Creating and pricing a complex proposal

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Photo by Alvaro Reyes on Unsplash

When there’s a particularly complex project in negotiation, my LEAST favourite part has been developing the proposal, working out who does what, and pricing the darned thing!

  • What if I miss something?
  • What if I charge too much?
  • What if we don’t make a profit?
  • What if…

However, I’ve developed a very clinical way to approach any difficult proposal or quote that I think would be beneficial to others.

In a nutshell

Starting with the end in mind, here’s how we reverse engineer the quote or proposal:

  • Establish the desired outcomes
  • Identify what you need to deliver so those outcomes can be achieved
  • Pinpoint the required actions you’ll need to take
  • Consult with team/contractors
  • Calculate and quote

Now for the meat and potatoes

Here are the steps we use to reverse engineer a proposal/price.

Step 1: Understand the desired outcomes

First, you need to understand the key outcomes your prospective client wants to achieve. Is it increased website traffic, better conversion rates, or perhaps improved user engagement? These objectives need to be clearly defined, as they will guide the rest of your proposal.

Actionable Tips:

  • Discuss objectives in detail with your client.
  • Make sure to document these objectives for reference.

Step 2: Identify the deliverables

Once the outcomes are established, work backwards to identify what needs to be delivered to achieve those goals. For example, if the outcome is to increase website traffic, the deliverables could include SEO services, content creation, and social media campaigns.

Actionable Tips:

  • List all potential deliverables.
  • Align them with the set objectives.

Step 3: Pinpoint the required actions

For each deliverable, map out the actions you need to take. This exercise will help you focus in only on what is necessary, therefore avoiding bloating your proposal.

For example, if one of the deliverables is a website, the required actions might include a UX audit, wireframes, design, and development. Or say a deliverable is improved SEO rankings, then actions might include keyword research, optimising meta tags, and creating SEO-friendly content.

Actionable Tips:

  • Break down deliverables into actionable tasks.
  • Identify areas that might require specialised skills or external contractors.

Step 4: Talk with the team

Depending on the size of your agency and the effort needed for the deliverables, you’ll want to work out who does what depending on their strengths. This includes talking with team members or contractors if you outsource specific skills.

Get them to provide you with estimates based on the actions they are being asked to undertake. It’s always essential that they understand the deliverables and outcomes they are contributing to.

Actionable Tips:

  • Communicate clearly the project’s needs.
  • Collate estimates for each task from the relevant parties.

Step 5: Calculate

Use the estimates from team members and contractors to build the overall price, including covering any other work, costs, and of course, a healthy profit margin. 

The structure of the proposal is quite literally the process that you went through in order to get to step 5:

  • Start with the outcomes
  • Define the deliverables
  • List out the required actions
  • Share who does what and potential timelines
  • Present the price

Actionable Tips:

  • Keep a record of all costs.
  • Make sure to add a profit margin to sustain your business.

Not convinced?

Well, you’re right not to be. Because it’s still not easy, however, this framework helps me compartmentalise all the different steps and stages, stops me from making the proposal too complicated, and ensures I cover all bases possible.

Breaking things down into stages/steps can be really helpful when tackling something of this size/nature and it’s the only way I find I can get anything done. Hope it helps you too!

If you found this framework useful, use the comments below to let me know. If not, I’m all ears for any other strategies that have worked for you.