How Writing a Business Proposal is Usually a Trap

two white printer papers near macbook on brown surface

Many times during my freelance digital marketing career, I felt it necessary to write a business proposal to send a prospective client. Not only are they not fun to write up, but in my experience, writing business proposals is usually a trap for yourself. 

Why is writing a business proposal often a waste of time and effort? Here are three reasons:

  1. They waste time you could use searching for other prospects or working on building business with current customers. Self explanatory.
  2. They end up being written for tire-kickers. These proposals often give away pricing or packaging information to those who collect proposals to bargain with other firms for a better deal. Some may even be “undercover shoppers” for your competitors.
  3. They give you a false sense of optimism about work you may never get. Most of the time, you’ll never hear back. Sometimes, that means they went to one of your competitors using your proposal as a blueprint to get a better deal for themselves.

That last one was a common strategy for one of my past employers…

Now, what makes writing a business proposal worth doing? How do you know when it could lead to a productive customer? Here are 5 things to consider before you bother writing a business proposal to a lead.

  1. If your lead seems indecisive or unwilling to be direct about their needs, don’t just offer a proposal. Offer instead to follow up when they can give you a clear idea of their needs, then move on to hotter leads yourself.
  2. Do you have a hunch that your lead is just shopping around for the right fit? You might be one of a dozen companies that the lead has contacted already. Send them info and follow up, but don’t write up a proposal just yet.
  3. Did the lead immediately demand a proposal? These leads tend to be impulsive and likely to back away. Send info, follow up, but save your time on writing up any proposal for such leads.
  4. Is the lead qualified to even afford what you have to offer them? Can they commit to actually paying you, or do they just love your ideas, and want to take your time for free advice? If they want to play and can’t pay, invite them to join your email list and pass. If you don’t have an email list, don’t feel compelled to make one.
  5. Does the lead turn to asking questions that seem unrelated to what they wanted in the beginning? Are they probing you on every single thing that you do? They’re either a tire kicker or a competitor is trying to scout you out. Hard pass if you can sniff these out.

If you ask yourself these things before writing a business proposal, you will save yourself considerable time, potentially hours per week. You’ll also be able to commit more time and resources to your current customers. Don’t waste hours falling into the proposal trap. Especially, don’t be afraid to walk away from a lead that’s not ready to commit. 

My decade-plus of experience in marketing has taught me that the best leads don’t even ask for a proposal in writing until they’re actually ready to buy what you’re selling. If a lead wants you to propose to them before they open the checkbook, best to avoid that engagement that otherwise will likely end in heartbreak.

~ Amelia <3

P.S. This is also true of query letters for publishing projects. Don’t query until you know that publisher is likely to even give you the time of day! Otherwise, you’re just wasting both their time and yours!

Amelia Desertsong is a former content marketing specialist turned essayist and creative nonfiction author. She writes articles on many niche hobbies and obscure curiosities, pretty much whatever tickles her fancy.
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