Sunday, November 2, 2008

How to Produce Professional, Bid Winning, Web Design Proposals.

You can win proposals despite your hourly rate, your geographic placement in this world, and wether or not your a BIG firm or the one man show if you have the right sales pitch and an eye catching proposal. I admit my roots are more in design, strategy, and research then copy writing so when it comes to proposal writing it's not my favorite thing in the world, but I do understand it's value. So I've done a little research and put together some tips, templates, and resources to help you succeed in your daily account management work.

Before you start writing your proposal you will need to have a meeting with the prospective client to ask them some basic informational question. This eliminates a lot of research and unnecessary guessing on your part. Don't forget to take notes, the client will appreciate not having you ask them things three times, and you wont have to force yourself to have everything memorized. If possible have two people in the meeting one to take notes and fill out a list of needed question/answers and have the other person do the sales and client interviewing.

Prior to meeting with the client:
  • You may want to ask the client to find some samples of designs or layouts they have seen in magazines, other websites, or to make rough sketches for their design style, favorite fonts, colors, and other features they know they would like included in the site. (This may change but its a great starting point.)

Some of your questions may include:
  • The company name
  • Who their clients/target audience is
    • This should also cover weather or not they are B2B (business to business) or B2C (business to consumer)
    • Do they have multiple target markets?
    • It may help to creat a persona
  • What is the company's products or services? (Will they be selling online? Is an e-commerce site in the mixture?)
  • What languages will the site need to be in?
  • SSL and other security issues
  • Know who your clients preferred point of contact is. In some companies you may meet with the CMO, CEO, and five other people. So determine who wants to be contacted, who doesn't, or if other members just want brief updates.
  • Do they have programming preferances or will they need a CMS?
  • How many pages will the site have? Try to get a fair idea of any specialty pages they need.
  • Do they have more than one site, or mico-sites?
  • What is the client's business goals?
  • What does the client want this project to do for them?
  • How will they consider their new website a success or a failure? (This question is more for you then the proposal. It will help you gauge customer expectations.)
  • Make sure you get a business card or if its a long distance meeting try to get all of their contact information in an email. That way you will have it for the proposal and wont have to do a crazy directory search for their phone numbers.

The Executive Summary


To some account managers this could be considered the old school version of proposal writing, because you basically have to rewrite every section in summary. It's called the executive summary for the most obvious of reasons, the executives who will be reading your proposal may not have a lot of time and need to get the basic facts quickly. You can also get rid of this page worth of information and replace it with just a simple paragraph objective and summary.

Your Company or Personal Information

You should always begin a proposal the way your English teachers used to tell you to begin formal letters, with your name, company, website, and contact information. This should be followed by an optional brief background or company history, business qualifications, technical skills, past achievements and contact details.

Project Overview and/or Objective

In this section be sure to include a summary of the company you are submitting the proposal for, your understanding of their products and services, the target market, the goals of the web site and a rough outline of how you will achieve them. The best part about this section is, if the client reads it and thinks your summary is slightly off they may politely correct you, or since it is a signed contract and they don't correct you then you have documentation of both parties understanding of goals and expectations.

Project Theme

This goals back to our pre-meeting checklist where you can incorporate a description of the style of site you will proposal, the specific elements a client may have asked for, and additional reccommendations you may have. You will also want to try to incorporate current elements from the client's branding that have helped you to develop an understanding for their design style.

Platform and Special Considerations

You may need an additional section to include information the client may have specially requested such as language, special programming, CMS barriers, security or other issues pertaining to the business, additional sites, and target market(s) that will need to be addressed.

Flowchart of Web Site Architecture 

 This will be a diagram showing the different pages of the site and navigational structure.The reason why this is important is in situations where you may have a picky clients, someone who wants lots of revisions, or in the middle of the projects asks you to add or remove pages. This additional information or scope change is not a problem, but if you have how much additional pages will cost in your initial proposal it will help you when it comes time to bill the client. For example, say your client requested an initial 10 page site and you end up building them a 50 page site (which happens more often then not), or say they remove 5 of the original 10 pages (after they were already designed and coded) and request an additional 10 pages. Well you are going to want to be fair and bill them for your time, plus you need to remember all of these revisions will most likely effect your project timeline. Making a small project bigger should be a great thing, as long as you plan ahead, and make sure you have all your bases covered to prevent unhappy clients who may dispute paying for your additional services rendered.

Flowchart Description

Describe what each page will represent, the information it may contain, and why it is important to the website. You may also want to include a description of how each page fits into the overall them and which project elements it may address. addresses. To again be on the ball you could use this section to also describe how each page could effect the site's SEO (Search Engine Optimization and Page Rank). An example of why that may be important is in some cases clients may just want a flash site, a homepage that is only pictures, or non-descriptive headers. Well if they know this may effect their overall marketing and site value they may be less likely to ask you to remove the about page from the list of pages you build.

Development Time line 

This is where strategy comes into play. Plan ahead and be sure to note potential growth and give yourself a healthy amount of time to complete the project. Remember it is better to consistently WOW your client by finishing early, then consistently needing to apologize for missing milestones. That does not mean you take on an extra 30 hours to your project, it just means be realistic with your estimates, it helps to compare your time line to past project (especially if you keep a daily timelog).

In this step describe each of the stages for the web projects' development, the estimated completion date and notes regarding client consultation and supply of information/feedback from the client. This may also include milestone payments for involved projects and site promotion activities. Make it clear that traffic takes time to build up after implementation and promotion should only occur after the site has been tested thoroughly. Improper implementation can cost months of traffic and a great deal of lost business. On another note, remember to tell the client and mention it in your proposal that if the scope of the project changes, you will need to modify this timeline. You may also want to note that if parts of the project are based on client deliverables and you don't receive them on time that will also effect the timeline.

For example, if you client insists on writing their own copy, coding their own site, or approving every page prior to programming add a deadline for each of those markers. If you are a freelancer this is where a timelog comes in helpful (even if you work on a per project basis vs. an hourly rate). Keep track of when you finish each step of the project and when the client delivers their portion. If the project timeline is then set back by two months, you can show on paper that you still met deadlines in reasonable timing, or at the same time you would have finished had the client met the timeline as well. If the project is delayed because of you, and not because of the client I like to offer my clients a discount in an effort to maintain a healthy relationship.

Cost Summary

This section is a descriptive breakdown of your pricing, how long each section of the project will take, and total of quote including an end date before the price will need to be re-calculated. This will include items such as domain name registration, hosting fees and outsourcing for sections of the site you will not be able to develop yourself. Ensure you take into account business related items including travel time, electricity, telephone and consumables. 

Factor in the cost of the development of the business proposal as well; a good proposal will take hours of your time and you should be compensated for that as account management time. In your eagerness to gain the contract, you may lose money if you quote too close to the bone. Bear in mind that things rarely go strictly to plan in web design and delays can be expected. Time is money. The going rate for web design services seems to be between US$25-$85 per labor hour at present; dependent upon the complexity of the task and the competency of the designer.Agencys will normally charge closer to US$110-$175 per hour, but that is because they need to cover building expenses, other overhead costs, an account team, project management team, programmers, and designers.

Terms and conditions:  

Expectations and commitments. It is not unusual for web projects to be delayed due to clients not supplying feedback or content necessary to complete sections. It is just as important to be clear in what you expect from your clients as well as explaining your commitment to them. Conflict resolution issues and feedback mechanisms should be described. 

Your clients will need to know what will occur if they do not supply information when requested, or request changes mid-stream and the action that you will take if you are running behind in the project yourself. You need to be clear on payment details and consequences of failure to pay for the services that you provide.

Mock-ups (samples)

Be careful not to give too much away, just enough to give the client a good idea of what the site will look like. Ensure copyright notices and intellectual property statements are in place. You may want to just refer to sites you have already developed or your portfolio. Wireframes and sample designs generally are part of the actual project process.

Ongoing web site maintenance.  

Someone once told me, working in design and marketing we often give a lot of our talent away for free because people don't always value an artistic trade. As a metaphore marketers, designers, account executives, and project managers you are like a water faucet and can give your clients all the time in the world. To turn that water faucet on is as simple as approving a proposal or calling you to ask questions for two hours. In the end if your client uses the water (your time), they should know that they will need to pay the water bill. I'm not telling you to take this to the extreme and not offer generous free advice to your clients that will inevitably make you friends or build a strong customer relationship where they trust you. I'm simply saying your time is worth something and if you value it so will your customers.

Finally in this section summarize an offer of ongoing site maintenance or the implications of the client deciding to update or maintain the site themselves after it has been established.

The above points are usually sufficient to put together a professional web design proposal for a small to medium project. If drafting a business proposal based on criteria given to you by the prospective client; be sure to address all the points. 

If the client suggests the proposal documentation be a certain format, respect that. In the culling process, the first proposals to be binned will be the ones that do not address all the criteria the client has laid down.

Bear in mind that not all the web design proposals you submit will be accepted. Be prepared to do some heavy revisions to satisfy your clients and to find a middle ground where all parties feel comfortable. A prospective client asking for revisions is a good sign - they are genuinely interested. 

Also remember that some companies will ask you for proposals purely to use as a comparison against another designer that they are interested in utilizing; so try and limit the amount of time you spend on the draft until the client gives indication of serious interest.

If you would like some information on where and how to locate freelance web development employment and projects; follow this

Resources:

1 comment:

ayyappan@gmail.com said...

Excellent Post! Sensibly Crafted!!

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