August 18, 2022

How NOT to write a project proposal

A while back, I had a leaky hose spigot on the front of my house.

I called a plumber named Travis who came out and gave me an estimate.

It looked like this:

Bring meter to code. Install residential dual check valve, raise meter out of pit, pex tubing along ceiling to water heater and connect to existing water lines with an potable expansion tank. Also hose bib for the front house.

Estimated Price $1,422.38

This estimate is a great example of how not to quote a job.

Here’s why:

Travis focused on the activities that he would undertake on my behalf.

He described plumbing parts that I don’t care about using terms that I don’t understand.

It was a bunch of jargon that would be meaningless to anyone but another plumber.

His “price” was actually not a price, it was an estimate - and yet, somehow it was comically specific.

It implied to me that he was using some formula and made me wonder if he really knew what he was doing, or was just following some playbook.

Even worse, he said absolutely nothing explicitly about whether any of this would solve my problem, and if so, for how long!

Here’s what I wish Travis’ quote had said:

Situation Appraisal:

Your front hose spigot is leaking. This is wasting water, creating a muddy mess in the front yard, and could start leaking into the finished basement through the foundation. You can’t use the hose until the spigot is fixed because you fear you won’t be able to shut it back off. Or worse, if you try to shut it off too hard, it might break off an become an emergency situation requiring you to shut off all water to the house for days.

Proposed Solution:

I will replace the old hose spigot with a new one that has the following characteristics:


As a valued customer, you are additionally entitled to the following bonuses free of charge:

Your Guaranteed Final Price: $1500

See the difference?

My rewrite speaks to the homeowner’s immediate pains and lurking fears.

There is no plumbing jargon.

The focus is on the homeowner’s desired outcome, not the parts and labor delivered by the plumber.

Mine is “you-focused”(i.e., focused on the value for the buyer) and Travis’ is “me-focused” i.e., focused on the costs for the seller).

Being you-focused is not always easy because it requires empathy and understanding... but it’s much more effective for closing deals and increasing value and raising prices.

Also note how my version makes price shopping difficult for the homeowner.

It would be easy for me to take Travis’ actual estimate to other plumbers to see if anyone wanted to beat his price.

He has reduced his quote to parts and labor and therefore presented himself as a commodity.

Conversely, my rewrite would be nearly impossible to shop around. It doesn’t list parts or labor. Other plumbers are unlikely to bundle in the value-added services.

Making an apples to apples price comparison would not be a realistic option.

What happened?

Because of his jargon-filled, parts and labor, “no benefits” estimate, I didn’t hire Travis.

Had he given me the jargon-free “benefits focused” quote, I would have jumped at it!


Are you up for a quick homework assignment?


Go back and look at the last few proposals you sent out. As you read though them, ask yourself:

If so, you’re writing proposals like Travis.

Don’t be like Travis.