There's really two things I'm trying to figure out: First, how do agencies break things down for their clients in terms of deliverables/milestones/plans, etc. What phases are in the plan? Second, how much of the plan/strategy do you develop and reveal to the client in the proposal/quote before they sign/pay? After all, the plan/strategy is a big part of what they're paying you to develop, but they'll also want to see what they're going to be paying for before they pay you anything. How do you balance that?
I've worked in digital marketing since 1997, led business operations at two digital marketing agencies, and advise digital agency owners on improving the business side of their agencies.
Agencies tend to use some version of the standard consulting phases: Discovery, Analysis, Recommendations, and Implementation. Some agencies like to give them cutesy, proprietary-sounding names. In my experience, I'm not sure that really fools anyone.
You also want to convey that you understand their problem. When I evaluate proposals by agencies, the biggest problem is talking about the agency and not the client. Focus on how they'll benefit (including likely metrics and potential results), not what you'll do.
Milestones and deliverables will depend on the nature of the project. If it's implementation work, you might list typical deliverables (e.g., landing pages, nurture campaigns, or eBooks). If it's strategy work, your deliverables will be the research, analysis, and meetings you do to make recommendations. Beware of getting too specific about granular deliverables -- you don't want to prescribe a solution before you [get paid to] diagnose the problem.
Which leads to your second point -- don't give them the plan/strategy you have in mind until they pay for your help. Don't treat your strategy advice like the free coathangers at the drycleaner (so value-less that they're thrown in with your cleaned shirt).
Many prospects won't like this. I think you should refuse to do business with them. When agencies deliver spec work (a la 1960s ad agency pitches from "Mad Men"), they're making it harder for everyone else (and themselves), by showing prospects and clients that strategy has so little value, you're willing to give it away.
What can you do instead? Position yourself as an expert as solving their problems in their industry niche. (If you call yourself a "full service agency," you're already doing it wrong.) People hire specialists. If you need heart surgery, would you hire the surgeon who does general heart surgery or who's done your specific procedure 500 times? I know I'd pick the specialist-specialist!
Instead of sharing specific recommendations, use case studies of how you've solved similar problems for similar clients before. And if you don't have similar clients yet, use the closest analogy you can. You've got to start somewhere. And it's a reminder about doing the same type of work over and over again, rather than jumping around to a million types of projects.
Ultimately, don't over-invest in the proposal process. Once it becomes clear someone isn't a good match, gracefully bow out and invest your energies in working with clients who value your expertise by paying for it.
Good luck on your proposals! I'm glad to do a call to answer any followup questions.
We offer two different documents -- a proposal (quote), and then, after the client signs a contract, a strategy (plan).
The proposal explains what we're do. Since we're in content marketing (blogging, social media and email marketing), that includes details like frequency -- how often we'll post to the blog.
The strategy dives more into the HOW. We explain how we'll accomplish those goals and meet those deliverables, and do all the research we need to do on our end to launch into the project.
Depends on who you are talking to. Many small companies and startups won't pay anything for a strategy. They can't. They pay for work and for results.
So be careful about over valuing a plan and under valuing execution. The former is easy, the latter is time consuming and usually what clients are far more interested in.
We talk through a client's needs and priorities, then we start with a simple, short engagement. We call it "dating before getting married." The idea is that we'll learn so much more about each other in 3-6 weeks than we will in a negotiations process.
We start with a pain point, we solve it. Then we move on to the next. The strategy evolves out of the work, and is far more value added after we've been immersed for a time in the actual data.
My philosophy is that too much time is wasted in conference rooms planning not to fail when it should be about putting things into the marketplace and learning from experience and data.
Clients who don't want that are not likely to be a fit for us.
So, do your best. Be yourself. Keep trying new things with each negotiation and you'll learn as you go. And track your time. You'll be amazed at how you have no idea how much time it takes but over time you'll get good, really good at it and that will make estimates more accurate. It will also help you identify which tasks deserve investment in automation or which should be delegated to lower cost resources.