Getting the balance right

Okay, so let's look at proposals in more detail. We have a front cover, information about the company, bios of the team, a detailed explanation of our work process, the costs and schedule for the project, and highlights from our portfolio, with images. There's a skill, I think, in getting the balance right between too much and not enough information.

With no hard and fast rules, it's a case of trial and error when you first put your proposal together. A lot of this information is standard and once you get it right you'll have a template for future proposals, with only specific pages that need rewriting to be relevant to a particular project. The beauty, though, is often in the details. This is your chance to get noticed.

In our company, we always put the prospective client's name at the top of every page in a relatively small font. It's a simple finishing touch that shows we've taken time preparing the document. Layout, typography and use of images are all important too. After all, if your proposals look messy and unattractive then what sort of reflection is that on your work?

Practice what you preach: make your proposals easy on the eye and a pleasurable reading experience. Remember that the prospective client will probably be reading several at any given time. A proposal is an overview of your company, its people, its services and process, and its previous work. It's not a portfolio, though, so take care not to have page after page of your work history.

Choose a few case studies that are most relevant to the company you're sending the proposal to. We usually include three detailed case studies, each on its own page, and then a back page that features four others.

Never assume

So you have your proposal together. It reads well and looks great. Don't send it just yet. Spell-check it and proof read it. Then check it again. Don't assume it's all fine. You'd be surprised at how many project briefs or documents suffer from sloppy spelling and grammar.

One more word of warning. Don't become complacent and simply use this template proposal for the next three years. It may be good now but in three years you'll have different achievements to include in your bio, more relevant case studies from your portfolio, and perhaps new team members to add.

Check the proposal templates often to make sure they're as up to date as possible. It'll save a lot of embarrassment further down the line.

Meet and greet

Great news! They loved your proposal and you're shortlisted. Now comes the presentation. This is a bit more difficult to plan for, as each prospective client will have their own format. Some may prefer an informal chat over lunch, while others will expect an all-singing, all-dancing presentation. Find out exactly who you're meeting, what their roles are, and what agenda or format they want the meeting to follow.

Make sure you know what you'll be required to discuss, what handouts are needed (if any) and anything else that's relevant. Make like a boy scout and be prepared. This is your opportunity to shine. If you've been shortlisted then your potential clients must be convinced you can deliver what they need. Remember, these meetings are as much about them deciding if they like you as people and can work with you as it is your portfolio and credentials.

My tip here is, again: plan and research. Don't turn up and simply regurgitate your proposal – they'll be expecting more information. Presentations/meetings should be a natural progression from your proposal. Expand on the information it contains, ask questions and answer theirs. It's a two-way conversation.

In keeping with my earlier point about keeping communication active, after I've met with potential clients I send them an email to thank them for taking the time to meet. I'll add that they should feel free to contact us if they have any further questions. Treat them well You've got your first clients – congratulations! But now the real work begins – how you treat your new clients will be a fundamental factor in winning more.

Inevitably, they'll know other people in the industry, so if you continually miss your deadlines, don't respond to emails or fail to provide the agreed deliverables, they'll tell others and all your hard work will be tarnished.

Now, as you continually put all of this into practice I have one final tool to share. It's something we all have but is often left hiding under the desk. Confidence.

You're the expert: if a customer wants to hire you then it's because you're good at what you do and because your work will best service their needs. So throughout the whole process that's written about here, be confident – when networking, when writing about yourself in proposals, when presenting to and meeting people, and when delivering your services. And don't forget, even if you get to the stage where you have work booked in for the next 12 months, it doesn't mean you stop blogging and networking. Keep your profile up!

Overstretching yourself

Of course if you execute all of the above successfully, then you may find yourself in the enviable position of having too much interest in your offerings. And while the problems of success are obviously more attractive than the problems of failure, they're problems nonetheless. It's important to avoid overstretching yourself.

Take care to avoid thinking of each job as more money in the bank, and don't take on too much. If the calendar looks empty in a few months' time, it doesn't mean you need to fill it up now. By taking on too much it may feel as if you're heading in the right direction but it can also mean that you're spread too thinly and end up working all the hours available. This in turn means that the quality of your work is compromised, customer service becomes less than acceptable and your business starts on a downward spiral.

Plan for tomorrow by writing monthly and even quarterly to-do lists. Setting goals over a set time period will help you focus on the business and better plan when you can schedule work. It also means you can keep an eye on the future.

Try to at least keep up with the industry, so that when you speak to prospective clients you'll be able to relate to their needs and talk about the long-term future of their site, as well as securing your own future in this lucrative and competitive industry.

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First published in .net Issue 189

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