by Nigel Gordijk
When a potential client approaches you to see if you can handle their projects, how do you prove yourself without resorting to creative output? The answer is to write an informative and insightful project proposal.
Before you begin working for a potential client you need to win their confidence by proving you're capable of meeting their requirements. Sometimes this is a formal process where the client has issued a Request For Proposal (RFP), which means that you'll be competing against others to win the project. Alternatively, a client may approach just one supplier to see how they would handle the job.
Here, I'll be discussing my method for handling the individual approach. As I'm primarily a Web designer much of the advice has a slant towards online projects, but hopefully most of it will prove helpful for any client project.
This may sound obvious, but make sure that the cover clearly features your organization's name (and logo if it has one), the title of the project and the date of the submission. You want your document to stand out from the reams of paper on the client's desk.
When you hand over the result of your carefully considered hard work, make the client aware that you don't want it to be shown to a third party. They may well be a cheap bargain basement supplier who would happily steal your ideas. If you don't win the project and a few months later a near replica appears based on your ideas, this can be useful for proving that you own the rights to them.
I usually include the following statement on the first page of my proposals:
---Nigel Gordijk owns the copyright for this document and all its contents.
This proposal should be considered private and confidential and may not be shared with any third party without the prior written permission of Nigel Gordijk.
In reality, if someone steals your work it could be near impossible to prove. But at the very least this will show the client how much you value it.
Explain your understanding of the client, their business and the industry they operate in. This will form the platform that is your starting point for a project so you need to show the client that their objectives are clear to you. The Executive Summary shouldn't be more than about three or four paragraphs.
List the existing success and failures of any existing efforts the client has in the area that you'll be working in. For example, if you're redesigning their Web site then assess how easy the navigation is to use; what does the design of the site say about the client; is it informative and up to date; and so on.
Be diplomatic if you can't think of anything good to say. Bear in mind that this earlier effort may have been commissioned by the person who is reading your proposal - or worse, they may have done it themselves. If the site's navigation isn't up to scratch, mention that it could be improved by simplifying it to make it easier to use.
Who will be using the finished project? Give demographic details - age, industry sector, etc. - as well as details of what needs to be considered with regards to these people. What type of language should you be using to address them? Are they likely to be Web literate or complete beginners?
The client should hopefully be focused on what they want to achieve and this is where you summarize their objectives. Is this an image exercise or a communication one? Does the client company just want to look cool or is it trying to tell its target audience about their products and services? It's vital this is clearly defined, as different requirements need different executions.
Remember - this is a project proposal, not a project brief. Its purpose is to prove to the client that you can help them meet their objectives; so don't be afraid to state what seems to you to be the obvious. If you do, your proposal may be rejected because of what you omitted.
Given the understanding you've displayed in the Executive Summary, Current Situation, Target Audience and Project Goals this is where you can get a bit creative and show off.
The Creative Strategy is often described as "the way forward" - you're starting from Point A and your aim is to take the client to Point B. Explain what you think is the best route to get there. If you'll be producing a Web site then list the sections with short descriptions.
How technical you are here depends on how much you think your client will understand. Will the site's content be dynamic? If so, then describe how you will achieve this. Will there be a members' forum? What technology will you use? What type of server will the client need?
Often the Technical Strategy is governed by budget constraints so it's a good idea to offer two or three options, each of which vary in price. The client could launch with a basic HTML brochure site, and then develop a more advanced (and more expensive) strategy further down the line.
To many clients the creative and technical process is an arcane art. Now that they've made an initial contact with you they may have no idea how you work and how they get to a completed project. List the various steps and give a brief description.
From an in-depth discussion with the client to determine its requirements you will write the Project Brief that will include a site map, a description of the content, final timelines and detailed cost breakdown.
How many different styles of design will you be providing? How will they be presented; in person, in print or online? Once a design has been chosen, explain your acceptance process - signing off either by email or in writing - and that this is the point where you start creating all the other pages of the site.
When the design direction and development is completed and signed off is the point when the technical stuff happens in earnest - the HTML is built and populated with content that has either been provided by the client or generated by a third party.
Describe the full list of deliverables so there are no nasty surprises for either you or the client. Manage their expectations by stating explicitly what you will and what you won't be providing.
Bear in mind that as this is a Proposal the Development Budget should be followed by the caveat that further discussion will be necessary to determine a final cost, which would be detailed in the Project Brief. At this stage it's enough to give an estimate.