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5 Common Reasons Why Your Proposal Isn't Working (And How To Fix It)

Sep 3, 2018
(updated: Dec 6, 2022)
Max 5 min read

As a freelancer or small business owner, creating effective proposals is key to winning new work. If your proposals come up short, you could be missing out on valuable income. To help you nail that next proposal, check out these common mistakes people make when drafting a proposal—and learn how to avoid them.

#1 There’s no “executive summary”

There are a lot of different opinions on the name “executive summary”, but no matter what you call it, you should have an intro section on your proposal that summarizes the problem you’ll be solving for the client and your proposed solution. If you’re missing this section, it won’t be clear what you’re selling from the start.

How to fix it

Create a section at the very top of your proposal that summarizes all the key information and clearly states the goals of the project, as well as how success will be measured. Some clients may have already identified the problem they want to you solve. If so, include that here. Others will supply you with goal that they’d like you to help them achieve. This is where you’d list that, along with your proposed solution. You can also include any specifics about the ask that you’ve learned via calls, emails or messaging prior to writing the proposal.

#2 The scope, deliverables and/or timeline aren’t clear

Once you’ve established the problem, don’t forget to clearly tell the client what you’ll be providing them as the solution. If your proposal is missing key information like deliverables or a schedule, your client will be confused, and you’ll look unprofessional.

How to fix it

Make it clear and state exactly what you’ll deliver to your client, and when. If you’re a designer, you might say: “The scope of this project is to design a website featuring the main page and five subpages. The final deliverables for this project will include assets in .psd, .png and .jpg format.”

The more specific you are here, the better—it will show the client that you know what you’re doing, and help set your client’s expectations as you move forward with the project.

Be sure to also include a schedule of when you’ll deliver. Make sure to budget enough time to comfortably complete the work to the best of your ability. For bigger projects, create milestone dates for check-ins, or plan on a phased approach for deliverables.

#3 The proposal looks cluttered

Don’t get too hung up on creating a fancy design for your proposal—in this case, less is more. If you have too many fonts, colors or images, it will make your design look clunky, and make it harder for clients to find the most important information.

How to fix it

Keep the design simple and easy to read. Use a legible font and include lots of white space. You can enhance data points with tables or charts if you want, but don’t go overboard. Clients are busy and want to be able to read your proposal quickly, so make the document easier to skim by using headlines for each section. Try to avoid cheesy stock imagery, using too many typefaces or colors, or using low resolution images that get pixelated. Remember, the proposal is a reflection of your business—make it look professional and buttoned up.

#4 It doesn’t tell the client what to do next

Even if your proposal has the greatest ideas in the world, your client won’t be able to do much with it if there’s no call to action at the end.

How to fix it

This is where adding a specific call to action or “next steps” section comes in handy. Help establish next steps at the end of your proposal and give your client a clear path forward. Here are some ideas of next steps:

  • To begin work, please sign this proposal and return to me by 9/22/2018
  • Please send a 50% deposit and we’ll begin working on this project
  • This project will start on 9/22/2018 if confirmation is received by then
  • I will call you next Tuesday at 11AM to review this proposal and discuss next steps

Your call to action can be pretty much whatever you want it to be. But you should include one in your proposal, and it should be specific.

#5 You send the proposal and wait…and wait…and wait…

Believe it or not, once you send the proposal, your work isn’t done. If you don’t hear back from your client within a week, waiting around isn’t going to help.

How to fix it

Show your client that you’re proactive and send a reminder email. Ask if they’ve had a chance to review the proposal you sent—and if they have any questions. This will remind them to read it (if they haven’t yet), or to respond to you if they have! Sometimes people just get busy and forget to reply. A friendly email reminder will help jumpstart their response.

In summary, there are a lot of things to think about when creating a proposal. But if you take some time and follow the advice above, you’ll be off and running on your next client project in no time!

Indy recently launched a proposal templates to help you during the whole proposal process

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