While web designers are big on UI and UX and all the other user-focussed acronyms, it seems that this process gets left behind at the most important stage of the client/designer relationship - the proposal.

There is a real balancing act between how much and how little to tell the prospect in the proposal stage and so we lean towards the ‘too much information’ side because of the underlying fear that we need to justify our price. But are we just limiting our chances of success when there are many reasons that your customer is not even going to read a 20-page proposal?


Why your proposal sucks (from the customers perspective).

When we write a proposal we think we’re writing it from the customer's point of view, after all, we’re building them a tool to help them in their business. But if you really believe this, then how come your proposal has two pages about the customer and their issue and 18 about you and your solution?


Bad 'Proposal UI'

Let’s put it in digital speak. Have you thought about what the first thing a customer wants to look at in your proposal? You know, that part you’d rather not discuss, but they really need to know? I’m talking about price. What page number is your price on? Is it on page two (right after you’ve talked about them and their problem in your introduction?). If it’s on page four, or buried somewhere in the middle, then your UI is all wrong, or non-existent. If the first thing someone wants to find is the price, why is it so far in?

The other most important thing the customer wants to know is “will your website solve their problem”? They don’t want to know how much data you give them, or how fast your website pages load. They will need to know this, just not yet!

By spending a page or two talking about their issue and any other issues that, in your expertise, they need to consider, then you’re framing yourself in a light that means that the rest of the experience with you will be all about them, the customer. Which brings us to…


Even worse 'Proposal UX’

Is your proposal overburdened with too much text, large amounts of tech speak and sorely lacking in an abridged version? If your proposal is visually heaving under the content that you think potential customer simply must know, then you’re setting the tone for the rest of the customer's experience with you. Yes, your customer needs to understand that you know your stuff, but will they also be afraid that working with you will be overwhelmed by jargon and confusion?

Consider taking all of the text speak and sending it (banishing it) to the appendices. It’s like website terms and conditions, the customer knows that they’re there (usually on that footer link) and when they are ready to learn more about your process, widgets and services then they can find them when they are ready. If you do want to pad the proposal from the front then please talk about the benefits of your widgets and features and how they solve your customer's problems.


Here’s what you can do about it

So now if you are ready to start thinking like a web designer, and applying what you already know to that proposal, let’s start to think from the users perspective.

Stop with the estimates

When you buy a car, you don’t get an estimate of a price for the car. You get a solid “this car costs this amount”. They then give you options for ‘extra add-ons’ – nicer mags, sunroof, better stereo, that kind of thing. Options that give the customer some control over what they think they need. Sure it might be harder for you to do, but you’re the expert, so you give them a price and you make sure you back that price. If you get it wrong then you learn for next time and price it better. But this way you’re not just giving the customer a fixed price, you’re educating them on what a base model website (for them) costs, and offering them choices, and control, over how much more they want to build into the website.

Turn that proposal upside-down

Along with taking all the tech speak and putting it in the appendix, turn your thought process around with how you present your proposal. Now that you’re (hopefully) thinking like a UI designer, take a look at your proposal and highlight all of the words ‘we’, then in another colour, highlight all the words ‘you’. You guessed it if the ‘we's’ outweigh the ‘you’s’ then it’s time for an overhaul.

Get a better understanding of your customer

Remember that your customer wants a website to solve their problem. When a person is buying a safe car, do they care what the airbags are made of, or just that they will work when they need them? Do they really care what metal composite is in the body of the car to make it stronger or have a more effective crumple zone? Nope, they just want to know that it is a safe car. Find out the main reason your customer wants a new website and build your benefits around that.

Strip out the dead weight

Just as you've done with the heavy ‘tech speak’ of your proposal, strip out the company profile. If you’ve front-loaded the proposal with all of your ‘we’ talk then take it out.

Take this information and compose a flyer or ebook about your company, the team, it’s wins and past web builds. Something to leave them with or email them after the first meeting. It’s a nice way to get in touch while you prepare their proposal.


Proposals are as much an art as they are a science. I know it may feel that you have a new rendition of a proposal every few months, but then isn’t it in our nature to do things better every time? You know that the website you developed for a customer five years ago is going to pale beside the one you’ve just launched. Because we grow and get better with every website, so why should we not treat our proposals the same. The customer won’t just thank you for it, they’ll actually do business with you.

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Amanda van Kuppevelt

Owner and founder of Delineate who's mad keen about client successes