After thirteen years since founding the studio, one of the aspects that in the past has generated the most friction, headaches, and frustration for us is the elaboration of proposals and learning to deal with their possible rejection by clients. Here are some of the lessons we have learned along the way.

A rather wild proposal: An AI-assisted fortune-telling booth.

The need for proposals

All companies that rely on the hiring of our services by third parties, especially when it comes to highly creative work, regularly have to face the task of preparing proposals to offer a solution (whether in design, strategy, technology, etc.) along with the corresponding budget. In this way, the client can evaluate it and decide if we are the optimal service provider to solve their problem or need.

We particularly enjoy and are good at preparing proposals. We have confidence in the quality of the services we offer and have learned to explain and condense our work in an attractive and understandable way in a document. It's something that helps us stand out and differentiate ourselves from other companies, and for which we have received multiple thanks and praise.

But making a good proposal involves thoroughly studying the client's problem, understanding it, and offering a solution that meets their needs. In short, a lot of time invested that, except on rare occasions, you won't get paid for if the project does not go ahead.

Therefore, the problem lies in knowing how to calibrate the amount of time and effort to devote to preparing the proposal against the real chances of securing the assignment subject to said proposal. Being unpaid work (which would merit another article), identifying the feasibility and likelihood of the client accepting the proposal has become a true art, the cornerstone that dictates and modulates the effort to be made. This involves factors such as prior knowledge of the client, psychology, picking up on contradictory signals, or the appearance of red flags during the initial interview or meeting, reading between the lines of emails, etc.

Details of our booth inspired by Zoltar from Big

Learning by making mistakes

Even so, there are never absolute guarantees and, ultimately, one must accept that on many occasions other external factors intervene beyond the quality of the proposal, and it ends up being rejected. In those cases, it's necessary to fight against the ego and frustration that rejection entails and avoid damaging our self-esteem. Living with rejection is something that has been hard for us to learn. But in addition to accepting it, over the years we have learned to minimize its impact and make it happen as infrequently as possible.

In the past, we've made numerous mistakes and fallen into all kinds of pitfalls, some self-inflicted. Fortunately, most of these mistakes belong to a distant past, but we've been through everything: participating with other companies in the preparation of tenders for large bids, only to be undercut by reckless low bids (once and never again), creating proposals for others in exchange for carrying out the work only to have them ask for a discount on our budget once awarded, proposals to validate business plans with no viability, where the work to present to investors is done exclusively by us… And the list could go on. Anyone in this field will probably find these situations familiar.

Fortunately, time and these stumbles along the way have made us wiser in managing these situations, and now we feel much more comfortable and confident when it comes to preparing proposals for others.

Lessons learned

When facing a proposal, we follow a set of unwritten rules, at least until now, as we are going to put them down in black and white in case they can be useful to someone:

  • When we do not have full confidence that the project is right for us, whether due to fit with the client, scope ambiguity, or budget issues, we try to send a preliminary email with a very brief proposal in which we lay out all our doubts along with a very approximate budget range. The quality of the response to this email helps us to discard or move to the next phase without investing more time than necessary.
  • In general, we avoid applying for public tenders and bids. The bureaucratic demands and documentation requirements do not compensate for the conditions imposed or the reckless low bids that end up winning many of the contracts at the cost of low quality in their execution. The reality is that, in most cases and contrary to what people tend to think, it does not pay to do work for public administrations if you offer quality work, since what is valued in most cases is simply the offered price.
  • Learning to detect when you are "the third necessary budget" for a project that is already pre-awarded but where certain transparency and oversight requirements need to be met. We say this on behalf of a friend.
  • Never participate in spec work (speculative work), whether promoted by agencies, contests, or any other institution with big promises of projection, visibility, and/or future work.
  • However, we continue to collaborate with friendly agencies and help them in the preparation of proposals, especially in the most creative part and in generating new ideas. And we do it because we like it, we are good at it, and it helps us to stay up-to-date in terms of technology and to be in contact with the needs of large companies to which we would not otherwise have access. Even though on many occasions these efforts do not culminate in new contracts due to the competitiveness of the sector, it helps us to stay well-oiled and ready for larger projects.
  • The main lesson, one of the most useful things and what has been hardest for us, is learning to say "No" as soon as something doesn't feel right, raises suspicion, or doesn't fit with our work philosophy. At the beginning, it was very hard for us to turn down work, but over time we learned that a timely refusal (and of course, said with politeness and respect) was the simplest solution to many of our problems. And sometimes it's as simple as listening to your gut. It's rarely wrong.

Since we've ended up with a bit of a long text, another day we'll talk about what our proposals are like, the level of detail we achieve, and how this investment of time pays off for us because we use them as a development guide and an implicit contract for the provision of service.