This article outlines what both parties involved in a proposal, contract or estimate for internet marketing should expect and work towards during the negotiation process.

Note: If you’re seeking a proposal for internet marketing (including content marketing, website development and SEO) services checkout our free proposal auditing service where we help you negotiate the best possible deal.


Step 1 – A Professional Proposal

A professional proposal should answer, in writing, all questions that both parties have and be a point of reference for all future conversation relating to the scope and budget of the project. If it doesn’t, then you’re leaving yourself open to risk that either party may not be prepared to manage.

We’ve outlined some key things to look for in a professional proposal as you evaluate your options.

  1. Did they interview you in detail before delivering the proposal and requesting a deposit?
  2. Did they discuss payment before they discussed your needs and expectations?
    • Commonly, sales people who are not strategists, designers or programmers are the ones negotiating with you. If they’re supported by a team of those people and have received a few certifications or accolades, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But if they’re asking you about your budget, requesting payment or trying to send you a proposal before they’ve thoroughly interviewed your needs and expectations, that should be a red flag.
  3. Does the Proposal communicate back to you that they fully understand your needs and expectations?
    • As a rule of thumb, if it’s not clear in writing then ask them to clarify. If they refuse, you should probably walk away because they’re telling you they’re not interested in putting the effort into a clear and fair agreement.
    • If you’re not sure what to look for in a contract, consider having author companies audit the proposal. If the agency claims the proposal is confidential, consult with your attorney to validate that claim or walk away!
  4. Does the Proposal answer all of your questions?
    1. If it doesn’t, then you should ask them to answer your questions in writing. Even the sharpest minds make honest mistakes in how they remember past conversations.


Step 2 – Itemization

Require the proposal to itemize each feature and aspect of your project.

If you’re building a website or web application then they should, without prompting, itemize each aspect of it and – preferably – give you a breakdown of the time and – definitely – the cost. This is critical for accountability on both sides. It protects you from being promised something and then told it’s out of scope. And it protects them from unruly clients that are realizing that they didn’t adequately communicate their needs and expectations.

If you’re employing for recurring marketing services, ensure that reporting dates and samples of the types of reports are included. And request warranties or guarantees that are tied to ROI. Marketing is not like gambling. It’s more like exercise. When you gamble, your chances are random. When you exercise, it will cost you, and for days or weeks you may not see the results you want. But with diligence in sticking to your plan you’ll eventually reach your goals.


Step 3 – Timeline

Do they clearly communicate a timeline?

A professional proposal would include a clear breakdown of the overall timeline and each stage and when to expect it. You should know what deliverables to expect are tangibly in your hand by those dates and follow up with them to ensure you receive them.

In marketing and development it’s perfectly normal for timelines to fluctuate a bit, but it should be predicted and accounted.



Step 4 – Risk Management

Does the Proposal communicate the risks associated with the project?

If you’re asking for a pre-packaged or templated service then it’s normal to expect a fixed timeline, budget and scope.

But if you’re requesting custom or tailored services then you should expect a range for the timeline, budget and scope.

However, the scope and budget is typically a mix of pre-packaged or templates aspects and custom aspects. A professional Proposal will highlight these differences for you so if there is going to be a stage or aspect of your project that goes beyond the estimated scope you know what that is, why that could occur, and how far beyond scope it could go. If they can’t communicate that clearly, then you’re putting yourself at risk of a never ending budget and project.


Step 5 – Balanced Payment Schedule

Both parties have something to lose. And in a healthy business relationship the risk will be balanced. Just because you are the customer doesn’t mean they should take on all of the risk. And just because they’ve had bad experiences doesn’t mean you should either. Trust your gut. If you get the sense they’re asking for more money up front than what seems reasonable, you’re probably right.

We charge clients in stages, respective to each stage of the process rather than a large generic deposit. This way, both parties are clear as to what assets the client is entitled to if the contract is cancelled for any reason by either party.

Before you make a payment for another phase, ensure you’ve received the tangible assets promised in the proposal first! It’s common that companies promise supporting assets like wireframes, mockups, style or brand guides in the proposal but never deliver them because they’re subtle and usually not something a client needs or wants after the final designs for artwork have been provided. But holding them accountable to provide them anyway is a test of their organizational skills and integrity to honestly and transparently manage your money in marketing and business development moving forward.


Step 6 – Mistakes

We’re regularly hired by other agencies to service their clients’ needs under a white-label. This means their clients do not know we’re rendering the services to them on behalf of the company they employed directly.

Through this experience, we’ve seen every one of these agencies makes mistakes of various types and sizes. We’ve found that the agencies that succeed are those that accept responsibility without prompting, and ask the client how they can compensate for the mistakes. Some agencies even communicate what compensation can be expected for failure before a contract is signed.

For example, we offer a money-back-guarantee if we don’t produce a return on investment for you if you employ us for many of our recurring marketing services.

Marketing is all trial and error, in our experience. Look for agencies that demonstrate humility and are realistic in the expectations they set. If they make lofty claims ensure they prove it or put it in writing with some collateral before you sign.


Step 7 – Presentation

Did the agency send you a one paragraph email? An unbranded Word doc? Is it full of fluffy content or jargon you don’t care about?

If they can’t wow you with their presentation then you should ask yourself what makes you think they can wow you with any other product or service.

Proposals, like websites, are one of the first steps in the process to see if an agency is on-time, communicative, and engaged. This should be communicated through the design and presentation of their proposals.


Step 8- Attitude

Do they seem grateful for the chance to bid? Or entitled? Do they make you feel like you have their complete attention or like they’re rushing through?

These things aren’t written down, or printed on a proposal. But they are seen during the negotiation process. If you don’t get the sense they value you then walk away.

At the same time, your marketing firm should be a major partner in the success of your business. So expect them to be candid, but respectful. And look for the same opportunity.


Would you like us to provide a professional proposal for your digital marketing work? Click here to schedule an consultation today.