SEO Proposals Are a Waste of Time (Here’s Why)

Let’s talk quickly about proposals.

I’m not even sure where to start here. I’ve tried rewriting this introduction several times, but each and every time I end up scrubbing it and starting over simply because I want to start by saying…

Proposals are fucked.

So I’m going to start with that.

“But John, you don’t know what you’re talking about, sending a proposal to secure a new project is essential, man!”

Pfft, please.

Why SEO proposals suck balls

When it comes to proposals, I’ve done more than my fair share. Like anyone working in the online marketing space, I did proposals simply because everyone else did them. I did them simply because I thought that’s what we were supposed to do.

I think I sent my first proposal to a client back in 2001.

After almost 20 years I can safely say, I will never send another proposal. Ever.

Want to know why?

Here’s what happens in most cases when it comes to proposals…..

Someones interested in working with you.

You spend an hour with them, either on a call, in a meeting or via back and forth via email. You’re doing your best to explain your service offering, how you work, the benefits and everything else it is that you do, and why the client should sign up.

By the end of the conversation, they’ll say something like, “That all sounds wonderful. Listen, can you send us a proposal?”

So you agree.

You get all their logins, access to their website, Google Analytics, and fuck knows what else, then you spend a whole day putting together some big fancy proposal. Its full of wonderful charts, and graphs and squiggly lines and other amazing shit that’s going to impress the prospect and hopefully close the deal.

You finish it up, slap the price in there, and send it over via email.

Guess what happens?

  • You never hear from them again
  • You end up in some back and forth never ending “what about this, what about that” nonsense
  • They say no thanks and that’s the end of it

Brilliant.

You’ve just wasted all that time fucking around putting together a big fancy proposal and that’s the outcome.

How many times has that happened to you?

A lot, I bet.

Listen, I haven’t done a proposal since 2011 – and last year, I cracked almost half a million dollars in revenue and didn’t send one fucking proposal.

Not one!

So before you waste anymore time, mucking around with proposals and having to cry yourself to sleep at night because the client ghosted you or said no thanks, have a read of my list below.

These are my top 10 reasons why I no longer do proposals, and why you shouldn’t either.

1. They’re a fucking waste of time

I’ve sat in the office plenty of times for hours on end, banging out a 20-page proposal thinking I was going to get the job. Sitting there – up til 2am, trying to make them look all nice and fancy and professional – adding glossy charts, and graphs, pie charts and colorful squiggly lines in an effort to try and impress someone that couldn’t give a shit.

Completely pointless.

I remember once wasting two days putting a big fancy proposal together for a high end client with my quote at the end of it, and I never heard back from them.

All that work and they totally ghosted me.

That really pissed me off.

2. They get forwarded to someone cheaper

What I’m about to tell you actually happened.

About 2 years ago I had someone send me an email and it read …”John, can you please put together a comprehensive proposal so that I can forward it over to someone else. They’re offering to help us for a much cheaper rate. Thanks.”

I’m not kidding.

I actually had to read the email twice to make sure I understood what he was asking me.

Needless to say, I sent him a very pleasant “Fuck you”, and that was the end of it.

Now I’m sure this goes on all the time. I know of several prospects that I’ve engaged with over the years that have sent me other agencies proposals and asked “Have a look at this, and let us know, what you think and if you can do it cheaper”

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my shit getting passed off to another SEO so they can undercut my quote and use my strategy.

3. Prospects flick through to the price

I know with absolute certainty that when you’re sending a PDF proposal over to a prospect, they wont give a shit how many times you mention schema markup, or title tags, or backlinks – all they’ll do is quickly flick through to the last page so they can see the price.

This is a massive problem, because if they’re doing that, then they’re bypassing the value.

They’re skipping all the information that holds value, and going straight to price.

That is NOT an ideal situation.

You may as well forget sending anything at all and just give them a price over the phone.

No thanks.

Value, value, value, then price. Not just price.

4. The prospect isn’t really serious

Prospects that ask for proposals aren’t always serious.

If you’re having a conversation with a prospect, and they cut you off and say, “Listen. okay, it all sounds great, but best to send us a proposal.” Then chances are they’re really not serious about doing business.

I don’t have time to fuck around, and I’m sure that if you’re busy, then you don’t either. I want to cut straight to the chase. Let’s not waste each others time here.

I’m not interested in spending two days or whatever it might be, putting together some big, fancy fucking proposal if there’s something that we can have a discussion about now, and get it out in the open before we go any further.

Right?

This is why I always talk about being upfront about your pricing and rates well before you spend hours or even days with a prospect who’s not a good fit, so that you’re not wasting each others time – but I’ll talk about that more in a different post.

5. They attract lolly scramblers

This one’s probably the most common.

Chances are, anyone that asks you for a proposal has asked 10 other SEO consultants as well, and they’re simply price shopping. Their entire decision is going to be based upon price and price alone.

These are the ones that end up with a pile of proposals on their desk, all printed out, and they’ll be flicking through all of them quickly – trying to find the price, then saying something along the lines of ….“Well this company is the cheapest, let’s go with them and see if it works out”

When that happens it becomes nothing more than a race to the bottom and the value you bring is meaningless.

6. They don’t get read

I’ve sent proposals via email, received a “no thanks” over the phone and I can see they haven’t even opened my email.

Occasionally I didn’t even get the “no thanks”.

This happens with hard copies too. You hand someone a proposal during a meeting and they file it under “Yeah I’ll look at this later”

This is where the prospect gets distracted. Something comes up. They forget. They get busy, and suddenly its not important anymore.

And when they do remember, they bin it without even looking at it, and reply with “Sorry, we’re going to hold off on SEO until next year, but thanks anyway”.

What a waste of time.

7. You’re not special

What you have to realise is that if you’re sending proposals, you’re not standing out. There’s nothing special about you or your offer. You’re just going to look like every other SEO consultant, and they’ll treat you like one.

You don’t want that.

You need to go well above and beyond what everyone else has done, so that when the prospect sees your offer and hears your pitch, he or she says, “Holy shit. This person has really delivered something special here. This is a no-brainer, how do we get started?”

Not, “Sorry, who are you? Oh that’s right, yeah we haven’t had a chance to go through your proposal yet, but thanks for following up, we’ll get back to you soon”

8. Prospects probably don’t understand half of it

This is one that I’ve seen first hand.

Clients that sign up, and forward me other agencies proposals asking ..

“John this other company said they’ll do these things, but I dont understand what any of that means? Would you mind taking a look and letting me know?”

Imagine that.

You’ve put together a proposal, and filled it with so much technical jargon that the prospect doesn’t even understand it. This is where they’ll be sitting there looking through your proposal without your involvement. This becomes a problem because if they don’t understand something, or you’re not there to help explain and clarify, then your proposal is open to any sort of interpretation.

And most times that interpretation is “What the fuck is this?”

Pointless.

9. Inability to overcome obstacles and objections

This is certainly one that used to bother me a lot.

I’d put together what I thought was a kick ass proposal and I’d get a response back from a prospect who would say something like –

  • “Thanks John, but we’ve decided to go with Acme SEO because they said that they would ….”
  • “Thanks but we weren’t sure if that was included or not because there was no mention of it in your proposal…”
  • “Sorry John, but there were a few things in the proposal that we weren’t happy with….”

Wait, fuck! These are things that I could include, or we could have discussed or I meant to cover ……

Too late now.

You blew it.

When you’re flicking someone a proposal via email, and simply hoping for the best – then you’ve lost control and you have no ability to overcome any potential objections, or uncertainties.

10. Your close rates will suck

This one is summary of all my points raised above.

For all the reasons I just mentioned above combined, once you start having these problems, its a flow on effect.

You’ll get no, after no after no.

When that happens, you’ll feel defeated and want to give up.

But don’t stress, there is a much better way.

How I close almost 100% of my prospects without a proposal

So If I’m not sending proposals, what the hell am I doing?

I’m following a 2 step sales process.

The first step involves prequalifying the shit out of every enquiry I get, before I go anywhere near the next step.

I pre-qualify because I don’t want to waste any time.

So, during the first call I cut straight to the chase and make sure the prospect is a good fit. I cover my rates and I’ll cover a few brief points about how I operate, the process and why they should work with me (what makes me different)

From there, if they’re happy to proceed once I have pre-qualified, and I know they’re going to be a good fit, and it’s likely to work and be beneficial for both myself and the prospect, then I’ll move to a sales presentation.

That’s right, a sales presentation.

Now I can’t stress this enough – a sales presentation will win you just about every single job you pitch for.

But it doesn’t mean having to stand up in front of 500 people in some auditorium with a laser pointer.

It’s not a Ted Talk.

They’re not some big fancy complicated process that involves days of preparations.

Quite the opposite.

I do these presentations using Microsoft PowerPoint and I present them over a Zoom call that typically takes about 45 minutes.

Moving quickly whilst providing massive value

In terms of the presentation itself, and the slides – I have a ready made template that I use to do them which allows me to put them together in about 20 minutes. All I need to do is fill in the blanks.

Now in that 20 minutes, I move quickly.

Because (even though I’ve pre-qualified the client), I don’t yet know if they’re serious and they’re going to become a paying client. So I want to reduce waste. And by that, I mean I want to minimize the amount of time that I could potentially waste if they decide to sit through the presentation and say, “Thanks, but no thanks.” I’m not interested in fucking around for a whole day, or half a day, or whatever it might be. So I’m going to move through putting this presentation together quickly and that’s why I use a template.

Now be mindful that I’ve already covered my rates BEFORE, I get on a call and hold this presentation so there’s no surprises. There’s no sudden “shock” or “wow that’s expensive!” or any other nasty surprises at the end of the presentation. That shits already been covered.

So the entire presentation is me, outlining massive value.

This is key.

As to what I cover in the presentation, here’s a few key points –

  • About me – Background of my business including my service offerings
  • Case studies. I’m showing them (and explaining on screen) previous companies that have worked with me and the results I’ve helped them achieve
  • My process. I cover how my process works from start through the finish so they have a good understanding of what to expect and how it all works
  • Key campaign objectives – We’ll talk about campaign goals. What they’re trying to achieve and how I can help them (here I always push the emphasis towards revenue, not rankings)
  • Site audit – Here I actually perform a low level audit on the prospects site and include it in the presentation. Once a prospect sees that you’ve actually spent some time looking/researching their site, they’ll be very impressed and ready to come onboard
  • SEO marketing strategy – These are the recommendations I make in terms of moving forward. “This is what we need to do and why”
  • Cost summary – and lastly the cost summary. This is an itemised breakdown or summary of the actual investment

I essentially go through the slides one at a time, and I outline and explain to the prospect everything from top to bottom, from start to finish, including at the very end, a quote.

Now by the time I get to my pricing and outlining my quote, I have covered everything in detail to the point where the prospect shouldn’t even have any questions and is ready to sign up. In most cases I’m not even finished the presentation and the prospect is asking how to get started.

Why it works

Presentations are much more powerful than traditional proposals for a number of reasons –

  • Its intimate and personal. You’re not just flicking someone a piece of paper. You’re spending time together and establishing a bond
  • You get to explain everything so there’s no confusion at all about your offer
  • You’re answering any questions they might have during the presentation itself – which is powerful at removing doubt or uncertainty
  • There’s interaction. Its not just them, sitting there reading something. You’re working together.
  • There’s a much higher perceived value, because you’ve taken the time to perform a low level audit on their site
  • You stand out – Because if you’ve submitted a PDF proposal via email and I host a presentation like this, the prospect will only remember me, not you.
  • Your rates are insignificant because you’ve focused heavily on the value you’re bringing
  • You get the opportunity to highlight why you’re different, and why they should work with you – by showing examples
  • You’re setting clear expectations, removing doubt and anything else that could potentially cause the prospect to go elsewhere

Now I can tell you right now, I knock these presentations together quickly. Not only am I explaining my process, pricing, time frames, and everything else, but I’ve actually performed a low level audit on their site – and let me tell you, they absolutely love that.

Now sure, you might be able to throw that together in a PDF, but the power of the visual presentation itself, plus having that level of interaction that you just don’t have with a traditional PDF proposal – you can’t lose.

And this is why I say, if I’m competing for a campaign against five other people and they’re sending PDF proposals, and I’m spending 45 minutes on a call with a prospect, I’m going to win that thing every single time, and that’s typically what happens.

So if you’re sending PDF proposals, you need to change your strategy fast, because that stuff is just a waste of time. I can prequalify during the first call in about 15 minutes, spend time putting together a presentation in 20 minutes then close the lead in about 45 minutes.

And I can do that all day long.

Oh, and don’t forget, most times during that presentation, I can typically take a prospect who intends on spending $2,100 a month, and turn that investment into an $8,000 or $10,000 deal right there, whilst keeping the $2,100 a month retainer.

Agree or disagree?

Post up your comment below. Perhaps you agree with me. Perhaps you don’t. Perhaps your argument might be “But John, this would take longer”, or “John you suck because Proposify is the best” or perhaps you’d just like to punch me in the face?

Let’s start a pub brawl, it will be fun. We can laugh about it later over a few beers.