What is your proposal win percentage? Are you happy with the rates you get on the proposals you win? If that win percentage is below 80%, or you’re not happy with your rates, you’re most likely rushing through the proposal phase.

I did the same thing when I was starting out. Someone would call me and ask me how much a site cost. I would visit their existing site, pull two words of information off the site and produce an estimate from that.

Almost invariably the price would be too high so I’d cut it back a bit. Then, again almost invariably, I’d get two weeks into the project and find that I still had 27 additional things to do in the project that I didn’t anticipate. The client would be treating me like an outsourced employee. They ended up being a terrible, demanding, profanity-using boss.

Hey make sure you get on the email list. At the end of January I’ll be releasing a book all about writing winning proposals.

But all of that was my fault because I was rushing estimates. Looking back, here are the 4 primary reasons I rushed through estimates and how they hurt me.

1. FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).

This is the biggest thing that I still struggle with — the thought that if I’m slower to produce an estimate I may miss out on the work. I allow myself to be influenced by this illogical thought: That single prospect requesting an estimate is the last prospect who will ever contact me, and if I don’t get the work my children will not be playing with fridge boxes — they’ll be living in them.

I have thoughts like that even as I sit here writing on December 3, 2015, knowing I have deposits for five-figure projects that will keep me busy till pretty much the end of February. I think this as I look at my bank account that’s approaching six figures in ‘savings’ for a rainy day.

What I’m saying is that I’m totally insane, but it was worse when I started because then I was burning through savings fast. No one knew me and I didn’t get regular, weekly requests for work.

I wrote terrible proposals to RFPs and barely landed 10% of the proposals I sent. Back then I had a possible real reason to worry about landing new work and it was still a huge mistake to kill so much time sending proposals that didn’t win work.

More work will come as long as you have a marketing plan and keep putting it into practice. Referrals will come as long as you keep following up with clients.

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2. Crafting a proposal is hard so I didn’t do the work.

Vetting prospects and turning them into high-value projects that treat you right is hard. It means you need to have a process for vetting prospects that you know works.

Getting the information you need to write a good proposal is a bunch of work. It means you have to engage with the prospect and really listen to what they have to say. It means that when they give you answers you need to ask questions to get them to go deeper.

No successful consultant just fires off estimates to every RFP that comes across their virtual desk and wins them all. If I responded to everything that came my way I wouldn’t win 80%+ of the work I provide a proposal for.

The reason that I win work is that I take time — at least a few emails and at least one phone call — to really talk to the customer and figure out their needs. Then we work on a project plan together to make sure that we both understand the needs in the same way.

Only after this process, which takes 2-4 weeks and sometimes longer, do I send over a proposal. If at any point the prospect isn’t enthusiastic about the process or thinks it’s taking too long then we stop and I move on to the next prospect that is enthusiastic about working with just me.

If you’re not putting in work like that then don’t expect to win most of the proposals you send out. If you’re not willing to put in the time and work, then it’s time to start learning to live with not winning much work and barely making ends meet.

3. I didn’t know my own value.

When I started I had no idea what my own value was. I didn’t realize I was a wizard that performed miracles. I let prospects treat me (and pay me) like a minimum wage worker. In fact, I let them treat me worse than that because no working person should ever be yelled at when things don’t go according to plan.

Back then when a prospect said “Send me an estimate” I responded with, “How fast?” I’d fire off a proposal knowing I knew little about the project but not figuring I could ask for more details because they’re the prospect and they have the money, which I need.

Now it’s not uncommon when a prospect tells me to send an estimate for me to say “No” and then tell them the three reasons I’m not willing to send a proposal for the project yet.

Remember you are a wizard and wizards are busy people. You don’t have time to waste sending proposals to people that aren’t a good fit and when they’re not you should just tell them that. It’s not a judgement on them as a person or their value; it’s simply a fact that you don’t have time to serve them as they should be served.

Sit down now and set out the 10 things you need to know before you’ll send a proposal. Write out the 10 questions you need answered. If you don’t know where to start, steal my questions. If you need more then get Effective Client Email to see exactly what all my prospect vetting emails are.

4. I couldn’t get to the buyer.

I once had a prospect who got in touch, but the prospect was the ‘web’ person who said the company was really ready for a new site. Their competitors were eating their lunch through online sales and what was once a huge, high six-figure business had dwindled to a low six-figure business over the last few years. The company was losing sales because they didn’t offer online ordering. Their competitors had a good content marketing plan and this company wanted to do something similar to keep up.

The problem was, that as I probed more with the web person they admitted that the owner probably wouldn’t give them the time they needed to get the content strategy going. They figured they’d barely have enough time to keep the site updated with product.

But they still wanted an estimate to take to the owner. They even had a reasonable budget to get started on the store but I said I was unwilling to send them an estimate unless I could talk to the owner and unless the owner was willing to sign some commitments around the time the company would put into marketing. The web person said that I’d never get the time and the owner would never sign anything to commit to the marketing plan I proposed.

I could have done the project and earned okay with it but it never was going to be a successful project that brought a decent ROI to the prospect. In a year the owner would be saying how the web project was a waste because it never realized its potential and they’d blame me.

The project wasn’t important enough to the owner of the business (who is the real buyer) to put any focus on. If it’s that low on the priority list then the project isn’t worth your time.

If you’re not talking to the real buyer then you’re not talking to the right person. Don’t waste your time sending a proposal to that ‘web’ person — all they can do is say no. They have no power to say yes and approve the spending on the project no matter how much they believe in it.

If you want to start winning most of the proposals you send out then start making sure you have these four bases covered before you even start writing a project plan, let alone send over something with dollar figures attached to it.

photo credit: pasukaru76 cc