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How I beat out a brick and mortar agency with a killer proposal

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Sounds kind of epic: a single freelancer working from home wins a client over a big agency working in a local brick and mortar location, just by providing a killer design proposal.

Believe me – it’s possible, because I did it!

There’s so much a client can benefit from working with a single freelancer over an agency, and you just have to know how to present yourself as the best option.

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You do that by offering more than just a generic project proposal – you show them that you care.

Being an individual can give that personal touch in the communication with the client, which is something a lot of agencies don’t do well.

They’re too big to show that they truly want to offer a solution to the client’s project, because most agencies take on any and all projects just to get paid – no matter the results of the work they’re producing.

(Note that not every agency is like this. Some do truly care about the client’s solution, but you should be aware of how not to go about working with your clients. Don’t be afraid to show who you really are and try not to use the term “we” when it’s truly just yourself.)

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A project proposal is usually the first step you’ll take when the client is inquiring about their options.

Here is where you can triumph over any other competition that stands in your way.

Because everyone here on the Millo team values you as a reader and appreciates that you’re here, I’m more than happy to share my secrets to developing your own killer proposal!

And I want to hear from you too! How do you get the client with a killer proposal? Comment and let’s talk!

Just keep it simple

When it comes to any project proposal, debrief or contract, it’s easy to throw in a bunch of business jargon to make it seem professional.

Avoid over-complicating things.

Not a lot of people enjoy reading through paragraphs of text – so make it easy to read.

Write out your proposal from scratch for every client.

Of course you’ll have an outline to follow, but writing it out every time will help keep the project specific and personalized to your potential client.

Only include what’s necessary, and be sure to format your content for easy reading. (I.e. section headers, bold important lines, and bullet lists)

I’ll start with a title page – followed by a table of contents, and then each section (see below).

Here’s a breakdown of the content I used to help land my client’s website redesign over a local brick and mortar agency:

  • “Project Objective”: write in your own words what your objective is for the project.

“Redesign the [company] website with a fresh, flexible, and responsive layout, as well as the addition of some key features, all while keeping it’s online presence and search engine ranking.”

  • “My thoughts on the current site”: explain in detail your thoughts on their current site’s overall look, functionality, content, and online presence.
  • “My thoughts on the redesign”: explain in detail how you plan to solve the issues with their current site, how you plan to implement certain key features, and how the redesign will benefit their customers and business itself.
  • “Important questions for you”: a simple bulleted list of questions to better understand their redesign needs (what they like, dislike, current state of the site’s content, what new features they’d like added, etc.)
  • “What I’ll need from you”: when the time comes here is a short list of what you’ll need to start (clear direction of new look and features, final page links, and all content).
  • “Tasks and estimated time frame”: a simple bulleted list of the tasks generalized in order of occurrence and an estimated time for project completion.
  • “Project Quote”: typically I say, “I’ll be able to give an accurate quote once I better understand the redesign’s requirements.” – but feel free to add your real quote or a ballpark figure.

Going the extra mile

What I feel really might’ve helped me win over the client was going the extra mile…

Not only did I offer an easy to read and detailed project proposal, I also sent the client a mockup of what I had in mind for the redesign.

I don’t do this for every potential client, but when I’m so close to landing a great project, I’m more than willing to take some extra time to show that I AM the right solution for the job.

Go with your gut feeling – if you feel like this is a great client and you really want to land them as one, then don’t be afraid to go the extra mile to reassure it.

Don’t let “going the extra mile” turn into you giving away your services. The last thing you want to do is end up providing spec work or handing over too much without getting paid. Remember – go with your gut and only do what you feel is necessary.

You can’t win them all

Nothing is guaranteed unfortunately.

There is only so much you can do to try and win over a client.

You’ll always have competition and there will be times where the client will choose another proposal over yours.

You can’t let that bring you down, and you most certainly cannot think of the loss as a failure.

You win some and you lose some. Learn from any mistakes, take the client’s reasons into consideration and move on.

Give it a try

Take some time to create a template proposal for yourself (feel free to use the outline above) and go the extra mile to land your next client project!

What have you done to win over a client? Have you ever gone head-to-head with a brick and mortar agency before? Leave your stories and comments on this post and let’s discuss.

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About Brent Galloway

Brent Galloway is a freelance graphic designer, founder of Your Freelance Career, and author of Start Your Freelance Career. Check out his blog and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and Dribbble.

Leave a Comment



  1. I completely agree with the need to write each proposal from scratch and focus not on you and your freelance business but on the project. One thing I would be hesitant to do in many cases though is the mock up. Going above and beyond is good. But because you don’t yet have the answers to the list you have in your proposal, you run the risk that your mockup won’t be what they’re looking for and then they won’t be able to see past that to imagine you designing something else. It is definitely a risk, and sounds like in your case it paid off.

    • Rebecca,

      You’re absolutely right – without the necessary information you shouldn’t just design something up off the top of your head, because you may present something that the client doesn’t like.

      I had already talked with the client several times, so I knew exactly the direction they wanted to head in. A mockup worked great for me in my situation.

      Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  2. How many have you won? I’ve been trying for a year now.

    • Vatrice,

      The experience I share in this article was the first time I’ve ever had to compete head-to-head with my competition, but having a killer proposal in place has always worked in my favor.

      It also helps the client understand what they’re getting for their money, and why you’re the perfect person for the job.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  3. Be careful with the amount of info you put into the proposal. I’ve had 2 potential clients take my proposal to other designers and get them to build their website for half of what I quoted.

    Be specific to a point but also a little bit vague, if that makes sense. Give the client general information with a couple of features for their website but not all of them, so the proposal can’t be used against you.

  4. While I am glad that in this instance providing spec work proved successful, I’d have to echo Rebecca’s sentiments. It’s overall just too risky and not recommended by AIGA and GAG in general to give away your ideas for free, before there’s an official agreement to work and /or contract signed, deposit received, etc. Too little value is placed on ideas these days. Again, awesome it worked out, but to new designers starting out: don’t do this! 😉

    I personally find the best way to win over a client is to spend time getting to know them and show them you care. That goes a long way, especially when competing against big firms.

  5. Hi Brent –

    First off congratulations on landing a big fish – that’s no easy feat!

    I just have just one tip – don’t ever give a price quote before talking to the client about the “scope of work” further. Ask them what the prospective client where they would like for “the budget” of this project to be.

    If an agency is considering a solopreneur or a hired-gun it usually means there are budget constraints and they will most likely lay the cards on the table and tell you where they need to be. But that’s OK! What’s on the low end for them may be on the high-end for you. Keep in mind the end goal, what you really want to go after is having a project from a high-profile client in your portfolio, make some new contacts along the way AND get paid for it.

    If the agency throws out a number that is too low – don’t panic. Just say in as “upbeat” a tone as possible,

    “To be honest, I’m not sure if that is going to be realistic. Let’s make sure I have all of the requirements, look at the project’s timeline and see if we can work something out.”

    You want really focus on getting the information you need to make an informed decision – for you, the project, the client and your business. That’s the sign of a real pro.

    This shows that this “ain’t your first time at the rodeo” and you know better than to commit to a number first without knowing all the facts and exactly what you are getting into.

    Give yourself time to do your homework and reach out to your peers who do “spec work”/web production for larger agencies or clients on a regular basis. Ask them what they charge. You will be amazed at the difference in price.

    I often send prospective clients what I call an “Engagement Letter” after my first initial call with them. This is basically an outline of the services that I would like to offer, the time I think it will take to complete the project and if it is a small project I will include my fees, but I would not include that for an agency, unless I had already talked to them a few times beforehand.

    I write a blog mostly about project management, but I do have a resource page where you can get another free sample/template of what I use in my own business on my “Resources” page, in the “Cheat Sheet” section.

  6. OK I have come clean I am a lousy typist – my apologies for the typos 🙂

  7. Brent,

    Generally I subscribe to the “no spec work” camp, but I’m with you in specific cases (like you mention). For example, I have an existing client I’m meeting with to discuss our next project. I’m also pitching a new design to their 90s-style proprietary software interface, so I’m going to spend 1-2 hrs mocking a new style that’ll really help them convince their subcontractors to use the system.

    I think a visual will really help sell the project, so I’m okay with spending a couple hours up front. If they go for it, those couple hours will be built into the cost of the design.

    Great post!



  1. […] Be prepared for when the time comes to win the client over with your design services. […]


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