Honing the Client Proposal

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We have all had that moment, where the pit of our stomach tightens into an anxious knot, when we realize that we took on the wrong client. There are a multitude of reasons that I have found myself in this situation. While fixing one of the issues will not prevent this from ever happening again, it can reduce the times it does happen. I have found that continuous improvement around crafting and delivering proposals has significantly reduced the frequency of feeling that tension in the pit of my stomach.

The first change I made was to stop thinking about it as a contract first, and a presentation of the services we are proposing on second. In fact, I crashed the whole train of traditional thought into a snowy mountain. Yes, you need to CYA (cover your assets), and yes the engagement letter is an incredibly important contract to any accountant. But why does it need to be an ugly document that looks like a legal contract and induces snores before people even start reading it? Why does it need to feel like you’re signing something scary? Additionally, are we showing where we will bring value to the prospect in this process? Or are we focused on our rates and our CYA?

A proposal is the first deliverable you present to a client. This simple document should transform into a visual representation of the value you and your firm will bring to this client.

Your branding will influence the design aspects. As you craft a template, or better-yet, hire a designer on a gig-website, make sure the design follows your branding guidelines. It should showcase your logo, your colors, and maybe even your face. Adding some human aspects to the design will give another connection point to the prospect. Showcase pictures of your office, your team, whatever is important to your team, or even your family. The design is an opportunity to showcase yourself.

Your culture will influence the wording in the proposal. Your culture, or as I like to think about it – your internal brand, can influence whether a prospect decides to be your client or not. If a prospect does not know your culture before signing, how will they know if it is a good match? Yes, you will absolutely communicate that through the prospecting process, and yes this is another opportunity to reinforce their assumptions or find a previously unclear alignment.

Your firm values will be highlighted throughout. Both the visual and the contextual pieces of the proposal should encompass your values.

And your value will be highlighted in the story your proposal tells. From the beginning where you introduce your firm and your unique history, through to the descriptions of the services you are proposing on, your value will be crated in between the lines.

For the tech-savvy firm, fly your tech-forward flag and use one of plenty of gorgeous cloud-based proposal software available to help facilitate the process. They generally have templates to assist in the creation process. The only caveat I will say, is that if you are a very traditional paper-heavy tax accountancy, and you send a digital proposal with e-signature (and don’t take e-signature for e-filing forms) you will have a cultural and expectation mismatch with many new clients.

Honing this process takes time and energy and other people’s opinions. Start slow and focus on continuously improving the substance of your proposal. I would also recommend asking your creative friend and your idealistically optimistic friend to proofread your versions. And the final litmus test? Send your feelingly honed proposal template to your favorite client and see if they believe it is the visual presentation that you and your firm deserve.

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Liz Mason
Liz Mason is a serial entrepreneur, a giant nerd, and an involved accounting vanguard. She is the Founder of High Rock Accounting, Rebel Rock Accounting, TheDepartment.Tax, and a few other related brands. Liz speaks on a national stage, guests stars on podcasts, publishes a YouTube show (The Hot Accounts), and writes frequently. To further her passion for the advancement of the accounting profession, Liz currently serves as a Xero National Ambassador and as the Content Strategist for Tax Practice News. Liz started her career in tax at Grant Thornton (at 20) and automated a portion of her job landing her in the national tax practice. She spent a decade in large public accounting firms working on highly technical tax consulting before branching off on her own. Liz utilizes her creativity and passion at her company to uproot traditional practices and replace them with innovative concepts. She finds joy in efficient technology and her core belief is that everyone and everything can continuously improve (she says "be better" too often). When Liz isn't planning world domination in accounting, she is a die-hard skier, down for any adventure, plays the ukulele, reads everything, and has a good sense of humor. If you're looking for her, you can find her traveling the world and enjoying new food and cultures with her husband and young son. Follow Liz and High Rock Accounting on Twitter at @LizzyNorMa and @HighRockCPAs.