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10-Step Checklist to Crafting Content Marketing Proposals That Win!

As an agency owner or freelance professionals, you know that proposals are a necessary evil.

And sometimes the task can feel so repetitive and uninspiring that you hack together a bunch of standard slides and send it over to the client. We understand and agree that it’s impossible to pull together a great proposal for every prospect, every single time. Which is why we have pulled together a checklist that can be templatized, but also easily personalized, and help you stand out among the dozen other proposals, and convert deals faster.

Over the last 12 months, we have experimented with 5 different proposal formats to come up with this fail-proof checklist, which has improved our conversion rates from 40% to 85% for all qualified leads. We hope this will do the same for you! 

Before we dive in, quick disclosure: there’s no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to creating content marketing proposals. There are many variables, and that is what we’ll be discussing in this article — the different things you can include in your proposal to make it stand out. Of course, you can pick and choose what is relevant for your client!

It’s going to be lengthy, so here’s a handy index: 

1. Don’t talk about yourself – talk about them

2. Make sure you have the brief right

3. Outline the opportunities and challenges

4. Establish the baseline – what’s working & not working

5. Competitor Content Analysis

6. Define brand voice, personality, and content tonality

7. Where does your audience exist?

8. Outline content pillars and sample buckets within them

9. Outline Content Calendar and Share Indicative Costs

10. Define Team and Governance

That’s how you do it!

Without further ado, let’s put the ‘pro’ in proposals!

1. Don’t talk about yourself – talk about them

This one might seem a little obvious – but you won’t believe how many proposals I see every week that start with the company / agency credentials and success stories. This is not to say that agency credentials and client lists are not relevant – but if your sales process is right, at the time you’re submitting a proposal, the prospect already knows your credentials and is sold on them. 

Have a separate capability deck (here’s ours, if you need a little inspiration!) and use that to communicate your credentials and client pedigree. 

2. Make sure you have the brief right

This is how the entire process begins. The brief for any content strategy is gathered during a brief meeting or a phone call. The idea behind this step is to gather all the information that you need before you start crafting the proposal. For that, asking a few pointed questions is necessary to set the course of your strategy going forward.

Here are a few basic questions that you can ask to get the ball rollin’:

1. What goals are you looking to achieve with your content marketing activities in the next 30, 60, 90 days?

Look out for red flags: 

I want to rank #1 for <competitve keyword> in 3 months. 

I want to generate leads from blogs in 30 days. 

This is an opportunity to establish the right expectations from your content marketing efforts and even educate the client on what’s possible and realistic, given their timeline and budgets. 

Take this information and clearly outline the objectives of this engagement. For the purpose of this article, we will be adding snippets of one of our own proposals, intended for a leading financial investment management firm:

Wherever possible, quantify it: Improve lead generation from organic traffic by 250% in 6 months, or improve search rankings for x keywords from top 50 to top 10.

2. Who is your buyer persona and target audience?

A persona can be understood as the character traits of someone who might belong to your target audience. While setting up a persona, you get to explore the different behaviors and habits of your audience, which will further give you content ideas! 

How does it help?

Let’s take an example of a leading financial investment management firm.

To understand your target audience and come up with relevant personas, you might need to ask the following questions: 

  • Where does the person live? (Type of area — rural/urban/semi-urban)
  • How actively do they take part in investments?
  • Which platform do they use to make investment decisions?
  • Which of your competitors are they likely to appreciate?
  • Is anyone else responsible for influencing their decision? If yes, you’ll need to push some additional content to suit the additional persona(s) too. 
  • How do they currently find out about your services and features?
  • What is their primary source for content consumption? Which one do they trust the most?
  • How much does influencer marketing or word of mouth impact their decision?

Now, based on the answers to the above questions, you’ll have a clearer understanding of the audience you’re targeting. That way, you can create and curate topics and buckets that will appeal to the said audience. 

On analyzing the answer to above questions, you’ll be able to  bifurcate your audience in the following manner: 

As should be obvious, an experienced audience is the one that has been involved in investing since some time now. The other set of people, on the contrary, are those with an inherent mental block against investing — as a result, these are people who are more difficult to convert [this trivia will come in handy while drafting topics for your content].

We can further drill down within these two groups to ensure much more granular content. Here’s how it can be done: 

Now, you have four broad categories of users. Next up – creating personas for each segment!

Using surveys to understand personas

Once you start answering the above questions, you’ll realize that it is difficult to find the answers to some of the questions. Most can be answered with basic understanding + elementary online research. But for the more extensive ones, you can suggest a quick online survey with a giveaway, which can help you gather the data quickly while you build a targeted online community.

You can also do quick social sentiment analysis and get mass data on your audience’s opinions. Another thing that you can do to save time is reaching out to existing customers (if possible) and speaking to them. Another valuable resource is the company’s sales team who interact with customers every day.

Insights from setting personas

Once you have your personas ready, you have to look into the process they go through to reach your products, and the problems they face at each stage. 

Continuing with the investment example, we consider personal 1 (the image above). Here are some key points to note for this particular persona: 

The problem: Lacks reliable sources to turn for financial advice

The requirements: Wants to gain basic investment knowledge

The competition: Who are the possible competitors he’s looking up? 

The solution: What solution do you offer, and how do you trump your competition?

The information for each of these stages will give you ideas for targeted content. This organically flowing content will act as a guide during your customer’s purchase journey and help her reach the purchase decision.

Where are they in their buyer’s journey?

This is a very important, and often overlooked, question.

At ContentNinja, we define the buyer’s journey as per the AIDA model

Your content and marketing approach will change significantly based on where your buyer persona is in this journey:

AwarenessThe first stage is for creating brand awareness and affiliation with your services or products. For an investment solution, it would mean educating people why investment is useful, how it’s different from savings, what are the best ways to go about it as a beginner, and so on. For some brands, especially in B2B, most clients do not want to target personas in the awareness stage, because it means a significantly longer sales cycle and lower conversion rates. Some topics that you can target at this stage include: Investments as an important savings tool. Important investment terms and jargons to know.
InterestOnce the persona knows that investment is important, he crosses into the Interest stage.Here, he seeks more information about the best way to get started.Some sample topics for this stage could include:Starting with investments: A beginner’s guide.X investment tips for beginners.
DesireThis stage is for connecting with your audience on an emotional level.This is done by showing your brand personality, establishing credibility, and maintaining relations. Ideally, you’d want your customer to move from ‘liking your product’ to ‘wanting your product’ after this stage. Topics could include:
ActionThis is where the call-to-action is! Make the buyer take the final steps of their buying journey by interacting with your content in the form of downloading a brochure, making the phone call, joining your newsletter, or engaging in live chat, etc.There are a few ways to go about it, some ideas include:Leaving easily accessible CTA buttons throughout the website. These can be “reach out to us” buttons that take to the contact page, “know more” buttons that provide more information about your product, “call us” buttons that can allow users to quickly call you, and more.Concluding your articles and other content posts in a manner that leaves room for your user to take the next steps. You can invite them to check your products, talk to you, or just leave a comment.Leaving downloading assets with your content. That way, you’ll also know who all are definitely interested in your services!

3. Outline the opportunities and challenges 

For the client in question, we did market research and summed up the opportunities and challenges thus:

(Jot down some opportunities…)

4. Establish the baseline – what’s working & not working

A content audit of their current assets is a great way to show clients that you have done your research and put thought in understanding their current content. With the right tools, it’s easy, and makes the proposal much more personalized. The process reveals many insights and helps you set a base for your strategy.

Performing the audit

Examine their footprints: Check their online channels — website, social media, third-parties  — and the types of content they’ve been pushing out. 

Struggling to figure out how the website’s content is performing? Since this is a subjective question, you need to back your answer with numbers. Look into GTMetrix and other tools to examine the state of website optimization (in terms of SEO at least), what is the traffic to conversion ratio.

(Perform extensive audits)

Find out what your client is ranking for. For this, you can use tools like SEMRush to do a quick check on the current ranking status for various keywords and their search volumes.

Find out what your client is converting for. This insight will go a long way into determining your overall success strategy. Knowing what works for your client will give you an idea of a few low-hanging fruits, and will also allow you to come up with easy spin-offs that are sure to work equally well. For this, you can research GA for the keywords and pages that attract maximum traffic, leads, and conversions. 

One pro tip: Don’t just blindly copy paste audit screenshots from different tools. Data without context is useless. Explain what the numbers mean, and where the opportunity lies.

(Include the list of keywords you can target)

At this point, you can also check the client’s social media handles to see what type of content receives higher engagement. You can audit this for the past three months — but keep in mind that this process can consume a lot of time. Think of doing an audit for a website that already has 1000 pages of content! Which is why, doing the content audit after you have a basic agreement in place helps.

Insights from the content audit

Once you’re done with the research comes the discovery phase. This is one of the more interesting aspects of crafting a content proposal. 

Here, you’ll be looking at all the data you’ve gathered from different angles and perspectives to find clues that will form the base of your content marketing strategy. This will also act as a key differentiator for you, because it’s not easy to derive knowledge from the data. The better you do it, the higher are your chances of converting the client! 

Based on the audit you’ve performed, you can pick out content and classify them in one of these four categories:

Outstanding: Cornerstone content that ranks high and generates engagement and eventually conversions. 

Good: Long-form content that’s engaging and has the potential to rank better. 

Average: ‘Regular’ content that has some engagement and some traffic but nothing that converts.

Poor: Content that hasn’t received traffic or engagement.

This can turn out to be a painstaking exercise. To simplify your life, you can set customized filters in GA to separate the first two kinds of content from the last two. The rest is a bit of manual work.

Now that you know your client’s strengths and weaknesses, you can now work on creating outstanding content, redoing the poor one, and using marketing tactics for the good and average. 

5. Competitor Content Analysis

(Figure out the keywords for which the competition is ranking, but the client isn’t)

This should ideally be the second step after finding out what works (and doesn’t work) for your client. Again, this should be a part of your content proposal, so that your client knows what they’re up against, and you have an opportunity to suggest improvements that’ll help them overtake their competition. 

The go-to tool for competitor research is AHREFs. It lets you do a quick spy on your competitors and their backlinks. Knowing this will give you an idea about the kind of content required for guest posts as well as some third-party publications where you can publish the said content. Besides, you’ll also get to find out their cornerstone content and how you can improvise.

You can talk about:

  • Keywords being ranked for (main competitors vs your clients)
  • Traffic (especially organic)
  • Domain Authority / Page Authority
  • Backlinks 
  • Social Media Followers & Engagement Rates

This inspires a little fear of missing out in your clients, and also helps them understand the way forward. 

P.S. If you can’t afford paid tools like AHREFS and SEMRush, we also recommend some excellent free tools like SEPRwatch, Ubersuggest, and WebCEO.

6. Define brand voice, personality, and content tonality

Defining the brand voice and personality is very important to ensure your content is consistent overall, and that your customer also starts identifying you, based on your voice alone. 

To understand the importance of having a brand voice and sticking to it, please look at the image below:

Short, crisp sentences — that is Apple’s voice. Apple’s been the company to look up to in terms of setting themselves apart from their competition, especially when it comes to having a unique brand voice. Apple commands their words exceedingly well. They aren’t the originator — or even the owner — of their particular voice, but they are the most visible.

The Apple voice is characterized by declarative yet crisp sentences that are phrased informally and delivered personally with a hint of smugness. 

Our most amazing iPhone yet. 10,000 songs in your pocket. We think you’ll like it.

For Apple, this voicing evokes two feelings:

  • Accessibility. Formal tones often feel heavier and more complex. Being informal, Apple’s tone emits a feeling of simplicity, of fewer barriers to entry. Apple wants their products to be simple and minimal, and this is reflected in their brand tone.
  • Quality. Smugness is always a gamble — and you can lose that gamble — but when executed well it can set your product’s quality apart from the rest. Apple wants their products to be high quality, and this is reflected in their copy, albeit accompanied with smugness

Another brand that sets itself apart using its voice is MailChimp.

MailChimp speaks to its customers in a tone that is usually informal, but never inappropriate or snobbish. The Mailchimp brand voice is clear [meaning devoid of jargons, hyperbolic language, and full of clarity], genuine [to relate to small business and their challenges, and speak to them in a warm, familiar, and accessible manner] and with a bit of dry humor. 

As a result of this tone, they’re able to speak to their audience in the manner which fits their audience the most. The result? Better, longer-lasting connections! 

Likewise, you can set your brand voice too; remember to stay consistent with it across all your posts and other forms of content. 

For the example we’ve been following, here is the po

(Map the brand’s personality and their tonality)

7. Where does your audience exist?

You’ll need to examine online forums, blogs, and platforms where your audience engages, and the kind of groups they follow. 

This task is tougher than it appears. Different people have different platform choices. So, you need to pick and choose wisely — don’t be an IT company that wants to build a million followers on Instagram.

Finding out the platforms is important also because it’ll give you an idea of the content you can push out. 

8. Outline content pillars and sample buckets within them

Remember the different user stages we tackled while creating the personas? That’ll help you come up with the content pillars. Think of it as a broad cluster, under which there’ll be content pieces of different types. You can take the liberty of targeting specific user personas with specific pillars. This should be added to the proposal as it lays out the foundation of what will actually be done!

Sample pillars for your reference, from our investment management firm’s proposal:

(A few sample content pillars and how informative they should be)

Talking about content, here’s a cheat sheet for when you’re having bad days and can’t think of different content types beyond text. Feel free to experiment with any number of these, but keep in mind the platform you’re on! 

  • Website content
  • Blogs
  • Explainer videos
  • Short videos
  • Infographics
  • Case studies
  • Testimonials
  • Product descriptions
  • Press and Media
  • Memes
  • Guides
  • Whitepapers
  • Reviews
  • How-tos
  • Lists
  • Landing pages
  • eBooks
  • Interviews
  • Podcasts
  • Research papers
  • Guest blogs
  • Contests
  • Games
  • QnA
  • FAQs
  • Webinars
  • Newsletters
  • Emails

Remember, you don’t need to necessarily create unique content in all different formats. You can use the concept of repurposing content. That way, you’ll be saving time while churning out more content. 

To quickly explain what repurposing is, let’s assume you wrote a longform article on ‘X investment tips for beginners’ targeted for people in the Interest stage. Now, you can easily convert this into an ‘X-pointer infographic’, a social media post, a smaller/micro-blog, or even a presentation with trimmed content and different graphic elements. That way, you have 5 content pieces of different types on one topic — this will ensure that not one person in your target audience is spared of your content. If they’re not into reading long articles, they can browse through an infographic. If an infographic is lengthy too, they can just read a social media post and understand the intent.

You get the idea!

9. Outline Content Calendar and Share Indicative Costs

The editorial calendar is the execution engine for your content. If you convert the client, you’ll need to have a well-managed calendar shared with your and their team. But for the proposal, you can include a sample calendar, mentioning the posts and ideas for the coming two weeks, if not more. That’ll give them an idea of your understanding of editorial calendars – one more reason to go with you! 

10. Define Team and Governance

To help your client gain better confidence in you and your work, introduce them to your key people who’ll be working with them. Here’s a handy table that you can replicate for this purpose: 

RoleNumber of peopleName (s)Availability
SEO Strategist1AbhiFull-time
Project Manager1KrishFull-time

We clearly explain the hierarchy and people they will be getting, for clearer expectation setting, and also giving context / justifying the costs. Sometimes clients see a big expense number and are afraid – they might not necessarily understand the reasoning behind that expense. We show them the team structure, and give them a brief explanation of the price: Cost + overheads + Markups

Knowing how much time each team member will be giving to the client also helps them plan workload and tasks over a certain period of time.

You may or may not choose to divulge that, given the client, your relationship, as well as your understanding of your organization’s cost structures. 

Clearly outline KPIs for the coming months

Mentioning KPIs is a good idea, especially once you’ve walked your client through every other thing that you had in mind. This will benefit you and your engagement with the client in a twofold manner:

  • It will set clear expectations, and the client will know what results to look for in the coming months.
  • It will allow you to focus your efforts in a specific direction, and not work in an ad-hoc, unstructured manner.

Some KPIs that you can mention include:

  • Increase traffic on the website by 200%
  • Increase newsletter subscribers by 100%
  • Generate 50 more do-follow backlinks
  • Increase social media followers count by 5000

This will be a good wrap to your proposal. Mention some performance indicators that you’ll be looking to target. Don’t overcommit and underdeliver, mention only the ones that are realistically most feasible for your team. Do also iterate that marketing is not exact science, and these are indicative numbers.

That’s how you do it!

If you’ve followed us so far, you’ve acquired enough knowledge to come up with a winning content marketing proposal. So…

Check out – HubSpot Marketing Agency

Go forth and conquer  convert!

Also, after a pro in proposal, if you want to leave your mark in marketing, score a ten in content, or be in awe of some of our awesome-ness, do reach out to us! 

If there’s anything you’d like to add (or want us to subtract) — please drop a comment below! 

We really appreciate you sitting through this lengthy post, and sincerely wish we could offer you a 🍪. But we can’t, so here’s a sample proposal instead!

Author avatar
Shriya Garg
Shriya is the co-founder and CEO at ContentNinja. She started her first blog when she was 12 years old, and coded her first website by the time she was 14. An avid reader and writer, she published her first book when she was 16 years old and has sold over 10,000 copies since. When she's not fielding client calls, Shriya can be found cleaning cat hair from her clothes.