Don’t make me write it,
I won’t make you read it.

We hate writing them.

Proposals are a chore. There. I said it.
It’s not the writing I loathe as much as the underlying stress that comes with crafting such a document. “I must not forget this. Did I state that clearly enough? Does this have the right tone? Do I need to elaborate on this item?”. You know once you hit that send button, it’s out of your hands and all you can do is hope that your client reads, understands, and interprets everything as you intended.

Our clients hate reading them.

In The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, Nicholas Carr writes about the erosion of his attention span: “Once I was a scuba diver in a sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.”

Proposal are a one-way affair.

Many designers/developers send off proposals like a note attached to a carrier pigeon, waiting with baited breath for its return. At that point, you are no longer involved in the process. You can’t see the puzzled look on the client’s face if they don’t fully understand a section. You’re not around to address the confusion or false assumptions they are making. The consequences of this disconnect often come to light after the project has kicked-off, and an uncomfortable game of “you wrote this, I meant that” ensues.

Many designers/developers send off proposals like a note attached to a carrier pigeon, waiting with baited breath for its return.
At that point, you are no longer involved in the process.

Schedule your proposal with a call.

Before I send off my proposal, I schedule a short “read-though” call with my client . If the call is early morning I will send it over the night before; if it’s in the afternoon, they will receive it that morning. Why? Because I want to read it through with them.

Ok great, but what do you include in the actual proposal?

This is going to feel very anticlimactic, but the short answer is:
not a whole lot.

Because I spend so much time discussing my client’s unique problems and desired outcomes, 90% of the work is done. By the time I get to writing up that final document, I’m basically summarizing options and approaches we have already discussed.

This is not the time to be clever;
this is the time to let your client know you fully grasp their predicament.

The more you can use their language here, the better. For example:

  1. Jane Smith’s website is not easily accessible on mobile, resulting in missed sales opportunities.
  2. Jane rarely updates her content. She feels that uploading new products in the current dashboard is too time consuming and prone to error. As a result, the website feels stale and new products rarely get sold.

“They gave us the sexiest nav on mobile ever.
No really Bob, you gotta see this thing! They used ‘a flexbox’ ”.

The techniques we use may help in reaching the goal, but they are not it. A much more successful conversation would be: “6 months ago Lucas redesigned our site and we’ve already had a x% increase in donations!”. This is what your client wants. It’s also what their colleagues and friends want!

  1. Increase revenue by x% over the course of y months.
  2. An additional 10 donations per month over the next 2 years.
  3. Reduce admin costs by 10% starting in January
  4. Help writers update content twice a month.
  5. Bring in sales from a french-speaking market.
  1. Option one. This provides the strict minimum to fix the pain points and reach desired goals.
  2. Option two. For a slightly higher price, this option will deliver a more elegant solution or a slightly different approach with more value for my client. Simple example: Rather than having all messages from a contact form sent to a general office email, a conditional form based on specific queries could direct incoming messages to specific departments or staff members. More often than not, option two is a winner. The added features tend to provide a great ROI, and they can usually be implemented without derailing budgets or timelines.
  3. Option Three. This is where you can get really creative and surprise your client by offering solutions to problems they may not have even realized they had. People get very excited about the higher-end package. They may decide that it is worth stretching their budget and timeline to get the added value now, or set it as a “phase 2” project to revisit at a later date. Either way they have seen what’s possible and if you do a good job on the first phase, you can nearly bank on repeat business.

A little less writing,
a little more conversation.

By the time we reach the point of writing up our proposal, we have gone through a lot with our clients. Why would we walk out on them at this very crucial stage: closing the deal?!

… if you’re a practitioner whose endgame is to run a business for the long haul, it is a critical competence you should be fine-tuning with the same rigour you apply to your craft. The good news is you already have the blueprint to work through it!


I’m putting together a service to help freelancers write better proposals…



Independent Front-end Designer | Educator | Kayaker @luclemo |

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Lucas Lemonnier

Lucas Lemonnier

Independent Front-end Designer | Educator | Kayaker @luclemo |