Writing Proposals and Meeting Deadlines - 5 Top Tips

December 17, 2015

Writing Proposals and Meeting Deadlines - 5 Top Tips

How you manage proposals & deadlines are key to any project and the only way to achieve goals is o set deadlines; a goal is irrelevant if it can't be measured over time. Here I give you my top 5 tips for success.

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Tip #1 – Realistic Time Estimates

Don't set yourself up for failure by telling a client or colleague you're going to do finish a project for them tomorrow when actually it's two, three, four days' worth of work. Providing realistic time estimates to your customers gives you that target to work towards, but more importantly it manages the expectations of your customers.

I've got a good example of this. I had a sales inquiry from a large client who had a dozen different brands within their business and wanted to create a mothership website, sitting across all of the top of the group, then a website for each of the 12 or so brands which they had. I set off on a 3-hour car journey to see this client and I sat through a 2-hour meeting. It was a positive meeting, and the marketing director thanked me and he said it was a productive meeting, things looked positive.

I jumped in the car thinking, I've got this wonderful project, and at the time it was just me and my business partner working on our own. An hour into that 3-hour journey home, the client called me and said “We've narrowed it down to two clients. You're one of those, we really liked what you pitched to us, but I'm sorry, we've chosen the other company”. I said, do you mind just telling me why? They said, in very few words, they wanted to work with an agency with 10 or more staff, they didn't want to work with a two-man band. Had I asked the question to start off with, and we'd managed each other's expectations I could've avoided getting in the car and making a six-hour round-trip lasting a day. Managing expectations is really key.

Tip #2 - Get Signed Proposals

This allows a buffer for delays and additional features.

It's something you refer back to if you start to encounter problems. If the customer starts requesting extra features to be built into a website, but isn't willing to negotiate on the deadline, you can draw them back to the proposal and say this is what was agreed, this is the number of hours it would take to build these features, and this is the date agreed to launch it. Now you want another 40 hours' worth of work completed, that's going to push the deadline back.

Scope creep is something which is quite common especially on web-based projects, which I've historically worked on over the last 12 years. Over the duration of a project build, clients do change their minds, and sometimes scope creep is unavoidable.

Learning to say no to customers is vital at that point to manage their expectations. Say this is what we agreed, refer back to the proposal that they signed and agreed as well. It makes life easier for both parties to manage.

Tip #3 - Regularly Review the Progress with the Customer

Do scrum meetings on a daily basis, jump onto Skype or if they're close enough, have a quick 5-minute stand-up meeting with them. Let them know what you worked on yesterday, what problems you had and what you're going to work on today. It keeps the customer happy, it keeps them up-to-date and they can see that progress is happening.

Even if there's no progress custoemrs will be happy to be in contact with you and they haven't paid you the deposit or all of the money and they don't know how the work is progressing. If you review it regularly with scrum meetings, you can uncover problems and you can react to them much sooner. It's not just problems that you might be having, but it might be problems that the client has seen with what you're doing that's not quite what they had in mind. This allows you to pivot and react much quicker.

Tip #4 – Learn To Say “No”

This isn't a negative thing, it's purely about managing expectations. You're here as the professional to manage their expectations and a great tool for this is the get real triangle, of time, quality, and cost.

If a client wants to bring a deadline forward, it might reduce the quality, or it means that they have got to pay more for it. If they want a high-quality product, the work is going to take longer and/or it's going to cost more money. If they want a cheap product, it's likely that it will take you longer to build it, because you're going to prioritize higher-paying jobs. Or the quality might come down, because you do it in a shorter amount of time and sacrifice your usual high-quality standard.

If a client wants a cheap product, tell them what you’re going to build, but it's not going to be as good as your platinum-quality product.

In saying no, it means you're not overcommitting yourself to deadlines, that can add a huge amount of pressure, not just on you, but also on your customers. If they don't understand it now, they will realise later that you're doing them a favour by saying no to their requests.

Tip #5 – Inform Them Early If A Deadline Will Be Missed

This is all about damage limitation. You don't want to get to launch date for a project, then for everything to go kaput and upset the client because you've told them you're going to be a week late when you know they've got PR and TV interviews lined up.

This is about making sure that at the earliest possible stage that you can limit the damage and you can pivot and move forward quicker. Clients may not like it at the time, but in the end they will appreciate the honesty in this, and it gives you the extra buffer to react to things.


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