Web Design Proposals

Do the titles of your proposals look like this?

  • Marketing Project for Company X
  • New Website Development Proposal for Company Y

If you’re like most people your proposal titles probably look like the above examples; this means you’re missing out on a valuable opportunity to stand out from your competition.

Breaking Down the Bad Examples

Let’s talk about why these are bad ways to title a proposal.

Marketing Proposal for Company X

The problem with the above title is that it’s too general. It’s boring.

It’s the type of title that no one really reads; you glance at it (maybe) and move on. Also, you want to avoid using the word “proposal” in the title; your client already knows it’s a proposal.

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Rubik’s Cube is a really great puzzle game. If you’re one of the few people in the world who’s not heard of or played Rubik’s Cube, it’s a 3D mechanical puzzle. The six faces of the cube each have nine stickers. Each sticker has a color — there are only six colors, one for each face of the cube. You twist and turn the cube (it has a pivot mechanism) to make each face a solid color.

When you’re writing a web design proposal you’re essentially trying to match up all the colored stickers to turn each face into a solid color.

A great proposal has several important areas (cube faces) it must cover to be successful.

Cube Face: What the Client needs

Finding what the client needs goes way beyond finding out project requirements. You’re looking to find the motivating factor for them wanting to hire someone to build or design a web site.

You only write a web design proposal to get someone’s business. You’re selling someone. You’re going to have one hell of a time selling someone if you don’t know why they’re looking for. Gaining a web presence isn’t a motivation. If that’s all you know then you need to dig deeper.

Why do they want a web presence? How does this fit in their overall strategy to grow their business?

There are always reasons. Even if they’re not entirely valid or realistic, you need to know what they’re thinking.

Once you find out what there reasons are, you’ll have to state them in the proposal. Remind them that you understand what they’re after and that since you understand what they’re looking for, you know how to solve their problem. It’s much easier to do this once you know what they’re after.

Cube Face: Project Requirements

Once you’ve found the client objectives and underlying motives you’re ready to tackle the next “face”. This one has to do with the project itself. This seems pretty obvious, but there’s more that meets the eye here.

So the client wants a brochure style marketing site (hopefully not really like a brochure). One where they can update their own content on. And they don’t have a need to take orders online. Simple, sounds like a they want a content management system. Using an open source CMS, you can have one done in about two weeks right? Not so fast.

Do they need a way for customers to contact them? Maybe a contact form? Do they want a section for company news? FAQ? Do they have multiple locations? A location search? Content search? And what about search engine optimization? Building a site still requires a way to generate traffic.

Say they wanted all of that. Would two weeks be long enough to build that for them? Probably not… now you’re looking at either losing lots of money or having an angry customer because it’s taking longer than expected and it’s going to cost more.

Bottom line, do your homework and ask the right questions regarding project requirements.

Cube Face: Project Pricing

So now you now exactly what they want and how long it’ll take to build. Figuring out the pricing should be cake. Well, sort of. If you take some time and figure out the pricing and work it into the proposal you might not get the sale. Why? Maybe they can’t afford it. So was this just a huge waste of time? Nope, it most likely wasn’t.

Even if they can’t afford everything that they want, they can probably afford what they need. So to figure out project pricing you’ve got to figure out 3 things: what they want, what they need and what sort of budget they’re working with.

This way if the project is over their project range you can start removing features that they don’t necessarily need. When you do this it’s important to make sure they understand that web projects can have multiple “releases”. So a small more affordable release can be done at first. They can then look get feedback from customers, look at traffic statistics and find out what features need to be built next. It’s really a great way of doing things and it makes it easy to play with the pricing so that it fits a client’s budget.

It’s Not All Fun and Games

So is writing a web design proposal as fun as playing Rubik’s Cube? Nope it’s not. But at winning a bid on a project and getting full payment isn’t too bad either. Just remember to solve each proposal area and you’ll be on your way towards a successful sale and project.



A while ago I was looking to hire a Usability firm to help redesign one of the web systems I’m in charge of at my job. Not having hired one of these companies before I decided to search the internets for someone that would do a halfway decent job.

When it comes to hiring vendors, I’m one picky guy — it can take me weeks (or months) of researching to find the right one and this was no different. My initial search consisted of filtering out companies that were outside of my budget. This was harder than you might think as hardly anyone wants to show you pricing information on their marketing sites.

After several days of searching I narrowed it down to a list of 3 companies. So the next step was to request a proposal from these companies. What happened next shows exactly how the proposal process itself can cost you web design projects.

The Automated Proposal

The first company had an RFP (Request for Proposal) form that asked some questions about the project and emailed me a proposal — five minutes later! Yeah, I’m not kidding about that. My project was so much like everything else they didn’t even need a human being to look at it.

This from a company specializing on usability? Fantastic.

The first few pages of this proposal consisted of marketing garbage that I quickly skipped through. The meat of the proposal consisted of a 50k estimate that was automatically generated based on the questions I had answered. How’s that for understanding project needs?

Yeah so you probably guessed that I didn’t pick this company to handle my project.

I’m all for automating mundane tasks and running an efficient operation; automating proposals like this is not the way to do it!

More is Better, Right?

For the next one, I had to email a description of my project to receive a phone call from a salesperson. This was lots of fun. Who wouldn’t want to hear a salesperson talk for 45 minutes? Yeah, this interview took 45 minutes. 20 minutes going over their company history, 15 minutes of grilling me about my budget and 10 minutes of going over project details.

After he was through, he promised to email me a proposal and call me back so we could review it together. I politely told him I preferred to review it alone and that I would email him back if I was interested.

The next day I received the completed proposal. It was about thirty pages long.

Thirty pages with a three page cover letter. A three page cover letter? Yeah right. I don’t even read one page cover letters.

So I did what web surfers do and skiped through the crap to try and find the important stuff. After a few minutes I realized that starting at page 15, the important stuff was sprinkled throughout the proposal. Meaning that I would have to carefully sort through pages of fluff to read what I was looking for.

Yep, you can guess where this one went. I didn’t even bother.

Too much fluff, both on the phone and on paper. It’s a really bad way to sell your web design services, but a great way to get people to avoid having any sort of contact with you again.

A Simple but Effective Proposal Process

The last company had a simple form that asked me a few questions. Not as many questions as the first company and I had to actually write a summary of the project, so I figured a human being would be looking at it this time around.

I received an email a couple of hours later asking for more information. Nothing long, just more details on what we were trying to accomplish, who were our competitors and what sort of timeframe I had in mind.

Soon after I received another email asking for a phone call to go over the project and make sure we were on the same page. After my previous experience I was a little hesitant but I agreed nonetheless.

The phone call took a little over 20 minutes and was entirely about the project.All the right questions were asked, and it merely served to communicate things that would be too wordy or difficult to say through email.

Later that day I received a completed proposal — 2 pages long. The proposal was barely more than a quote but I didn’t mind at all.

It had one brief paragraph summarizing the project and then had a table listing the services that would be performed, prices and projected timeline. Very short and efficient. I was impressed.

There was nothing canned about this. Almost every single word on the proposal was specific to my project. The price was slightly over my budget but I went through the extra effort to sell it to the execs because I felt the vendor really understood what I wanted to accomplish.

Final Thoughts

There you have it, two examples of a bad proposal process and one example of a very good one. Why was it good? Because it gave me something I was looking for.

It made me feel that they understood what I wanted to accomplish and knew exactly how to go about doing that. And they did all of this without wasting my time.

The proposal process starts with the RFP and ends with the proposal document. That’s the last chance you have to convince someone you can solve their problem.

You’ll be judged at every step of the process so pay attention to how you start your process as much as how you finish it.

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