As a small business owner — and a bit of a geek — I am always seeking out new tools or processes that will improve the efficiency of my coaching and consulting company; both internally and for our customers.
I’m often asked which tools I recommend, how to streamline processes, and improve efficiency.
When it comes to drafting proposals and estimates for clients, many agencies simply slap a new client name on the cover sheet and call it good. Very little thought goes into the actual content and salesmanship of the document responsible for securing growth within your company.
This is a horrible way to approach getting new clients and referrals!
What is a Client Proposal?
A proposal is a written document that describes a plan of action and lays out the options for the client to make a decision.
At a high level, the steps are:
- Gather the information about the project
- Make a decision about how the project will be carried out, and develop a plan
- Write the proposal
- Prepare a budget or proposal fee
- Review and edit the proposal
- Select a proposal method (e.g. oral, letter, electronic (like with Bidsketch)
- Submit the proposal to the client
- Follow up on the proposal
For a long time, we were using an outline found within the book, Getting Started In Consulting by Alan Weiss. Weiss, a successful business management consultant, recommends structuring your sales proposal to create a “series of ‘Yeses'”; where the actual document is further selling your company to the customer.
His recommended proposal template, in part, includes:
- Situation Appraisal
- Client Objectives
- Measure of Success
- Expression of Value
- Methodologies and Options
- Joint Accountabilities & Responsibilities
- Terms and Conditions
For coaches, consultants, and freelancers, the proposal is an extremely important document in the sales process; such an important element that can make or break a sale, yet so many companies pump out un-customized proposals expecting the best.
What is Bidsketch
Bidsketch is an online-based proposal generator that helps companies publish custom client proposals and estimates in minutes.
I don’t recall how I was first turned onto Bidsketch, but I know I stalked their website and social media for a while before I signed up for their mailing list, then free 14-day trial.
I don’t generally make system-altering decisions quickly. We have a great internal system for capturing leads and nurturing them, but I was not happy with our bottom-of-the-funnel sales process – the point where we convert leads into customers. I knew there had to be a better way. Since all of our work is customized, this leads to a lot of time being spent creating custom plans and proposals for prospective clients.
One of my first impressions, and really what caused me to make the decision to switch to Bidsketch, was the story behind it. It was bootstrapped by founder, Ruben Gamez, as a side project. Originally a freelance web designer, Gamez realized the importance of building relationships through clear communication between the agency and the client. In his previous job post, he saw countless proposals from outside firms and realized there was something missing; so he did something about it and built Bidsketch.
For me, that was the selling feature. It was built for entrepreneurs, by an entrepreneur with a genuine solution to a problem facing so many small agencies.
What Bidsketch Does Well
Customized Proposal Elements
Bidsketch is perfect for firms that use similar language in all of their proposals. It uses templated (yet 100% customizable) elements (called “Sections”) that can be arranged to your liking. I am pleased that it keeps with the “series of Yeses” theory mentioned by Weiss. The Bidsketch tool was designed with industry best practices to move the customer through the proposal efficiently, but with minimal time investment for the agency.
I have since learned that most clients will make a decision within 5 minutes of scanning a proposal (did you catch that? Most clients will not read the proposal in its entirety, they will simply skim it for the parts important to them – that’s why it is critical to keep it short, simple, and address their concerns).
The customer may delay telling you their decision, but they have actually decided within minutes of reviewing the proposal. For that reason, having intention behind each section of your proposal is of the utmost importance. Each element should be strategic to one thing: closing sales.
Lightning Fast Support from Ruben
I ran into a few hiccups with the tool when I first started. Primarily, I could not figure out how to make edits to the proposal once the client had viewed it. One client, our first to see the Bidsketch-version of our proposal, asked that a few modifications in language be made. No big deal, but I could not figure out, within the tool, how to make it happen. I emailed support and, within an hour, had an email from Ruben himself answering the question.
I don’t expect him to answer every support ticket in the future, but, as a customer, having the founder and builder answer your question quickly is worth the price of admission.
Defines a Clear Process
Bidsketch gives both the agency and client a clear roadmap of what will happen next. This is a critical element in many proposals I see, they lack “the ask”. Meaning, what happens next? Bidsketch’s process helps automate this and brings amazing clarity so each party knows what is to happen next.
When a client views the proposal online, they will see easy-to-use options to request changes to the proposal, accept it, or decline it. No more wondering what to do next or letting it get lost in a stack of other contracts.
Features of Bidsketch
Faster Proposals with Reusable Content
Much of the content in each proposal is the same. Bidsketch allows you to save elements (blocks of text, images, and even video) that you can reuse in other proposals. This saves a tremendous amount of time but does not result in “boilerplate” proposals. Each section should be thoughtfully added. Within Bidsketch, the default proposal includes 3 opening sections, fees, timelines, and a closing section. The opening section allows for an agency to address the problems outlined by the client, how the agency can fix them, and start the “series of Yeses”. The fees section is quite intuitive, the agency can have base pricing across all proposals, or customize fees and pricing per proposal.
Again, this layout style is consistent with what Alan Weiss recommends (and what we have found to be a successful template).
Upselling & Fee Options
Bidsketch makes it stupid easy to add upselling features (firms, if you are not doing this, you are leaving money on the table!). On their website, Bidsketch claims an increase of 32% in profits for companies selling optional services (think website hosting, maintenance, additional consulting hours, etc). It is a fantastic feature that makes firms question their process and find additional services from which their client can benefit AND increase profits internally.
I hate messing with the back and forth of contracts; we generally keep our client contracts in a dedicated Dropbox in .pdf form, but that requires a series of steps on the customer’s end to print, sign, fax/email/scan the document back…. it’s a hassle. It also costs sales. With each step added on the customer end, more friction is created. Bidsketch solves that by allowing electronic signatures.
Once a client approves and signs the contract, it is immediately available for them to download as a .pdf (for their copy) and notification is sent to the agency saying the contract has been approved. What efficiency!
Also, Bidsketch is compliant with U.S. and international e-signature laws. By capturing email, IP address, and other information, they create an audit log of the signature. Perfect for legally binding contracts.
Because Bidsketch is online-based, it can take advantage of powerful analytics and tracking. No more wondering if your client has seen the proposal. You can be notified once they open it, how long they spent reading it, if they printed it, and more. This added advantage is priceless when following up with clients – knowledge is power. This also helps you learn and create more efficient proposals in the future.
Ruben made a great choice to seamlessly integrate with popular third-parties tools like Basecamp, Freshbooks, Harvest, Highrise, and Salesforce. These are commonly found in agency toolboxes and can help immensely with CRM; we don’t use any of those tools internally, so the integration is not directly helpful. It is a great selling point to nearly everyone else in our field, though.
As a marketing and branding freak, I appreciate the thoughtfulness of having a customizable URL for the client to visit to view the proposal. By default, your customers will see a Bidsketch URL, but you can change that to something more intentional, like proposals.yourcompany.com.
Ruben does a great job of regularly publishing content on the Bidsketch blog. But once you signup as a customer, you are added to an additional mailing list with a great deal of quality content to improve your sales process, proposals, and best practices. He has a wealth of knowledge and is eager to share it.
This would not be a fair review without a few observations on the negative side (and I have emailed Ruben about all of these, so he is aware of them).
Importing Template Content
Bidsketch comes with a tremendous amount of pre-written content in sections to add to the template. I was not aware of this when we signed up, but loved that I found it once I signed up in the trial. Bidsketch targets web designers, web programers, content writers, and consultants. Because of that, the pre-written content is designed for those industries. That is not to say it can’t easily be modified, but it is written with a bent to those industries.
The problem came at the very beginning when I was importing this content into the sections. I’m not sure if there was a hiccup with my browser or the Bidsketch server, but the website lagged for quite some time. After a bit, I refreshed the screen and tried the import process again. There was never a status or completion message, so I assumed there was an error and moved on.
Later, I found 3 or 4 duplications of each of the 32 pre-written sections. This created a very messy interface for me to get into to drag-and-drop into my first proposal. I ended up with upwards of 120+ duplicate sections with no way to easily delete all of them. I ended up deleting each of the manually, one-by-one.
Understanding Bidsketch Sections
Every proposal or estimate within Bidsketch is broken into ‘Sections’ (Meeting Your Needs, Delivering Results, and Recommendations for Your Company, for example). I’m not sure if I missed the tutorial, or if I was expecting something different, but I wasn’t able to see “the whole picture” here for awhile. I like to be intimately aware of every word and detail within our client proposals. It took a bit of playing with the program to understand it better, especially how these Sections were used to build the proposal.
I know that having these sections is key to building customized proposals quickly in the future, but there was a bit of a learning curve for the first one; especially for someone who has a Type-A personality like me and wants to know every detail, paragraph, layout, and see the entire proposal in one snapshot.
I happened to be sitting with my client when she signed the electronic contract. Of note, this is highly unlikely, but I’m glad I was there. Once she had signed, she clicked on the “Download as .PDF” button. We experienced the same ‘browser hang’ problem that I witnessed with the content import. She was unable to download the .pdf version of the signed contract. I checked to verify that I had gotten the “Proposal has been Accepted!” confirmation (which I did). In the end, she was not sure if she did accept it or not.
A quick note to Ruben and he is working on a resolution.
What makes Bidsketch Different?
Previously, we used a basic template we designed in-house and customized it to fit the unique needs of our clients. Over time, we developed various Word documents for different clients – everything from basic consulting to social media management to website design. As our core services have shifted, so too has the need for us to maintain a large library of contracts. However, with Bidsketch, this is not a problem. I can still use various Sections to keep our commonly used verbiage and services saved, but only use them when it is appropriate for the contract. Otherwise, they stay saved for use another time.
The old method required a number of proofs to ensure nothing from a previous contract slipped through (an old client’s name, a product or service that is irrelevant, or a previous list of goals and outcomes). These particular areas are easy to segregate with Bidsketch and decreases the likelihood of the wrong information being sent to a client by mistake.
How Much Does Bidsketch Cost, Is It Worth It?
Bidsketch has three pricing levels. All levels include analytics, electronic signatures, and the ability to brand your own URL. Prices start at $29 per month for their “Solo” level, which allows for one user and offers 2GB of storage (for images used in your proposals). Plans then go up to $79 per month (3 users and more storage) and $149 per month (8 users and even more storage). Both of the higher level plans include real-time collaboration and team management – ideal for agencies with multiple team members working on the same proposal.
In our agency, we only have one or two team members working on a single proposal, so the collaboration and team management is not necessary for us. Additionally, having access to the additional storage – while nice – is not a requirement. Our proposals are not heavy on graphics or video.
Bidsketch also offers a $19 per month plan, which they call their Starter Plan, it is limited to 1 user and 25 clients. It does not allow for electronic signatures or custom domain. I think electronic signatures and custom-branded domains are well worth an additional $10 per month to upgrade to Solo. The ability for your customer to sign on the spot, when they have been nodding “Yes” to your proposal will result in faster acceptance and more business for you.
To date, I am extremely happy with Bidsketch. We have seen a 100% close rate with proposals prepared with the program and using Ruben’s email tips to help fine-tune our process, wording, and include best practices. For the price of a couple lattes a month, we have seen nearly a 1500% ROI in the first month.
I am excited to continue watching the company grow. In a recent interview, Ruben says, “I knew people would be interested in something that would cut down on the time to create really nice looking proposals because it was something that I had wanted when I was a freelancer.”
I know he will continue to improve the product and the process for those who are looking to grow their firms and increase profit.
If you regularly prepare proposals, estimates, or bids for your clients, check out Bidsketch. The time saved on each sales proposal easily out-weighs the slight learning curve.
How to Get Bidsketch
For a 14-day free trial of Bidsketch, click here.
At the time of this review, I was a paying customer of Bidsketch. We received no monetary compensation for this review. Bidsketch does offer free access to their product in exchange for a review, but that has no bearing on content within this review whatsoever.
If you have already tried Bidsketch, I’m interested in knowing what you thought of it. Leave your thoughts in the comment box below.
UPDATE: We no longer use Bidsketch, mainly because we don’t send out proposals anymore. I still stand by my endorsement of Ruban and his product.