Six ways proposal writing stinks

by Kai Davis | Last Updated: October 27, 2020
Six ways proposal writing stinks

Your friend Kai has a bone… six bones to pick with proposal writing.

  1. Writing a proposal is an exercise in guessing based on incomplete information. You’re writing your proposal off of the information your lead/prospect/client shares with you about their situation. But they aren’t an expert in solving the problem they’re facing, so the information they share with you is incomplete. That means that your proposal is, at best, a guess. ☹️
  2. Proposal writing is a waste of your time. Let’s suppose you’re closing 25% of your proposals, and it takes you 4 hours to write, proof, and present a proposal. That means for every project you win with a proposal, you’ll be spending 12 hours writing proposals that don’t go anywhere. Multiply that by your hourly rate and… ouch.
  3. Proposal writing is squishy. If you’re writing proposals for custom projects, you’re going to be reinventing the wheel each time you write a proposal. If you want to better leverage your time, start selling your services like products (fixed-scope, fixed-timeline, fixed-price) and ditch the custom proposals.
  4. Proposal writing misaligns incentives. If your proposals take your awhile to knock out — or if you have a stack of proposals to write — your goal starts to shift towards get these proposals written quickly. But if you’re speeding through your proposals, you’ll start to miss details, which means your proposals might miss the target.
  5. Pricing packages in proposals is problematic. How can you propose a price that makes sense for the client and the value you’re contributing if you have incomplete information about the problem or value? It’s not impossible, but it’s damn hard. And if your estimate ends up way off, you give your client a heart attack (e.g., when the project ends up costing 3x what you proposed) or you take a big haircut when you have to do a lot of unpaid work. Ugh.
  6. Clients don’t want a proposal; clients want to feel like you understand their unique problem and current situation. No one, with rare exceptions, has faced a challenging problem in their business and thought, “I know what I need, some proposals!” They say, “I need to find an expert who understands the problem we’re facing and can help us change our current situation.” To get there, you need to invest time, attention, and effort in understanding the client’s situation, not merely turning the proposal crank.

If I hate proposals, what do I like? I like project roadmaps (paid discovery sessions)

When you invest the time to have a structured, defined discovery/roadmapping process, you start to understand your clients’ situations better, help your clients feel heard, and get to the bottom of the unique problem they’re facing.

You can then write a proposal that’s focused, targeted, specific, and based on complete information. That’s a win for you and a win for your client.

Want to start selling project roadmaps/paid discovery as one of your service offerings? I’ve put together just the thing for you; check out Quick Start Roadmaps:

Quick Start Roadmaps will help you quickly start selling roadmaps as a defined, discovery-focused service offering.

Included with Quick Start Roadmapping is what I call ‘the roadmapping/discovery secret weapon,’ a roadmapping questionnaire template. This questionnaire is key to the entire roadmapping and discovery process and can help you start to understand your client’s needs before your kickoff meeting.

Here’s what Brian had to share about his experience with Quick Start Roadmapping:

The fact that you had a “quick start” document, the questions, and the working session outlines gave me a quick solution I could start using the next day when I had to meet with a client. Then after taking the time to absorb the book, I was able to further refine and improve methods for understanding client needs. – Brian, B2 Technologies

Learn more right here:



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