Proposals On Target

5. How to Set Consulting Fees and Write Agreements: SOWs, Retainers, Proposals, and Contracts

Use ladders of fees and retainers to create more value for your clients and
more revenue for you.

Being asked to submit a proposal gives you a great feeling. But it is no guarantee you will win. And winning the proposal doesn’t mean you’ve created the best business opportunity for you or your client. 

New and experienced consultant lose proposals they think are a sure thing. As a new consultant you may not have the image and expertise to win against experienced consultants. As an experienced consultant you may face competitors who are on the “inside track” and already working with the client. 

There are ways to solve both these situations. And these ways can increase the size and range of your service while increasing your revenue. 

What you need are proposals that delivery solutions that have multiple levels, like a ladder of solutions and fees. Multi-solution proposals are built with a ladder of solutions and fees that solve the client's issue with different levels of involvement and value and that charge different levels of fees. Proposing a "ladder" of solutions gives your prospects greater flexibility in selection and shows them your range of solutions.

The New Consultant's Dilemma

As a new consultant you have skills, but you may lack the brand, client testimonials, and experience to compete with more established consultants. This situation often forces new consultants to work as freelancers paid by the hour or by the task.

If you work as a freelancer you can get entry into companies and earn short-term revenue, but too often the client gets the impression you are an hourly contractor and freelancer. Once you are viewed as a contractor or freelancer it can be difficult to be seen as a high-value consultant.

A better approach is to gain entry into a company, learn the stakeholder's needs and client's situation, and then, at the right time, "flip the switch" and become the high-value consultant they need. But, to do this you must present the right proposal and statement of work.

Structuring Proposals as Portfolios of Solutions and Fees

One situation that is worse than outright losing a client is learning that your competitor won because they offered solutions you didn't think of. Not only did they win the proposal, but they probably expanded the scope and won a larger fee.

When you present a proposal as a menu of solutions addressing issues the prospect hadn't thought of you gain respect for your foresight and experience. While the prospect can still choose to address only their original issue, but they can see that you are ready to solve related problems that might arise.

Proposals that include packaged sets of solutions is a little like creating a ladder of solutions with the simplest and least expensive at the bottom rung and additional related solutions (and fees) on higher rungs.

There are many ways to include these alternative solutions and fees in your proposals. A few examples of alternative fees include hourly (freelancing), project-based, retainer, and Value-Based. You can deliver additional value with products and services for point-solutions. The services you provide might include combinations of,

  • Board and executive facilitation
  • Executive and management mentoring 
  • Research and development
  • Project management
  • Conducting Mastermind groups
  • Program development
  • Online training
  • Stand up training
  • Manuals, Ebooks, and PDFs
  • Many more...

When you write your proposal put the prospect's primary request first so they immediately see that you have answered their needs. Follow that primary solution your ladder of alternative solutions and fees. Do not push your prospects into thinking you are just trying to upsell them.

Another advantage to presenting ladders of “packaged alternatives” is that your proposal is ready if the client changes scope or budget.

Working with your client to create the best package for the current work and your future relationship is worth the extra thought and planning it takes to develop a proposal with ladders of solutions and fees.

When you focus on a niche with similar problems you can write proposals based on templates you have built over time.

In the thick of battle clients often see just the current problems they face. However, from your experience you may know the other problems the client has not foreseen. Your alternative packages should address these issues the client hasn't foreseen. 

Your foresight in developing a portfolio of solutions shows that you have more value than just completing a simple project or task. Proposals with depth open your prospect’s eyes to building a long-term relationship with you. 

Work from Sample Proposals, Statements of Work, and Contracts

Writing proposals, Statements of Work (SOW), and simple contracts can be confusing if you are new or don’t have many examples to work from. To make this easier Critical to Success has created a library of sample proposals, SOWs, and contracts you can use to learn from. (Of course, any contract should be reviewed by your attorney.)

Consulting Business Checklist: 
Fees and Retainers. SOWs and Contracts.

Win more and bigger proposals by offering prospects a ladder of services, products, and fees that make your offering more flexible and show the breadth of your capability.

Create Your Core

  • Don't charge hourly. Once you are familiar with the scope of work and your level of productivity it is better to propose project-based solutions. Charge for scope creep.
  • Present your proposals with ladders of complimentary services. Each higher rung on the ladder delivers greater value and a higher fee.
  • Review the proposals, statements of work, and contract samples in the Critical to Success library before writing your own.

Quick Wins

  • Subcontract tasks where you aren’t the most efficient producer.
  • When pricing create a detailed cost analysis based on experience. Don’t miss often forgotten costs that are part of your business such as, administration, marketing and sales, insurances, education costs, travel compensation, and more.
  • Write your proposals to include an optional retainer for ongoing support, training, and coaching. Make this a separate line item so it can be removed, but let the prospect know how much they will save by using a retainer. 

Expand and Refine

  • Break-down and track your estimated vs actual time and costs for all projects. Use this data to more accurately bid future proposals.
  • Use the Critical to Success Return on Investment (ROI) Calculator to validate high-fees for high-value objectives. (This calculator has been used to validate million-dollar projects.)
  • Define project specs with multiple stakeholders in one day by using the Critical to Success Action Planning method to identify deliverables, dates, tasks, risks, and responsibilities.

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