Are proposals ruining your business?

I’ve written proposals for years. I’ve done pitches for years. There was one big question I always had. How do I write a proposal which demonstrates to the prospective client that I know my stuff whilst not giving away the crown jewels?


If you’re in any form of marketing, consulting or coaching, you’ll know that this is one of the biggest challenges. How do you prove your worth without giving people value that perhaps means they don’t need you?


It’s a big problem.


I can remember a year or so ago spending hours and hours on a pitch for a prospective client, we put some ideas together and presented it. We had amazing feedback. But we didn’t win the project. What we discovered is that the ideas we put forward were used but they implemented it themselves.

Damn it!


So, I decided to stop doing any pitches or proposals.

That simple. I stopped doing it.


I decided that we would talk and share how we can help clients win new business, build their brand and get their marketing efforts to deliver, but, we wouldn’t giveaway the crown jewels.


What does this mean now?


We turn down work which requires free proposals. We’ll write a proposal for a client, but there is a fee.


This isn’t arrogance, its being savvy.


In a business where you are delivering expertise or know-how, there is a fine line. Get it wrong and you help people but make no money. For too long I had done things the other way around.


In 2010, I was so busy helping people, giving away free advice but barely making any money. I got angry. I was angry at people ‘taking’ but never ‘giving’. Looking back now, it was my own stupid fault. I was giving my value away, then getting annoyed at a lack of money coming in.


I charge my time out at £250 per hour on an ad-hoc rate, if I spend three or four hours writing a proposal, I’ve spent £750 without knowing if I’ll get paid for the work. So why do it?


There will always be a need to give back and demonstrate value, but you have to deliver value in a way which ultimately delivers value back to you too. All these gurus and marketing ‘experts’ offering free stuff aren’t doing it just to be charitable. It’s their business model.


But when your business model is broke, like mine was, the value exchange doesn’t work.


Let me give you an example… I was given a brief by a prospective client who wanted appointments generated on a regular basis for their sales team. They wanted something like 20 per month.


This is no problem for me, I can show the client how to do easily. So I sent an email back explaining that we could help them do it, explained the cost and asked them when they wanted to get started.


The client asked for more details. I declined and explained that the detail is the value. They wanted more information to justify their financial decision, so I shared with them some of the many recommendations for my work. That wasn’t enough. So, sadly we didn’t get the work but there was no way to give more detail without giving the game away. Once knowledge or insight is transferred, we cannot help ourselves but use it.


One of the things I’ve done instead is offer Discovery and Strategy Sessions. These are times where a client can talk freely with me about their challenges and I’ll offer all my knowledge and insight during that period. The client can record it, so they can refer back to the session. This way, my expertise is being delivered for a fair exchange.


Don’t get me wrong, I share as much value as I can. In our events we do whole Q&A sessions where we give practical advice. But now I choose when to give me services for free. Goodwill and an empty bank account is not a great outcome.


I’ve limited ‘free stuff’ to content, videos and events. Occasionally, I’ll help someone for free, if it fits with my values, beliefs and resonates with me.


If you are a coach or consultant you went into the this field because you want to help people. The downside is that wanting to help means sometimes you can share too much. You can equip the client without them every needing to engage you. That’s not their fault, it’s yours.


So now I offer people payable advisory calls, I’ll give away as much as I can on the call to help solve the clients problem, whether that is how to make social advertising, how to launch their product or how to target and reach new customers. Whatever we talk about on the call is all yours.

What does this mean for me?


  • I’ve cut down my non-revenue generating work to a minimum.
  • I can focus on delivering value to clients.
  • I can do what I do best (which isn’t writing proposals).
  • I cut out a lot of time-wasters, to focus on the people who appreciate the value I can deliver.
  • I no longer get that frustration from seeing elements of our proposals being implemented without being engaged by the clients.


I may lose out on a percentage of work, but I’ve gained time back from not writing proposals.


Building a business is difficult, sometimes you can be blinkered to the solutions. For me, I was blinkered to the fact that a great proposal didn’t actually help me, it hindered me. We do these things in business sometimes.


Sometimes we can’t see the answer because we are too close to it. 


For me writing proposals was something which was hindering my business. I didn’t see that one thing I was doing was undermining my value and business.


Sometimes when you take a step back get an outside perspective you can see things which are holding you back in business.


Let’s talk: If you’d like to chat to me about your business and marketing challenges, you can schedule a time to chat here…