The proposal process - a checklist

As a market research consultant I am more likely to be pitching for work than tendering. However, I was recently looking for someone to redesign the Austin Research website. I decided to look for a supplier through peopleperhour, a website that allows you to advertise jobs to freelancers across the globe.

I received 30 proposals of varying quality which took some time to sift through. Evaluating them was, though, a great exercise in reminding myself what makes an outstanding proposal. Using this and past experiences I've put together a checklist on how best to present both your company and your proposal to the prospective client during the proposal process:


1. Communicate in the right way. It’s about more than the proposal document. The way you communicate to your prospective client via email, phone or face-to-face is key to giving the right impression. Be polite, honest, approachable, helpful, interested and enthusiastic. In short be the sort of person you’d want to work with.

2. Read the brief properly and ask intelligent questions. Don’t be afraid to ask clients to clarify points in their proposal that aren’t clear or to find out additional information that may be helpful. Avoid asking questions where the answers can be found in the original brief – it makes you look lazy, stupid or a combination of both.

3. Put yourself in the client’s shoes. What do they ultimately want, what does success look like for them? Don’t be afraid to ask them directly, you’ll probably gain a better understanding of what you need to deliver.

4. Tailor your proposal. There is nothing worse than a copy and paste proposal that tells you all about the seller and their experience and qualifications but tells you nothing about how they are going to address your problem. Make sure proposals are tailored to the client and show an understanding of their business and the problem they want you to solve.

5. Sell the solution not the process. For my web design job my ultimate need was for a good looking website that I can use to effectively promote my business. However, nearly all the proposals I received concentrated on the seller’s technical skills. I wasn’t particularly interested in the fine detail of the process – if I was I’d probably have done the job myself. Few proposals actually explained their plans for how they were going to improve my website.

6. Explain what you’re going to do in a way that’s easy to understand. Write in layman’s terms. Don’t get too technical. It’s the output that’s important, not the process. Clients do, however, want and need some outline of the steps you’ll take to get to the output so they can have some understanding of what you’re going to do and be confident that you will deliver what you say you will. It also helps to justify your fees.

7. Clarify the client’s role in the project. How will the client be involved? Why will you involve them when you do? What do you need from them to do the job in the best way possible? You need to strike a balance between working with the client so they feel involved and informed at all times while avoiding asking too much of them. Don't add any more to their workloads than is necessary.

8. Provide proof that you can do the job well. Include case studies and, if possible, testimonials related to similar projects where you have made a difference to the client’s business. For my website job most proposals included a list of urls for websites that the developer had worked on. None of the proposals explained how any of the websites had made a difference to their clients’ businesses.

You can also provide some form of tangible evidence that you can do the job. I gave the web design job to someone who provided me with some mock ups of how my website could look with his proposal. This gave me confidence that he was approaching the job in a way that was consistent with my thinking and also showed me he was enthusiastic. No-one else had gone to the bother of producing mock-ups.

9. Be different. Virtually all of the proposals I received for the web job contained a list of the freelancer’s skills and then a list of the websites they worked on. Most proposals looked the same and didn’t interest me. I wanted to know what was different about the suppliers, I wanted to be given a reason to choose them. When pitching for jobs think about what makes you and your company different and how that can give you a relevant edge.

10. If the cost of your job exceeds the client’s stated budget explain why. I received a few proposals quoting a price above the budget I’d given for the job. One was actually more than 7 times the stated budget but the supplier gave no explanation as to why the quote was so high. If you’re quoting a high price you need to be able to justify it or your proposal will be disregarded. You also risk not being asked to pitch for jobs in the future as you may be perceived as too expensive.


I hope this list is useful. If you have anything to add from your own experiences or disagree with anything here it would be great to hear from you. Please use the box below to submit your comments:

Submit comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Recent Posts