How do I write my first proposal?


You’ve done the hard work.

You’ve found a potential client.

You’ve listened to their needs.

You’ve explained what it is you do.

They sound really interested.

“Send me a proposal” they say.

And you stop dead.

Because you’ve not done a proposal yet.

You’ve never written one before.

What do you do?

The single most important thing to remember is you have not got the client yet. That means that your proposal is a sales document. You are still “persuading” the client that you’re the right person to work with.

And the client is going to be looking for three things:

  • Will you help me achieve my objectives?
  • Will the price you charge be worth it?
  • Are you capable of delivering this project?

So your proposal should not just say “I will build a 5 page website for this price” or “I will keyword optimise your site for this price” or “I will write a Javascript component that does X for this price”.

Because that does not answer the client’s questions.

They don’t want a 5 page website – they want more sales1.

They don’t want keyword optimisation – they want more traffic2.

They don’t want a javascript widget – they want happier customers3.

In all three cases I’ve made an assumption about what it is the client is actually looking for. It’s your job, during the course of your conversations to figure out what their objective actually is.

And then you state that, front and centre, in your proposal.

“The aim of this project is to help Client X achieve Objective Y”

Straight away, you’re answering the client’s question – will you help me achieve my objectives? Yes, it’s right there on page one, paragraph one.

Next, is the price you charge worth it?

Well, if you’re going to help them get more sales, how many more sales do they want? Is it £100/month, is it £1000/month, is it £10000/month?

If you’re going to help them get more traffic – what is that traffic worth? Do 1 in 10 visitors become customers? Do 1 in 100, or 1 in 1000 or 1 in 1000000 visitors become customers? And how much is a customer worth? You can then use this to figure out that if you boost their traffic by 100 or 1000 or 1000000 visitors per month, they are going to make £M in extra revenue.

If you’re going to help them keep their customers happy – what is their customer churn rate? If a customer stays with them for an extra six months, how much is that worth to them in subscription revenue (or however they make their money)?

Because once you’ve got a monetary value, a measure of the difference you’re going to make to their business, suddenly, you’ve got something to anchor your price against.

“According to the projections, implementing this project will raise your revenues by £1000/month”

When you then state that your price is £5000, you’re immediately saying “so you will have made your money back in 6 months” – answering question two.

Now you’ve proven that you know what they want to achieve, you’ve proven that it’s worth their while choosing you – now you just need to prove to them that you can be trusted.

The easiest way to do this is to offer some sort of guarantee.

This might fill you with terror – but remember, you can choose what the guarantee looks like.

So, never pick something that is outside your control. You can’t promise them £1000/month in extra sales, because what if their product is utter crap and no-one wants to buy it? Or a new competitor comes out with something better that’s half the price? Your guarantee just fell through the floor.

Instead, choose something you can control.

The website will be completed, to your specifications, with 3 revisions, within 6 weeks of the contract being signed.

The optimisation process will result in new website copy that reads naturally but has a keyword density of X.

The javascript widget will reduce the customer journey from 5 steps to 1 step, resulting in smoother order processing.

We guarantee that this project will meet the following criteria providing our specialist development process is followed.

And that way, your proposal answers your clients three major questions, puts their mind at ease and makes it easy for them to choose to work with you.

If you’d like to take control of your time, escape the constant firefighting and build a business that works for you, the easy way to get started is to build a 12 Week Plan. My free planner shows you exactly what you need to do.

Download your free planner now

  1. Probably
  2. Probably
  3. Probably

How much should I charge?

I talk quite a lot about pricing. It’s one of those things that most business owners struggle with at some point. Price too high and you won’t win any business. Price too low and you won’t cover your costs. Both have the same outcome – you can’t pay yourself. And if you can’t pay yourself, then what’s the point of putting all that hard work into running a business?

Stop just guessing!

The first mistake many people make is using guesswork to set the price. They pluck a figure out of the air and say, ‘that sounds about right’.

But what is that figure actually based on? Competitors? Costs? The price their mate suggested when they asked for advice?

Don’t just guess.

Do some research. Do some planning. Do some calculations.

Start with the end in mind

Nobody goes into business wanting to work for free, or even worse, at a loss. So, when setting your pricing, the first thing you should write down is how much you want to earn.

There’s no guarantee you’ll earn it, and you need to be realistic, but this gives you a starting point to work from.

For easy calculations, let’s say that in year one, you want to earn £24,000 before tax. That’s £2000 per month.

Calculate your costs

The next thing you need to know is your expenditure. Add up all your monthly outgoings. If you’re just starting out, you’ll probably need to estimate some of the costs, for example, you might set yourself a limit of £500 per month for marketing. For the purpose of our example, we’ll say our costs are also £2000 per month.

Do a bit of maths

If we want to pay ourselves £2000 per month, and our costs are £2000 per month, then we need to bill at least £4000 per month. That’s our target, and now we need to break it down.

By the hour

Let’s say we want to work 40 hours a week, 48 weeks of the year. That works out at 160 hours per month. So, we just take our target of £4000 per month and divide it by 160 hours, meaning we need to bill £25 per hour, right?


While you might work 40 hours a week, not all of them will be billable. There will be time spent doing marketing activities, going to meetings and attending networking events. Time spent on calls, sending and replying to emails, completing admin tasks and doing all the other things that come with running a business.

If there’s just you in your business, you’ll be lucky to spend more than 50% of your time doing actual billable work once you factor in all the other stuff. This means the billable rate for our example should be at least £50 per hour. Make sure your hourly rate covers your non-billable time too.

Note that I also fundamentally disagree with billing by the hour.

At it’s heart, billing by the hour punishes you for doing well.

Imagine you take on a novice plumber. It takes them 3 hours to fix a leaky tap. If they charge £25 per hour, then that’s £75 you pay them.

Now imagine you take on an expert plumber. It takes them 5 minutes to fix your leaky tap. Even if they charge £100 per hour, you might end up paying them £50 for that first half hour.

In other words, spending years becoming an expert and learning how to be good at your job means you get punished when it comes to billing.

Now do you see why I think hourly billing is crazy?

By the project

Project pricing can work in a similar way to hourly pricing. Just work out your hourly rate as above, then work out how long it takes to complete a project on average to get your project price.

Alternatively, decide how many projects you can complete each month and divide your target by that amount. Let’s say you want to build four websites per month. Your target is £4000, so that works out at £1000 per site.

But, if you’re charging by the project, there’s an even better way to think of your prices. That’s value pricing – and it takes some real confidence on your part – but if you can get it right, it can transform your business.

The basic idea of value pricing is no-one actually wants whatever it is that you do. They don’t want a website, they don’t want someone to write an employee handbook.

What they actually want is more different. Instead of a website, they want more sales. Instead of an employee handbook, they want to not taken to a tribunal.

What is it worth to someone to get more sales? Well, if their new website brings in £100,000 of extra sales, that’s a real boost.

What is it worth to someone to not get taken to a tribunal? Well if it avoids a compensation claim of £50,000 then that’s a real benefit.

And of course, all we’ve looked at here are the direct benefits. Underneath those are indirect benefits – more sales mean you can show off to your neighbours with a brand new car. No tribunals mean you can actually sleep at night. What are those things worth?

So to get started with value pricing, you need to figure out what your work is worth to your client. What value are they getting out of it? Both in monetary terms, the direct benefit, and in emotional terms, the indirect benefit.

These benefits are going to be different for everyone – so the process of value pricing is complex.

But if you get it right and you get your client to agree that this piece of work could be worth £50,000 or £100,000 – plus immeasurable emotional security, you can then use that figure as an anchor for your price.

I’m not going to build you a website – but for £10,000 I will give you a pathway to £100,000 in sales and a car that your neighbour will be jealous of.

I’m not going to write you an employee handbook – but for £5000 I will give you a cast-iron mechanism for avoiding employee tribunals, so you can sleep at night.

So you can see how value pricing can be really hard to do – and takes utter confidence and belief in your abilities. But when you get it right, it can transform your entire business.

Focus on what you can control

It’s all very well having these fantastic numbers for your prices. But you actually need customers, not prices.

The best way to do that is to focus on the things you can control. How many leads do you have coming in? How many of them become customers? And how long does it take for them to become a customer?

Magic numbers

You might have heard me mention the two magic numbers. Knowing these figures allows you to forecast for the months ahead and ensure your pricing structure works.

If you’d like to take control of your time, escape the constant firefighting and build a business that works for you, the easy way to get started is to build a 12 Week Plan. My free planner shows you exactly what you need to do.

Download your free planner now

Photo by Mohammad Saifullah on Unsplash

Value, Sales, Money & Profit

I had the great honour of being interviewed by Steve Twynham for Great Yorkshire Radio and Podcasts for Business.

We chatted about giving value to your clients, how sales isn’t the sleazy process it often appears, how getting your money sorted can trigger the improvements in the rest of your business and how you need to put your Profit First. Check out the free “Hacker’s Guide to Quitting your Job” for more information.

Join our club

Not many people are brave enough to start their own business.

People like us, we took a risk.

We made a stand.

(by the way, if you’d like to subscribe to the podcast, click these links – Apple Podcasts/iTunes, Google Podcasts, Stitcher or Spotify)

We decided that we weren’t going to put up with working for an idiot or being told what to do.

We were sick of working incredibly hard, only for the rewards to go to some high-up who has no idea what we actually do each day.

We’ve chosen flexibility.

We’ve chosen responsibility.

We’ve chosen working from home, so we can look after the kids.

We’ve chosen doing things the right way.

We’ve chosen being fair with the money we earn.

But it’s difficult.

Most businesses fail within the first year.

If you’ve made it that far, congratulations. You’re doing an amazing job.

Even worse, almost all small businesses die within four years.

So if you’ve hit that milestone and made it to five years or beyond, you’re in an elite club.

The reason for this is simple.

The things that you have to do when you start a business are different (year one) to the things you have to do to keep that business running (up to year four), which in turn are different from the things you have to do make the business work without your constant attention (year five and beyond).

There are five areas where you need to make those changes – profits, operations, sales, marketing and time. Taken together, it’s a big set of changes, a lot of learning to do all at once. But break it down, attack one piece at a time, and it becomes manageable and a natural part of building a business that gives you the life you want.

If you’d like to know what could make a difference for you, check out my quick and simple quiz.

It’s designed to pinpoint the area of your business that you can make the most improvement on, for the least effort.

So you can actually get a bit of that flexibility, that extra cash, that free time and that freedom that we were all wanting when we started our businesses.

It only takes a couple of minutes to complete and could make a real difference to your business.

Photo by Miroslava on Unsplash

I don’t want the sale

Earlier this week, we talked about attracting potential clients, by understanding what they want, why they want it and where they hang out.

Then we looked at making sure that they are interested in what you offer, by explaining your offer, showing that it works for other people, taking away their risk and then adding some urgency.

Yesterday we looked at dealing with price objections by adding more to your story; by giving a compelling reason for them to ignore the price.

But there’s one more thing that we need to talk about.

When my business was primarily all about software development, I made one change in how I did things and suddenly the invoices I was sending to clients increased in value by a factor of 10. And the clients were happy to pay it.

It was incredibly simple.

It was also really, really, really difficult.

I just said “no”.

I had been meeting with potential clients, going in to meetings with the expectation that I would be trying to persuade them that what I offer is really good, that the software I could build for them would solve their problems, that the price I wanted for it was something that they could afford.

But I realised that I had it all wrong.

My best clients were ones that I had a long-term relationship with. Because we trusted each other. We knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses and we dealt with them. We worked well together.

So I brought this to my sales process.

Every meeting, I started looking for reasons to say “no”. I started giving them reasons to go with someone else. Have you considered outsourcing the job to India? I know a really good app guy in Aberdeen who could do this for you. This isn’t really my strength, so I should turn it down. Actually, looking at it, the cost is going to be at least three times your budget. There’s no way I can get this finished before next March.

This worked. Some people went away. But the ones that stayed really stayed. I had put all their objections up in front of them, before they had even thought of them. They looked at the objection, came up with their own answer to it and moved on to the next stage. So when it finally came to the deal, I could name my price and set my own payment terms – they were so invested in the project that they didn’t want to go with anyone else.

Take action: Make sure you “qualify” everyone who comes in to your sales funnel. Do you really want their business?

Photo by Masaaki Komori on Unsplash

I know someone who can do it at half your price

That’s one of the most frustrating things you can ever hear.

Someone who complains about the price.

The thing is, it’s actually your fault.

Now there are some businesses where you don’t have much control over the price. Commodities – where there are so many available vendors that the “market” sets the price and you can’t differentiate yourself.

But most businesses – retail, products, services – have room for differentiation.

Your difference might be that you’re cheaper than everyone else. Personally I think that’s a dangerous game to play, as there’s always someone who is willing to go cheaper – maybe as a loss-leader to destroy your business.

But if you know your ideal customer (who we spoke about earlier in the week), you understand why they want your stuff and how much it’s worth to them, you should be able to choose points of differentiation that make price irrelevant.

Let’s say you’re a second hand store. You buy up used goods, clean them up a bit and then sell them on. Necessarily, the price you offer for a particular item is going to be less than the price someone can make from it by selling it themselves. You need to spend some time cleaning it up (which costs) and you need to add some markup, in order to make a profit.

So, straight away, we’ve got a price discrepancy. I can take my X and sell it with you for £20. Or I can take my X and sell it on the local Facebook buy/sell page for £30.

Why would I go with you?

This is where your story comes in. You need to go back to your customer’s “why”. You need to connect it with you.

So maybe you tell the story of how you were selling something on Facebook, got scammed and ended up out of pocket. The burning injustice of it, though, was you were going to use the money to buy your niece a present for getting through her exams. When this happened, you vowed to ensure that no-one had to go through a scam buyer like this again. And you make sure that everyone who sells through you is treated fairly, with guarantees, up-front pricing and safe and understandable terms.

Suddenly, there’s a reason to take the £20 instead of the £30. It’s all to do with peace of mind. Of trust. Of safety. Which is easily worth the £10 difference.

Take action: Don’t compete on price – come up with a differentiation



PS: If you’d like a hand coming up with your differentiation, drop me an email –

Photo by Jordan Rowland on Unsplash

How much do I charge to write lead generation emails?

So I saw this question being asked the other day and I thought it interesting.

“How much should I charge to write emails for a company – I’m writing emails to generate leads. It’s my first time doing this .. can you recommend any sites for guidance?”

The thing is, given the information there, I wouldn’t even touch the job.

What conversion rate are they expecting?

What’s the value of the sale?

How many emails are they sending, what’s the target audience and how closely does the list match that target audience?

If you don’t know those things you’re setting yourself up to fail. The campaign will fail, the client will blame you and you will feel terrible.

You need to remember that, deep down, the client doesn’t want an email from you, they want you to get them more sales.

And that information, requested at the top, will help you achieve that.

Then you can use that to calculate a price.

Don’t figure it out on an hourly rate, because that undervalues your expertise. Think of it this way – next month, you’re going to get a similar job and you’re going to be better at writing these emails. Six months on, you’ll get more jobs like this and you’ll be better yet. And each time you get better, you get faster at writing more effective emails. So if you charge by the hour, you’re getting paid less for doing better work.