150 FS Proposals

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01:46 - What is a Proposal?

15:18 - Legal Situations?

19:31 - The Proposal is NOT a Pitch (80/20)

27:45 - Recycling Proposals vs Starting From Scratch

  • Use Templates
  • Modify Text as Needed

30:34 - Things NOT to Put in a Proposal

  • Never Change the Price or Give a Discount (Prevent Haggling)
  • Write Everything Down => Meeting Notes

33:39 - Sales Conversations Are Everything

36:44 - Proposal-Writing Tools


JONATHAN: And that’s our show for this week, thanks for listening to the Freelancers’ Show. [Chuckles][This episode is brought to you by Audible. Audible is the first place I go to keep my business skills sharp. They offer over 150,000 books on business, finance, planning and much more. They also have a great selection of fiction that keeps me entertained when I'm just not up for some serious content. I love it because I can buy a book, download it to my iPhone, and listen while running errands or at the gym. Get your free trial at freelancersshow.com/audible]**[This episode is brought to you by Code School. Code School offers interactive online courses in Ruby, JavaScript, HTML, CSS, and iOS. Their courses are fun and interesting and include exercises for the student. To level up your development skills go to freelancershow.com/codeschool]****[This episode is brought to you by ProXPN. If you are out and about on public Wi-Fi, you never know who might be listening. With ProXPN, you no longer have to worry. ProXPN is a VPN solution which sends all of your traffic over a secure connection to one of their servers around the world. To sign up, go to ProXPN.com and use the promo code tmtcs (short for teach me to code screencasts) to get 10% off for life]****REUVEN: Hi everyone and welcome to episode number 150 of the Freelancer Show. This week on our panel we have Eric Davis. ERIC: Hey. REUVEN: Jonathan Stark. JONATHAN: Hello. REUVEN: I am Reuven Lerner. I’m not Charles Max Wood. Chuck is out this week, attending a conference.  We are here this week to talk to you about proposals. Proposals to clients, how you write them if you write them and what things you should and should not do. So let’s start with the seemingly obvious question which is, do you guys write proposals? ERIC: No. JONATHAN: You have to explain that. REUVEN:**Yes, exactly [chuckles]. So people just come to your door and shower you with cash. Excellent.**ERIC:**Going back, the point of a proposal is to propose some kind of business transaction or business agreement. Most of the time, I used to the first few years I did them. It was an intermediate step between, “Hey this person looks like he would be a good fit,” and a contract. So we might have a sales call or two or a quick roadmap and then it will be, “I, Eric propose we do this project based on X, Y and Z.” Most of the time the proposals just a short document that outlines that. It gets stuff down that we talked about over the phone. Pretty much the client would say either, “No, let’s change some of this,” or “Yes, that’s good. Let’s continue on.” Then they would get a contract that would basically say the exact same thing but with extra legal lease around it. Big problem I had was – I think Jonathan talked about this before – but my proposals would do three options. So it would be like a budget option, a middle tier option and a high value option. Based on what the client said they wanted, they’ll be like “Here are the three different scopes we could plan for.” I’ve done that even on hourly work; it would be like 10 hours for the budget one, 20 for the middle one and 50 for the top end one. The problem was I was spending a lot of time actually making those proposals figuring out those options and giving it to the client. Probably 70% of the time – more than half – the client would come back to me. They either want 15 hours, between two options or they want something completely different. I would have to go back rework the proposal, send it back to them and then they might approve it. What I ended up doing I said “I’m just going to cut this step out.” Instead of writing a proposal I’m just going to be on the phone with them, talk through all of the details, all of the hinge points and get them to agree verbally that [inaudible 03:42] for 15 hours. Then I just go straight into a contract. I haven’t done proposals in three or four years to clients that have really had their hearts set on getting a proposal. And so I’ve taken my statement of work contract and just re-title it to “proposal” and send that off to them. One of them was because they had a bureaucracy and they have to have proposals from some reason, but I didn’t go through the whole process like I did before.**REUVEN: Let’s say someone comes to you and says, “Eric, we really want you to do some work for us for a two week period.” So you’ll just say, “Here’s my whole statement of work, let’s just sign this and we’re off to the races.” ERIC: A lot of times I would try to say, “Hey, you want to sign the master services agreement.” It has the base outline of how we are going to be engaged and it also includes an NDA. A lot of my clients really want to keep their stuff confidential. Sometimes if I can get that out of the way earlier on, I will. That doesn’t commit either of us to anything. It’s just to see outlines of it. Then if they’re like “We really want to work with you.” I’ll just say, “Okay, here’s the statement of work proposing what you want. I’ve already signed. If it looks good to you, counter sign, send a deposit. If it’s not good, if there’s something you want to change then let me know. We can do some negotiation; I can change it and send you a revised copy. My statement of work is the title page, which has nothing on it really. Then 2-3 pages depending on how much detail that they give me. So it’s really short. It’s not that legal lease type. REUVEN: Okay, so it sounds like you basically – this is was I did way back in the beginning of my consulting career. We would more or less hammer out what people wanted to do verbally. At that point I was not so formal about it, but you’re then formalizing in the form of a contract as well as your proposal which then gets turned into a contract. So you’re shortening it and just making it easier for everyone. ERIC: Exactly yes, like I said because I was having to just double up my steps or spend a lot of time and the way my master services agreement statement of work works is that they have enough of the legal lease so that it becomes more binding than a proposal would or if feels like it. So it’s an easy way to do all the negotiation and get in to a document that’s the final document versus having an intermediate one. REUVEN: Okay. Jonathan, how about you? JONATHAN: There are some similarities there. We’re selling different kinds of services, before I get into that, I have a question for Eric. Before when you used to do proposals and then you’d have the good, better, best in the proposals, would you have already spoken to the prospect on a phone before that or did you not have? Is it usually like an email transaction leading up to that point? ERIC: I would almost always try to talk to them on the phone. If they couldn’t – like I had this one client in Switzerland so time zone was just really hard to get on the phone at the exact same time – and those cases, we would have a very long email chain. We would do all of the stuff we talk about on the phone and reach an agreement, quote verbally but through email. So you know, going into it, “This is what we will be doing.” JONATHAN: Gotcha. There are a lot of similarities. I do proposals almost always. Every once in a while I get someone who just absolutely knows they want to work with me and their hair’s on fire, they’re freaking out, it’s not a huge project, it’s like something I can take care of quickly and I’ll just offer the price on the phone and they’ll PayPal me the money and we’ll start immediately. That’s an exception to the rule definitely because I feel like when I do that, I tend to leave money on the table – at least it feels that way. So even though, I agree that it’s difficult to do proposals, it takes a couple of hours at least and then you might get a revision and you have to re-do it, so you wind up devoting four or five hours to the proposal process. For me putting the options in, if they’re priced high, makes it well worth the extra investment and the time for me. But it is a “not fun” part of the process. Proposal for me is usually a title page, like a letter, “Hey Joe, thanks for –. I’m really looking forward to working together. Please let me know if you have any questions or comments.” Then maybe have page to a page statement of the problem as I understand it. Then there are three options as to how I can help them with that, sort of a good, better, best model. So that the lowest price version will be basically what they ask for and then I’ll have higher levels where they get more value out of it for one reason or another. To put that into context for me, I’m usually selling access to my advice. So my base level tier would be one project contact. The person I’m having a discussion with, I’ll have a phone call with them every week or every other week and there’ll be some email exchange leading up to that but no real communication. Just one way from them to me to collect the general items and then we have a weekly or biweekly meeting. Then a higher level up from that might be that I add in 24/7 text access or instant messaging access. So if they have questions that come up, because you never know what’s going to come up like, “One of our lead developers just quit, can you reach out to your network and get someone?” Something crazy can happen and they need immediate assistance, so that would be a level up. Then the level after that is not just the project contract but he and maybe two direct reports can also contact me 24/7 and attend the weekly or biweekly meeting. So at each level you give them more benefit. The interesting thing about offering those options is if they pick a lower one, it destroys any assumptions that they might have gotten some of that other stuff that we didn’t actually talk about. So if we talked about, “We’ll have a biweekly meeting.” Then they get the proposal and then they see that option three allows other people in the meeting and they’re going to be like, “ If I only buy option one its only me that can be in that meeting,” which might not be something that we explicitly discussed. So for me, it’s a nice way to do that; this is what the proposal includes, this is what it doesn’t include. It’s almost like a tacit; obviously it doesn’t include those things because those are the higher priced options. So that’s worked pretty well for me. Five pages would be a long proposal for me. It’s usually just a cover page, statement of the problem, three options and a payment terms page with a “sign here with which option you want.” ERIC: Now do you go to a contract after a proposal or is that the final step? JONATHAN:**That’s it, there’s no contract after that. [Crosstalk 10:04] I tried to work with the legal angle.**ERIC: That’s what I’ve seen that Alan Weiss does. He does that same thing where he say, “You can sign the proposal.” So it’s the final step for him is also a proposal versus for me it’s a contract. Like you said it could just be because of the different services. I feel better with having a contract because I’m dealing with actually sitting down and creating software versus you’re just doing advice. So it’s a little bit of a different angle. I think Alan Weiss does advice too; he doesn’t do the actual implementation of a lot those stuff. JONATHAN: Yes, that’s true. It’s a different risk profile. When I did do software development, I would put in deliverables that we discussed not because I would be pricing off of them but just to communicate to them that I heard what they said. So it was building a little trust that, “Yes, I listened to what you said, I’m repeating it back to you so that you trust that I listen and I’m paying attention.” So if I was doing a software project quote, it would have some deliverables in it but they wouldn’t really be related to the price. I would get a little more specific about accountabilities. So I’d add probably a dozen to two dozen bullet points about “I’m going to do this, this, and this, and you are responsible for the date of migration” or “you are responsible for making sure those getting backed up.” Just to make sure that all of that stuff’s out on the table so it would get a little bit longer for that. The closest I ever got to a legal contract that I need to show my lawyer was an NDA or a non-compete. REUVEN: I’m somewhere between the two of you in all of these. Most of my work recently has been doing training and the majority of that has been through a company John Bryce. I don’t have a contract but we have a long term agreement where basically I show up, I do the training and they pay me net plus thirty. So the proposals are really either for the training I do on my own which is now ramping up more and more and for software development projects. In both cases I send the proposal, it’s typically like Jonathan. I’ll send an email; I’ll say, “Here’s what you want.” If it’s training then it’s much shorter, it’s basically, “Here’s the audience, here’s what you want, here’s a proposed syllabus.” Typically the proposal syllabus is after we’ve already spoken about it and hammered it out a bit. After I send my email, sometimes there’s a little more back and forth but not too much. If it’s software development then it’s “Here’s your problem,” and I’m still billing at this point on a daily basis. I haven’t quite moved over to the value based version but at least I feel like it’s not a pure hourly basis anymore which is a relief. I’ll say it’ll take X number of days to do this, and X times Y is my rate, is what I expect it will be and I usually give a bit of a fudge factor there. Just recently I worked on something where I said it’ll take me between eight and ten days. Of course your voice, Jonathan, was ringing in my ears as I billed them for six days of work because that’s all that took me, and they still got a value out of it. I was like, “If only I’d listened.” But, oh well. Basically, I send in that email and typically they say, “Okay that’s great.” And if it’s a big company, they’ll send me a purchase order, which if you’ve never dealt with big companies folks, is basically like a big company promising “Yes, we will pay.” It’s almost a contract. ERIC: We’ll pay eventually. REUVEN:**Right, we’ll pay eventually. Where eventually is defined as soon, or never mind as one. But they will pay and I believe – I’ve never checked this – but I believe a P.O. is also enforceable in court as something that they have committed to pay. Then we’re off to the races, and then we run and do our thing. I did recently do a course for PayPal. I did my standard email, we have spoken it, I know exactly what we were doing, and I got email back from them saying, “This was not in a real proposal format.” So I had this long email thread with their head of training and I kept saying there, “What is a proposal format? What do you think it looks like?” So finally they sent me a proposal that someone else sent them for some other course, it had nothing to do with what I was doing but at least that I could see what it looks like. I said, “That’s interesting.” It basically did what I did and put it into a table in word [chuckles] and had a nice headline across the top saying proposal. So that’s what I did and everyone was happy.**ERIC: I had a client, also one of the larger ones like that, do the same thing where I was like, “I don’t do proposals.” So they sent their in house proposal/contract and my client said, “Just fill in these blanks right here with what you already sent us then we’ll move on.” You could tell he didn’t care about the bureaucracy but they had to do it in order to cut a P.O. JONATHAN: I had the same thing happen on occasion once where I’m just like, “Look, we can just keep going back and forth about this or you can just send in what you want and I’ll send it back to you. Sometimes once I had scratched your butt sometimes you have to deal with it. The most bureaucracy I ever had to deal with was Nokia, and it was insane. It was like proof of insurance, and going through this whole rigmarole of this third party P.O. service. I lot of big companies I worked with required that you have Errors and omissions insurance as a policy even though it has almost no relevance to what I’m doing. I’m curious, have you guys ever gotten into an actual legal situation with anybody where you had to go to court or anything? ERIC: Not yet. REUVEN: No. JONATHAN: I cannot imagine a situation where it was worth doing that. I would just give them their money back. REUVEN: I guess I came close once. This is a cautionary tale I often tell people about vetting your clients and getting your contracts signed first. Basically, I was on my way out the door to a meeting and I got a call from someone saying, “Hey are you Reuven Lerner?” “Yes,” “Do you do Linux servers?” At that point I was doing some cis admin stuff as well, I said sure. He said, “I desperately need your help; you got to come help me.” It turns out he was located really close to where my other meeting was, so after that meeting I went to his office. I got there I guess about two p.m., I returned home at seven a.m. after I pulled an all-nighter working on the servers, everything was working great, kept working on the stuff  for about two weeks. Me and at that point I had a personnel and two of my staff. Then of course it was time to bill them, they then started hemming and hawing and then finally I had this business manager working for me and she said they said they’re going to fax us something, let’s wait by the fax. Out of the fax comes a letter saying, “Reuven Lerner is a charlatan and a fraud. He claimed he was going to fix our servers but he made them worse. And spent the whole night bickering with our CEO telling him that no, we should not fix things.” Basically it was a whole pack of lies and they said, “We now want to sue you, so how dare you try and collect money from us because we’re going to sue you.” I went to a lawyer and he said, “Look, they’re not going to sue you. You could sue them but it’s going to be costly and painful,” and that was like a month before we went to the US for me to start my PhD coursework. I decided forget it, it’s just not worth it. That was the closest that I ever came to suing someone, and probably if we had been not moving to the US at that point, I wouldn’t be surprised if we pursued it a little bit more. In part because in Israel the loser pays in a civil suit, there’s less of a threat there of me bankrupting me myself going after him. But even so, let’s face it, these contracts are there in part for everyone’s peace of mind, but in almost no case can I imagine going after one of my clients or them coming after me. We would just agree to be angry and never talk to each other again. ERIC: I would say, yes, if there are actual real damages. If you worked on their server, we’ll say Nokia serve and wiped out a production database with no back-up, they could come after you for damages. Even if you gave their money back, that still might not be enough to appease the bees. So that’s why I have such a heavy contract because of the stuff that I do. I do server work for people; I do a lot of server development. There’s chances of that weird stuff happening, might even include things like arbitration or mediation which is like a lightweight version of suing someone,  like you’re suing someone but instead of being at court you’re like with a counselor. So you try to work it out that way. So my contract’s like we go for that route before we sue. Usually that’s going to cost less than a full-on legal suit. JONATHAN:**I have insurance for that stuff, but like I said I can’t imagine. It’s so hard to imagine the kind of stuff I’m doing these days that it would really crop up.  I do think that we should print up t-shirts that say Reuven Lerner is a charlatan and a fraud [chuckles].**ERIC:**Make that the name of the training company [chuckles]?REUVEN:[Chuckles] You know they say all publicity is good publicity, that might be an exception to the rule.**JONATHAN: You should frame that fax. ERIC:**Can’t you use that as a testimonial right on your homepage [chuckles]?**REUVEN: I have to say though, it’s easy for me to laugh now. I was shaking for days. I was so completely throne; A – that someone makes accusations against me and B – that someone was just so outrageously willing to lie, like he did not care. I don’t think I encountered that ever before, in general, but certainly not in my business life. JONATHAN: It is a pretty shocking story. So there’s something about proposals that I’m not sure that we explicitly stated but I think we all do, we’ve all implied, it which is that the proposal itself is not a pitch, it’s not a sales piece. That’s something that you do on the phone or in person hopefully ahead of time, and then the document that you’re sending whatever you want to call it is just a recapitulation of what you agreed to on the phone. So it should more or less be certainly approved and if there are options then hopefully they can take a higher option than you offered. Do you guys think that’s fair to say for your businesses? REUVEN: No, not always. In the best case, and I would say nowadays, more than 50% – probably 80% of the time that is true. But in many cases for me people say – at least in the past people say, “Send me a proposal, and I’ve got a few proposals to look through, too.” Of course I tried to talk to them on the phone, I tried to get more information. Then write the proposal so it’s using their language and their business interest so that they are likely to choose me, but it’s not always a done deal. I would go even further than that which is sometimes I’m trying to – it’s not just the people I was speaking to but there might be someone in purchasing who needs to approve it to, and so they need to be convinced also. JONATHAN:**I feel like I totally know where you’re coming from, [inaudible 20:54] turning type stuff or [inaudible 20:56].**REUVEN: I don’t say anything. JONATHAN: I just feel like a text document is a really hard way to close a deal. So if you are stressing yourself out to write a proposal that’s going to convince someone who you’ve never even spoken to in purchasing that this is a good idea. That’s where people get 20% close rates, because they’re trying to do themselves inside of a document. So I’m happy to hear that it’s 80% of the time you’re not doing that, because it’s a hard way to do business. It’s a really hard way to make a sale. ERIC: It’s basically and RFP transaction, that client’s asking for bids and you’re giving them a bid which you say is like, you said, a sales document and they’re going to pick one out of there. It’s not even a sales conversation it’s just, “Here’s our problem, tell us how you would solve and tell us how much it cost and if it’s good then we’ll pick you.” JONATHAN: In fact, sometimes it’s not even if you’re good sometimes it’s whoever has got the lowest hourly rates wins. REUVEN:**Which of course is a red flag, I’m never going to win it and I don’t want to win it. I don’t want to work with a guy who just wanted to hire the cheapest person. Recently, there’s a company that called me, and they clearly really wanted my work to help them again with PostgreSQL. Lately that’s what people seem to call me for training in, Python and PostgreSQL to divergent things. So they called me and we had a great meeting, everything was fantastic on the table, everyone agreed what needed to be done. I sent the proposal and the head of the division that I’d spoken to said, “Okay I’m sending this off to purchasing.” I don’t know in the US or elsewhere but in Israel at least, the purchasing has one goal in life and this is what they’re paid to do, to beat down the price of every proposal they get. So it didn’t really matter that the division leader, VIP whoever it was that I was speaking to, wanted me to work with him and he approved the pricing that he had the budget for it. What mattered was that the purchasing department needed to prove to their bosses that the price would go down.  So they called me and said “Will you reduce this price?” I said, “No.” He said, “You really don’t this project do you?” I said, “Well, tell me how much I need to go down,” He said, “fifteen percent,” I said, “Ten,” he said “Deal.” [Chuckles]. That’s how purchasing departments work at least in Israel, and so to some degree it didn’t matter what my proposal said, but at some degree I needed to know this in my proposal so I would pad it enough so that there was room for me to go down.**ERIC: The trends I had with someone like that were their purchasing department called me said, “Can you give us a discount?” Actually it was over email and I said, “No, the agreement I had with my actual client says here’s the terms we’ve negotiated, we figured out the prices, this is just for you to rubber stamp and get through to the system.” And they pushed back and I went to my client and said, “I’m not going to be able to work with you because purchasing is killing it. So he went above purchasing’s head and basically said, “No, we’re working with this,” and pushed it through. That’s what you need to have. If you don’t have an agreement or an understanding with your actual client, the person you’re going to serve, you have to fight the entire organization to get your stuff going through. But if you have someone on your side who’s actually going to help and push it, in this case, they weren’t the VP but they’re like VP level. They basically took a piece of paper and were about ready just to write a check outside of purchasing and then purchasing freaked out about it. So if you work with the right people and have an agreement with the right people you can move around a lot of bureaucracy. JONATHAN:**Yeah, I've done very similar things with real – it’s hard to work with bureaucratic organizations but a lot of times they have really big budgets so they’re attractive clients. Since I do value based pricing, they get a lot of value out of what I’m doing, a smaller company wouldn’t get as much value so I can’t charge them as much for the exact same thing. There have been times when it feels like a diva move where you just like, “Now I will let this project go”, rather than, “I’m not getting into a debate with the purchasing department.” The exact same thing, they hand you off and say, “We’ll work it out with this person using the thing. We never pay that much for this.” I always ask for 100% payment in advance and they’re like, “We always pay in arrears.” I’m like, “I always demand payment up front. So we have an impasse.” They’re just like, “Our system’s not even set up to do that.” I’m like, “Alright,” so I go back to the contact who I got the conceptual agreement with, the person who knows that it’s worth the money and explain the situation. And sometimes they can push it through. I can think of one example where I went back to purchasing and I kept getting pushed to the purchasing guy and I said, “Alright, you can pay me in arrears but it’s not going to be the same price. I’m going to increase the price” and he was like, “To what?” And I basically doubled it. [Chuckles] if the price was $8000 in advance it’s going to be $16,000 in arrears and he was like, “Are you crazy?” They were hiring me to do a keynote presentation at an internal tradeshow they were doing, and I was like, “Look, I have to do a whole bunch of preparation in advance for this. One of the things that is included in my fee is my own travel and accommodations arrangements. I’m going to be devoting a lot of time to this, and you would be surprised how many times people cancel at the last minute. I’m not letting that happen. You are either paying me in advance in non-refundable $8000, or I’ll take on the risk of you cancelling at the last minute and you’ll pay me $16,000 before I walk on stage, on there.” They paid me $8000 in advance.**REUVEN: I always find it somewhere between amusing and horrifying that people will say with a straight face, “The system won’t allow for it. We have rules for doing X, Y, Z.” Rules can be gotten around; it doesn’t mean that they will. I had an impasse, I guess it was last year or two years ago with HP division in Israel where someone has messed up, things have fallen between the cracks, and just in terms of billing for me I ended up getting paid months and months after I should have been through no one’s specific fault, but basically I kept saying someone must be able to approve faster payment. They’re like, “Well, maybe, but it’s not us.” There was such bureaucratic finger pointing, at a certain point they just wore me down and there was a limit to how much I was willing to spend on it. You’re right, if you find the right person they can put it in the system and they can change it because it can’t be that the programmers made it impossible to pay someone in advance. ERIC: I think in my case, I’m trying to remember the details but I think my client even threatened to pay me out of his expense account and submit reimbursements every week and just cause a ton of paper work for them. I think that got their attention enough that this is going to be paid for whether at the right account or wrong account but it was going to be paid for. JONATHAN: That’s awesome. If you have an advocate like that internally, that’s gold. REUVEN: So I’m curious in writing your proposals do you guys recycle texts, recycle formats, or do you write it from scratch each time? ERIC: Recycle or template more than recycling. JONATHAN: I almost always pick up the last similar one and just edit it. REUVEN:**I should probably do that I tend to write it from scratch each time, in part because I know what I want to say and in part, often these proposals are very different on form the other. [Crosstalk 28:10]**ERIC: I had my attorney when he created the template there’s a bunch of different clauses based on how the situation is and so it’s in red if in this situation, use this, if it’s in this other one use this. The only part that’s custom is what problems the client has with deliverables there are and then what the actual payment schedule or calendaring type stuff is going to be. That’s just part of the agreement. JONATHAN: I found that if you are always doing proposal from scratch because they’re so different, it means that your positioning is too big, you’re doing too many kinds of jobs. REUVEN: Interesting point. JONATHAN: I still have a few different things that I do. There’s like speaking engagements which sometimes have a particular kind of thing. Then I’ll do monthly retainers that have a very specific kind of thing that I can re–purpose a lot of. Then there are very short one-off engagements where it’s like a short-term intervention. Those are usually from scratch; those are much more unique. ERIC: I’m working on some productized consulting services, and the goal of that is any kind of agreement or what you call proposals is just like a click through like, “I agree to the terms and services.” It’s actually standard for every client and the service is so standardize that it would work like that. I don’t have to actually create and send it off. I might have to print it out for one of two cases where they want something different or a higher end version. JONATHAN: To me that right there is the difference between ad hoc consulting and productized consulting service where you don’t have to do a proposal really. It’s there, it’s a described item, here’s the price, you either pick it or you don’t pick it. REUVEN: It’s funny all of the topic that we’ve done over the months of productized consulting, it finally dawned on me; I am doing productized consulting with my courses. I say, here’s a course here’s how long it is. I just need to advertise it as such in my site so people take it or don’t take it. For those, the proposal, perhaps I’m writing it anew each time, but it’s really short and I can almost do it in my sleep at this point because I know what I’m going to say; here’s the course, here’s the syllabus, let me know if you want to change things, here’s the pricing, go for it. JONATHAN: It really is. I have done training classes in the past, it feels very productized to me it’s like here’s what I’m going to cover, here’s the price and click here to pay. REUVEN: Are there things that are foolish to put in a proposal or that someone should never put in a proposal that can either kill a deal or just weaken your position now or in the future with a client? JONATHAN: In terms of weakening the position – that’s why I never change the price once I give it. Once I quote a price I never change it; I’ll re-do a proposal do a different one with a different price but I will never give somebody a discount because then you’re basically saying to the customer, every time I send you a proposal you should haggle with me. ERIC: You mean your price won’t change for the value you’re providing or they can downgrade the value and have a lower price. JONATHAN:**They can do that. I can send a proposal and they could say none of these options are acceptable we only want to pay 80% of the lowest option. So I say, “Alright, I’ll create a new proposal with a different set of options or a single option that is more aligned with what your budget is,” but I will never say, “Okay.” My goal with every project is to create a long term customer so I want them to be super happy, but I also want me to be super happy. So if we start up on that foot where they know that they should push back on every price then I just created a ton more work for everybody, not just me. Like Reuven before saying, “I had to [inaudible 31:49] my invoices.” I just don’t have time for that mentally. It’s not time, but it’s like emotional energy that I just don’t have. So the price is a price; I will negotiate – I’m not a jerk – but I will negotiate over terms. I ask for $10,000, a 100% in advance and be like, “We can’t really come up with all of that advance” and I’ll say, “Okay, we can do 50 up-front and 50 in 30 days.” I will go back and forth I just will not change that dollar figure because the dollar figure, there’s something psychological about it that I just will not change.**ERIC: I think one client that just signed today. It looks like she came back with, “There are a couple of terms that aren’t clear.” It was along the lines of NDA and subcontractor.  I’m like, “It’s in there, but I’ll read you the contract and give it back to you.” The price stayed the same, I’m not redoing it to give her a discount, it’s just to make it clear for her and her attorney that this is exactly how it would behave if we went to court. JONATHAN: Yeah, exactly. ERIC: I can’t think anything else that you don’t want to ever put into your proposal. It could be the style we’re doing, these aren’t bid proposals; these are basically summarizing what agreement we think we have. The biggest problem I have ever seen is where I have a sales conversation with someone. We would hammer out all the details, I’d write down what we said or what I thought I heard because of the perception bias, but I’ll write all that down and then give it to him and he will be like, “Actually we didn’t agree to that, we want something different.” So it’s not so much a red flag but it’s more of like shining a light on, “Here’s what I think all the details are,” and they would be like, “That’s actually not it.” But most of the time that's very minor negotiations back and forth and it’s better to do that up-front than it is at the middle of the project when they’re expecting something different. JONATHAN:**Yeah, absolutely. I feel like the hidden thing in here is that sales conversation is everything. The proposal’s not big of a deal. There’s a framework for it, but it’s easy to download from someone’s site like, “Here’s a good format for a proposal,” and just fill it in. The tricky part is having the conversation that will create the conceptual agreement with the buyer– first of all getting to the buyer, that's a hard part – hopefully they come to you, but if a gatekeeper then you have to get around them. And get to the person who actually can write the check, and having the conversation with them that’s not bout deliverables, it’s more about why they want the project, why now, why me. I probably said this on previous episodes but it’s kind of a mantra for me, I essentially try and talk the client out of hiring me and make them convince me that I’m a good fit. And I’ll be like, “Alright,” because I don’t to deliver something awesome, do all these work and do this awesome thing for them and be like “It didn’t really move the needle for us.” I don’t want that to happen. [Inaudible 34:49] Client for me, if I’m going to put all these effort into a sales cycle, I want to turn it into a long term client; I want them to keep on hiring me for two, three, four years. If I can make sure ahead of time what their goals are, why they want this training class, or why they want this four-hour strategy session. What’s the goal? Why do they want this retreat? I might say, “You don’t need a retreat; you need a new policy,” or “You’re incentivizing your directors to compete with each other.” I’m not going to come in and solve this problem, you have to change the way your incentives are structured. If you can do that on that call – and usually for me it’s like one call maybe two, that’s your only shot at it – if you can make that happen and make the light bulb go in the buyer’s mind, then the proposal’s just no big deal, you just write down what you said. Like Eric said sometimes there’s a disconnect there but hopefully not. The whole art to the whole thing is the phone call or in person meeting.**REUVEN:**I agree that’s a total goal changer for me if I can go and talk to them. Just today, I got a call from someone who said, “I’m interested in having your services.” I said, “Let’s get together and meet.” When we have the meeting we [inaudible 36:03] schedule it from now. A) I’m going to understand much more about them and what they’re interested in doing and whether I’m a good fit for them, but they’re also going to see me as more of a person not just, “Here’s the guy who knows the technology and has sent us a price quote.” I told them, “I’m interested in long term relationship,” and they said “Yeah, we’re interested in that too.” I think it’s to everyone’s benefit to have that meeting. After you have that meeting – and what you guys have been saying is totally right – then the proposal should just be a done deal. Everyone’s happy with it; it’s just formalizing what you’ve talked about.**ERIC: You can almost think of a proposal just as meeting notes. Proposal has a better weight to it than, “Hey, here's what we talked about.” REUVEN: I like that. I think before the call I asked, neither of you guys uses Bidsketch or anything else like that to do your proposals right? ERIC: No. REUVEN: It’s just a SaaS application for doing bids. I don’t use it either; I just know that there are some people who rave about it. I guess none of us, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. It just means we don’t know much about it. ERIC: I think Curtis – I mean I'm probably speaking for him now – but I think Curtis used to use Bidsketch or similar system. But I think he was doing what you’re doing Jonathan where the proposal is pretty much the contract, it’s the final negotiation piece. So he uses it for subbing in and out terms than actually sending bids out to someone. REUVEN: My impression of Bidsketch also gives you – there might be other alternatives as well. I looked at it a month or two ago and decided not to use it. You have a choice of text; you can pull in from boilerplate and there’s a nice feature there where you know if they read it and they can just sign it and agree to it online. Here Eric wrote it, it’s Nusii. ERIC:**I think some of them I believe lets you take in credit cards and all that stuff too. It’s not just cranking out a document; it has a bit of integration [inaudible 38:02]. For me, I use two OpenOffice templates then I just make a new template, edit the parts, like I said. My attorney gave me a lot of those sections if I wanted, either as an open source project or client consulter rights, and fill in a little bit, print it to a PDF then send it over to them.**REUVEN: I was going to say I hope you don’t actually send OpenOffice documents to your clients. Maybe your clients would be willing to read them but none of mine would know what to do with them. JONATHAN:I know [inaudible 38:32] – look, a proposal is not fun to type up but it’s not anywhere near a bottle neck for me so it doesn’t feel like something I need to streamline compared to things like marketing automation or Onboarding. So the things that are further up the wide end of the funnel is this stuff I’m more interested in automating, this stuff way down at the bottom of the funnel, I’m perfectly happy to be high touch with.ERIC: I think you’re saying it's difference in business, difference in services; it’s good right now on their homepage which it might change if they have a testimonial. Cut my proposal time from 3 hours to 45 minutes. Even on the most dreadful proposals I might have spent more than an hour and that’s an hour to do it and send it off. It might be people are referring to proposals like the Bidsketch is targeting as like a high volume or I would say a way to get bids or start a sales conversation versus for all of us here seems like our proposals are deeper in the funnel. It’s more of just the final agreement. Even if it took us three hours, we’d be doing very few of those, so it’s worth the time. JONATHAN: Yeah exactly. If I was cranking out a ton of proposals I would probably just productize the center of the Venn diagram and just sell it at a fixed price, and have people soft select whether or not the value is appropriate to them. So then that not only cuts out the proposal process but the phone call too. ERIC:   Yeah, true. REUVEN: I think we’re closing in on the end of our time. Anymore ideas, suggestions regarding proposals, guys? ERIC: One thing that’s always been really big is really try to drill in and understand why your client needs it. Jonathan talked about it a little bit ago but that for me – but I only do that in two or three sentences in mine. A lot of my clients come back and say, “We should really capture what this is about. You understand this.” It’s a really huge way to start on a really good foot as far as trust wise. So if you could get that from some of the initial email or the sales conversation, that’s going to help you. That’s actually – when I didn’t get that, that’s when my proposals or my statement of work took longer to write because I would be trying to reverse engineer and try to figure out what their problem was. It would always come out a lot weaker that what it actually was. JONATHAN: Plus one. REUVEN: Right. At the end of the day they care about their business. If you’re talking about all sorts of other stuff they’re not going to be as interested. Alright, let’s go to picks. Jonathan, any picks for this week? What is this quaint technology you speak of? JONATHAN:Audio books of course [chuckles]. This particular title is available in print and in audio book and e-book as a matter of fact. It is called Getting More, subtitle How to Negotiate to Achieve Your Goals in the Real Word. It probably comes across from that title and sub title sounds a little smarmy and sales-y but it is probably – it might be the best – I was going to say one of the best business books that I’ve ever read, but it’s bigger than a business book. It’s about putting yourself in the shoes of the other person that you’re negotiating with. When I say “other person” we’re talking about proposals and that’s certainly one thing, but it’s everything from trying to pick a movie to go to with your significant other or getting your kids to clean their room. We’re negotiating all the time and this is a huge book written by a guy who has advice on negotiation to the United Nations in the Middle East. It’s great, I can’t say enough about it. It’s a fabulous book and it’s on my mentoring reading list. A must read for everybody. Just that one for me this week.REUVEN: Excellent. Eric, any picks for me this week? ERIC: Yes, so I got a book. It’s available in nine different formats including a preloaded digital audio player, which I have no idea what it is. It’s by Seth Godin; it’s a very short one called the Dip. I have actually read it a multiple times, I just finished it again. It’s so good, I’ve actually put it in my to-do list to actually re-read every quarter. It basically teaches you when you’re working on something, when you should stick through it, go through the hard times and when you should quit things. It’s not just permission to quit but it actually helps you understand like, “Can you be the best in the world at this should you continue?” I even picked it in the past, it’s that good. Second pick, I got this a little while ago but they released a new version; they’ve been fixing bugs. It’s called Workflow, it’s an iOS app that basically does automation. So if you ever used one of the Automator on the Mac, it’s very similar to that. The reason I have it is that I actually use a lot of stuff to send myself notes or add to my to-do list which is just a text file. This takes that to a new extreme. Instead of emailing myself and then when I get on my laptop to do it, I have a button here where I hit it and it will take the current webpage that I’m on Safari, trim out stuff, get the title add it to my to-do list with a priority of one. I have stuff to “Oh I want to put this in social media but I don’t want to just tweet it out, I want to save it.” So I have a book mark of it. I have an action for that. I have something for when I’m collecting links for FreelanceChi, I can hit this and add it to a queue I can review it later. It’s pretty neat. There are a lot of recipes you can build, but they give you the components. You can assemble it however you want. This latest version is better; it lets you sync it a bit between multiple devices which is the thing I was waiting on. Once again it’s called Workflow and the entire link in the show notes. REUVEN: Excellent. I’ve got, I would argue, one and a half picks this week. I decided I was just going crazy trying to schedule things with people. They would call me, we would go back and forth, we would talk about it and try to find mutually agreeable times were just crazy. I remember we discussed perhaps months ago on the show, different tools or different picks for different tools, Eric had chosen one and Curtis was there on the show and chosen one as well. I’ve decided to go for now with YouCanBookMe which is youcanbook.me, I’ll have them in the show notes. I already the first two weeks of using it, it's been so incredibly – what a relief. I’ve basically said to five or ten people already, go to my calendar book time with me whenever you want. I set it up in advance; there was a little bit of advanced work than needed to be done there to tell it when I was and was not available, but it was fantastic. So I’ve been using that for about two weeks – oh I see Eric switched to Curtis’s Calendly. My half pick is to say that after being so thrilled with YouCanBook.Me and its results, I just also had to look at Calendly and it actually looks like it’s more configurable. So I may be switching to that in the coming weeks as well, which is just a matter of giving people a different URL because at the end of the day, it’s syncing to your Google Calendar. So it’s just different UI on the front-end and to the same back-end that syncs to your phone and your computer. But whatever it is, if you’re trying to schedule meetings with people and you’re having email back and forth about when your available and when you’re available, it’s really a huge time saver, so I strongly recommend using something if not one of these that I mentioned. Anyway, I guess we’ve come to the end of the show. Thanks Eric and Jonathan and we’ll be back next week with another exciting episode of the Freelancer Show. [This episode is sponsored by MadGlory. You've been building software for a long time and sometimes it gets a little overwhelming. Work piles up, hiring sucks and it's hard to get projects out the door. Check out MadGlory. They're a small shop with experience shipping big products. They're smart, dedicated, will augment your team and work as hard as you do. Find them online at MadGlory.com or on Twitter @MadGlory.]**[Hosting and bandwidth provided by the Blue Box Group. Check them out at BlueBox.net]**[Bandwidth for this segment is provided by CacheFly, the world’s fastest CDN.  Deliver your content fast with CacheFly. Visit cachefly.com to learn more]**[Would you like to join a conversation with the Freelancers’ Show panelists and their guests? Wanna support the show? We have a forum that allows you to join the conversation and support the show at the same time. Sign up at freelancersshow.com/forum]**[This episode is sponsored by MadGlory. You've been building software for a long time and sometimes it gets a little overwhelming. Work piles up, hiring sucks and it's hard to get projects out the door. Check out MadGlory. They're a small shop with experience shipping big products. They're smart, dedicated, will augment your team and work as hard as you do. Find them online at MadGlory.com or on Twitter @MadGlory.]**

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