Freelancing

7 common mistakes to avoid on your next design proposal

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Fix these typical problems to win more design contracts.

Design proposals are a beast. All too often, you put in hours of hard work to woo that new client, and in the end they wind up going with someone else.

Where are you going wrong? Your proposals are clearly written, beautifully designed, and totally professional.

Here’s the thing: a winning design proposal gets personal. Sure, your proposal has to prove that you have brains and design skills, but more importantly it has to convince your clients that you understand who they are—and what they truly need.

Related: Use this formula to write winning proposals

After reviewing thousands of freelance proposals from designers on Bonsai and their close rate, our team found 7 common mistakes you might be making in your design proposals. Here they are, along with some ideas on how you can fix them.

Mistake 1: You’re not speaking to your client before you begin

Sometimes a client has already laid out a plan, and they’ve even provided you with a detailed brief or request on how they want to proceed. However, is their route the best way to go? There could be a serious gap between what they think they want and what they actually need.

“A winning design proposal gets personal.”

That’s where you come in. After all, your true value isn’t in your drawing abilities or your Sketch expertise. Your most valuable skill is understanding the nature of their problem and providing the best design solution. The first step, then, is to determine what they’re really asking for at the end of the day.

If you can’t meet in person, it’s still helpful to speak on the phone or over a video call. They can tell you candidly what they’re trying to accomplish, and you can clarify details in real time. As a bonus, you start to get a feel for one another’s personalities, which can easily get lost in email and chat.

Design proposal mistakes

We love this example from Typeform. Onboarding your client with an online questionnaire could help you understand the context around the project.

Make sure to ask lots of questions, like:

  • What’s your ultimate goal?
  • What’s your particular metric for measuring success?

Listen carefully. Take notes. Ask questions to show you’re hearing your client loud and clear.

You’ll now be more prepared than ever to dive into your proposal. You might even discover a new approach to the project they hadn’t even considered, and that’s a big win for both of you.

Mistake 2: You’re skimping on research

Get to know the company inside and out. Go beyond their website and their About Us page. Review their blog and social media channels, and find articles about them. Become an expert on their style and their color palette. Also, don’t forget to find previous iterations of their visual identity so you can see how they’ve changed over time.

Design proposal mistakes

Going through their designers and teams accounts on Dribbble could be a great way to explore their design evolution. How great is this Dribbble shot from the Evernote team?

Look at their competitors as well. It helps to know what others in their field are doing, and things they may want to consider—or avoid. Since their team is sure to be doing this already, it’s a great topic to discuss together to help you get you on the same page.

Beyond that, take some time with their mission and philosophy. If you assemble your proposal in a way that reflects who they truly are, they’ll know that you understand them. Help them feel like you’re one of their people and that you already belong on the team.

Mistake 3: You’re talking about yourself instead of about them

It seems natural to list all the reasons you’re qualified for the job. The truth is, unfortunately, no one cares about your credentials. They aren’t interested in your years of experience or your many accomplishments. People care about themselves, their problems, and how you’re going to solve them.

Frame every part of your plan in terms of how it will help them win. For example, you could tell them how you have a deep understanding of designing websites for better conversion. Or, instead, you could tell them that they’re about to convert more leads than ever before—and here’s exactly how your design will make it happen.

Which approach would you find more compelling?

Finally, be careful about over-designing your proposal. Sure, you want it to look nice and stand out. Remember, though: they’ve already seen your beautiful work samples and your shiny portfolio. Regardless of how pretty your proposal may be, this is all about methodology, support, and concrete examples of how your designs create results.

Design proposal mistakes

A simple branded header should be enough.

Mistake 4: You’re leaving other experts out of the conversation

Social proof is huge. This is why we love hearing from guest experts, why we request references, and why endorsements go a long way. Use this to your advantage in your design proposal.

Basically, they shouldn’t just take your word for it. Give them some quotes from other UX designers, front-end developers, and thought leaders in the world of design. When these voices support your design solutions, you increase your authority. You provide assurance. You make it easy to say yes.

“Case studies turn nice ideas into measurable results.”

Next, include examples of how you’ve proven your methods with previous clients. Case studies are powerful tools that turn nice ideas into measurable results. Make the client feel confident that your design will not only be easy to integrate, but that it will make a big and lasting impact.

Mistake 5: You’re offering ideas and tasks instead of solutions and results

When you simply tell someone you’re going to solve their problem, that doesn’t mean much. People don’t want to pay for tactics or tools—but they are willing to invest in solutions that increase their revenue and make their lives easier.

With this in mind, keep the conversation rooted in the benefits you supply. Get specific. Rather than focusing on the hours you’ll devote to the project, focus on the hours they’ll save as a result. Talk about improved conversion in terms of percentages. Discuss additional income in terms of dollars.

Sure, it’s an estimate, but you can at least put the numbers in the ballpark. Look back on previous jobs to see what you’ve accomplished, and scale your goals accordingly. In any case, focus on the fact that this is an investment, not an expense. Show them how the resources they devote now will be nothing compared to the ROI..

Mistake 6: You’re not itemizing all of your services to show their full value

Think about it: when you drop money on a big purchase, you want to know where those dollars are going. If you’re splurging on a new computer, it helps to know that it comes with a suite of peripherals, a great warranty, and a year of complimentary tech support.

Do the same thing for your client. Lay out every service you’ll provide for them. Talk about the multiple design iterations and revisions that come with your plan. Mention consultations and review sessions. Outline supplemental materials, like the style guide you’ll include, with all the rules on how and where to use that new logo.

Design proposal mistakes

A simple and detailed budget.

Be sure to break it down line by line, with your pricing alongside each item. This is far more persuasive than presenting one giant lump sum, which can feel overwhelming without context. Lay things out in a clean and easy-to-read manner, and find a proposal generator that helps you get this done quickly and consistently.

When the client sees the full value of each service item (not to mention the smaller numbers), they’ll feel better. You’re showing them where their money is going and why it’s worth it.

Mistake 7: You’re not presenting options

If you only provide 1 plan, you only provide 2 options: yes or no. This is risky business.

Instead, offer a few different levels of service for the client to review and choose from, based on their needs.

Perhaps you should draft up 3 packages: a basic, advanced, and premium option. Each plan has its own level of service, and its own level of investment, broken down in detail. This shows that you’re taking the time to help them solve things in the way that works best for them—not best for you.

Design proposal mistakes

Adding packages can help you upsell.

This tactic, by the way, can help you to increase your revenue. Despite the higher price tag, clients just might surprise you with how often they choose to invest in your top level of service. You just have to show them that it’s worth it.

“Let clients choose from different levels of service.”

It’s the little things

Finally, before you get too deep into the details, let’s talk about page one. Always begin your proposal with a clear opening statement. Briefly lay out the client’s problem, followed by the primary goal, and give an overview of how you’ll help them get there. It sets the stage from the start, and will help them navigate the rest of the proposal with greater clarity.

Now it’s time to take a step back and review your design proposals. These 7 issues are common, and any one of them might be holding you back. Not only can these adjustments help you land more contracts, they might even help you scale up your scope and your rates. Your next project could become something bigger than you’d ever even planned on.

Have you seen Design Leadership, our new Medium publication? Check it out and become a contributor.

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Author

Chad Eschman

Chad Eschman is an editor and writer for Bonsai, the all-in-one freelancing solution that helps independent workers get more done with less hassle. He also produces theater and film, writes about cocktails, and is about to launch his first podcast.

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