Today we’re going to talk about how to craft a successful proposal. Before we start, though, let’s step back and consider the goal of a proposal before we dig into the details of what actually goes into it.

The sole job of a proposal is to lead the buyer into a purchase with you.

It sounds simple and it is. If all your proposal does is show that you’re the right person to purchase from then the proposal has done its entire job.

[Tweet “The perfect proposal convinces a prospect you’re the perfect person to do their job.”]

But what does a proposal that wins work look like? Here are the sections I use in my proposals, which have a win rate of 80%+ by the way.


This is where the whole relationship you’ve been building prior to the estimate shows, because you write down the exact business problems the prospect is trying to solve for. By the time they’re done reading this section they should know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you understand the current state of their business.

Specifically, you need to write out what is currently going on with their business. What are the problems they’re facing? What are the consequences of those problems?

After acknowledging their problems, talk about the desired improvement and why your solution is a good thing for the company. Now they should be envisioning the future where the project is finished and they’re reaping the rewards.

Deliverables, Outcomes, Metrics and Value

Now it’s time to really show them that you understand the project by telling them about the deliverables, outcomes, metrics and the value they’ll get out of the project.

If you’re not familiar with what those are I wrote a long post about it already you need to read.

I always finish off this section with a statement or two that goes something like this.

The project will be deemed a success if ….

Your prospect should look at that success metric and nod their head in agreement because if they saw what comes after that ‘if’ they’d be happy with the spend on the project.


Now it’s time to offer them options in your services. You never just quote a single price. Giving them only a single price only gives them two choices when responding: Yes or No. Providing options gives them many more ways to respond, and different opportunities to work with you.

If you provide three options then the customer can say Yes/Yes/Yes/No. That’s four choices instead of simply two. More than that, though, providing options can dramatically increase the value of the project.

I recently sent an estimate with three options: one priced at $8,000, the second at $9,000, and the third at $12,000. Each level would have accomplished the main client goals but the third and highest-priced option added to the overall goals and automated a bunch of the site — features the prospect hadn’t even put much thought into. I just knew that the goal was to automate a bunch of content entry so added an option to have further automation.

The client went with Option 3, which was actually $3,000 above the initial budget they said they had to invest. They were impressed with me thinking forward and saving them more time. For a single idea and a bit of work I increased the value of the project by $3,000.

Yes, options are totally worth it.

One detail to note here: I don’t include the price of each option as I present them. Instead, I first list out what a prospect gets at each level of work proposed. The end of my proposal includes a link to the actual costs and contract workflow in 17hats. By the time they’re going to the pricing they’ve already said yes in their minds to my proposal and we’re just waiting for the confirmation in the deposit and contract.

Clear deliverable times

Once you’ve shown them the options they can choose from to use your services it’s time to give them clear deliverable times. No, I’m not talking specific dates like the fourth of September; I’m saying that you tell them how many weeks a project will take.

For me this ends up in two or three time frames which match up with the options they were already given. Option 1 may say that it will take 3 weeks, Option 2 is 4-5 weeks, and Option 3 is 6-8 weeks.

Here you’re just setting up their expectations for the arrival of the deliverable items.


Now it’s time to establish what both you and the prospect will be responsible for. For my software projects I inform the prospects of any items they need to purchase and provide to me, such as X number of seats to a piece of licensed software.

I also always state that we both agree to put the user first, and if in doubt, we’ll add on user testing to the project to really see which will be better for the site user. It’s actually not important what I want or what the client wants. Your client’s customers are the ones who really matter in the end, so serving them is the goal you should both have.

Easy Acceptance

Before you laugh here, let me tell you about a contractor I wanted to hire. They had sent over a good proposal and understood my business. The rates were reasonable and the timelines fit my needs. Then I went to accept the proposal and we hit a brick wall.

Want to see examples of my proposals and learn how to build the relationship of trust you need with prospects to win most of the work you quote? Join my email list to get the first chance and best price on my upcoming book on writing proposals.

The contract said they required a faxed copy of the original. No, I couldn’t use an online fax service. Mailing it to them wouldn’t work because they moved around a bunch and were currently overseas where they didn’t know the postal system well enough to give me any address to get it to via an overnight courier.

I trundled off to my local business store and ran the fax through the number provided. Paid my fee and left thinking it was all good. Sure I was a bit annoyed but hey, it was a good project that was going to help my business. I fired off an email saying the fax was sent and that I was looking forward to the project.

Guess what the contractor said? He never got my fax though they did get my deposit. No, they wouldn’t just take my deposit as a confirmation — I needed to go back and send the fax again. Well, the story goes on and the fax never did work. The contractor refunded my payment but the project never happened.

Don’t make your clients jump through hoops like that unless you want to frustrate them into not working with you or recommending anyone work with you ever. I use 17Hats and through that it’s a simple matter of the client typing in their name to accept the contract. It even flips them directly over to an invoice they can pay online after they sign the contract, and lets them download a PDF copy of the contract — which includes my signature — for their records.

Whatever service you use make it easy for someone wanting to give you money to accept the proposal and give you money to work. If you aren’t set up with an online tool, just send them a copy of the proposal via FedEx with a pre-paid return envelope they can just drop the acceptance in. Don’t kill the sale right at the end when you should be sipping champagne.

photo credit: pasukaru76 cc

3 responses to “Crafting a Successful Proposal”

  1. CodeUp Studios Avatar

    Hi Curtis, Thanks for taking a time to write this post (on crafting a successful proposal).

    Looking forward to see examples of your proposals.

    ~ Dipak C. Gajjar

    1. Curtis McHale Avatar
      Curtis McHale

      You’re most welcome. Looking forward to getting it launched as well. Been working on it for a few months.

      1. CodeUp Studios Avatar

        Good luck and keep the good work going