Writing Proposals That Sell

Convince clients that you're the right remodeler for the job with these pointers.

You feel good about the clients' project, attitude and finances. Now how do you persuade them to give the work to you rather than the other contractors they're talking with? Creating a proposal that not only outlines the work but serves as a strong selling piece can ensure that you get the projects you really want. Beverly Koehn, president of Beverly Koehn & Associates in San Antonio, shares some of the key ingredients for success:

  • Make it personal. "The proposal has to look like an original, not a copy of a copy," she says. "It has to appear to have been created specifically for that individual." Much of it won't be that personal, of course, as remodelers use templates to cover aspects of projects of all types. "Some things should be in every proposal, but if something doesn't pertain, it should be taken out," Koehn says. "If there are obviously irrelevant statements, clients will ask why they should take the time to read the proposal."

    The proposal can be created in a Microsoft Word document or Excel spreadsheet, with tabs and reminders geared to ensuring that everything necessary goes in and everything unnecessary comes out. Some remodelers use a standard sheet with blanks filled in by hand or sections crossed out. That doesn't impress homeowners.

    "The client's name should be plastered all over the proposal, even if it's just a 'Prepared for' line at the top of each page," Koehn advises, adding that any reference to a job number, which depersonalizes the project, should be removed from the proposal.

  • Explain why they should hire you. Include a statement about why you're the right remodeler for the job, and list specifics. Add a letter thanking the clients for allowing you to provide them with a proposal. This sheet should go in the front of your binder.

  • List specific products. Any products that the remodeler typically uses — appliances, roofing, fixtures — should be spelled out. "Branding is very important," she says. "Anything that can keep you from seeming generic or helps to make your proposal look precise should be included. Putting in familiar names will help co-brand you with that company." Catalog pages or other information about the products known to be planned for the project also should be included.

  • List all trade partners. Providing a list of subcontractors who will work on the project expands your network of expertise and lets clients know who will be coming to their home. Koehn also stresses that remodelers should refer to the subcontractors as trade partners. "The terminology sets the contractor apart from everyone else and makes the subcontractors more a part of the process. You want to promote a partnership and a shared responsibility, and the type of terms you use sets the project's tone."

  • Explain allowances and payment schedules. Set out specifics of what is included in any allowances and how payments should be made. "If this is a true proposal and not just an estimate, it should explain exactly what you propose to do," she says. "It should be something they could live with based on the variables."

  • Lay out a construction schedule. It should say that, if the proposal is agreed to by a certain date, the work will begin on a specific date and will be finished by another set date. This helps encourage the client to sign soon, because the finish date is tantalizingly closer than it will be later.

  • Include past work and references. Even if these were offered earlier, include them again, keyed specifically to the types of work being done. Before-and-after photos of similar projects also should be included. "Any visuals that you can provide will help them see that you know what you're talking about," says Koehn.

  • End with all contract materials. "Everything should be in your proposal so it is ready to go, so the customer could sign it and work could begin as laid out," Koehn says. "Too many remodelers slap together a proposal and hope it's enough to get by. Don't let this opportunity slip away."


Once you've created a proposal, how do you keep all those materials and pieces together and organize it? Koehn suggests using a three-ring binder, typically a quarter-inch thick, with cover sleeves that can include the welcome/thank you letter spelling out why you're the right contractor for the job. A binder allows tab dividers to be used to section off key elements, making the proposal complete but easy to leaf through. Photos and documents can be put into page protectors, with other pieces three-hole-punched. This format also allows changes to be made quickly as needed.

As a finishing touch, Koehn suggests that remodelers buy a Cross pen and take it along for the signing of the proposal. After the signing, the pen can be a gift to the client. "It creates a kind of ceremony and a token of appreciation," she says. "It's something nice to get things started and leaves a strong impression."

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