Strategies & Tactics

A Modest Proposal: How the Co-Creation Process Helps Work With Clients

January 3, 2019


You’ve spent hours crafting the perfect proposal for that client you know is the ideal fit for your services. It was a painstaking process, and now — after a few final touches — you press “send” to launch your finely crafted email and attached proposal into cyberspace. You have no doubt the client is waiting with bated breath for your email and will instantly respond by saying that not only is this the perfect proposal, but they want you to start work immediately.

But then weeks pass without any word from the client. You’ve followed up several times, but haven’t heard back. Finally, months after sending the proposal, you get them on the phone, only to learn they’ve hired a different agency.
Unfortunately, this is the reality of proposals. They typically require too much time for too few results.

It’s no secret that proposals are among the most frustrating ways to acquire new clients. You’ve probably heard (or experienced) horror stories, ranging from clients who go silent to shady comms managers who steal your ideas. However, there are some instances in which submitting a proposal is the right move. With a little know-how, you can overcome many of the major problems of proposals.

When to use proposals

The majority of your potential clients won’t need proposals, because they’re less concerned with how you accomplish your goal (assuming you act ethically and with integrity), than with achieving a certain result.

If your communications practice focuses on a specific client niche, then most of the people in that specialty are going to need similar services. That’s why a pre-built package of services, rather than a proposal, is the easiest and most direct path to a sale for most clients.

You can customize the package for a potential client’s particular needs. However, there’s a big difference between “customizable” and “custom” — which is the first of two reasons why submitting proposals is sometimes the better approach.

When you’re building a custom service program from scratch for a client (as opposed to customizing an existing package), you’ll need a proposal to outline the scope of work, goals and investment required. Remember that a custom package should demand a premium price.

Submitting a proposal is also the better approach when the sale represents a significant investment for the client. What exactly “significant investment” means will vary from industry to industry and from client to client. For a small business, $10,000 may be a huge investment, while a Fortune 100 corporation would add a few zeros to that number. When purchasing your services involves significant investments, proposals give clients security and tangibility.

For most PR practitioners, these two reasons for using a proposal will coincide: Custom packages usually also require significant investments for the client.

How to co-create a proposal

Typically, proposals present a few major problems for those writing them: They take too much time, and prospective clients sometimes don’t respond. But when we can solve those problems, proposals become a much more effective tool for acquiring clients. Luckily, the answer lies in simply co-creating the proposal with the potential client.

Before you create a proposal, ask the client some direct questions, and for their buy-in to your ideas. You’re probably already having some sort of sales or exploratory conversation with prospects before creating proposals, but you can add the co-creation process to the discussion.

Once it’s been established that the client is interested in your services and requires a proposal, you might say something like, “I’ll need to put a proposal together for this project. Do you mind if we walk through some of those items right now?”

Go over the project’s goals, situation analysis, strategies, tactics and budget with the prospective client. Doing so will make your proposal much more effective for three reasons:

  1. You will focus on the client’s most important items. This is because they’ve told you what those things are.
  2. You’re more likely to get buy-in. The potential client will appreciate your bringing them into the creation process.
  3. You’ll know exactly how much the client wants to spend. You can still try and push that budget a little, but they won’t suffer sticker shock later on, because you’ve discussed the subject before setting a price.

Walking through this co-creation process with a client will take you about five to 10 minutes, and then you’ll have the majority of the ingredients you need for your proposal.

Schedule another meeting to review the completed proposal with the client within the next few days after the conversation. Let them know you’ll be working on the proposal and won’t give it to them until the meeting. That way, you can go through the plan together and receive an answer from the client immediately. This second meeting is your opportunity to close the sale.

With a little practice, this method will help you create proposals in minutes instead of hours, and hear back from prospective clients in days instead of weeks, months or never.

Craig Severinsen

Craig Severinsen works with PR pros to help them land more clients, faster than they think possible. Find more about Severinsen and his coaching/consulting programs at Email him at or connect with him on LinkedIn.  


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