How To Use Packaging To Win More Proposals

Today I want to focus on helping you win more proposals.

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: if there’s one part of your sales funnel that you should optimize, it’s how you write and deliver proposals.

How much time do you spend finding prospective clients, qualifying them, meeting about their project, and then writing a proposal? For the average freelancer, it’s about 5 hours per project.

That’s a lot of time. And that’s time you could be billing clients and making money.

OK, so let’s talk about how this email can help you make thousands of dollars by increasing your proposal conversion rates.

Over the years, I’ve seen (and have written) a lot of proposals.

Here’s how 99% of proposals are structured:

  1. Here’s who we are (trust us, we’re legit.)
  2. Here’s what we’ll do for you.
  3. Here’s what it will cost.
  4. Pay us, stupid!

From a purely psychological perspective, there’s a lot wrong with that formula. (Instead of adding a few thousand extra words to this email about why this structure sucks, I’ve included the chapter of structuring your proposals from DYFR at the bottom of this post.)

But the biggest problem with most proposals is how the price is communicated to the client. For those of us who bill for time, it’s usually something like:

This project will take between 30 to 40 hours, and at a project rate of $100 will cost between $3,000 and $4,000.

And for the rest of us, it’s just a single price.

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Last weekend, I spent most of the weekend scrutizining what was shaping up to be the biggest update in two years to Planscope, my software-as-a-service (SaaS) startup.

And as I was working on the pricing grid and trying to come up with how I could incorporate many of the new features and services I’m working on into the plans, it hit me…

Once again, I failed to take my own pricing advice.

Since the beginning, I’ve priced Planscope based on the number of team members your account had. As your team grew, you’d pay more… but the monthly cost per team member would decrease.

Let me explain: Currently, if you’re a solo freelancer, you end up paying $24 a month — or, $24 per team member. But if you had a team of ten, your subscription would be $99 a month, or $9 per team member.

These are the sort of bulk discounts you’d expect to see when selling large amounts of commodities, like paper — buy more at once and pay less “per unit”.

But I’ve been trying to sell my product on value, and the people who stand to gain the most amount of value from my software, like agencies, were paying less. And they weren’t getting as much value as I had to offer.

Getting away from usage based pricing

Pricing software is tricky. And I think coming up with plans and trying to figure out what should go into each is even trickier.

Because it’s so hard to do this right, a lot of product creators — present company included — end up pricing by usage. Some use per seat pricing. Others will set quotas or ranges around a number of database entries (“Up to 5 projects… $XX per month”).

With this big relaunch of Planscope, I tried to come up with ways of tiering my plans that went beyond just grouping people into buckets based on how many projects, users, or whatnot they’ve setup. I wanted to charge more based on the value I was delivering through the software, which isn’t always easily correlated with records in a database.

When I help consultants package offers in their proposals, and when I come up with packages for my courses (like DYFR), I try to align the offer and the price based on how quickly and how closely the customer gets to the end goal (= why they bought.) With DYFR, the low end option is just the course book — learn the framework, and set to work experimenting on your own until it clicks with you. The high end option is the course book, videos from people of various industries who have successfully applied the framework, and a Skype session with me to get specific, personalized advice. The low end is cheaper, but results may not be as immediate; the high end is almost 10x the cost, but that end goal — a higher consulting income — typically comes faster.

Planscope's home page

So how could I apply these same principles to my SaaS? How could I let customers self-segment based on how quickly and closely they want to get to that end goal, the value proposition that I pitch front and center on the homepage, “Gain Total Control Of Your Agency”?

Beyond concierge onboarding

A big theme in the SaaS world lately has been the idea of “concierge onboarding”.

The idea is that if you can help a trial user be more successful sooner and with less work on their end (e.g., “we’ll import all of your old data, regardless of the format” or, like what my friend Andrew Culver does with ChurnBuster, “let’s walk through your code together and I’ll show you exactly where you should insert the code we need”), then that person is more likely to end up paying you.

Drip's Onboarding

(This is how Drip onboards new customers. I LOVE this.)

For smaller companies, being able to offer this level of service is a competitive advantage. It’s also a great way to learn about where new users of your software get stuck, and why the ended up pulling the trigger and signing up for your product.

…But most companies stop at onboarding. Once someone converts to paid, that’s it. Customers can only expect individual attention when reaching out for support.

Redoing my plans

Planscope is project planning and management software. It lets consultants estimate and manage their projects. It’s also collaboration software, so it has all the task management, commenting, and uploading features you’d expect. And finally, it includes budgeting and time tracking, which gives us a few interesting things we can report on (estimate accuracy, utilization rates, which clients are particularly nagging, etc.)

Out of the box, I think Planscope is a nice tool, and charging per-seat sort of works. Bigger teams pay more, but I could peg the per-seat price against the cost of a full-time developer or designer (which is often north of five figures a month).

But I wanted to include a lot of that sort of personalization that has proved to be so successful with my courses. If my stated goal was to help people build a more bad ass business, could I add any “soft services” that would help my customers get closer to that goal?

Here’s what I came up with so far:

  • Agency-grade reporting — Each month, I’ll run a set of SQL queries that give me a bunch of data that currently isn’t represented in any of Planscope’s built-in reports. I’ll look at the data, analyze it, and create a PDF report by hand that offers stats and recommendations.
  • Proposal reviews — Before sending off a proposal to a client, send it to us (which, right now, is the just me) and we’ll give you candid feedback on it and provide a few suggestions before you send it to the client.
  • Setting up new clients — We’ll coach new clients of our customers on how to use Planscope to fulfill their role in collaborating on their project. Think of it as client-onboarding-as-a-service.
  • Coaching and mentoring — Project management is just one piece of a big puzzle. Most of my customers come via either my newsletter or my courses, so a lot of customers already reach out with questions about pricing, lead generation, etc. (to be honest, this is how I went down the path of creating courses).
  • …And a few more services

I’m betting that this will help me take Planscope beyond just project management and planning software, and to begin providing a higher level of service to my customers.

Planscope's Current Pricing

(My current pricing page. Lots of room for improvement, but you can already see how I’m starting to include these “soft services”.)

Don’t get me wrong — the software is still critical. It’s the selling point. But software can’t do everything, or at least it can’t do everything yet. In the future, I could probably automate some of this, like the reports I’ll be doing manually. For now, I’ll be able to generate these reports and get feedback in a way that doesn’t require weeks of development time. And there’s no way software will ever be able to replace a coach.

Productized consulting on top of a product

On the one hand, there’s traditional SaaS software. Someone shows up, plugs in their credit card, and pays you monthly. The only human effort required is support.

On the other hand, you have consulting. Someone has expertise, and a buyer has a problem, and that expertise is applied to that problem.

The end goals of both software and consulting are identical: to solve a particular problem (or set of problems). Most people sell one or the other.

But by finding a way to bridge the gap between turnkey software and human effort (consulting), I think a lot of software companies — especially bootstrapped companies, who need cash — can do very well for themselves and, most importantly, for their customers. A few companies do this well. Nathan Barry’s ConvertKit requires you to go through a high touch course that teaches you what you need to know about email marketing before he gives you the tools to handle your email marketing. Infusionsoft includes a 4 hour consultation that’s very focused on getting you to net a ROI as quickly as possible with each new account.

I’ve already soft launched this new model for Planscope, but I’m still toying with how exactly I’ll incorporate it into both my marketing and my trial lifecycle sequences. In a few months, I’m hoping to have an interesting case study (and some good news) to share with you!


Planscope Got A Facelift

After months of heads down planning and development, I’m happy to announce the new look of Planscope.

My usability goal has always been to provide a tool that’s powerful enough for you and your team, but easy enough for your clients. I think the new design does just that.

Here’s an overview of what changed in this release:

  • Most of the shadows, gradients, and more have been dropped. I think the new design is visually much more appealing, but it also renders a heck of a lot faster without the overhead of all those shadows :-)
  • We redid all the underlying CSS styles from scratch. This meant ripping out Bootstrap.css.
  • The dashboard now has a global workload report. You can view who’s assigned to what across all of your projects now. This is just the first step of a ton of dashboard-related changes we’re making this summer.
  • Tasks can be subscribed and unsubscribed to. Previously, everyone was notified of every comment. Now, creating a task, being assigned to a task, or commenting on a task subscribes you to that task. You can unsubscribe (or subscribe) to any task from the task details window. Clients are subscribed to all comments.
  • Lots of bug fixes and minor tweaks, including a particularly nasty bug that wasn’t adding your team mates to newly created projects or estimates.
  • You can now create new projects or estimates directly from your dashboard. Simple, but overlooked, fix.

I think you’re really going to love all that we’ve done with this release, and we can’t wait to show you what’s next.

(So who’s the “we”? For the last 2.5 years, Planscope has been developed, designed, supported and marketed by me, Brennan Dunn. Recently, I’ve brought on Jane, Galen, and Felipe to help me build a better Planscope.)

Sidestepping The Gatekeepers

The other day I was listening to one of my favorite podcasters talk about some of the differences between podcasting and hosting a traditional radio show.

He was almost giddy at the fact that he was, as he put it, “un-cancelable”. No one, but his listeners, could put him off the (virtual) airwaves. And even they couldn’t do that.

But when he worked in radio, he was subject to the whims and wants of advertisers, producers, station owners, and the rest of the supply line that connection him with his audience.

This made me think of something I’ve been thinking about recently. The other week, I hung out with some business-y friends of mine after a conference, and we were talking about how our culture’s wired us to move through an endless series of gates to get anywhere.

In order for us to get into a great school, we need to first be accepted by an admissions committee. After graduating, we need to appease a hiring manager to get a job. We’re taught that to do just about anything, we need permission to be let in.

I like to call this the Gatekeeper Mentality.

Now that I’ve gotten back into consulting, a lot of people have wondered how on earth I’m able to justify charging upwards of $20,000 a week.

“Who let that guy in?”, is the underlying question. “How did he get his clients to pay him that? What Gatekeeper let him through, and when will it be my turn?

My issue isn’t as much that people are wondering that — I admit, my rate is significantly higher than most of my peers who have, on paper, similar skills (Ruby, Rails, HTML, CSS, copywriting).

The problem is I’m being asked the wrong question.

No one’s asking, “What kind of value is Brennan producing that makes his clients willing to pay him $20k a week?” — this is the right question to ask.

If you want to make more money, figure out how to deliver more value — not, “What’s the market rate for what I do?”

If you want to get more clients, find out where people who have problems that you can solve hang out — not, “What do I need to write on to get clients?”

Don’t live your life and run your business as if you need explicit permission from someone or something. Build an amazing business that’s centered on you providing tremendous amounts of value to your clients. In exchange, you’ll be rewarded with clients who respect you, clients who want to work with you and you alone, and clients who might — just might — be willing to pay you $20k a week (but first, you need to figure out and communicate why they’d be silly not to).

The Anatomy Of A $31,155 Product Launch

A few weeks ago I relaunched my first book, Double Your Freelancing Rate, and sold $31,155 during the sales window.

With this launch, I tried out a ton of new strategies, almost all of which performed at or beyond my expectations, and in this post I’ll outline exactly what worked and what didn’t.

Two Years In The Making

Almost exactly two years ago I was… persuaded by my good friend and teacher, Amy Hoy, to write a book.

Being an engineer who attended a Great Books School, I 1) elevated “books” to a pedestal — I was no Melville or Plutarch — and 2) thought everything else, especially those e-books, were trash.

Double Your Freelancing Rate

It was hard decision to make, but I made it and a few months later had a book (you can read more about its launch here).

Over the last two years, it’s sold very well. It did about $2,000 a month on average, and continued to sell well because I was heavily promoting it in my newsletter’s onboarding.

It was my first book and my first attempt at teaching, so while the content was solid the delivery needed some work. But it was also my best selling product.

So I decided a few months back that a second edition was in order.

I had two years of production data under my belt — success stories, followup questions, and criticisms. My initial plan was to expand the book by a few chapters and refine some of the core principles; instead, I rewrote the entire thing.

It also went from being a book to a course, both in how I described it and how it was packaged. A course, by definition, is more instructive than a book. I also think people take it more seriously. On top of that, I learned first hand that a lot of people would buy the first edition of the book and let it rot in their downloads folder.

What if I could keep buyers accountable by following up with them every few days and help them apply each chapter to their unique business? What if this followup sequence had built-in methods of letting me jump in and advise? I knew this would work — my second book, Sell Yourself Online: The Blueprint, included a pseudo-accountability course from its beginnings.

So Double Your Freelancing Rate (DYFR) went from being a book to being a course. And its entire content was rewritten, refined, and expanded. I also included a bunch of additional info — templates, video interviews, and even 1-on–1 time with me — that would help buyers better apply the contents to their needs.

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