Chances are, if you work for a design agency, you have never written a design proposal. If you are a freelancer, or if you have left the corporate world to strike out on your own, you will need to write proposals all by yourself. In this article we share 6 Essential Steps to Writing a Graphic Design Proposal.
The proposal will be exceptional if you plan to rise above the competition.
So, what is involved in preparing that exceptional proposal? Here are six essential steps to guide you through the process once you have that lead.
Table of Contents
1. Have a Conversation with the Prospect
The prospect is looking for a design of some type because he has a problem. Is he getting too little website traffic? Are his brochures and marketing materials not getting the desired responses?
Does he need new materials for his next trade show? Is his annual report to stockholders in need of some design features to be more appealing? Is he looking for a new, more engaging logo design?
Your job at this point is to be a good listener. How did that happen? If your client is local, you can have a face-to-face meeting. But chances are, he is not.
You must therefore set up some type of virtual “face-to-face” meeting, and you have several options – Skype, Zoom, Google Hangouts, etc. Use a venue with which your client is comfortable.
During this session, you want to be an active listener. Repeat the prospect’s problems in different words to indicate that you have heard and understood.
Ask questions to get clarification – this tells the prospect that you are interested in getting all the details of the problem in a genuine way. And that alone can be impressive.
At the end of this conversation, be certain to tell the prospect that you will be developing a proposal and getting it over to him as soon as possible.
Set a date for the proposed delivery if possible, at least a time frame that the client is comfortable with. If his needs are urgent, make sure you deal with that urgency.
2. Now It’s Time for the Research
It’s time to find out all that you can about your prospect’s company and about all of his competitors. This will involve several activities:
- Access the company website and comb through every sentence and paragraph
- Check social media for all activities. You can set up a social listening tool that will reveal any activity on the part of the company or its customers/consumers that can provide insight.
- Look for any news reporting that includes your prospect’s company.
- Check with a tool like Alexa to see how your prospect’s website ranks within its niche
- Take a long hard look at your prospect’s competition. There are tools to “spy” on the competition – use them to find the most successful competitors. You can check out their graphic design features and perhaps pick some ideas.
3. Using Software and Tools
There is no need to do extra work for yourself. There are proposal software tools that can help you craft amazing pieces. Just be certain that you check out the options carefully.
You want one that allows for plenty of templates and themes, options for customization, easy integration of images, charts, graphs, and even analytics that keep track of all of your proposals and the results.
There may be common factors in those that resulted in contracts and rejections, and you will want to have that information when writing future proposals.
Most of this software allows you to work in the cloud, so that there is no risk of losing your work while in progress, and you have greater security, has e-signature features, and allows both Word and PDF formats, as well as email right from your dashboard to your prospect.
There will be subscription options, so look these over carefully and be certain that you have all the features you want and need. You can always switch to one with more features down the road.
4. Develop an Appropriate and Logical Structure – Begin with the Problem
This is where using the proposed software can come in handy. Most will already have a pre-prepared logical structure that you can move about as you wish.
Always begin with the problem you are proposing to solve for your client. One mistake that many designers make is to begin their proposals with information about themselves, including their education, background, experience, and a link to their portfolio.
Some of this may have been covered in the initial conversation, but they feel a need to repeat it.
Why is this a mistake? Because the proposal is not about you. It is about the client and his problem(s). So, begin with a solid problem statement (or more if there are multiple problems).
This tells the client that his concerns are your top priority
5. Writing the Problem Statement
When you develop your problem statement, certain things must be included. You want to cover the W’s – a tool that most problem statement writers use.
- Who: Who is having the problem? Obviously, your client is the “who”
- What: What are the parameters of the problem? He wants to improve his exposure, customer base, etc., and ultimately his ROI, by improving website design, a new logo, new marketing materials, etc.
- When: How soon does the client want this problem solved? Present a tentative timeline for completion, based upon the client’s desire.
- Why: Why is it important to solve the client’s problem? Obviously, he wants more business. But this part of the problem statement should also include some key information from your research. What are his competitors doing? How successful are they? What types of designs are they using that may be more engaging than the client’s current ones? If you can supply research data, you look professional.
From this, you can see that your problem statement covers a lot of territory, but you should not scrimp on this section.
Your goal is for your client to see that you understand his problem, that you have done solid research on the problem, and that you frankly know what you are talking about.
You want him to view you as a trusted expert who can deliver.
Describe and Explain the Solution You Propose
This section can be a bit tricky because you are not providing a final solution – the actual design(s). However, you do need to convince the client that you have some ideas based upon actual research and his brand “voice,” (provide details that “prove” you have a good understanding of his brand.
The next part of this section must demonstrate that you have a plan of action for going forward and that you are capable of putting that plan into action.
This may be the place for you to point the client to your portfolio and to references – these can show the client that you have implemented plans of action in the past, and that those results have been successful.
Outline the steps you will be taking to provide a resolution. If there are multiple problems, show the order in which you will attack them. Also, be certain to include review opportunities for the client along the way.
The goal of this section is for your client to trust that you know what you are doing. And by seeing designs from your portfolio, he understands that what you create is appealing and even exciting.
6. What are the Next Steps?
This section of your proposal will cover several things:
- The overall conditions of your mutual working relationship
- Terms of payment
- When will the project begin
Let’s briefly unpack these.
The general conditions will specify things such as how often you and the client will have formal meetings, timelines for completion of each phase of the project and time frame for the client to review work, make change requests, etc.
Of course, this will all be subject to change as the project progresses, and there should be a provision for modifications of the conditions on the part of both parties.
The terms of payment will depend upon how complex the project is, how much time you anticipate spending on it, how urgent the deadline is, and, of course, your background and experience. Your prices should increase as your experience does.
Be certain to project excitement whenever you can in your proposal. Your client wants to know that you share his enthusiasm.
Rely on Practice and Experience
If you are new to writing design proposals, understand that this will consume lots of time and work. And it’s not just the composing part.
It’s all the preparation time and effort – learning how to talk with clients, doing the research, etc.
With practice, you will get better, and proposals will take far less time and be far more professional.
As your business grows, you will obtain more clients, some of them long-term, your portfolio will build, and you will be able to increase your prices.
Practice, experience and patience will pay off.
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Jessica Fender has been working as a freelance writer for over 5 years and also tried herself in graphic design. She is happy to share her experience with those who are at the outset of their career or are looking to improve skills. Currently, Jessica contributes to ThesisOnTime.