I recently wrote a post on writing project proposals, however, I glossed over an important conundrum that can handicap the process. Here’s a sample situation, a potential client wants a website redesign proposal but doesn’t really know the scope of what they need. It’s like saying to a builder, “I need a 3,000 square foot home, how much does that cost?” Of course, it depends on the materials you use, the time-frame, the layout, etc. But you don’t want to miss out on the opportunity to build it. That is what this post is about.

Approach #1: What’s The Budget?

The easiest way out of the above situation is to determine the project budget. With a target budget in hand, it’s possible to spell out several options based on the amount, which can be a very effective bidding strategy. The problem is that it’s usually hard to get a decent target number. And, you have to watch out for how bidding to a budget can lead you to exclude more expensive options which are inspiring, start conversations, and which might be found in competitive bids.

The fact is that in many cases, clients will find the money if they’re really inspired. Thus the first approach works best in situations where there are hard limits on spending. In this case, I recommend including a presentation on how your work could be extended through future engagements to get the client inspired, while still bidding in reality.

Approach #2: It’s Story Time

Assuming you can’t get an accurate target budget to work from, it’s time to start telling some stories that illustrate why it’s hard to bid an entire project upfront and how a phased approach might work better. I recently completed a project that hammered this lesson home for me.

In this case, a significant part of the project focused on strategy, brand identity, and positioning in support of the development of a marketing/communications oriented website redesign. One tricky part of the project revolved around the positioning because the industry space in question is rapidly growing and evolving. With this in mind we wanted to create an online experience that was flexible and extensible, but also unique enough to capture the value of having come to the market early.

I knew that we had a tight budget to work with and that the client team wanted something easy to manage, so I scoped out a site using the WordPress open-source platform. Open source plugins and widgets would save on development time and allow for extension moving forward. What I didn’t estimate clearly enough was the user experience on the home page.

Because of this, the best home page concept that came out of the strategy phase was beyond our reach. In this case, we were able to come up with a second choice that worked out great, but the client was frustrated by the process. Had we bid the strategy phase of the project independently from a bid on the design and development phases, we could have presented the client with a choice rather than a budget reality. The fact is that at the start of the project we just didn’t know if a flash animation, a video, or a static presentation would make the most sense on the home page, but they have vastly differing costs to produce.

In the interest of staying on the tight budget we’d bid a fairly static presentation, but it became clear that we needed something more dynamic as we began to dig in. That said, working on a budget really keeps you honest with respect to what you “need” and it’s amazing how sharp the final design is. I’ll share more about the project once the site launches, but the moral of this story is that it’s worth pushing for a phased bid approach if possible.

The problem is that it’s hard to get clients on board with this approach because they want to know what they’re getting into up front. That said, telling the your own story about why a phased approach is better will help you renegotiate scope when it’s time to do so.

Looking Forward To The Roadmap

I mentioned above that we identified “the best” concept which was out of reach, I actually see this as an opportunity rather than a challenge. The fact is that during the ideation process you’re trying to produce lots of ideas to envision the experience you’re trying to create. You can’t do this without turning up ideas that are out of reach. The real question is whether or not the ideas are relevant enough to build into your roadmap.

In the case above, we were able to create an experience that anticipated an evolution towards the best concept we came up with. Whether you’re using a phased or straight bid approach, you should be collecting all your ideas for potential incorporation into your experience roadmap. Don’t get discouraged because you can’t fit them in right now, focus on what you can do today that anticipates how they might be incorporated later.

All Hands On Deck

As a final thought on the bidding process, it’s important to highlight the importance of having your entire team involved in the  process. Each discipline has it’s most common pitfalls and you want to anticipate as many of them as you can. Fostering conversations between copywriters, designers, developers, and managers will help surface these issues within the context of your story and ultimately your proposal. In many cases, this results in clear statements about scope and the consequences of going beyond the scope. Simply presenting consequences upfront can make them feel more like choices than penalties and thus reduce client frustration.

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