How to Write a Web Design Proposal

Write a proposal that gets you the job

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Many new freelance web designers assume that if they set up a website and offer their services, clients will start showing up demanding work. But the most common scenario is for a client to either advertise, looking for a designer to work on their site or send out an RFP (request for proposals). In both cases, you need to let the client know that you are interested in working for them. And the best way to do that is to write up a web design proposal.

Web design proposals answer the most common questions prospective clients have surrounding hiring someone to build their website:

  • How much will this cost?
  • What will that price buy me?
  • How long will it take to build?

The simplest web design proposals just answer those questions. But the best proposals are the ones that provide the most information to the prospective client. In fact, the best proposals can often be used as a contract as well, indicating that if the client agrees to the proposal they simply need to sign it and return it to you and you’ll get started.

When to Use a Design Proposal

You can use a web design proposal any time you are trying to get a new client or if you have an existing client that wants to do something new with their site. Web design proposals are a good way to get the conversation started with a client that is still considering what to do with their site. And of course, you should always use a proposal when answering an RFP.

You should not consider the proposal a contract unless your client has signed and agreed to it. If you do not have their signature, then the proposal is not a binding agreement and you may find yourself doing more than you planned for less money when the client’s needs expand.

Use a design proposal to help you get more work. You shouldn’t spend months crafting a design proposal. In fact, most RFPs have a fairly short deadline. Instead, focus on building the clearest, most concise proposal that covers all the client’s needs. A good idea, if you aren’t answering an RFP, is to have the client fill out a project request form. This ensures that you know what they’re looking for and will help you build a better proposal.

What Are the Parts of a Proposal?

There are several parts of a good proposal that you should always have. One of the best things to do is to create a proposal template that you can then customize for the projects you are trying to land.

A design proposal should include:

  • Your company name and logo  This is an official document coming from your company. You should treat it as such by including your company logo and name at the top of the proposal. This makes it easy for the prospective client to remember who you are. For multi-page proposals, it’s a good idea to include your company name and possibly a smaller sized logo in the header or footer of every page after the first one as well.
  • Your contact information  Your company contact information is vitally important as well. At the bare minimum, you should include an email address. But having a phone number and mailing address are also a good idea, as it makes your business look more professional. Like the company name and logo, you should include your email address or phone number in the header or footer of every subsequent page after the first so that clients can contact you immediately with any questions.
  • Client’s name and contact information  Every proposal should be customized with the potential client’s name and contact information. If you have the full name of a person at that company, it’s a good idea to include that here, in a similar format to a business letter. This tells the client that you take them seriously and will treat their website with respect.
  • Confidentiality statement  Many clients will expect you to sign a confidentiality agreement before working on their site, stating that you will not use their site design in any other work. But you should also include that in your proposal. You need to make sure that the prospective client understands that the content in this proposal is provided to them for their evaluation, but that until a contract is signed, all work described or provided in the proposal is your property. Here is an example of a confidentiality statement:

This proposal and any files transmitted with it are confidential and intended solely for the use of the individual or entity to whom they are addressed. This proposal contains confidential information and is intended only for the individual or company named. If you are not the named addressee, you should not disseminate, distribute, or copy this proposal. All contents of this proposal are the property of [YOUR COMPANY NAME]. If you are not the intended recipient, you are notified that disclosing, copying, distributing, or taking any action in reliance on the contents of this information is strictly prohibited.

  • Description of your company  You should include a short paragraph describing your company and what types of services you typically provide. Think of this as a short marketing statement explaining why your company would be best for this project.
  • Goals of the project  This is the meat of the proposal. You should be as explicit and clear as you can, detailing exactly what you will deliver to the client. If you are answering an RFP, you should address everything mentioned in that RFP. You should not include actual examples of what you’ll build for them, but you should include what technology you propose to use, how many pages you plan to build, and what type of content you will need from them in order to complete the goals.
  • Project phases  All projects have specific phases they go through in order to be successful. In your proposal, you should indicate what phases you will be handling and what will be expected of you and the client during each phase. Some typical web design project phases include:​
    • Data collection
    • Design
    • Development
    • Testing
    • Delivery
    • Launch
    • Maintenance
  • Timeline  This answers the question “how long will this take?” but your timeline or schedule should do more than that. You should indicate how long each phase of the project will take and what deliverables there will be for both you and your client. Remember that when you’re building a website, you need content such as text and images from the client before you can finish. In fact, many projects stall simply because the client doesn’t return images or content in a timely fashion. Another aspect of the timeline you should include is how long this proposal is good for. You don’t want potential clients showing up, demanding that you honor a proposal that you wrote five years ago when your hourly rate was much lower. The key to this section is to be as clear as possible about how long things will take and when things are due. If you anticipate a long negotiation, you can state it in days rather than give specific dates, i.e. "data collection will take 5 days to complete after receipt of the signed contract."
  • Fees  Here is where you provide the client with how much the work in this proposal will cost. You can charge a flat fee or an hourly rate. If you charge a flat fee, especially for more than $1000, you should include a breakdown of what the fees cover, i.e. "50% covers the design and development phase, data collection is 20% and the rest of the fees cover testing, delivery, and launch, with maintenance covered in a separate agreement." If you charge an hourly rate, you should indicate an estimate of how many hours each phase will take and the deviation potential, i.e. "data collection will take 10 hours +/- 2." You should also indicate how overages will be covered — will you keep working and then discuss charges?; stop working and ask for approval to continue?; continue working at a reduced hourly rate? The key here is to be as clear as possible.
  • Signatures  Even if you aren’t going to use this proposal as a contract, you should include your signature and date at the bottom. This indicates that the proposal is binding.

While it's recommended that you use all of the above parts in a proposal, you can pick and choose the ones that are most useful to your business. And you can always add additional sections. The idea is to be clear so that the client wants to pick you to do their design work.

Contract and Pricing Hints

While a proposal is not a contract, many of the same issues come up when writing a proposal. And remember that a contract is a very important part of freelancing. In fact, if you had to choose between writing a proposal and writing a contract, you should always choose the contract.