As someone who found out the hard way-Amen to this advice!
An Essential, But Often Missed Element of a Project Proposal
Posted September 19, 2010 in Managing Clients
A few months ago, I wrote about the elements of a successful project proposal. Unfortunately, I missed a crucial element. One that probably a majority of freelancers miss as well.
Can you guess what it is?
It’s the expiration date.
Thanks to the active members in the Freelance Folder forums, I saw the error of my ways.
Why Your Quotation Is Only Good for a Limited Time
Your quotation is like medicine and food. It has a limited shelf life. After a certain date, your circumstances have changed and your proposal is no longer applicable.
Think about it. Just two weeks from now, you would have gained more experience in your field. You could have acquired additional training. You could have filled up your schedule to a point where you don’t even need the project any more, or have time for it… in which case you’d have to charge extra and need more time to do the job.
Therefore, an expiry date is needed so your prospect knows when he or she can hold you, not only for the fees you set, but also for the delivery schedule you promised.
The Dangers of Not Having an Expiry Date
The consequences of not putting an expiration date on your proposal can range from mildly annoying to downright harmful to your business.
For example, TWO years ago, I posted a special offer for my services in one of the forums I belong to. Because I love that forum so much, I said my special offer had no deadline.
The problem was, my rates have more than doubled since that time! I actually received an inquiry a few days ago, based on that special offer. How my special offer came up two long years later, I’ll never know. However, forum posts are searchable and archived and probably last forever ;-)
Imagine the disappointment my prospect felt when I responded saying that, even with the discount I’m offering, my fee would be five times what it would have been when I published that post.
In effect, both the prospect and I wasted time and energy exploring this possible working relationship. Worse, this person now has negative feelings associated with me. Not exactly ideal.
An even worse scenario would be if a prospect came back to you two months after you submitted a proposal. If you need the project, you would feel compelled to stick to your quote even if you feel you’re already worth much more.
You’ll go into the project in a negative frame of mind, which could very well affect the quality of your output. You might even resent the project and/or your client. You could feel unmotivated to complete it. Finishing the project would be like swimming upstream; it would be a struggle every single day.
Why Risk It?
It’s very easy to avoid all this trouble and possible heartache. Simply add one line to your proposal:
This proposal is valid until (day, month, year).
How long should your proposal be good for? It’s totally up to you. Anything from two weeks to one month sounds reasonable enough. Longer than that and you may be selling yourself short.
You may have to be flexible with certain clients, though. For example, some companies and certainly government agencies have tedious and time-consuming approval processes to follow. Therefore, you may consider giving them up to 60 days or so.
I prefer to specify a date for the expiry rather than a period of time. For example, “This proposal is valid until October 1, 2010″ instead of “This proposal is valid for 15 business days.”
The former is exact and leaves little room for error or misinterpretation, which is good for both the prospect and the freelancer.
Also, please note that I’m suggesting an expiry, not only for the fees you quoted, but for the entire proposal, including your delivery schedule. As I mentioned, a couple of weeks from now, you may not be able to deliver the output in 15 business days after all. Consider this as well, when determining your proposal’s expiry date.
Are you one of us who have been forgetting to put an expiry date on your quote? Or, are you one of the smart and enlightened ones who’ve always known that this is the way to go?
If you’re the latter, what expiry period do you use and why? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
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September 19th, 2010 at 8:53 am
September 19th, 2010 at 8:54 am
you think I could spell my own name in the email address :-)
September 19th, 2010 at 9:44 am
This is a great post.
Expiration dates on proposals are a great way to protect us. I can also see another benefit…it should help our clients make a decision more quickly. If they know that it won’t last forever, hopefully that means that they will be able to get the contract signed and start the project faster.
Thanks for sharing!
September 19th, 2010 at 2:04 pm
Something I have definitely been missing. And it makes good sense too. I’m in the process of revising “ALL” of our documents and make them more professional and easy to manage – and the project proposal was next! So great timing! ;)
I’ve also encountered clients (as I am sure others have as well) who completely agree to the proposal and then don’t respond for like a month once you send over the contract (lol) — I think we can probably include an expiration date on several other things too!
September 19th, 2010 at 5:12 pm
I too have started putting expiration dates on my project proposals. I learned the hard way when clients would “drag their feet” sending me the information. This would hold me up on my other projects and cause a great deal of stress. Stress that I didn’t need!
So, excellent advice.
Quick question. Do you suggest putting the expiration at the bottom of the proposal or somewhere near the top? Just curious. I think that it could work either way.
Kelli WiseSeptember 19th, 2010 at 5:57 pm
Having come from the corporate world, I have found that if you’re dealing with a big company, you may want to go with a 2 month expiration date. By the time the proposal goes through all of the departments needed for approval, you’re 2-4 week date is long gone and you’ll have to start over. With small clients, I think I’ll drop that to 4 weeks like you suggest. That should help expedite a decision.
September 20th, 2010 at 2:00 am
I quote Kelli Wise above, I usually give a 2 months expiration date for bigger companies and 1 month for small/medium client or when I know that only a small group of people have to decide about the project. But it happened to me recently that a small client came after a couple of months saying that my quote was approved: I took the job even though I should have said that my quote was expired. This was probably en error but I know the man and I didn’t have the heart to say “sorry it is expired, now we have to go through all the process again”. What would you do in such a case?
September 20th, 2010 at 4:43 am
I normally have an expiry date of 30 days on my project proposals. A calendar month seems a pretty reasonable amount of time.
September 20th, 2010 at 9:15 am
Thanks for the post, Lexi. Seems like a very simple thing to add to a quote and yet as a freelance copywriter, I’ve neglected it time and again in writing proposals. It’s also an effective persuasive technique. It subtly suggests to the potential client that you have an ongoing work load and that as a creative service, you represent a value that must be acted upon.
LeafSeptember 20th, 2010 at 10:27 am
I put a 30 day expiry on all my contracts. But as another commenter said, it is hard to turn someone away and re-quote, even if you are busier than expected. I usually stick to the pricing that I quoted, but explain that the delivery dates will now be later than originally estimated. Smaller clients are usually more upset by increases in cost than by increases in time.
My 30 day disclaimer did come in handy one day. I had a clients who I sent a quote to in Sept 2008. Then in the beginning of 2010 he referenced the quote and said he would like to get started on the project. Needless to say my rates, and my availability, had significantly changed in the 20 months since i provided the quote!
September 20th, 2010 at 6:53 pm
Although I completely agree with your advice in this article, I’m a little surprised you said you created an offer and said it had no deadline, then turned a client away two years later because you were no longer offering the special pricing.
“no deadline” isn’t a loose term after all – I’ve made “this coupon doesn’t expire” ads myself (for clients) and it means what it says… so why did your not mean the same?
Personally I would have taken on the client at the promised price and then removed the forum post so I wouldn’t have to again… Seems the only fair thing to do in my opinion.
September 20th, 2010 at 6:56 pm
Wow, such a simple point and i’d totally overlooked it
September 20th, 2010 at 7:34 pm
Great point! Along the same lines I’ve recently added a clause that caps how long my clients have to get feedback/revisions back to me.
As a copywriter the revision process is an important part of making sure the client is happy with the final product, but when they are “too busy” to take a look it can mean a project goes ooon ffooorrreeevvverr. And more crucially, so does the billing cycle!
So I’ve added a “30 day guarantee” on making revisions and tied that to my billing cycle. I’m getting a much better response :)
September 21st, 2010 at 4:11 am
I’ve got a story where an expiry date saved my butt. A friend of a friend contacts me for a WordPress development job. She only briefed me on the phone and asked for ABC features. I then banged out a simple proposal and emailed it to her and didn’t hear from her for a whole month.
When she finally did contact me, she wanted to add features DEF and some weird terms to the contract. Since she had reverted after my proposal expiry date I politely declined explaining that the proposal is no longer valid, especially since she wanted to double the scope of work.
So yes, I’m all for expiry dates! I give my clients a calendar month to revert. Thanks for sharing, Lexi.
September 21st, 2010 at 10:51 am
@Lexi Rodrigo – That makes perfect sense now; I had missed the connection in the article!
September 21st, 2010 at 4:06 pm
What about after the client accepts the proposal? What kind of an expiration date would you put on contracts? (I guess this would depend on the project) but I’ve had projects that seem to go on forever, and I’m not sure how to expedite it once it’s been put on hold, partially paid, but not complete…
September 23rd, 2010 at 5:21 am
I’ve never done this, but I will from now on. Great article! Thanks!
September 24th, 2010 at 10:21 am
This seems like a good tactic for freelancers that are setting up their business to gain initial recognition and clients, so I would say this is a good post for those in this scenario!
July 20th, 2011 at 5:02 am
I completely agree, an expiry date is crucial.
The main reason for me is that when giving a project proposal, many clients like to take their time discussing the details. I do not mind this but when they return 3 months later to try and agree, circumstances have changed and its likely the proposal would need a revision before any agreement. This can get a little bit tricky
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