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I have a Proposal to Make Without a Budget and Other Proposal Challenges

November 16, 2020

I love the work that goes into landing a new client…mostly. I find that the research, fact-finding and early discovery sessions are the best part of the process.  I know it’s a great fit for our agency when during the initial meeting, I jot down (yes, “jot down”, I am old school and take notes in a giant notebook that is no kidding, 600 pages thick and that I reference daily) the ideas, tactics, partnerships and opportunities burbling inside my head.  I am immediately motivated to begin drafting a proposal but first, I have a question to ask the prospective client: “What is your budget?”  If this was a movie, suspenseful music would amplify after each passing second waiting for an answer until I hear, “We are not really sure. We don’t have oneCould you maybe, put together an itemized menu of services with prices?”  I try not whimper, after all, this is a client we would love to add to our roster.  So, the meeting wraps up with the promise of a proposal.

Now what? Without a service budget (even a ballpark one), how can I even put a draft together? If the company/organization has never worked with an agency before, ANY estimate is likely to be overwhelming.  If the company does have a budget but isn’t sharing it, that can actually be worse.  If the quote is less than the budget, our firm may come across as inexperienced (our firm has been around 15 years and employs only senior level talent so this not only inaccurate but definitely not how we want to be perceived).  A quote that exceeds the budget runs the risk of being immediately dismissed.  Then, there is the time factor.  How much time should go into developing a proposal when the potential value of the contract is unknown? 

After spending too many hours on a recent RFP without the vital budget information, my colleagues and I decided it was time to take a stand. This is how we are now approaching the issue.

  • Explain to prospective clients that we are really interested in the possibility of working with them but are unable to present a proposal without a budget. In our experience, not having an established budget is often a red flag.
  • Recognize the value of time and scaling the amount of time spent crafting a proposal based on established budget (assuming one is shared).
  • Assign one person to create the proposal and have others contribute content and review.
  • In the initial call with the client, identify a day the following week to meet again and review the proposal with them in-person (or via zoom or phone) in order to avoid sending a proposal and hearing crickets.
  • Do not share every specific tactical detail in the initial proposal but provide a fleshed-out plan to the client shortly after the contract is signed.
  • Ask when a decision will be made and when the contract will begin. We love staying busy and are skilled jugglers but want to make sure we are 100% prepared to begin work with a new client and not have four new clients begin services on the same day.

Since adopting a few guidelines, it is easy to go back to the first sentence of this post and revise my statement to say that, “I love the work that goes into landing a new client.”

How do you handle proposals? Can you offer any other suggestions?