to others it might seem irrelevant, but including the client’s name (either personal or business) in a client proposal is a key element, if you ask me. This is not just your generic brochure; this is a tailored and carefully considered offering for one client in particular… so let them know that from the start and clearly put their name on it.
Whether you are suggesting a completely bespoke service/product or off-the-shelf options – it’s absolutely essential you make it clear what you’re offering. After all, that is the whole point of a client proposal. The client may well have already seen your packages or detailed information on your services and products, but this is your chance to recommend exactly what you think would help them most and specifically meet their needs. This is also the time to give them information on costings. They should finish reading their client proposal knowing what you can, or will, do for them and what will be expected of them in return (the investment).
Service and product imagery
Many designers would claim service/product photos or images are an integral part of a proposal in all scenarios – I disagree. If you are offering a visual based service or a tangible product then, yes, it might be helpful. You can include photographs of similar examples (maybe even the specific product) or sketches and design drawings of your ideas. However, sometimes it isn’t helpful. In fact, I would argue there are many times when it’s a bad idea and doesn’t do you justice at all.
This applies most to visual based creative services. Your creativity, ideas, and the finished visuals are what your client is paying for. You don’t have to give this away for free in a proposal (even a glimpse) if you don’t want to. Providing the client has seen evidence of your work in other ways (such as your portfolio or social media), it’s entirely up to you where you draw the line in what visual ideas you share at the proposal stage. If coming up with the initial concepts takes you considerable time, don’t underestimate the worth of the process. Wait until they have signed a contract and paid you before giving them your valuable ideas.
You will, however, need to describe and give pointers towards what you will create, to reassure the client you’ve understood the brief. Likewise, if you are offering something that won’t have a visual output at the end – like a written project, digital content, or mentoring sessions – you don’t need to worry about including any visual representation of the service in your proposal, but you will need to give a written outline in some form. This is where the wording for ‘your offering’ is even more important – you’ve got to woo your client with your written ideas only.
A call to action
This is last element I consider essential in a client proposal. A call to action does what it says on the tin. It prompts your client to take the action needed to progress the process in some way. It could be as simple as a ‘let me know what you think’ style phrase. However, a more impactful approach is to detail ‘what happens next’. You’re not looking to overwhelm the client here, so every minute detail of your process doesn’t need to be shared, but you are looking to give a good overview of the steps involved if/when they work with you. Include your call to action within this information. Something like: ‘if you would like to go ahead then please send me an email’ or ‘the next step in making your dreams come true is to contact me’. That kind of thing.
A bit about you
An about section is an optional element in a client proposal (in my opinion). If you’ve already built up a relationship with the client and have been discussing things over email, messages, or the phone for a while, before getting to the proposal stage – then an ‘About me’ section or page in the document probably isn’t necessary. In rare situations it might even put some clients off. Perhaps, if they feel you’ve already moved past the introductions stage, a section all about you (the person/business they thought they already knew) makes the proposal document seem generic and impersonal. When you are still building that ‘know, like, trust factor’, however, a bit about you or your business can work wonders – especially alongside a profile photo.
Images other than depictions of what you’re offering are an element of choice in a client proposal. It kind of comes down to how aspirational or inspirational you want and need the document to look. If the contract you’re vying for is quite small, then additional imagery might feel over the top and make the document too hefty for its purpose. If the proposal is for a more substantial project, then additional imagery will likely set you and your business apart from any competition. Photos of you being creative, sub-marks or secondary logos, patterns and textures, brand graphics or illustrations, lifestyle photos. These are all types of imagery that can bring your client proposals to life.
Including one or two previous client testimonials or reviews can be a fantastic way to help build trust with your potential client. They also highlight just what you can offer them in addition to the actual service or product. Testimonials quite often reveal a previous client’s pain point (what they needed help with). As well as what you did, beyond the expected, to fulfil the contract. For example, they might comment on your impeccable timings, your ability to listen to what they were saying, your attention to detail. These are all things we want our potential clients to know but can’t so easily shout about ourselves. Testimonials are not essential for all client proposals (much like ‘other imagery’) but they can certainly add an emotive reason to work with you on those more substantial projects.
Once you’ve worked out exactly what you should include in your client proposal you then need to carefully consider the design of the document. Even for simple proposals, the way you present the information is important. The design and style are what elevate the details from a standard quote to a proposal. The design also helps connect with your client on a subconscious level.
When I work with a client to create a proposal template, they can then tailor for each of their clients, I look for ways to make the design feel like ‘them’ – to feel on-brand and to resonate with their ideal client. I like to push them slightly out of their comfort zone (people often think they don’t want or need to add additional imagery or testimonials) and show them an inspiring way to present their services and products.
I hope you’ve found this helpful and you are able to go away and create wonderful client proposals for yourself, but if you are thinking ‘great – I now have a better idea what I should include but I’ve no clue how to make it look good’ then pop me an email or contact me on social media and we can look at how I can help.