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2 Common Consulting Proposal Mistakes And How to Fix Them

By Michael Zipursky

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Today I’m going to share with you two common mistakes that consultants make when it comes to consulting proposals, and what you can do to avoid them.

Mistake #1: You’re going about it all wrong!

The first mistake that many consultants make is misunderstanding the role that proposals play.

Make sure that there’s nothing really left for the buyer to consider, so that when they get the proposal, their job is just one thing: to say “yes,” or “no,” or “what can we do here?”

When I first started in the consulting business many years ago, I thought that a proposal was like marketing material – something that I needed to really demonstrate and sell.


I thought that I needed to do a lot of selling, promotion and convincing in the proposal, and so, I would send off these pages-long proposals, with all the information about my background, what we’ve achieved.

Clients never read through them, because that’s not the role of a proposal.

So what does a proposal do?

If you’re introducing new information in your proposal, then what you’re really doing is opening up the opportunity for a buyer to be surprised – to either really misunderstand what you’re trying to say, or to have a lot of questions that they’re not going to have the opportunity to have answered (or that you’re not going to have the opportunity to answer) right then and there.

The role of a proposal is simply to take what you and the buyer have already discussed through your conversation with them, and then to put it onto paper, in summary form that clarifies and confirms that you’re both on the same page.

The right way

There’s a very straightforward process in terms of how to structure your proposal. (We have this listed both in our consulting proposal guide, as well as in different articles throughout the site, but really what I want to focus on in this video here, is the importance of not trying to sell in the proposal, not trying to introduce new information.)

The proposal should only be sent to a client after they have given their acceptance. This means, when they have said, “Yes, I’m interested in working with you.”

And you say, “Oh, okay I’ll put together a proposal. I’ll send it over with some options and some pricing so that we can decide which would be the best path to move forward with. Does that sound good to you?”

And again, the client says, “yes.”

If the buyer doesn’t say yes, then you don’t send the proposal.

If the buyer says, “What we’ve talked about sounds pretty good. Can you send me a proposal?” Before you say yes to that, make sure that you have all of the information that you need to structure an effective proposal.

Make sure that there’s nothing really left for the buyer to consider, so that when they get the proposal, their job is just one thing: to say “yes,” or “no,” or “what can we do here?”

It should be a very simple process. It shouldn’t require much back and forth. It shouldn’t require huge discussions of what you meant by this or that, because everything should have been covered in the original conversation.

The second big mistake that consultants make with proposals is they offer to send them off too quickly, but they don’t schedule a follow-up.

If you do that, you’ll see that your proposal process will go much faster, and you’ll have a higher success rate.

Mistake #2: Getting the timing wrong

The second big mistake that consultants make with proposals is they offer to send them off too quickly, but they don’t schedule a follow-up.

When I was working with a medium size law firm in the city, I’d met this lawyer who was founder of the firm. He was very interested in working together. He’d said, ” I could really use help with my marketing, attracting more clients and doing online advertising. Can you help?” And I said, “yeah! That’s what we do every day for clients.” Which is indeed what we were doing at that time in that consulting business that I ran.

It took a while to first meet with him and then when I did, I put a proposal in front of him too quickly; I had to keep following-up to get a response. “Did you look at it? What do you think?”

And he wouldn’t respond.

I thought maybe he wasn’t interested, but what I learned is that he was just busy. The big mistake I made is also the takeaway: that when you have the buyer agree for you to provide a proposal, never leave that meeting without scheduling a day and time for follow-up.

Make some time

Which means that you might say, “Okay, I’ll send over a proposal, and how about if we schedule this day and this time, so that we can jump on a call, or I’ll come by and we can review it together?”

That way, you get them to open their calendar, and you have a scheduled time to follow-up and review the proposal together. And when you do that, you’ll shorten the proposal acceptance time from sometimes weeks or even months, to often days or a week.

It’s incredibly powerful, incredibly effective, and it’s easy to do, but you just need to do it.

Just do it

You’ve just got to put it into place and not be shy to say, “This sounds great. I’ll get a proposal over to you tomorrow. Why don’t we schedule a time for Thursday? Does the morning or afternoon look better for you? That way I can give you a call and we can go over the proposal together. If there are any questions you want to review, and decide what the next best step would be. How does that sound to you?”

And they say, “Well that sounds great.”

“Perfect. This time? Wonderful. Okay.”


Try that out next time. Use these two tips that I just shared with you to really see your proposals not only being accepted more readily, but being accepted much faster.

7 thoughts on “2 Common Consulting Proposal Mistakes And How to Fix Them

  1. James Yuille says:

    An excellent article Michael. I see this so often, pitching too soon and no follow up.

    The last paragraph is a gem Michael. Pay attention everyone, there’s money in those words.

    • “It’s a gem” and you’re golden James. Appreciate you and your comment.

  2. Jim Spriggs says:

    Agreed with both points, although I’m seeing clients use tenders more and more as a means to get proposals and compare them. In those cases, the opportunity for discussion and refinement of the work is often scarce and communication after submission rare. However, I’ve found that clients still welcome this engagement as it helps them to crystalise what their question is. Beware of tipping your hand too much though: I’ve seen some clients change their request on the basis of what I’ve discussed with them which can show the competition what you’re thinking!

    • Great share Jim. Personally not a fan of spending time on projects where you have little to no control over the decision making process – like with RFP and tenders, etc…

  3. Daniel Muguko says:

    Such good information is proceless

  4. ArabEuropeConsulting says:

    Excellent article. Many thanks, Michael. I would like to share it with my freelancers. Can I do it?

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