Client proposals – two words that can make even the most experienced Virtual Assistant shudder. I have to admit a little chill ran up my spine when I found out I’d be writing about this topic.
Why do client proposals make us so nervous? Because a lot is riding on the words we put together. We may meet potential clients at a conference, and we’re excited at the prospect of working with them. Then we’re asked to send over a proposal, and suddenly we need to convince them why they should choose our online business over others. We may freeze up and not know where to start, or our minds may race, full of ideas and unsure of how to communicate them effectively.
But rest assured there are many ways we can prepare ourselves so we can put our best foot forward. Here are some tips and strategies for writing winning client proposals:
1. Do your research.
Before writing your proposal, ensure you have all the background information you need. This research begins with making sure you’re listening well during your initial contact with a prospective client.I sometimes start daydreaming about possibilities when someone is talking (a bit of an occupational hazard for writers, I guess ☺), but it’s important to focus in on the matter at hand. Listen to gain an understanding of the client’s needs, the nature and scope of the project, and any preferences the client may have. In all your contact, whether in person, on the phone, Skype, or email, try to observe the client’s personality too and what makes him or her tick.
Also remember to ask any questions you have either in person or in a follow-up email exchange. Your potential clients will admire your interest in their business, and you’ll gain valuable material to include in your proposal. If time allows, you could brainstorm a list of questions ahead of time so you’re prepared before your initial meeting. If you meet a client unexpectedly, listening well can also help you know what you need to ask about. Amy Hardison White includes this list of example questions in her blog post, “How to Write A Client-Winning Proposal”:
• What does your business do?
• Who is your target audience?
• What are your goals?
• Who are your competitors? How do you differentiate your business from them?
• What are your needs?
• What is the proposed timeline?
• What is the available budget?
White advises that you think carefully about how you ask questions. Determine which ones are better asked in person or on the phone, and which ones can be communicated via email or web form.
And as you think of questions, you’ll realize that some of the answers can be found online. So remember to research potential clients’ businesses on your own as well. You can look up their website, social media presence, and any other online information that will give you a feel for what their business does. Take notes and save them for later so you can include any relevant details in your proposal.
2. Write from your client’s point of view.
This next tip echoes a previous blog post we shared on “5 Keys to Creating a Winning ‘About Page’ For Your VA Business. Like an “About Page,” a client proposal has less to do with you and more to do with connecting with your target audience, i.e., your potential client.
First, it’s important to speak your client’s language. If you’ve been listening well, you’ll notice certain key phrases and business terms your client uses when speaking about a problem or project. Being aware of this vocabulary will help you know how to state the client’s need without making assumptions.
In a guest post, Bidsketch founder Ruben Gamez advises using your client’s exact words in your proposal. He explains,
“I know, this feels weird — you’re afraid they’ll notice and think you’re up to something. But in fact, quoting key phrases back to them is incredibly powerful. It’s a sales technique used by some of the most persuasive people in the world, and basically it works because people are helpless against their own thoughts. Using their own words to offer them something makes the offer virtually irresistible. (And even if they *do* notice, they just think, ‘Wow, they were really listening!’ And that’s also a GOOD thing.)”
So as you speak your client’s language, focus on reiterating your client’s need in his or her terms. Doing so will ensure the meaning you’re communicating is clear and relatable. You can elaborate on ways your business will meet the need, but don’t take it in a direction your client doesn’t want by clouding the terminology or making incorrect assumptions.
3. Know what you’re offering.
When writing a client proposal, it’s essential that you maintain a clear sense of your own business and how it relates to your prospective client. Which of your services are applicable to the project in question? What are your rates for those services? Will there be any expenses? If you’ve been working as a Virtual Assistant for awhile, you may want to include some samples of your work and a few client testimonials.
In “A Virtual Assistant Guide to Writing a Great Client Proposal,” Alpine Small Business Solutions gives the following advice:
“Most important, make sure you are being true to yourself and the type of business you want to create. What makes your proposal different from every other freelancer or virtual assistant? You need to make yours stand out in a professional but charismatic way. Don’t take a client that is not a good match for you. And remember, you are the boss now.”
So if you have a mission statement for your business, think about how it relates to fulfilling the prospective client’s needs. How is your business a good fit for this project? How are you a good match for this client?
And above all, remain true to your vision for your business. Is this a client you would be proud to list on your website or next client proposal? Does the client’s business match up with the qualities you value? Does this project involve services you’re currently offering?
This last question may sound strange, but it’s a valid point. As Virtual Assistants, we sometimes begin offering one type of service and then for various reasons switch to another area. Sometimes prospective clients will hear about our previous service offerings and ask if we still provide them. In this case, you need to weigh the value of going ahead with the proposal versus saying no in order to move forward with your future service offerings.
4. Choose an appropriate template and communication channel.
As mentioned above, listening is a crucial part of the client proposal process. This includes finding out how your prospective client would like to receive the proposal. In the online business world, technology allows for so many different communication channels, each client may have different preferences. Some may want to receive the proposal in a simple email, others via Word document, special proposal software, or even video. So the best way to make a good impression is to communicate in a manner that resonates with your client.
In any case, make sure the proposal is clear and professional looking. In an article titled “5 Proven Steps to Writing a Perfect Freelance Proposal,” Ryan Robinson recommends an app like Bidsketch to give proposals “a visual edge above the average proposal.” Bidsketch streamlines the proposal writing process by providing templates and allowing you to reuse designs, content, and fees. You can also embed images and video for clients to view online.
If you’re sending proposals in the body of an email, Robinson suggests at least using an invoicing tool like FreshBooks. FreshBooks also allows you to connect to both Bidsketch and Proposify, another app that allows you to create an industry-specific online proposal. Once completed, you simply email the prospective client a branded link that allows them to check, accept, and sign the proposal.
5. Be authentic.
Now, I would say the most important tip when writing client proposals is to sell yourself in a sincere way. If you don’t think you’re good enough, or you think you need to act differently to impress a potential client, stop for a moment. Think about all you’ve accomplished in your Virtual Assistant business and all the work you’ve put into training for it. You are valuable, and you need to believe it before you can convince your client to believe it.
Be sure to think through the project and be realistic about timelines. It may be tempting to suggest a shorter timeline in order to compete with other businesses, but it’s better in the long run if you know you can meet your deadlines without running yourself into the ground.
Take note of the style you’re using when writing the proposal. Imagine yourself talking to the client in person so that you don’t lapse into an impersonal or salesy tone. If you communicate in a professional yet personable way, you’ll connect with clients more readily, and they’ll catch a glimpse of what it would be like to work with you.
I especially like Joshua Lisec’s advice in his article “10 Foolproof Tips to Make Your Freelance-Writing Shine”:
“Show you’re a real person to keep prospects engaged. Work your sense of humor or amusing stories into your proposals.For example, when writing a proposal for a $4,500 editing project, I included with my quote a section focused on potential ROI titled:‘3 reasons why this is a deal worth writing a letter to Mom and Dad about. I won the project.”
If you’ve been feeling nervous about client proposals, I hope you feel better after reading this post. And if you have experience in this area, we’d love to hear your suggestions. Please share any questions or advice in the comments below!