A story, some heartbreak, lessons learnt, and a potentially mootastic solution…
We gave away the farm
Whenever we put together a Mortified Cow proposal for a potential new client, we really go all out. As Neil Patel would say, we “give away the farm“: we provide as much valuable information as we can about how that client could improve their business and make more money – with or without our services.
We write up big, friendly documents that are jargon-free and (we like to think) funny. We even send over video summaries, in case they’re too busy to read the documents. Everything is specific to their business – we don’t have any templated proposals.
Basically, we work bloody hard at our proposals because we know what it’s like to ask an agency for a quote and get a response along the lines of, “Yeh I coul do it for £1k… lemme no.” And we know how important our clients’ business are to them, and we genuinely want to help.
They didn’t want the effing farm
Usually, our “all-out proposal” method works. Clients realise we know our stuff, we’re generous with our time, and that we can be trusted – so they get on board.
The other day though, it didn’t go quite so well. After a few friendly back-and-forths and a 45-minute phone call with a prospective client (in which we’d made clear from the start that we were living in Thailand and wouldn’t be back in London until mid-March), we created one of our pat-ourselves-on-the-back proposals.
But then he emailed to say he refuses to work with people he can’t have a face-to-face meeting with – and he wasn’t willing to wait until mid-March – so he wouldn’t be using us for his website build.
It’s our fault: we forgot to ask if anyone’s a vegetarian
After lots of “silly knobend”-esque rants, we got to grips with the fact that this was OUR fault. We just didn’t spend enough time finding out this guy’s priorities, needs and dealbreaker situations. If we’d actually asked him: “Is it a problem that we live in Thailand and won’t be in the UK until mid-March?”, he’d have told us his honest answer and we’d have saved ourselves an awful lot of work and swearing-related bad karma.
This sort of thing has happened before: by failing to ask the right questions at the start, we’ve either wasted hours on a dead-in-the-water proposal, or ended up working with a client who just didn’t “fit” with us or enjoy our ways of working.
So we’re going to try to nip it in the bud from now on, by asking THREE IMPORTANT THINGS (TITs) before we even get going on the proposal:
Introducing… Mortified Cow’s TITs (Three Important Things)
We hope that by asking potential clients these questions at the start, we’ll know immediately if we’ll be a good fit for each other.
TIT #1: Is it important for you to have face-to-face meetings with us?
Most of the time, our clients are based in the UK or USA. And we aren’t. But to be honest, even if we were based in those countries, we probably wouldn’t fit well with clients who demand in-person meetings: whenever we do have meetings, we feel they’re a bit time-wastey, and that they often drag on just to compensate for the hours spent on the Tube getting to the meeting place.
TIT #2: Do you have a very clear idea about what sort of website you want, and why you want it?
If a potential client knows they want a website but aren’t sure why, or if they know their website needs and uplift but aren’t sure how… we can help. Definitely. And we love doing it. But because everything’s so undefined and vague, we’ll have to spend more time on “information-gathering”, chatting through the design options, and discussing ways we can get the site to meet their business goals.
If we know this at the beginning, we’ll be prepared: we’ll make the schedule long enough, we’ll quote accurately for our time, and we’ll come up with a heap of ideas to help them figure out the design and purpose of their new site.
We’ve always asked a variation on this question – we need to know the answer so that we can write the proposal and provide a quote. But sometimes, clients get much vaguer about their plans and aims once the job has started. So from now on we want to really push this question and ask follow-ups until we can fully understand how clear they are on what they want
TIT #3: When do you want the project to start?
Our proposals always clearly state when we can start the project, and sometimes it’s been at that point that the no-longer-potential client has said: “Oh no, I want to start right now, so I can’t take you on.”
All we had to do was ask this question right at the beginning!
Conversely, if a client says: “It’s all a bit up in the air really at the moment, but it’ll definitely happen. And as soon as I get the go-ahead, it’s all systems go,” we won’t waste our time creating a beautiful, information-heavy proposal. We’re used to hearing this sort of thing after we’ve written our proposals, and it usually means there’s a huuuge wait before the job starts (or it doesn’t start at all).
So, those are what we plan to ask potential clients before we write them a proposal. But are we asking the wrong things? Have we missed anything out? What questions would you/do you ask your potential clients? Please please let me know in the comments – we need the advice!
Enjoy this post? Then join our weekly list!
You'll get an email every Sunday, rounding up what's happened on the blog and linking you to the best stuff we've read online. No spam, no sales pitches, but plenty of bad jokes.
(Not sure if you'll like them? See what they're like by visiting our newsletter archive.)When you sign up, we'll also send you a FREE guide to