Writing your first client proposal as a new digital marketing agency can be daunting, but they’re simpler than you might think.
- Reflect the professionalism and style of the agency
- Effectively set expectations on what you’re going to do and what you’re not going to do
- Make it easy for the client to feel comfortable enough to sign
- Cover your ass if the client point of contact changes or gets selective amnesia
If your agency is fun and informal, your proposal should be fun and informal (but still cover your ass). You don’t necessarily need a proposal that looks like it was written by a team of angry attack lawyers.
One important thing to realize about proposals: they’re only part of a pitch and they rarely survive on their own. You can’t just lob a proposal at a client and wait for the money to roll in. You should ensure you’re delivering the proposal to the decision-makers and you should push for an in-person or video call to review the proposal and answer any questions that might come up. Frequently, you can either get sign-off or get conditional sign-off with changes from that proposal review meeting. It’s also a crucial bit of feedback on your sales process and how well your sales methodology nailed it.
To state it again: you cannot send a proposal to a client and hope that the decision-makers will figure it out and have all their questions answered from the proposal. There is no proposal that answers all questions, and it’s not worthwhile to try to cover absolutely every little edge case in 1 gigantic proposal.
For any high-value proposal, a title page of some kind is expected. It should have your business name, logo, the client’s business name, date, and proposal number. Lay it out nicely. Optional: add in your client contact name and/or your company’s account manager name.
An executive summary is your opportunity to prove you heard your client and understand their needs. You should be able to simply state their needs and how your agency will address those needs in the executive summary. Most projects just need 1 paragraph, but a large complex project may need a few paragraphs or a whole page. If you need to go that route, break up paragraphs with headings to make the exec summary more skimmable.
The scope is the meat of the proposal: what you’re going to do. Where possible, quantify the work to be done in easy to understand language. For example:
- Design and develop 3 landing pages
- Write, build and send a monthly client email newsletter
- Actively manage the client’s Google Ads account, ensuring the spend stays within 20% of the budget
- Send weekly work summary to the client for the duration of the project outlining work done this week and work to do next week
- Monthly performance reporting with 1hr client call to review
Assumptions usually cover how you think the client will work, and spell out what will happen if they don’t do what you expect. It’s also a good spot to call out what explicitly isn’t included. For any projects involving design and development, you MUST set expectations on client iterations and changes. Most website projects will benefit from 1 round of consolidated iterations included or else you end up nickel and diming the client to death.
- Clients to provide requested assets within 3 days of the request
- 1 round of consolidated feedback after the beta presentation is included
If assumptions are not met, project timelines and costs will be impacted.
Follow the KISS principle when it comes to pricing. It should be clear what the basic price is, and what extras might come along. Make it clear if the price includes taxes, etc.
If you’re selling a retainer to the client, don’t try the “put 3 prices in and hope they pick the middle one” trick if the lowest price option couldn’t possibly be enough to help them. Ask for a price that represents the value of your service to the client.
While we’re here, you may want to read a book or two on agency pricing strategy and selling. SPIN Selling is great, Value-Based Pricing, Ogilvy on Advertising, The Marketing Agency Blueprint, there are lots of great sales, pricing, and agency-specific books out there.
Change requests are separate documents that describe changes in scope, cost, timeline, etc to a project. Describe how they’re going to work and how they’ll be approved.
Terms and Conditions
This can be a bit of a dumping ground for “what ifs” that cover typical and maybe even some non-typical (but high-risk) scenarios. If you have a lawyer, it’d be a good idea to have them review this part and add in other clauses to help cover your butt.
- If you design a logo, will you sign over rights to use the logo to the client?
- If the client fires you, how many days notice do you need?
- What assets do you keep on hand, and how long will you keep them for before deleting them?
- Agree that your client will not steal your employees during the project, and you won’t steal theirs
- Remind your client that marketing comes with no guarantees to performance
Depending on the liability laws in your area, you may want to pay for some kind of errors and omissions insurance.
This part depends on how you sell or don’t sell, ActiveDEMAND. Many of our agencies roll the cost of ActiveDEMAND into the overall cost of their monthly retainers. Clients pay the general monthly fee to their agency, and the agency sets up ActiveDEMAND for the client under their agency portal.
Agencies that setup ActiveDEMAND under the client and not under an agency account typically use a referral link. For those agencies, you only need to add any ActiveDEMAND setup services you intend to do to the scope area.
You will want to clearly spell out what happens if you part ways with the client. Do they get the option to migrate the account to their own, or is the account owned by your agency?
I don’t like including sample timelines because the timeline for many projects is tightly tied to how engaged the client is. If the client is busy with other work and can’t commit, the project will drag on forever and at some point, the client will pull up the original timeline that was for 1 month and you’re 4 months in (nevermind the fact their slowness has caused all the issues.)
Some clients want to know about the people who are working on the project. This is common in larger ($75k+) agency projects or projects where a high level of expertise is demanded. Build a mini resume/CV for each person on the team, and include where you need it.
Case studies, testimonials, blind references
Some clients will want to know of past successes. Hopefully, you’ve got some great examples on your website already. If not, you may need to include them here. The projects should be very relevant to the client. “Blind references” are clients or past clients of yours who are willing to take a call or email from prospects and talk about you.
Analyze to chop it down
Is your proposal template 20 pages long? Time to cut it down, but what should get cut first? If you’re not sure what parts of the proposal are providing value for your client, use Proposify. It’ll show you which sections your clients spend the most time on, which will help you understand what can be cut and what needs to stay.
So as you can see, writing a proposal isn’t as difficult as it is made to sound. With a little planning and preparation, including our tips above, writing effective proposals will become faster and easier.