PIC session on proposalsA Request for Proposal (RFP) is like a mirage in the desert, or a dreamed-of lottery win, or simply a “Recipe for Pain,” says Ilise Benun, founder of Marketing Mentor. At the November 7 meeting of IABC/Toronto’s Professional Independent Communicators, she told the group not to waste our time on RFPs – at least, not unless we’re confident of getting the work.

The marketing and business development specialist touched on estimates, which are simple, one-page outlines of costs. She also mentioned blueprints, which are documents that specify the steps for a complex project. Use a blueprint where the client is not clear on what needs to be done and you’re helping define the project, but be sure to charge a fee for this. Frame it as “this is part of what you would get if I actually did the project.”

But Ilise spent most of the session talking about proposals, which she called “a tool to make the argument for why you are the best person for the job.” Here are her tips:

Should you do the proposal? Like going after an RFP, you should only do a proposal when you know you’re the best person for the job. The job should be in your target market; if not, decide if it’s worth your time. Ask how many others are bidding and if you can meet with the decision-makers. Is the client “just fishing” or truly buying?

Anatomy of a proposal: Spell out why you’re the best fit. Tailor the proposal to the prospect, and set it up from his/her point of view. (Leave “About us” until the end.) Clearly explain your process and beware of “absence blindness” – the steps people can’t see. Show that you “get it” by repeating the prospect’s objectives. Include how you would approach the project and be enthusiastic. Prove that you’re the perfect fit. Pricing should be clear but this shouldn’t be the first time the prospect sees a dollar figure; you should have mentioned or sent a rough estimate first.

How to present the proposal (and you do want to present it, not just send it): Make it part of your stated process that you need to talk to the decision-maker and you need to present the proposal in person, or by phone or Skype. This allows you to respond to questions or objections. End by closing the deal and asking for the work.

How to close the deal: Ask if the prospect has questions and if he/she is ready to move forward. Propose the next step and timeframe. Ask when the decision will be made. If you don’t get the work, ask for feedback.

Ilise also had some pointers on pricing:

  • Ask what the budget is. You may get an answer, or throw out some numbers; “Are we talking $2,000 or $5,000?”
  • Don’t discuss budget by email.
  • Billing by milestone is dangerous to your cash flow. Instead, ask for a 25% deposit and spread the balance over the project life, charging equal amounts the first of every month.

Were you at the session? What tips stood out for you?

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Photo: Ilise Benun and Patricia Davies at the PIC meeting November 7, 2012. Credit: Alan McKenzie, ampfoto.com.