Winning more work series part II: Presenting a winning quote, proposal or pitch

The tips you need to prepare a foolproof proposal or quote


In our first article in this series, we looked at how to set yourself up to win work before you’ve even submitted a quote. In this article, we want to look at what you can do to make the actual quote as successful as possible. Of course we’re biased and think one way you can do it is by using Qwilr to share your quote – but that’s actually only a small part of what we want to talk about. We promise.

What does team Qwilr know about this?

Qwilr’s business is about helping people win more work and we now spend every day thinking about just that. Before that we worked in a range of roles that touched proposals and sales: Dylan worked as freelance web designer for clients including Saatchi & Saatchi and the Victorian Government. Mark worked in business development at Google, working on partnerships with education publishers in the US. Steve worked on proposing for – and the execution of – multi-million dollar consulting projects at The Boston Consulting Group.

(Re-)Frame your customer’s problem

In our last article, we talked a bit about how important it is to frame your client’s problem: Take the example we’ve written about before of our attempt to buy business cards. We initially asked for quotes for embossed cards. We thought that would give us cards that looked particularly professional. We received back quotes that weren’t in our budget. In the end, we didn’t buy embossed cards, and we didn’t buy cards from any of the printers we contacted. It turned out that our ‘problem’ wasn’t “we need embossed cards”. It was “we need cards that look professional and meet our budget”. Printers who just responded to our quote didn’t win our business. But a printer that showed us that they could solve our problem differently did. They made an attempt to understand the problem – not just the request – and helped us solve it, which won our work.

Be willing to challenge your customer’s view of their problem and your role

Implicit in the anecdote above is this: a winning quote doesn’t always just answer the customer’s question, it sometimes challenges either what the customer wants or what they think your company can do. This can seem challenging – after all we’re (too often) told that the customer is always right. But as we wrote in part 1 of this series, knowing what your company does, why it does it and at what price is important to having a successful business. That means you have to re-frame the customer’s question. This makes sense when you think about it: often your customer will be coming to you for help with a problem they face rarely (e.g. printing new business cards) but you face every day (printing business cards). You probably do know a lot more about what they customer needs than they do. Once you’ve figured out what problem you’re going to offer to solve, it’s time for the quote.

An effective, professional quote should do three things…

Explain how you’re going to solve the problem

As we discussed above, it might be the case that you need to help re-frame the problem you’re solving. Once that’s done, or if you don’t need to do that, the first thing you need to do is clearly explain how you’re going to solve the problem. The core of this description should be a deliverable. This is true, though in different ways, for any problem of any type. The proposal for a massive consulting project might be 100 pages long and include detailed workplans for multiple modules of work. But even to come back to our business card example, it’s deceptively easy to fail to clearly explain how you’ll solve the problem. We had one quote for our work that we had to email back and forth three times on to confirm they were quoting for the right number of designs! A good rule of thumb is this: assume the recipient of the quote doesn’t trust that you’ve understood them – use your description as a chance to assure them that you get it. Another benefit of doing this well: you define a clear scope and avoid being asked to do further ‘out of scope’ work to keep the customer happy. Being clear about what you’re going to do up front will save you in the long run.

Let your customers know how you’ll work with them to ensure delivery of the work

Once you’ve said what you’re going to do, it’s not enough to go off and just do it. Take the rule of thumb above: your customer is skeptical that you’ve understood them. To put them at ease, make sure your quote tells them what they can expect by way of communication from you. There’s no need to feel you have to pin yourself to an unrealistic timeline here. Instead, it’s important to be open about how you’ll engage while the work is underway. This can be as simple as scheduling a progress check in a week from estimated delivery. Simpler still, you can tell them that the project will be ready for pickup from your office next Tuesday. Or it can be as complex as arranging fortnightly meetings to review progress and agree next steps. No matter what the commitment is, making it is the important thing. It tells your customers you have a plan and can be relied on.

Make it clear what your price is, and what’s driving the price you’ve presented

Of course now it’s time to get to the meat of the quote: the price. You can’t beat around the bush here – you’ve got to put down a number. Now, unless you say otherwise, your customer is going to assume the price you put down is the start of a negotiation. If you won’t negotiate on the price you’ve offered, make it clear upfront to avoid wasting everyone’s time. If you will, the way you present your price can help to frame the coming negotiation in a way that will work out for you. One of the best ways you can do that is by laying out the levers that drive the cost you’ve put forward. It would be foolish to be completely transparent about your costs and margins. But breaking down the quote into a few key components can help you negotiate a good price. For example, breaking the job down into some core and optional tasks can set up a negotiation where you offer to drop optional tasks from the job, or include them for free to lower the price. This will avoid a situation where you give a final price only and face a customer who asks for a 30% discount of the total straight off the bat. Another good idea is putting cost levers in the customers hands that will actually help you. A classic example is a discount for early payment. You want cashflow, and the customer wants 10% off. Straight away you’ve given them the tool to secure the discount, but in a way that helps you business.

And the best pitches do another thing: look great and champion your brand

We talked in our last article about how important your branding and presentation is, not just in generating leads for your business, but in speaking to what your business has to offer. Before starting Qwilr, Dylan was a freelance web designer and developer. He felt that sending quotes as PDFs attached to emails did a disservice to the aesthetic and tech sensibility that was core to his company’s brand. In response, he built Qwilr. The goal of Qwilr is to let businesses send quotes and proposals that look great and strengthen their brand. They provide customers with a ‘wow’ experience that differentiates the businesses that send them. But we’re not here to plug Qwilr (too much 😉 ). The more general point is that the way you present your quotes can be as important as their content. If design and aesthetics are part of what you’re selling you want a quote that looks good. An accountant could never send a quote that didn’t add up. And it matters. While you’ll often have a back and forth relationship with the person you send a quote to, in many cases it is your quote that will introduce your business to higher-up decision makers who sign off on the spending. We think it’s important to make sure you’re wearing your Sunday best.

Recap: Create a winning quote by:

(Re-framing) the Customer’s problem

Explaining clearly how you’ll solve it

Making it clear how you’ll stay in touch while you’re working

Presenting a price that is frames the coming negotiation, and

Putting forward a quote that looks great and champions your brand (using Qwilr…)

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