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Resourceful Designer podcast: Offering tips, tricks and advice for starting and growing your graphic or web design business.

Continuing the client onboarding process with the design proposal.

Part 4 of the Client Onboarding Process is the Design Proposal. A tool you use to convince clients that you are the designer for their project.

Last week I told you all about the Client Meeting. The part in the process where you learn about the client and about the project they are presenting to you. After a successful client meeting, you should know whether or not you want to take them on as a client and tackle their design project. You should also have a good feel for whether or not the client is inclined to hire you. The client onboarding process is all about finding the right clients that fit your business and goals.

If after the client meeting you’ve decided you're not a good fit, then there’s no need for a proposal. Simply thank the client for considering you and inform them that you are not the right person for their project. However, if you think you are a good fit, and you would like to work on their design project, the next step is the proposal.

Is a design proposal required

Before I dive any further into design proposals let me state that unlike and Inro Packet, which is an important advertisement for your services, or the client meeting, which is required in order to figure out what the client needs from you, not every design project merits a design proposal.

If you are bidding on a website worth thousands of dollars, it makes sense to create a proposal. However, if a client has an existing logo and they're asking you to design a business card, or they have a powerpoint presentation already done and they just need you to “make it pretty” for them, then there’s no need for a design proposal.

Weigh the pros and cons of creating a design proposal against future returns from the project in question. Is it worth spending an hour, 2 hours, 10 hours or more working on your proposal in the hopes of landing a design project? It all depends on the possible returns you will get on that investment. It’s up to you to decide whether or not a design proposal is the proper next step.

The Design Proposal

Too often, designers, especially freelance designers work without any kind of protecting documents in place, documents outlining the parameters of a design project. Industry statistics suggest that 48%, almost half of all designers don’t protect themselves with a contract. Without any such documents, agreed upon by both the client and designer, what’s to prevent issues such as scope creep or missed payments from happening?

Proposals and contracts are a designer’s best friends. Not only do they protect you and establish the groundwork for a smooth project, but they can help you close the deal, and land more design work.

Don’t confuse the design proposal with the design contract. A proposal isn’t always required whereas a contract should be. Some designers combine the two but know that a proposal and a contract, although often used together, are in fact two different things. I’m going to talk about the contract in the next episode.

What is a design proposal?

A design proposal is a document you present to a potential client outlining details pertaining to their particular design project in order to convince them to hire you.

The content of the design proposal is generated through the information you acquired during the client meeting.

Just like an intro packet, a design proposal isn’t just a tool to present project details, it’s a tool to show off your talents. Create your design proposal in a way that showcases your skills as a designer. It needs to look professional since it’s a representation of you and your brand. Wow the client with your presentation and they’ll be itching to see what you can design for them.

Once you’ve created your first design proposal you should be able to reuse its layout for future clients with minimal alterations except of course for the content pertaining to the client and project in question.

As a freelancer, a designer running your own business, you need to get comfortable with presenting design proposals if you want to continuously get bigger and better clients. In time, you will become so good at preparing design proposals that it will become second nature to you.

The structure of a design proposal.

A design proposal should be well presented to show off your skills as a designer. It should also contain pertinent information leading the client to want to work with you.

What a proposal shouldn’t be is a novel. Nobody wants to read through a dozen pages regardless of how highly they think of you. Aim for a one or two-page document containing five sections plus an introduction and conclusion. Your content should say as much as you can with as few words as possible. Just like designing, simplicity wins.

Every proposal should have an introduction, a body and a conclusion and it should show the client the value you bring to the relationship.


The introduction should be a brief overview of what you discussed during your client meeting. Outline what you learned about the client and what their goals are pertaining to the project in question. You can even mention how the work you will create for them will help them achieve their goals.

Be sure to also state why you are excited to work on their project and why you are the perfect person for the job. Always assume the client is considering other designers so use this opportunity to sell yourself.

The Body:

The body of your design proposal should be divided into 5 sections.

  1. Define the client’s problem.
  2. Offer a solution to the client’s problem.
  3. Highlight the benefits over features of your solution.
  4. Present your price(s) and terms.
  5. Ask the client for a decision (CTA).

1. Define the client’s problem

Most clients don’t care about you or your business; they care about their own business and whether or not you can solve whatever problem they are facing.

As a designer, your job is finding solutions to problems presented to you by clients. You can’t find those solutions unless you know what problems your clients are facing. Use the information you gathered at the client meeting to identify the problem and define it at the beginning of your design proposal.

Be specific, use any data, stats and figures to illustrate the gravity of the client’s problem. This will not only show the client that you understand their situation, but that you care and are approaching it seriously.

Don’t define the problem in an abstract way the client may not understand:

“The problem is the client needs a better brand”

Instead, define it in a way the client will recognize and appreciate:

“Over the past few years, the client company has faced stiffer competition from newcomers in their space and feel like they are losing ground. One of the reasons is because the client company doesn’t have a strong brand they can incorporate across their marketing material.

Client company requires a new brand image that will allow them to create a unique and memorable identity that can compete in their industry. This new brand should be unique and create a strong presence for their marketing and advertising campaigns.”

The more you make recognizable to the client, the more they’ll think “this designer understands us”.

2. Offer a solution to the client’s problem.

Up until this point, the potential client has suspected that you are the right designer for their project. This is your chance to stick the landing. Confirm their suspicion by offering them an outline to your solution for their aforementioned problem.

Keep in mind. It doesn’t matter how good a designer you are, if the client doesn’t believe you can offer a solution to their problem, they won't hire you. Make sure you explain in your proposal how the course of action you plan on taking will solve their problem. However, don’t offer the solution itself. Remember, at this stage, the client still hasn’t hired you yet. Let them know what you can do for them without going into specifics.

For example, tell them how their new website will convert more visitors into customers but don’t tell them what plugins or methods you will use to help you convert that traffic.

Your solution should include:

  • A course of action outlining the steps involved in achieving the solution.
  • Reasons supporting why those actions will produce a solution.
  • An explanation of how the solution will solve the client’s problem

Show the client that not only do you have a plan to tackle their problem but that your solution has a reasonable chance of success.

Don’t present a solution such as:

“I’ll design a new brand or a new website for the client”

Instead, present something more on these lines:

“For Your company to increase its foothold in your industry an updated brand image is required. Achieving this new brand image will first require extensive study of both the target market as well as what is currently working for your competition.

From this study, new visuals and text will be developed that clearly convey your message and tangibly represent your brand, which in turn should help your garner a greater market share for your company.”

Again, play to the client’s needs. If you do a good job with this section, the rest of your proposal might not even matter. The client will want to sign on the dotted line right there and then.

3) Highlight benefits over features.

On top of just offering a solution to the client’s problem, you should identify the benefits the solution will bring to the client.

How will the solution give them an edge over their competition? Briefly talk about the features of your solution and then concentrate on what benefits those features will bring. You have a much better chance of closing the deal with the client if you can accomplish this and show them what they will get from their investment.

“As I work with you to create a new and unique brand image. I’ll also create a style guide for you to follow, that will allow you to keep a consistent brand image across all platforms both online and in print.

Through the use of this guide, you will be able to consistently apply your new brand to create memorable visuals and help you attract a larger market share in your industry.”

Use this section to show the client that your job as a graphic designer goes beyond simply creating pretty images. This is where you prove your value to them.

4) Present your price(s) and terms.

The main purpose of a design proposal is to encourage the client to make a final decision and hire you. They can’t make that decision if they don’t know how much of an investment is required. Outline your prices and terms in a clear concise matter and let the client know what they should expect.

Avoid itemizing your prices such as for a website: Home page $1500, Services Page $500, About page $300, Contact Us Page $200

Doing so makes you seem like a commodity.

Instead, offer one price for the project: Website $2,500

It all comes down to confidence, clarity, and transparency in what it is you are offering to the client. Even if you are a new designer, remember that you wouldn’t have started on this freelance journey if you didn’t believe that you are good enough to be paid for your services. Don’t be afraid to ask for the money you deserve.

The design proposal is a great way to present your three-tier pricing strategy, showcasing what the client receives for each option.

As for terms and conditions: Make sure you indicate things such as how many revisions you offer, remind them how and when it’s appropriate to communicate with you, and any other details you think they should know.

Make sure you also mention when the “working relationship” on this project begins. The client might think you’ll start working on their project as soon as they sign your contract. If that’s not the case be sure to let them know in your proposal.

5) Ask the client for a decision (CTA).

The design proposal is the final step in pitching the client, giving them all the information they need to make a decision. Close the deal by making it easy for the client. Lead them down the path of what you need them to do next in order to accept your proposal and move forward. In other words, ask them to commit.

Ask them to

  • Approve the proposal
  • Pay the deposit and sign your contract
  • provide you with the necessary content and deliverables to get the project started.

Be sure to mention in this section how excited you are to work with the client and how you can’t wait to solve their problem. This goes a long way in assuring the client they’re making the right choice in hiring you. However, don’t presume the client will just sign away without encouragement. You don’t know if they are also entertaining proposals from other designers. So ask them for a commitment.

The Conclusion

By this point, you’ve already said everything there is to say, so keep the conclusion brief. Once again thank the client for their time and how you look forward to working with them and how you hope this is the start of a long relationship.

If you’ve done your job right, the client should accept your proposal. All that’s left is for them to sign the contract which I’ll talk about in the next week.

Protect Your design proposals

  1. The design proposal is a valuable document. It outlines the strategy for a design project and borders between consulting and proposing. Be careful about who you share proposals with. If you are unsure about the client's intent to hire you, you are best to not share your proposal with them until you are almost sure they are on board.
  2. Just like the client meeting, you should always present your proposals in person, over video or on the phone. Never email your proposal, never mail your proposal, in fact, never print out your proposals. For some large projects, you may have spent hours preparing your proposal so you want to make sure it is received properly.
  3. If the client asks you to email your proposal to them, simply tell them your policy is that all proposals are presented.
  4. Always present it to the decision maker. Insist that all parties that need to sign off on the project are present during your presentation. You do not want your proposal to be translated to someone via a middleman who may not have understood you and has no interest in whether or not they hire you. Insisting on presenting to the decision maker will affirm your position as a professional, plus it protects you from clients receiving your proposal and then never hearing from them again.
  5. Don’t leave your proposal with the client. You are presenting your ideas on how to solve the client’s problem. That's valuable information that you’ve invested time developing. Until the client has signed your contract and given you a deposit, that valuable information should remain yours. If you leave your proposal behind you are inviting the client to use your hard work to shop around for a more affordable designer.

The design proposal is a process

Creating a design proposal might sound like a daunting task. In fact, It can be an entire design project in itself. But rest assured, you’ll get better and quicker the more of them you do.

Think of your design proposal in terms of quality over quantity.  It’s not about sending out tonnes of proposals, it’s about sending out quality proposals. One well-designed proposal could be the difference between acquiring a high-quality, high paying client, or not. Take the time to do it right and it will pay off in the long run with better jobs, higher paying clients and longer relationships with them.

Plus, you can take pride in knowing that by using a design proposal you are presenting yourself as a true professional designer, and as such, someone who merits to make the money your skills and expertise deserve.

Do you use a design proposal as part of your client onboarding process?

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

Resource of the week The Logo Package Express

Saving out logo files for clients is really boring. The Logo Package is an extension for Adobe Illustrator that makes exporting logos very easy. I’m super excited to start using it! Logo Package Express automates the colouring, exporting, and sorting of logo files. This is going to save hours and hours of time. Watch my demo of The Logo Package in use.

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Running a graphic design or web design business all by yourself isn't easy. If there are any struggles you face running your design business, please reach out to me. I'll do my best to help you by addressing your issues in a future blog post or podcast episode here at Resourceful Designer. You can reach me at feedback@resourcefuldesigner.com

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