I was recently in the market for a better solution for sending proposals to clients. A colleague of mine recommended I try a service called Better Proposals and decided to check it out. I created my free account and at first glance, all I could think was WOW! These days, a typical proposal can easily be confused by a ream of stark white paper with a cover sheet. Adam and his team from Better Proposals decided to change that – proposals created with his tool rival some higher end web sites I’ve seen lately and it immediately grabbed my attention.
As I was getting a feel for the application, I had some questions about the product and decided to use the on-site chat. Much to my surprise, on the other end was Adam Hempenstall the CEO of Better Proposals. Adam was insanely helpful and obviously passionate about his product. He openly requested feedback on the entire proposal process and we traded several emails. I was so impressed with Adam’s drive to make using his service the most pleasant experience possible that I asked if I could interview him for this blog. He said yes without hesitation, and the following is the product of that interview.
So Let’s Get Started
Frank: Adam, on your Bio you state that you started your first website business at 14. Can you summarize your journey and explain how the industry has changed from then up until now?
Adam: In 1999 I started a web design business – I wouldn’t really call it a business. I learned how to deal with clients and build basic sites. Eventually turned it into an agency. Sometime around 2009 we switched to software and building custom CRM systems for clients. In 2011, I wrote a book called Automate your Business and soon after built a super early version of what you know today as Better Proposals for ourselves. Over time we realised there was a huge demand for it and launched it as a product. The industry has changed massively because you don’t need as much technical skill to achieve the same stuff anymore. Design standards have shot through the roof and because of that, web design agencies have turned more into marketing agencies, as thats where the true skill and expertise ended up.
Frank: What was your “lightbulb moment” where you decided you had to develop a better proposal system?
Adam: Less a lightbulb moment and more like a cheese grater to the face for 14 years. Proposal writing has never not been a massive pain-in-the-ass job and it’s never been fun. To make it worse, you didn’t even know if they read it and it would be common to win 1 in 5 jobs. Not the greatest incentive in the world to put massive effort into proposal writing.
Frank: We’ve chatted at all hours of the day and night, and I see you’re obviously passionate about Better Proposals. What is the fire that drives you to make this so successful?
Adam: The thing that fires me up about this is I know first hand how awful it is. The guy that runs Coca Cola doesn’t have a passion for making kids fat, but this is a real world pain that I have felt personally. When clients started demanding it, it was pretty clear that it’s a problem that needs to be solved. Honestly, I just hate PDFs, Microsoft Word etc. I hate the fact that you have to use them and there’s no obvious solution. People are stuck using something that isn’t the right tool for the job. If you invented a hammer and you knew that 800m people round the world were smashing nails in with a brick, you’d be pretty fired up about it too 🙂
Frank: You seem to have done a lot of research to determine the best ways to get proposals accepted. What sort of homework does someone need to do when launching a product like this, and how long should the research last?
Adam: It wasn’t so much research, more trial and error through our own business practices, failures and successes. Subsequent research has come in the form of seeing what our customers do and working with them to improve their proposals. I don’t think you necessarily need to do “research” before launching a product. I think really if it doesn’t drag you out of bed in the morning without setting an alarm, just stay asleep.
Frank: If someone asked you what made Better Proposals a better choice for sending proposals to clients, but you could only give a one reason, what would it be?
Adam: One reason why Better Proposals is the best choice for sending proposals? Easy. It’s been designed specifically for the job whereas nothing else has.
Frank: In a recent release, you added the ability to add a pricing table to proposals (which is awesome by the way). Can you explain the significance of this and how they work within the proposal?
Adam: We had a basic version of the pricing table in Better Proposals, and subsequently received a lot of suggestions and feature requests from our customers on how they would like to use them. We amalgamated these to produce a pricing table which allows you the flexibility of adding products with quantities, recurring pricing by month, quarter or year, and the coolest part is being able to make a product optional so your client on the other end can tick the items they want much like a shopping cart. This was a huge update to Better Proposals, not only because of the detail and flexibility but also because it was born out of real life problems.
Frank: What resources do you have available for people to write the best proposals they can?
Adam: I see our company as having two approaches to it. Providing the software to make proposal writing easy, and teaching people what to say. Over the years we’ve added a huge number of articles, videos and resources to our blog on the subject of proposal writing, sales and running a freelance business or agency. I started a video series called Proposal Breakdown where I take a real life proposal a customer has sent and give my thoughts and opinion on how it can be improved. I wrote the 15 Minute Proposal book, which is available free on our website and we’ve written 20+ templates for different situations and industries. They’re all free on our site and in the Template Marketplace in Better Proposals.
Frank: Does Better Proposals have different pricing options? What are they, and why did you decide to price it this way?
Adam: The pricing plans are based on a proposal sending allowance and number of users. We decided to structure it like this because all of our competition seemed to have confusing and unhelpful plans based on odd things like how many draft proposals you create and things of that nature. We are considering a pay as you go option which would enable a more helpful pricing structure for irregular senders.
Frank: If you’re able to disclose your secrets, what enhancements or features are currently being worked on by the team?
Adam: The vision for Better Proposals extends far beyond what we’re currently doing. Long term I see it as our mission to bridge the gap between the meeting and the proposal. It should be a completely seamless process from the meeting to the proposal. Think about it. The client talks and the information goes in your brain, that’s once, then you write it down, twice, you get back to the office and type up your notes, thats three. You finally turn it into a proposal and send it. 4 times you’ve worked with that information. I’m fairly certain we can somehow reduce that one day. As web technology advances and becomes more accepted and usable, that means we can do more with Better Proposals. We get a lot of feature requests and I’m happy to base our roadmap on these when it comes to the usability of the system. But when it comes to the proposal viewer, I believe we’ve got a far grander vision for this.
Frank: Obviously, “the proof is in the pudding” as they say. Tell me a little about the biggest win made using Better Proposals.
Adam: We can’t disclose clients and figures obviously, but I can tell you that the new live chat feature has made a huge impact on conversion rates for our customers. We’ve had a ton of feedback from customers who have closed sales quicker and more frequently with this, as they were able to answer their clients’ questions and concerns there and then. This feature idea was a flippant suggestion which has taken off like wildfire. It’s truly next level stuff.
Frank: Do you find that there are trends with how successful and unsuccessful proposals are built?
Adam: Yes. Whether they believe they’re doing this when they’re writing the proposal or not, I’m not sure; but any proposal that demonstrates they’ve understood the problem, demonstrated their ability WITH proof that they can solve it and shown it makes sense from an economic standpoint will stand a much greater chance of closing the deal. Another thing worth pointing out is the best proposals address the fears of their clients whether they verbalize them or not. For instance “What happens if you don’t do what you say you will?” “What happens if I don’t like the new design?” – this are real concerns and most of the time, they won’t get brought up but it doesn’t mean they don’t have them.
Here are a few rapid fire questions. Try to answer with the first thing that comes to your mind 🙂
Frank: Of all the industries your software can be used for, which do you enjoy the most?
Adam: Web Designers
Frank: What’s the single best thing that’s happened since you started down the path of being an entrepreneur?
Adam: Having the freedom to simply go for coffee with my Dad on a random Tuesday afternoon and not worry about work or the business.
Frank: From your experience, what’s the single biggest mistake that many small businesses make when trying to grow?
Adam: Overestimating what they can do in a month or a year, and dramatically underestimating what they can do in 10 years.
What’s Next For Better Proposals?
Frank: Where do you see Better Proposals as a company and as a product in 12 months time?
Adam: As a company I see Better Proposals evolving in the same way a product does. You refine things, improve design, improve flows, improve recruitment. I don’t have any desire to create a company with 6,000 people and huge offices. I want anyone who works with us to have a great, healthy lifestyle so that will become a big focus going forward. As for the product, I think the basics are covered. We’ll be adding and improving integrations and hopefully improving what people can do with their proposals from a technological standpoint and the range of templates will expand massively.
Frank: Where can people reach out to you with questions or to give Better Proposals a try?
If you would like to read Adam’s guide to writing better proposals, be sure to check out The 15-Minute Proposal over on his site.
As you can see from Adam’s journey, all it takes is an idea. He too started his business without much guidance and over time, he expanded upon ideas that he nurtured into a successful software company and he has no plans of stopping. The secret to building a successful business is you. You need to be committed, passionate, and willing to help others by bringing value to their businesses and their lives. If you follow those 3 guidelines, I can promise you that the rest will come.