Here are just a few things I'd rather do than create a proposal:
- Follow a driver's ed student when I'm late for an appointment.
- Hear one of my kids at 2 am saying "I think I'm going to be sick."
- Meet with an IRS agent.
- Lead another fundraiser at my kids' school.
- Watch anything with the Kardashians.
You get the point?
But Wes, proposals are needed in business. How else can I get clients?"
For the most part that is true, certainly if you do longer-term consulting and/or engage in complex projects.
However, proposals should never be "fishing expeditions" or Christmas wish lists that you hand over to your prospect and hope they like.
It's never the beginning of the negotiation, which is how most of you use them. They are always the summation of what you've already agreed to.
Proposals should merely be the formalization of what you have already covered.
There should be no surprises or gotchas in the proposal and they should be as standard and boilerplate as possible so as to make you more efficient and accurate, which helps you get to work on behalf of your clients sooner and more affordably because you don't have to build in hours, days, even weeks on building your proposal.
But Wes, everyone is unique. Every project is custom. My clients are gentle snowflakes. I have to personalize each proposal."
While I agree that every human on this earth is unique, their needs are not. Ultimately we are all striving for security and stability in four areas:
Regardless of what you do for a living, you are going to help them in just one or more of those four areas.
Now let's say you're a contractor and someone wants to makeover their kitchen. There could be 100 line items on what needs to be done from new cabinets, the type of marble for the countertop, appliances, etc.
But you're an experienced, professional contractor, which means you have an exhaustive checklist with 287 items on it that shows you've thought of everything (and has the added benefit of letting them know deep down that you know what you're doing and that they made the right choice to meet with you.)
When you meet with the prospect you sit down together and scratch off what is not needed or wanted, confirm their budget and timeframe, agree on all of the above, insert it into your boilerplate contract, print it, you both sign it, and you collect your deposit and get to work.
There's your custom proposal done within five minutes of confirming everything with the homeowner.
This can be done in 98.2% of industries 96.5% of the time.
PRO TIP #1: Charge for the proposal.
"But Wes, it's so competitive out there. Nobody—I mean NOBODY—charges for proposals. I'd get slaughtered."
Really? If nobody charges for proposals then that's exactly why you should charge for proposals.
Think about it: if you look, act, dress, smell, and quote like everyone else, how can your prospects differentiate you from your competition on anything other than price?
Think about it: if you can get your prospect to commit to a $50 or $350 or $500 or $2,500 "Initial Process Assessment" or "Discovery, Documentation, & Remediation" finding that will create a fiduciary responsibility on your part to give them the most thorough, accurate, and honest recommendation so they can make an informed decision and quickly tackle their most pressing concerns—and even correct some of them during the discovery phase—don't you think they're much more likely to go with your final proposal?
Think about it: if your prospect says they make all of the decisions but doesn't have the authority to retain you for this discovery, wouldn't you want to know that upfront?
Think about it: if your prospect is only focused on price and doesn't want to meet with you, doesn't want to answer your questions, doesn't want you to bother them, and just wants three bids so they can pick the low-cost provider and get on with their business, wouldn't you want to know that within 10-30 minutes rather than 10-30 days or even weeks?
PRO TIPs #2 & #3: Deliver your proposal in person and never leave it behind for them to consider (and shop it around and give to your competitors.)
Professionals leave nothing to chance.
Professionals control the sales process.
Professionals seek, ask for, and can handle the truth, even if the truth is that you will not win the sale.
Professionals get paid for their professionalism, knowledge, skill, and experience.
But Wes, haven't you heard of COVID-19? Nobody meets in person anymore! I can't drive across town—let alone fly across the country—to deliver a proposal! Are you insane?"
I hear ya. (And, yes, I am insane, but stick with me.)
It's not always practical to meet in person to hand-deliver your proposals, so schedule a video conference, share your screen, and review the proposal on the call.
You can politely—but firmly—request that all of the decision-makers join the call.
You can offer to record it and share the recording with them if needed.
But this keeps you in control of the process.
This protects your intellectual property.
This protects your pricing.
This protects your sanity and your pride.
Ready to stop giving free proposals.
Join the club.
Market like you mean it.
Now go sell something.