Your first project proposal? Do not worry!
A guide on things to consider when writing a proposal as a Joomla freelancer.
The Joomla Community Magazine is available in a number of foreign language editions. As part of a new project to bring the best of each language edition, this article first appeared in the Spanish edition of JCM in 2016 and remains one of the all-time top-performing JCM articles each month.
You already know how to use Joomla! You are now able to set up websites, adapt templates, install and modify components, even develop your own plugins. Already among your network and acquaintances, you have started to spread the word about what you do as a freelancer. A cousin of a friend of yours recommends you to an uncle of a neighbor, who asks you for a proposal for a website and it’s then that fear floods your being. Do not worry! Keep reading.
The word rings in your head and fear floods you: Proposal, proposal, proposal. What are you afraid of? One or more of these reasons?
- You don't know how much to charge
- You don't know how to collect
- You don't know how to submit a proposal!
Quiet inner voices! No one was born knowing the answers to these things.
Before starting to give you tips and try to pass on my experience in this area, there are two truths that you should consider before jumping into the ring.
The average customer does not know how to build a website.
That’s why they’ve asked for your help. I mention this so that you will be convinced that your work and your knowledge are valuable.
One of the arguments one client gave me to reject a proposal was:
“But I am already giving you all the tools (I was hosting the site, registered the domain and purchased a template), and also Joomla! It's free! Why is the website design proposal so expensive?”
Say that to a bricklayer: "I'm already giving you a shovel and pick, and I also bought you the bricks and mortar, so why is it so expensive to build the house?" Surely he will send you very far and tell you to do it yourself.
The average customer who needs a website shouldn’t need a degree in computing to understand what you’re doing.
Don't overload your client with terms and explanations that they don't need to know about. Be practical and listen. It is a good way to empathise with them. If you succeed, you'll already be halfway to making the sale.
The life cycle of a software project
The life cycle of any computer project can be broken down into the following stages.
As you can see from the names of these stages, there are many things you should consider when creating your proposal to cover each stage. This article concentrates on the Analysis stage, but that is crucial for everything else to be successful.
The Client Interview
I am fascinated by these types of phone calls:
"Hello. Jill Smith recommended me to you. We noticed that we need a website and we want to see how much it costs us to do it. How much do you charge to make a site?”
The first thing you should do is not give a price right away. If possible, not even approximate. Most customers don't know the difference between an informational site and a virtual store or a blog, much less the complexity of each one. It is very important that you explain in a very calm and friendly way that in order to understand their needs, it is necessary that you have a coffee (or a zoom call in this COVID-19 climate) and talk about what it requires.
Make an appointment, perhaps somewhere casual so your client will be more relaxed and you can better focus on determining their needs. To start the discussion, ask them to describe what their website needs are, listen and take notes. Let them know that you understand their pain points and identify with them. Your body language is crucial.
Once they finish outlining what they’re after, go deeper into what they need by asking more questions. Typically, the customer knows they want a website, but they don't necessarily know all the things to put on it. This may be the time in the conversation where the client’s feedback as you go through your questions filters your analysis of their needs. Work with them now on focussing in on what they actually want on the site.
Some key questions:
- What is your market?
- What is your competition?
- Do you know of any competing websites?
- Do you have a domain registered, or need assistance in doing that?
- Already have hosting?
- Do you already have other proposals you’re considering?
- Do you have a budget for this project?
- How long are you interested in launching the site and under what context (an expo, a promotion or important date)?
- Do you have personnel with the basic knowledge that can be trained to manage the site? If not, do you need this service?
- How frequent will updates to the site be?
- Will they be providing content for the site already prepared, or will you need to factor in things like copywriting, graphic design and image procurement in your proposal?
You’ll come up with more yourself both before the meeting and possibly during the initial part of the meeting when you’re listening to the client’s description of what they are looking at including on the website. The questions are not superfluous. Don't skimp on asking but don’t go into detail on the other stages before you’ve secured the job. Too many questions can tire out your potential client before you’ve even left the meeting.
Take a moment during the meeting to also explain that your proposal is to deliver a website using a highly adaptable and easy to use content management system. Its ease of use means it can be accessed by the client for them to manage content with minimal training and that, if necessary, any developer familiar with the software could manage it in the future without problems.
You can consider whether or not to mention the name of the CMS that you will use (Joomla! of course) as sometimes it can be counterproductive for you to do so by giving arguments to the competition to beat your proposal. You might find the client hears from another provider that starts to make them question your proposal if they know it’s Joomla based.
If you do need to explain more how a CMS and Joomla, operates, check out the two-part article on Explaining Joomla to non-technologists
At this point, if you already have experience from previous projects, you may now have an approximate price in mind... If it is very necessary for you to say it, try to go higher, or give them a price range, but advise them that you will analyse it carefully before sending them a detailed proposal for them to consider.
Creating the Proposal
How extensive should your proposal be? As detailed as necessary, always based on the information you gained from the interview. It is important that you take care of even the smallest detail. The language should be easy for your client to understand. Avoid using technical terms as much as possible.
Take the time to set up your proposal to look presentable. At the time the original version of this article was written, creating a formal looking word document would still have been the most common way to present the information. 6 years on, there’s a variety of ways to provide the information - a document, slide deck, or sometimes other interactive functionality in a PDF file may be things to consider.
Write a brief description of the project. It includes some background on the company and highlights the importance of the project:
"... the website will represent an increase in sales (...) it will improve interaction with customers (...), it will serve as a corporate brochure ..."
Don’t go too far in this paragraph.
In this section, you must be very thorough. It is the part where you describe point by point what your work will include.
- Avoid being too technical, but don't leave anything out.
- Specify everything related to the site, the components, how they will work, etc.
- Make a list of the expected results, so your client will know what he is going to receive and can check it when you deliver the finished site.
"The site will have the following sections:
- Home. It will consist of a welcome screen, a registration form, an image (...)
- Services. It will present a list of the services (...)
- Contact. It will present a form with the following fields (...), the information will be received with the following format (...) "
Some important points to define: Functionality, presentation, hosting, domain, colors, fonts, graphic design, etc. You can include some diagrams or drawings (concept diagrams).
Also, add a list of what the site will not do and optional features or that could be added in future projects. In this way, you awaken your client to consider their needs and contribute ideas.
Define a workflow. The steps you are going to carry out. (the life cycle). If possible, define estimated delivery times and make a list of deliverables (visual design proposal, information gathering, pilot test, etc.) Don't be so detailed yet, but give your client a very good idea of how the work will be done. Once they accept your proposal, it's a good idea to give them a detailed schedule, with dates, times and even mentioning the people involved or responsible for each stage.
This is it. It's time to get paid. Depending on the country where you are, this can vary greatly based on local market forces. To make a good calculation think how much you want to charge per hour and multiply it by the number of hours you estimate it will take you to the project. Here is a calculator that will help you know how much to charge.
Since the original article was written, it’s been expanded from calculating only in Euros to now including US Dollars and a range of local South American currencies.
This calculator is just to give you an idea. It is best to take some time to analyze your situation and determine a real price.
Include in this section the total cost with number and letter, and define the payment milestones.
"Total cost in American Dollars (USD): $1800.00 (one thousand eight hundred dollars) divided in three stages: 50% at the beginning of the project, 30% at the publication of the site, 20% at the end of the training."
List the conditions of your proposal. Specify if the price includes or not taxes, your account numbers or if the payment is in cash, terms and conditions to accept the proposal, if the exchange rate will be taken to the one existing on the day of each milestone, or at the beginning of the project, etc.
Finish the document
Adding a few lines where you express the importance you give to the project and express your gratitude in advance for giving you the opportunity to collaborate for the growth of your company.
Making a project proposal is not an easy task, as you may have noticed. This document lets the client know that you are really interested in the project, that you really understand his problem and, above all, that you have a solution. It also gives your client an idea of your professionalism and commitment.
You should know that this type of proposal is not for every type of client. There will be clients who are only interested in one sheet, with a brief explanation and a price. This type of client is the most difficult because you have to convince them almost nothing else for the price because it is the only thing that interests them. Over time you will identify them and know how to approach them. They only look for "having a website" almost as a luxury or requirement and are not willing to get so involved with the project and its development. They say phrases like "There my secretary has all the information, let her give it to you" or "just a site that says who we are and what we do" or "something nice just because sometimes we are asked". Always try to make them see the importance and advantages that a website can give them, but don't try too hard. With them, almost always, a very brief explanation of what their site will do (especially if it will be small) and its price will be enough. No more.
Many prospects will tell you no, but believe me, with a good proposal you increase your chances enormously.
Not everything is said. This proposal is just an example based on my experience so far. It contains important points to consider, but you should always have your own format and your own process based on how things work out for you. But, here are some tips:
- Create a proposal model. The next few times it will take you less time to develop one.
- Create an interview format, so you'll be prepared and won't miss anything.
- Calculate your cost per hour and have it updated and at hand.
- Put together work packages that will help you get a quote more quickly. For example, install a Joomla website 1 hour, install a template 1 hour, capture an article of medium length, half an hour. A virtual store with 10 products, 3 hours, etc.
- Establish a standard workflow that works for you, covering all stages of the life cycle of a software project.
- Create formats and forms to receive information from your customers.
- Create a "checklist" of all the details so that you don't miss anything when you have to develop a project.
- Never assume that a client understood something... as long as it is in writing there is no room for doubt.
- Always provide a time limit for the client to accept your proposal.
I hope this article will help you get a better start as a freelancer and why not, that it will help you lay the foundations for your future business to work better.
If you are interested in knowing how to approach big projects with Joomla! I recommend you to read this article. It will be a good complement.
I look forward to your comments, questions and ideas. In addition to what has been explained here, have other things worked for you, have you faced other problems, how have you solved them?
Translated from the original article ¿Tu primera propuesta de proyecto? ¡No temas!
by Luciano Martínez which first appeared in the February 2014 Spanish language edition of the Joomla Community Magazine.
In translating the article Patrick Jackson has updated some items to have current references but where possible has retained the context of the original article.