Brian Bender

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I've just recently formed my LLC and need a little help when it comes to sending out proposals, SOWs, agreements, etc. Does anyone use or recommend some form of proposal software that can help structure, automate, and track this process? Or are they more trouble than they're worth? All comments/recommendations/concerns are welcome.

A little background: I've been a freelancer for the last couple of years, working mostly via verbal/informal work agreements. Obviously, this isn't a smart or feasible option moving forward, so I just wanted to put some feelers out to see how others are handling things in 2018 and beyond.
 

JoyHawkins

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I came up with a standard agreement that my lawyer wrote and I just change it up for every client that I send it to (replace the things like name, price etc). I use Freshbooks for invoicing and just put the terms and conditions at the bottom so that once they pay, they are agreeing to the terms.

i don't spend a ton of time on proposals. I usually find the best way to close a lead is to get on a call and answer the questions they have with how you'd be able to help. This is a lot more valuable than a written proposal IMO.
 

Phil Rozek

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@Brian Bender
A few suggestions, based on what's worked well for me - which in turn is based on my having made all kinds of mistakes first:

1. Keep the proposal REAL plain English. Not larded with legalese or SEO jargon.

2. Don't spend much time on it. The proposals will be similar from client to client.

3. Don't use software. If you're spending so much time on your proposals that you want to crank them out with software, something is wrong. Either they're not good, or the leads aren't good, or there's too much churn (i.e. you're spending too much time trying to get clients and not enough time helping the current bunch).

4. At the same time, be willing to get on a quick call to go over details, either right before or right after. That shouldn't be mutually exclusive with a written proposal. I like to schedule the call after I've sent the proposal and heard that the would-be client likes what he or she sees. (Otherwise you're probably wasting each other's time on an open-endd call.)

5. I don't ask clients to sign a contract. There are pros and cons to using a contract, and to going without. Probably a separate discussion. For me, the short explanation of the main benefits is: (a) both parties need to trust each other and have just enough trepidation/concern that they don't become deadbeats (in other words, some skin in the game), and (b) are you really going to call your attorney on your ex-client? Probably not, so maybe it's best not to try give the proposal teeth that won't bite.
 

drongo

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We stopped using "signed" contracts a while ago and now use a standardised set of terms and conditions which have been legally looked-over.

We try to spend more time focussed on the proposal.

Further to what Joy says, we have a new rule which is ALWAYS to meet the client face-to-face. We are a relatively high-touch agency and being in London it's easy to get to see clients many miles away, no problem. We have faced payment problems only with clients we have never met face-to-face.
 

Tim Colling

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Great questions!

All of what follow is heavily influenced by my experience over the years:
  • I did a lot of technology-related contract negotiation work when I worked in commercial software companies, and the way I do things are probably influenced by that experience. Usually I was the only non-attorney in the room, surrounded by attorneys from both sides.
  • I was a software engineering manager for more than twenty years
  • I am a CPA (license now in retired status)
Proposals and contracts
At my small agency, we use a proposal letter that we tweak for each project with respect to price, what is included and so forth. Most of the time, we just start with a copy of the most recent contract that we used for a similar engagement.

The proposal contains a place for them to sign. We do require a signature by both the client and by us. That is just the way we do things. The reason we do that is to ensure that they cannot argue later that they didn't understand the terms and conditions.

Accounting and billing
With respect to accounting: we use Wave accounting, at Wave Financial: Financial Software for Small Businesses. It is free for basic use, and you can add on non-free modules for payroll, 1099s and other things.

Included in the free package is invoicing, including recurring invoicing. We invoice clients monthly, in advance, and we automatically charge those invoices to payment cards provided by the clients. On the first of each month, most of our income for the month is charged to the clients in this manner and we receive the funds two business days later. Of course, we pay fees for the payment card processing just like you would with any other merchant credit card account.

Incidentally, the accounting and bookkeeping features are pretty modest but after all, how much accounting sophistication do you need for a small agency?

Trust me, you don't need much, unless you have employees to process payroll for. I don't have any employees and I never will.

Having had over a thousand employees in my last company, over the course of 13 years, one of my business goals now is to never have employees again, especially not here in California.

Therefore I never have any actual employees. Everyone that we work with are either separate corporations or independent contractors. I am well aware of federal and state laws regarding classification between employees and independent contractors and I'm careful to keep everything with ICs.

The other thing you may need to take into account is whatever you need to do business with clients in other countries. Taxes, etc can be a big mess unless you know what you're doing. I have only done business so far with clients in the USA and while I would be open to also working with clients in other countries, so far that hasn't come up.

One last thing: if you need to make payments to contractors or vendors who are outside of the USA, the tool that I use works well. It is called TransferWise and it has done what I needed in this regard at affordable prices.


Does that help?
 

Digitaldar

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I am happy to see that my answers are inline with what others are doing :)

I use Excel to keep track of my proposals. I tried some proposal management software in the bookkeeping industry recently but it lacked features that I desired. What I did like about it is that it forced me to build a library of services (Ask me about the Google Dance or Stop the Bleed services LOL) with a price tag - but I did not require proposal management software for this.

I use Excel to keep track of proposals because if I am not closing a high number... I want to know what the common theme is - who referred them, etc.

I use my calendar to remind myself to follow up with clients who have asked for a bit of time for example.

Dar
 

Tim Colling

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I thought of one more piece of advice to offer:

Do not use QuickBooks. Not ever.

Sadly, QuickBooks has become more expensive, more buggy and more frustrating the past ten years or so, more than ever before. Some of the problems come from top management there at Intuit. One example is their Chief Technical Officer, who just resigned. I worked for him in the past at another software company. In my experience, he has the leadership skills of Atilla the Hun, but others may not share that assessment.

(The person who is taking over from him in the CTO role is someone else that I have worked with, and she is a much better leader, so perhaps there is hope for QuickBooks sometime in the future.)
 

CraigJMount

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I created a video of what I think should be in a digital marketing proposal-

I seem to be on the other end of the spectrum, we put a lot of effort into a proposal up front and customize them each time.
 
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Agree with keeping it simple! Just a note on signatures:

I have clients sign a proposal that clearly and specifically outlines what I'm going to do. I feel that's important for setting expectations at the outset, preventing scope creep during the project and confirming that I deliver what I say I'm going to deliver.

I spent a decade working for a manufacturer of custom products. Every item shipped was unique, much like marketing projects tend to be. Customers needed to know what they were going to get before spending $10k - $20k on a never-before-built custom item. We would ship a product that did A,B and C and if the customer asked why it didn't also do X, Y and Z we would refer them to the signed contract. (This happened all the time and a signed contract clearly specifying what we were going to deliver was invaluable.)

I have a contractor friend who did a $60k job on a handshake and never got paid. Now he too insists on a signed contract.

The idea of working without one sounds great! (@Phil Rozek I'm envious!) But from past experiences in different industries, I'm apprehensive about working without a signature.
 

Phil Rozek

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@Stefan Somborac, I hear you, but it's important to make sure your clients pay you every month, like clockwork, and not "run up a tab." It's something to establish up-front, in the proposal, before you've done any work or been paid.

You don't put your faith in a handshake, or put your faith in a contract you might not enforce. Rather, you know you'll get paid by a given client because that client has paid you early and often, for your finest work.

I'm surprised your contractor friend didn't work in stages and get paid in stages. That is the typical arrangement. What I suggest for SEOs is similar to a contractor's working in stages.
 

Tim Colling

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I think the answer here is, "it depends". ;)

For me and my house, we like to work with signed agreements, getting paid in installments, getting paid in advance, and having frequent video meetings with clients so that they know we care about them and are working to take care of their concerns.
 

JoshuaMackens

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I don't really use proposals. I jump on the phone like Joy mentions. The proposal is just the capstone to give clients something "physical" they can point to that makes them feel like we're going to do the work we said we are going to do.
 

Tim Colling

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I don't really use proposals. I jump on the phone like Joy mentions. The proposal is just the capstone to give clients something "physical" they can point to that makes them feel like we're going to do the work we said we are going to do.

Well, sure, we talk to them first. :D
 

JoshuaMackens

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Well, sure, we talk to them first. :D

Haha, sorry Tim. That wasn't directed at any one person. Truthfully, I read the first 1-2 posts and just wrote my response.

I just meant to convey that our proposals are just the capstone. I'm not sure our clients even end up looking at them because our emphasis is selling over the phone.

We find proposals are kind of like references when you're getting hired. No one checks them but it looks odd if you don't have them.

That's all :)
 

Tim Colling

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Haha, sorry Tim. That wasn't directed at any one person. Truthfully, I read the first 1-2 posts and just wrote my response.
No worries, I understood that. :)

We find proposals are kind of like references when you're getting hired. No one checks them but it looks odd if you don't have them.
It used to be that brochures were like that, and they still are, for many service industries. When we had our in home caregiving agency, we certainly had them. I speculate that we printed and distributed over 20,000 of them during the 13 years that we owned that business.

I bet that almost no one ever really read them.

Now, for SEO agencies, brochures are pretty non-important unless you're exhibiting at conferences a lot (we are not doing that).
 

Josh Gill

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Brian,

I agree with most that time spent on proposals has its place but shouldn’t be excessive. Better to spend time with the new client instead.

That being said. I started using Bidsketch about 8 years ago and just keep it because I haven’t taken the time to rework how I do proposals and it makes it easy to throw one together that looks nice and is fast.

I pay $9 bucks a month but am grandfathered on an old plan. It lets you import the proposal into Basecamp if using to start a new project and also will import directly into FreshBooks as a new client and setup the invoices in one click. It is probably time to download and convert some of the proposals into an editable form and save the $9 bucks but each month I am too busy to bother.

Wish you the best in your new venture.
 

Digitaldar

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...

I started using Bidsketch about 8 years ago and just keep it because I haven’t taken the time to rework how I do proposals and it makes it easy to throw one together that looks nice and is fast.

I pay $9 bucks a month but am grandfathered on an old plan. It lets you import the proposal into Basecamp if using to start a new project and also will import directly into FreshBooks as a new client and setup the invoices in one click. It is probably time to download and convert some of the proposals into an editable form and save the $9 bucks but each month I am too busy to bother.

That is fantastic - to push it to Basecamp. If it could push to Teamwork and QuickBooks, I'd revisit LOL
 

drongo

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What we do is this (and I am not saying it is right):
  • We have a basic proposal template which we tweak with what's unique per-client. This includes things like what we will do for the client, prices, payment terms.
  • We used to use 30 day payment terms but now we use immediate payment terms.
  • We always send our clients a copy of our standard terms and conditions. These don't vary much per client and we try to avoid any variation at all. We don't insist on a signature, we take having sent the email with our terms enough to signify acceptance.
  • We now insist on meeting all clients face-to-face before starting work with them. All our bad experiences with clients not paying are ones where we have not personally met the client.
  • We have allowed some clients to run up a tab of credit. Very bad practice which we are trying to stop!
  • We invoice monthly at the end of the month having done the work. Perhaps it's different where we are but I think it would be hard to persuade clients to make payments in advance.
  • We will soon be moving to automated payments instead of waiting for clients to pay.
Thanks.
 
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