I’ll admit it — writing a proposal is one of my least favorite activities as an agency owner.
I try to not even bother writing a proposal unless I’m convinced I have a good shot at getting the job, and the customer has agreed to at least a price range.
However, I need the signed proposal and agreement to get started — and this is one hurdle you just gotta get over before you can put money in your bank account.
The job of the proposal is two-fold…
First, it needs to help present your services in a favorable light that helps build excitement about working with you.
But, it can’t be all fluff either… A proposal is an important tool in stopping scope creep and keeping everyone’s expectations inline.
I’ve tried all kinds of proposals — Extremely detailed and bespoke ones that take hours to put together. This kind does a great job of positioning myself, but it feels like a waste of time when I can see in my proposal software that my client only briefly looked at the document.
I don’t have time to write into an abyss!
I’ve also tried pairing it down to a really simple agreement that is nearly 100% reusable for every project. But it’s so dry and generic that it doesn’t do a good job of selling my services.
I know there’s got to be a balance — and I’ve spent the last few weeks digging through templates, going back through my old proposals, and asking the 4,000+ people in The Admin Bar community.
Through all of this, I’ve found that there are 5 things that are needed in all of my proposals… Not only to help get them signed, but to protect myself against unrealistic expectations and scope creep.
Of course, you’re going to have to include a legally binding contract, a price, and a payment schedule — but I assume everyone is already doing that, so I won’t pad out my list with the basics.
Today I’m going to share with you those 5 things, and why I think they are critical to a good web design proposal.
As a bonus, you can sign up at the bottom of this post to download my fill-in-the-blank proposal template, and a completed example that comes straight from my latest signed proposal.
Let’s dive in!
#1. Project Overview
The project overview serves a few purposes, but none more important than your client feeling confident you know exactly what their goal is in hiring you.
An overview doesn’t need to be overly complicated, in fact — it shouldn’t be. There are other places in your proposal you can get down to the nuts and bolts.
One great way to construct your project overview is to craft a small story with 3 parts.
- The problem(s) your client is facing
- The solution you’re proposing
- And the outcome your client can expect
Here’s an example of a project overview from one of my last proposals I got signed:
The Acme Ltd. website is struggling to keep up with current performance standards, specifically when it comes to Web Core Vitals. Beyond the performance challenges, there are design aspects of the site that could be improved to give users a better experience and project a more professional image.
In order to resolve the performance issues, I'm proposing to rebuild the entire website using “blocks”, which is a more native solution to WordPress that produces clean code and excellent performance.
During the process of rebuilding the website I'll make design and layout improvements to give the site a more polished, professional, and user-friendly interface.
Once completed, the Acme Ltd. website will not only look better, but will pass Web Core Vitals standards giving Acme Ltd. a high-performing website they can be proud and confident to send their visitors to.
In this overview I was able to pinpoint some of the pain-points my prospect had that led him to reach out to me; a slow website that could use a more professional design.
By pointing this out, you’re reminding your prospect right out of the gate why they are here: they have a problem.
Next I briefly explain the solution I’m proposing; a different tech stack along with some design and layout improvements.
And the overview wraps up by explaining what life will be like for my client once the project is completed; a high-performing website they can be proud of.
By establishing this entire storyline, you can hook your prospect in my reminding them of their challenges, and positioning yourself as the solution.
#2. Project Objectives
The project objectives go into more detail about your mission and goals.
This can differ pretty widely from project to project, but there are always multiple objectives in any website build.
This can include things like:
- Establishing an online presence
- Building authority
- Driving traffic
- Better performance
The list is nearly endless.
Including these objectives is a huge value-add to your proposal and can increase the perceived value of your work.
Clients might not always understand all the benefits our work can afford them, and including a list of all the objectives, even with a small description is a great way to educate your clients on all of the benefits they will enjoy from hiring you.
If you’re having trouble figuring out what your objectives are, try using the prompt of “so that..”.
For example, you might be proposing SEO. Try to extrapolate some of the objectives that might be accomplished, state the reasons why you’re proposing search engine optimization services.
SEO, so that…
… you can drive more traffic to your website
… you can increase the number of leads you get online
… increased visibility in the search engine results
By listing out 3 objectives (higher traffic, more leads, & increased visibility) you can instantly make SEO sound more valuable than it would on its own.
#3. Project Scope
After listing the overview and objectives, which are more for marketing and sales in your proposal, the project scope is an important step in protecting yourself from unrealistic expectations and scope creep.
Within the project scope, there are a few things you might want to consider listing out, in black and white, to make the definition of your scope crystal clear.
- Number of pages/template
More than once I’ve quoted a project based on my crawl of the site, only to get in and realize that there were dozens of pages, posts, or templates I didn’t know about. By listing your expectations of the number of pages and templates in your proposal, you have something to come back to if you make one of these discoveries or the client decides they need more pages than originally planned.
- Known functionalities
In another effort to cover your tracks, it’s important to list out the core functionalities of the site. The last thing you want to do is get near the finish line and have the customer ask “where can my visitors login?” when you never discussed a membership component! If it’s not listed in the functionalities, then it doesn’t have to be included in the price!
- Needed, but not included
This, my friends, is one of the secrets — the things that are likely going to be needed, but aren’t included in your proposal. This could be things like domain registration, email, or legal policies. It’s better to bring these things up now than it is to wait until the client has the wrong expectations. The “needed, but not included” section is also a great way to upsell your client into other services later down the line that they might have not been thinking about.
Deliverables strike a nice balance between the CYA items on your list, and also doing a bit of sales for you within the proposal.
Everyone likes to see all they are going to get for their money, but we often overlook some of the valuable things we provide to our clients because we lump them all together in something we call “website design and development”.
Besides the obvious (which I also include in deliverables), I like to list out other valuable things things like:
- Kickoff Meeting
I start all my projects with having a meeting with my client, but it wasn’t always obvious to me that I should promote the value that this meeting has. By listing this out as a deliverable, it adds to the overall value of your project and helps the client know what to expect.
- Reports / Testing
Part of my quality assurance is to test my clients development site on things like PageSpeed Insights or Web.dev. Providing these completed reports to my clients shows that I’m doing everything I’m supposed to up to specification, and is a deliverable that has value to them (all clients are scared they are going to get ripped off!).
- Website Owner’s Manual
Part of my sales process for my maintenance plans is giving my clients a copy of The Website Owner’s Manual — and this is a perfect example of another deliverable you’re handing over that holds value… But not if you don’t tell your client about it!
There are plenty of things you can add to the deliverables list, and when you do, you’ll immediately increase the perceived value of your proposal. Content workshops, audits, meetings, testing — the sky is the limit.
All of these things have value, and your proposal is a great place to point out their value and make sure your prospect knows about it!
#5. Frequently Asked Questions
When I pitched the idea of including FAQs inside a proposal to my friends in The Admin Bar… Let’s say it got mixed results.
Some point out that including FAQs could complicate things and make the client stop to consider things they hadn’t before — possibly creating an unnecessary roadblock.
But I’m going to make my case as to why I think they provide more value than risk.
Typically you’ll meet with a prospect once or twice before you send a proposal. During that time you get to build rapport and a bit of a relationship. I do my best to feel confident the project will be accepted before I even write a proposal…
But, when it’s time to sign on the dotted line, that’s when the rubber hits the road.
FAQs, when they truly are questions you are frequently asked, are a great way to put your client’s mind at ease.
It’s this moment, right before they sign, that they have second thoughts… Those second thoughts lead to questions and their imagination can run a bit wild.
This is where FAQ’s can come to the rescue.
FAQs show your client that you’ve been here before, and you’ve thought all these things through.
It shows you have not only the ability, but the foresight to answer their questions.
As far as bringing up questions they hadn’t thought of, and giving the client pause — I see no reason to bury your head in the sand… Eventually, the client is going to want to know these answers, so why not now?
Getting out in front of the questions, especially tough ones, is a great way to demonstrate your confidence, and show why you’re the best choice for their project.
This doesn’t mean you need to include every question under the sun, but it’s a great place to address common objections, bust myths, and lead your client into the kind of thinking you want them to have.
You get to put questions into their mind, then knock it out of the part with your brilliant answer.
Proposals are pretty personal, and no two agencies do it exactly the same.
There’s a fine line to walk between being overly complicated, and being void of any real substance.
The 5 items I included here come straight from my own proposal template, and I’ve never felt better about having a proposal that positions me as an expert, while still covering all the necessities to ensure the project doesn’t get off track.
You can download a full copy of my fill-in-the-blank proposal template, along with a walkthrough video on how I use it, and a completed example of my proposal (taken word-for-word from a project I recently won using this proposal).
A fill-in-the-blank scope of work document for quick and easy proposals.
Whether you use my setup as a basis, or just pick up one new tool for your toolbox, my template is completely free — so you don’t have anything to lose!
Here’s to winning more projects and protecting our backside!