Heart of the Deal: If at First You Don’t Succeed, Adapt

The Copywriter Conclave of Portland recently engaged in a lively and free-wheeling discussion about prospective clients and proposals. We were able to attract prospects and even Heart by Corazonget to the proposal stage, but sometimes, the almost-projects fell through shortly thereafter. We all determined that some unseen, emotional aspect comes into play during the proposal/interview stage.

Here are some things we think will help us in the future (and maybe other small business owners too):

Prepare Your Project Proposal

Sending a proposal in the body of an e-mail (or a plain Microsoft Word document) is quick, but it might be too quick.  Spend some time creating an attractive proposal that contains your prospect’s logo, and your logo (or a nice font) and turn it into a PDF. There are some cool services like FreshBooks or Pancake that can also help you.

Use the Force

Yes, it’s time for another “Mahesh Star Wars analogy.” Star Wars: A New Hope cemented its place in the world-culture when Luke turns off his targeting computer during the climactic battle inside the Death Star trench. There will always be “that moment” when you’re discussing your prospect’s project where you’ll notice a synergy between the prospect and yourself. You may feel that sharing a personal detail could add depth to your conversation. Maybe one of you tells a joke or you bond over being parents or non-parents. Whatever it is, if it fits well, then trust your feelings.

Value Integrity

News sources inform us that the Great Recession is largely behind us, but the effects continue to linger, and they probably will for a while. For example, I’ve noticed how gun shy people are around major buying decisions. There may be moments when they convince themselves they don’t need a particular service. We all do it, even when we know we really need something. And here’s the thing:  businesses need quality content. More than that, business owners need quality content made by people who can verify results and reach audiences. We can’t pretend that keyword spinning, copy mills, and empty jargon lead to engaged audiences and higher revenue. Not anymore. So convince them that your skill set matches exactly what they seek.

You can know the minutiae of your product or service, research your prospects’ companies and the problems they face, and then put together a killer proposal. There will always be a “wild card” element you cannot control. If you’re freelance or a business owner, you walk a tightrope without a safety net. Clients and orders are the lifeblood of your business. If you don’t close a deal, you have to start all over again. The stakes are always high. But if one prospect doesn’t work out, then it allows you to hone your pitch for the next one. I lost out on not one, but two, projects in one month…and then I landed the biggest client of my career (so far) one week later. So don’t lose heart.

How do you approach the proposal process with your prospective clients?

(This post originally appeared in slightly altered form at Enlighten Writing.  Image credit.

2 comments on “Heart of the Deal: If at First You Don’t Succeed, Adapt

  1. Mahesh Raj Mohan on

    I just thought I’d share what my friend and fellow copywriter Natalia Sylvester wrote on my main site about this same subject; it is very helpful:

    “One piece of advice I got early on in terms of proposals was to offer three “tiers” or options: a “basic” lower priced package, a more comprehensive mid-range one, and a premium, “let’s go all out” with this package. That way clients can really see the value they’re getting while still feeling like they have options. This only works on projects when the scope is pretty flexible, and I’ve found this approach also helps me create a set structure around an otherwise vague project.

    On projects that are more set, I usually provide only one flat fee but my proposals include an “Approach” section, outlining all the steps I take as I work on their project (this includes any client consultations/interviews, market research/analysis, creating a style guide for their copy…I make sure to emphasize all the work I do before I ever start writing a word, so they see it isn’t just as simple as stringing words together). And in the “Fee” section I make sure to outline what’s included in that price (ex. X number of copy concepts, number of revisions, etc.).

    I think especially with writing, it’s easy for people to assume the work is simple because we make it look easy, and they don’t see much of the behind-the-scenes work that goes into it…so I try to see a proposal as a chance to really show a client all they’re getting if they work with me.”

  2. Mahesh Raj Mohan on

    And here’s another helpful comment from my client Guy Williams, who owns a PR/marketing firm in Michigan:

    “It’s always a good idea to review your process for reaching new clients. One step I think is often overlooked is the initial contact when the person says “sure, email me some information to review” this is not a request for a proposal, it is an opportunity to present a quick overview of what you would like to offer.

    I like to use Keynote for this, 5 to 10 slides that you can create that are smart looking and short of content. Email it as a PDF and then follow-up in a few days to make sure they have it. The next step is likely a request for your proposal or a decision not to move forward providing you with closer so you can move on the next potential client.”


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