When Should You Write a Proposal for a Potential Client?

I once spent six hours putting together an in-depth project proposal with a $20,000 price tag, only to hear the client respond “I was thinking more like $500.” It stings when you put hours into a proposal, only to get turned down, or figure out the client is a dud.

Proposal writing can be time-consuming, but there are ways to cut down on the time it takes to write proposals. It’s also smart to cut down on the amount of proposals that you write. If you write a proposal for every client that comes through your door, you’ll either find yourself working on proposals till 11pm every night or cutting into your billable time until your freelance business ceases to be profitable.

Don’t Send A Proposal Until You Feel Confident in a ‘Yes’.

Treat your proposals like you would a marriage proposal: Don’t ask until you are confident that you will get a yes. Proposals are too time-consuming of a tool to figure out if you and the client are in the same range as far as price, timelines, and deliverables are concerned.

Work these out with the client via email, calls, or in-person meetings as much as you can. This will give you a much easier way to inquire about the requirements of the project, the needs of the client’s business, and the value you can provide. Once you’ve collected the information you need and demonstrated your value, then you can sit down and create a value-based proposal to close the sale officially.

But What if The Client Wants Something Sooner?

Once you book an initial call with the client, they may want to give you a description of the project, then immediately request a quote. Have a line ready in your holster for these situations.

“I’m going to need more information before we move forward.”

“Before I can give you a quote/price/proposal, I need to better understand your business and your goals to ensure this project will be a profitable investment for you.”

I prefer the second, as it’s focused on the client’s needs, not your own. If they continue to push, there are two potential reasons:

  1. The client is collecting several proposals, and plans to select either the cheapest or the best proposal.
  2. The client doesn’t understand the process of software development.

In the first instance, you have to decide if the client is worth the effort. You can compete in this manner, but personally I don’t think its a wise investment to spend time putting together a proposal when the client may just be looking for the lowest bidder.

Opportunities to Educate are Gold

In the second instance, view this as an opportunity to educate the client. They aren’t being pushy or malicious, they just don’t know any better. It’s easy to forget how alien and weird software development is to 99% of the planet.

Draw parallels to something people are more familiar with. I prefer comparing it to a question like “How much does a car cost?” A car can cost $500, or $500,000. You need to understand what kind of car a person is looking for, and how they plan to use it, before you move forward with pricing. Make this an opportunity to consult with the client: You are no longer coming up with a low price to be competitive or a high price to be profitable, you’re working towards the best price for your client.

If you think the client isn’t clear about what they want, don’t get annoyed, help them. You’ll demonstrate value and build a foundation for what could be a valuable business relationship.

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