New coaches sometimes ask me to review their first coaching proposal to a client. A lot of these proposals make so many basic mistakes that I want to pull my hair out. The purpose of this blog is to help you avoid some common mistakes in writing client proposals, and – selfishly – to give me a place to send coaches before they send me a proposal to review for them.
Here are 5 signs that your coaching proposal is a real turkey:
SIGN ONE: You wrote a proposal just because the prospective cleint asked you to. Often a prospect will ask you to write a proposal to get rid of you. They are too polite to tell you to get lost, but not so polite that they won’t get your hopes up and cause you to spend a weekend writing a proposal. Don’t fall into this trap. You can’t write a proposal by trying to read the client’s mind. If you haven’t already agreed on price and scope of the engagement, and the client hasn’t said they will move forward, don’t waste your time writing a proposal. The odds of getting it right, and the odds of the client moving forward, are very small. Instead, if the client asks for a proposal, you should reply, “Wonderful! Could we sit down for a few minutes so that I can be sure I put the correct things in it? Let’s start with budget…”
The sales trainer David Sandler famously wrote, “Close then propose.” Most professionals get it backwards. We spend hours and hours proposing, when we should close the deal first and then write a proposal that summarizes the engagement. My proposals are two pages long, and represent a summary of what the client and I agreed to.
[Side Note: If you are in a comptetitive bidding situation and weren’t involved in the Request for Proposal (RFP) and received the RFP as a surprise, you are probably not going to win. The client already knows who they want, and that person probably was involved in writing the proposal. I don’t respond to RFPs anymore – unless I want to use the RFP as a way to lose the current opportunity but get to know the client to build the relationship in order to win future work.]
SIGN TWO: You don’t start with a great background section that summarizes the client’s problem. The most important part of a coaching proposal, and the place to start, is with a background section that lays out the problem from the prospective client’s point of view. This section is absolutely critical, because it confirms that the prospect has a problem that justifies bringing in an outsider. This section should summarize the problem and what it is costing the prospect. It should not be your conclusions, but reflect back what the client has told you. If you don’t have enough information to write this section, then you have not done a good enough job asking great questions. Or, if the client hasn’t shown that there is enough of a problem to hire a coach, then you shouldn’t be writing a proposal. They aren’t going to hire you! Make sure that you include both the logical and emotional costs (e.g., frustrations) of the issue.
SIGN THREE: You don’t move into a solid overview of the benefits you will provide to the client. After the background section of your coaching proposal, many coaches jump right into their approach and scope. This is a mistake. You should next move into the outcomes and benefits you will provide. Show your value right up front, before jumping into tasks. Again, none of this information should be a surprise to the prospect. Summarize the benefits the prospect and his or her organization will receive from the engagement. Where appropriate include emotional benefits, too. For instance, how will the client and team feel after the engagement is over. Will they experience fewer hassles, have more peace of mind, feel less stress about an issue? Often the real reason people hire a coach is not the tangible business reasons (higher productivity, improved revenues) but rather the peace of mind and confidence that comes from addressing the issue.
The other reason to include both the background and benefits sections in your proposal is in case someone other than your sponsor reads the proposal. They might not have been briefed on the project. If all they see is the scope of the engagement, they might miss the larger context, the “why.” By including this information, you remind everyone of the cost and value of the engagement.
SIGN FOUR: You break down the engagement by an hourly price. Price based on the value of solving the client’s problem, not by the hour. You are solving a problem, not providing a series of coaching sessions. If you price by the hour, your prospect will immediately compare you to every other generic professional — attorneys, accountants, IT consultants, and graphic designers. If you have asked great questions to get at the cost of the problem and the value of a solution, you can price the engagement out as a project and avoid the hourly rate trap. Then you can throw in assessments, email support, toolkits, results tracking, and other benefits so that the client sees the project as more than just a series of hourly meetings. For instance, if you are meeting with a client for six months, and you know that the going rate for executive coaching is $2,000 per month, then propose that the engagement cost is $12,000. Your coaching proposal should ask for $6,000 up front and $6,000 in the middle of the project. Stop thinking in terms of hours.
SIGN FIVE: The scope you lay out does not directly achieve the promised outcomes. Just stating that you will meet with the client weekly is not enough. You have to explain how your work will connect to the outcomes. Every task that you do should have a “so what?” that explains how it ties to the reason you are being paid. If you use tools, assessments, or a methodology, tie each of those to the benefits you are delivering. Make sure that the scope clearly leads to results and is not seen as a set of tasks.
The Information Technology world suffers from this problem. There is often a disconnect between the results that the clients wanted and the project that they get. The reason is that many IT consultants focus on the scope of work without thinking about the larger business context, without asking whether all of the tasks in the project plan will lead to results for the client. Coaches need to make sure we don’t make this mistake, and write proposals with a clear path to outcomes that matter to the client, that deliver the outcomes they want and that solve the problems they hire us to address. Get in touch today if you have any questions.