I hope you found last week’s conversation about building an email list useful. Have you started yours? Because your email goes right to an inbox, it’s really one of the most effective ways to communicate with your intended audience.
On to this week. There are a lot of moving parts when it comes to getting new work. One of them is preparing what for many of us is a combined proposal/engagement letter. What is your proposal win percentage? Are you happy with your fee on the proposals you win?
And if you’re new here, welcome aboard. This is what we do!
Writing this newsletter is one of my favorite things that I do each week. And it’s important for me to know what you would like me to write about. So as we start 2016 …
What issues or ideas are you thinking about right now? What can I do to serve you better? Email me and I’ll try to help … my inbox is always open!
First of all, do you even track your proposal win percentage?!
If that win percentage is below [your hurdle rate], or you’re not happy with the fee you get on the proposals you win, you’re making some mistakes. And you might not know what those mistakes are. Or you do know, but you figure everyone does it “this” way. So it’s mostly a matter of luck, right? Not really.
Y’all all know I travel full-time in an RV. And as you might imagine, I don’t get as many chances to propose on valuation assignments as I did when I had my stationary practice in Philadelphia. So I had to learn how to increase my win percentage – and be happy with the fee – on the engagements I had an opportunity to propose on in order to maintain my target revenue.
Here are five lessons I’ve learned that have helped me get better results.
#1 – Don’t rush to respond
It all starts with a phone call and the much-hated question: How much will it cost to value ABC Industries, Inc.? I don’t know … do you want me to guess? I mean, how could I possibly know without more details? And by the way, who are you?
But I gotta respond. And PDQ, right?
Chalk it up to FOMO – Fear of Missing Out.
It’s the biggest thing that, after all my years in practice, I still (stupidly) struggle with: the thought that if I can’t throw out a number immediately, and if I’m slower to produce a proposal than my competition, I may miss out on the job.
I then further allow myself to wallow in this thought: the prospect requesting this fee estimate is the last prospect who will ever contact me, and if I don’t get the work I will need to take a job as a Walmart greeter.
What I’m saying is that I can be insane. The reality is that I’ve learned more work will come along as long as I have a marketing plan that I consistently and persistently apply.
And if it’s a fire drill to respond with a proposal, what will the playing conditions be like when it comes to doing the valuation?
#2 – Do the work
Vetting prospects and turning them into high-value clients that treat me right is hard. Getting all of the information I need to determine the correct scope of work is hard. And in my experience, the former is more important than the latter – because I don’t want to work with difficult clients no matter how good the information is.
I found that I required a process for getting the information and vetting the prospect. So I sat down wrote out the things I needed to know in order to prepare a proposal. The questions I ask depend on the type of engagement – and I only perform two types now: tax purpose and transition planning.
To talk to the prospect and figure out their needs takes a few phone calls and emails. I may even need to review some documents. Then we work on a project plan together to make sure that we both understand the needs and outcomes in the same way.
Only after this process, which could take more than a week, do I send over a proposal. If at any point the prospect isn’t enthusiastic about the process or thinks it’s taking too long then we stop and I move on to the next prospect that understands the way I work.
#3 – Talk to the decision maker
One of the goals in the process I mentioned above is to identify the decision maker. The decision maker is the real client. Sometimes, you don’t get to talk to the real client. Not often, but it happens.
The real client may vary on the type of engagement. I expect to talk to an attorney in an estate tax matter. Or the business owner for a transition plan. If it’s anyone other than the person I expect to talk to, I’m wary.
Generally, I won’t waste my time sending a proposal to a “screener.” All they can do is say no. They don’t have the power to say yes, approve the proposal, and importantly send the retainer no matter how much they believe you’re the right person to do the work.
#4 – Know my own value
Somewhere along the way, I like to think that I transformed into a valuation wizard. For sure, I’m not a Hitchner or a Mercer. But I’m pretty darn good at what I do.
Couple that with coming to terms on value pricing, and I realize clients don’t pay me for my time – they pay me for my solution.
There’s no lasting joy in taking on an assignment for less than I’m worth. Or if I had staff, it wouldn’t be fun explaining to them that I got this engagement for less than I wanted … so, you know, go easy on the charge hours.
So I try to remember that wizards are busy people. I don’t have time to waste sending proposals to people that aren’t a good fit, and when they’re not I tell them. It’s not a judgment on them or their value; it’s simply a fact that I can’t serve them as they want to be served.
#5 – Bag the legalese, write in English
Many of our proposals have taken form over years of practicing. We started with some kind of template, cobbled together the best parts of other practitioners’ letters, and had them reviewed by attorneys.
There is a small problem with this. At one point, all of these proposals were likely prepared and reviewed by lawyers – the writing/languaging reflects that. And any lawyer will tell you that most attorneys write like a tool (not a good thing).
I don’t write anything in my proposal letter that I wouldn’t say in a conversation. No above-referenced or aforementioned … no and/or or hereinafter … no pursuant to or shall.
As a result, I get asked less clarifying questions and receive fewer requests to modify my terms. And I feel less like a pickpocket trying to snatch some advantage and more like a professional trying to collaborate with a client.
In a previous newsletter, I wrote about making it easier for clients to work with you and that my proposal letters do not have to be signed/returned. Payment of the retainer constitutes the client’s acceptance of all terms and conditions. So then there’s that. Reduce friction, increase acceptance. Check with your insurance carrier before you try this at home.
There you go – lessons I’ve learned that have improved my proposal win percentage and be happy with the fee. Your mileage may vary.
– If you like what I write about, tell a colleague.
– If something resonates and you want to reach out directly, email me.
– If you think we share common interests, connect with me on LinkedIn.
– If you want a sense of how well your practice is working for you, take this Practice Self Assessment.