How to deliver the design proposal

Onboarding New Design Clients – Part 4

by Darian Rosebrook
October 01, 2017

We have spent some considerable time going over the client onboarding process.

Though the layout of the other parts were intentionally disjointed, the onboarding flow is something that you’ll need to streamline in order to keep your projects flowing in a professional manner.

  1. You should be using a good position statement showing what you can do for new customers. This 15 second statement will help you earn more clients by focusing what you want to be known for.

  2. You should have a great questionnaire that helps you figure out what the scope of the project is. These questions are for doing a deep dive into your client’s goals and obstacles.

  3. You should then use professional practices throughout the onboarding and client engagement to ensure your success as a designer.

  4. Once your relationship has been established positioning you as a professional designer, you then sum up the entire onboarding process with a design proposal.

This proposal should not be the first thing that you give to a client. You need to spend time facilitating with professional practices like: Being a great communicator, taking responsibility for your role, and respecting the client’s time.

Design Proposals shouldn’t be the earliest thing you give to a client. You need to spend time starting with professionalism.

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‘P’ is for ‘proposal’

You’ll only need a proposal if there’s a client you’re trying to secure.

For most of us, we write proposals to help with onboarding the client. It’s a part of the process that may seem tedious, but you’ll thank yourself later on for using one.

Other times, you might be contacted by a company, being asked to submit a proposal for a project they have in mind. They ask for something because they are price matching or searching for multiple options.

If you’re looking at getting a bite of those larger design clients, you might find yourself having to submit a proposal based off their creative brief or short description.

If you plan on positioning yourself as a professional, make sure to get as much information about whatever it is that you are putting a proposal together for.

Go back through details, get in touch with the owner or point-of-contact, make sure you’re able to get the whole picture of what’s going on.

The design proposal is only effective after you’ve gathered the information you need for the job.

What goes into a design proposal?

By now you should have been gaining some valuable traction with learning about your client. The roles should be established and you should have a decent amount of information to base the project off of.

After collecting everything, you should spend some time to reflect on what you’ve learned about the project, the client, and the client’s goals.

A really good design proposal should reflect everything that you understand about the project so far.

So in order to reassure the client that you know what you are doing and will deliver the best designed solution, you need to cover a few things.

Who you are and what you can do.

About you

It’d be good to talk about your design practice, the people you’ve worked with, what your experience is (where you studied, what you do, etc.)

Your best bet is to talk less about “you” and your accomplishments and more about how you help them. Social proof and testimonials can be good to lead with.

Capabilities Section

Your new prospect came to you with this project in mind, like a logo design or website, but they might not know that you what else you are capable of doing for them.

Put together a list of your services that you are able to do for clients. They might have other projects in mind that they were looking to fulfill that you also fit the bill for.

You’ll never know until they know what you can do.


Clearly outline your process.

You should have enough practice (or knowledge) with the design process to be able to put it into words.

This section will help your client know what to expect throughout the project. There doesn’t need to be too much detail, but enough that there won’t be surprises when you have to contact the client during certain parts.

As clear as you can, explain your design process in a way that doesn’t use lots of design terms that might confuse them or require lots of research.


Outline your approach to solving their problems. I don’t actually use the word “problem” but here’s how I outline this section:

  • The Challenge: Why they came to you. What are they trying to solve?

  • The Opportunity: What you analyzed through this process and see areas to improve their current situation.

  • The Action: What you actually plan on doing in order to solve the current opportunity.

Reassure the client that you know what needs to be done, that you are capable of solving the problem, and what the effective results should be at the end.

Budget and Timeline

The budget and timeline need to be as clear as possible to what they include and why they are set where they are. If there are places where you might end up over on either the timeline or budget, you want to put an allowance together just in case you go over.

Clients will pore over this repeatedly so make sure that it’s clear and easy to understand.

Too much detail though can get you in hot water if you need to change it in the future. So find the balance and make sure that a client can easily understand it.

Terms and Conditions

If you are working with clients, you want to make sure they know what the terms and conditions for the design are. You’d be surprised what a client’s expectations are if you never help set those during the onboarding process.

You should cover topics like licensing, the contract, the types of files they would receive, and what your chosen form of communication is, and what your chosen payments are… Most of this can be covered in a separate contract, but here you can use plain language to spell it out for them.

If you’re looking for some solid advice on payment terms, you could [check out our friends from Sail and their comprehensive guide.](http://


Don’t start any more work until both of you have signed the proposal. This should be treated as their intent to proceed. Depending on if you wait for their check to clear or just a signed proposal, this should be the final page that confirms they have read and understand what you are both there to do.

You can always go back and edit the proposal if they have questions or concerns. Leave them your contact information in case they need to go over it with you or change some things.

You’re not in the proposal making business.

Stop spending all your time on them.

I’m a firm believer that if you do something more than twice you should automate it or find a more efficient solution.

When I work on doing project proposals with clients, I first want to qualify them. If they aren’t serious about continuing with the project, sometimes it can feel like a waste, putting a large effort into designing and presenting a design proposal to the potential client.

Having a client who isn’t ready isn’t a bad thing. They have the project scope ready which could yield a really good project you can follow up on if work gets slow.

So how do you make sure you’re not spending all of your time working on design proposals?

Use a template.

Take the info you have and make it reusable.

If someone is price matching, you want to make sure that you have enough time for actual work rather than someone who doesn’t need you right now.

I’m working on a proposal template to help you all who haven’t been able to actually craft a proposal before. It’s not the only template out there, but this one is specific to this process above and will be available first to newsletter subscribers.

I plan on releasing a fillable pdf and the source files to allow yourself total customization on the proposal template.

A major benefit to using templates is that you’re able to spend less time “designing” your design proposal and spend more time closing the client.

Use something that’s reusable to get client’s on board faster.

Don’t be a “ding-dong ditcher”

Actually present your proposal

Presenting your design proposal to the client can be a scary thing.

If you don’t have a lot of experience with interacting with clients, you should practice going over this with someone who isn’t your client. Maybe a friend, a spouse/girlfriend/boyfriend/significant other can help you out.

The point is that you can’t just drop it into their inbox saying “here’s your proposal.” You need to be able to interact over what you are presenting to gauge their reactions to the project.

You can talk about potential client objections (which we’ll go over on the newsletter soon) and you can take charge by setting the expectations of the project.

Take the client’s objections off the table by presenting your design proposal to the client so you can adjust accordingly

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By presenting to the client, you have even more control on how their reaction to your proposal will go.

This helps you present yourself as a professional and show the client you are capable of handling the questions that they have (and they will have them.)

The best thing you can do for yourself is to grab someone that you know, like, and trust to practice this with you.

The more you get to presenting your proposals with all the info laid out in a digestible format for the client, the more likely you will be to close the sale.

If you start closing more clients, you’re on the right track.

Take some time this week and think about your onboarding practice. Did you miss any part? You can go back and see the other sections here.

***Part 1: Questions* | [Part 2: Positioning](**| ***Part 3: Your Pitch ***| Part 4 (This)