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Stress-free Consulting Proposals with Reuben Swartz

June 6, 2022
The Recognized Authority Podcast Cover

The podcast that helps experts & consultants on the journey to becoming a recognized authority in your field, so you can increase your impact, command premium fees, work less hours, and never have to suffer a bad-fit client again!.

Proposals are an essential part of winning business, but writing a consulting proposal is often a hugely time-consuming and frustrating process.

In this episode, Reuben Swartz and Alastair McDermott discuss how to create a stress-free consulting proposal, what elements are essential in the proposal document, and why presenting the proposal is such an important part of the sales process.

They also discuss how you should think about proposals (and why proposals are not brochures), how to use options and pricing curves, and where you can find proposal templates and resources.

Show Notes

Guest Bio

Reuben Swartz is the founder of Mimiran, the “anti-CRM” for independent consultants who love serving clients but hate “selling”. He’s also the host & chief nerd of the Sales for Nerds podcast.


proposal, people, important, alan weiss, option, problem, project, alastair, consultants, client, authority, paid, pricing, buyer, questions, template, talking, knee, pages, doctor

Alastair McDermott, Voiceover, Reuben Swartz


Reuben Swartz  00:00

I don’t think you should even commit to writing a proposal until you have a meeting scheduled to review it together. And that can be in person that can be online that can be over the phone. But to me, that’s just a basic. It’s not it’s not even a quid pro quo. I don’t think of it that way. It’s just, hey, is this important enough that we should both commit time to try to solve this problem?


Voiceover  00:19

Welcome to The Recognized Authority, a podcast that helps specialized consultants and domain experts on your journey to become known as an authority in your field. So you can increase your reach, have more impact and work with great clients? Here’s your host, Alastair McDermott.


Alastair McDermott  00:35

Before we get into today’s episode, I just want to briefly let you know about a free email course that is available at the recognized It’s a free seven day email course on how to become a recognized authority. You can subscribe to that just by visiting  So today, my guest is Reuben Schwartz. And I’m really interested talk to you Ruben about proposals because I know you kind of geek out about them a bit. So Reuben is the founder of Mimiron, the anti CRM for independent consultants, he loves serving clients, but hate selling, which sounds really interesting to me. And he’s also the host and chief nerd of the sales for nerds podcast. And I’m 100% Nerd. So I’m with you on that. So, Reuben, yeah, can you? Can you tell me a bit about what you mean by stress free sales proposals?


Reuben Swartz  01:29

Well, I don’t know whether you’ve ever been through this experience, Alastair, but I remember back when I started out, finally get to the point where a prospect said, can you send me a proposal. And I was excited, because that was an important step, and actually landing a client, but also terrified and stressed out about what I was supposed to do next, and how I supposed to write the proposal. And I would sit there and stare at my screen, and all kinds of negative thoughts would flow through my head. And for a long time, I thought this was just me. And I’ve subsequently learned that it happens to a lot of people, because I don’t think we equip folks with the right way of thinking about proposals, and it turns them into this unnecessarily stressful event. And so one of the things that that I want to get people thinking about is, hey, this is actually supposed to be relatively fun. It’s not supposed to be super stressful if you do it the right way. And you prepare, and you have the right game plan. And it’s actually a sign that maybe there’s some things you could have done differently. If you’re getting there to write the proposal, and you’re starting to feel stressed out.


Alastair McDermott  02:25

Yeah, I know that, you know, I used to use a, I remember, particularly when I started out, I used to be looking at proposal templates, and I went through a whole different raft of them. I use these online proposal delivery services, where you could see what pages people spent time looking at. And I used a whole bunch of different things, starting at like, What’s What’s your thinking on, you know, what, what the actual proposal should look like. And because I know that that was particularly stressful, was actually just putting it together, putting the document together?


Reuben Swartz  02:55

Sure, well, we can share a link to it if you want. But I’ve got what I call a fill in the blank proposal template. And it’s literally the template that I use. It started off low, when I first started sending out proposals, I just searched on Google or whatever, and grab templates. And most of them were terrible. And they lead you down all the wrong paths, and they contribute to stress instead of solving it. So I read Alan Weiss his book, and I think we’ve both had him on our podcast, I took some ideas from what he did. I took some ideas from just how I function naturally. And one of the things that I want to do, what I realized is that proposals a story, not a brochure. And a lot of people are sending out a brochure with a quote on it, and then wondering why the only thing people seem to care about is the price. But really, it’s a story. And the hero of the story is the buyer, not you.  So if you can take this fill in the blank template, you can take that you can take whatever you want, as long as you’re centering the story around the buyer and showing how you help, of course, why the buyer doesn’t achieve the heroic goal without your help. But you’re not the actual main figure in the proposal. So I’m a big fan of having a great template. I’m a big fan of proposal automation. That’s part of what my software does, in fact, and the proposal automation piece was the genesis it was the seed that started everything else, because I just wanted to know if someone had read the frickin thing. So I wouldn’t be following up and leaving those silly voicemails. But the the technology while I think it’s pretty handy, and I’m proud of it and all that it’s less important than the philosophy and the actual content of the proposal. So you can take this template, you can use it in my tool, you can use it in Word, you can use it however you want. And you can adapt it to something that’s going to be authentic to you. As long as you’re not sitting there tooting your own horn. You’re actually telling the story of the buyer, you’re going to have good success.


Alastair McDermott  04:47

Yeah. So when I started and I read that same Alan Weiss book, I think I think it’s just I think it’s called Million Dollar consulting proposals. And by the way, we’ll put links to all of all of the books and have a link to your proposal document as well, we’ll put all of that in the show notes, which will be linked in the podcast episode, I actually just interviewed Alan Weiss yesterday. So I think it’s going to be released a couple episodes before this one. So if you look back, you’ll find that and I said to him that, you know, his his proposal template made a huge difference for me when I started using that, because finally, I had something that I was confident in that I knew that I had the basics in there. And, and it worked for me for a long time. So I’ve been in business 15 years. And I think I found that about four years in. So I used that for, for probably six or eight years, I then switched after I read Blair Enns price and creativity, I started to using a different style of proposal, which was much more minimalist. And the interesting approach changed that that I made then was that I stopped sending the proposal, and I only ever delivered it. And that also became like that became a requirement. And it became, it became a kind of a trade, that I would spend time putting together a proposal. And in return, the prospective client would would, would would respect that by turning up and and have me deliver it to them. And so that became, you know, this kind of a mutual respect thing and kind of a quid pro quo. That if you take time to put together proposal, because I remember putting together proposals where, you know, it would take me days sometimes put together proposal. So, so and that totally changed then when I switched. So I just want to get your thoughts on on the on the delivery versus sending thing. Have you know, have you tried both of those? How does that work? Yeah. And


Reuben Swartz  06:48

it’s funny because I had that same experience of working my butt off to create a proposal and then people ghost you and me being mad, and then realizing that it was my fault, right? I hadn’t asked to be treated like a professional. And the person might not have even an interest in getting a proposal they were just trying to politely tell me no, and I wasn’t picking up on it. So I completely agree, I don’t think you should even commit to writing a proposal until you have a meeting scheduled to review it together. And that can be in person that can be online that can be over the phone. But to me, that’s just the basics. It’s not it’s not even a quid pro quo. I don’t think of it that way. It’s just hey, is this important enough that we should both commit time to try to solve this problem? And usually when people say yes, then it is, and that’s great. And you always have to be where life happens. Sometimes that meeting will get rescheduled, and so on and so forth. But if they’re not willing to put that on the calendar, totally agree with you. You shouldn’t carve out a bunch of your precious time to put the proposal together.


Alastair McDermott  07:44

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And I think that one of the other things, for me was the concept of getting some kind of agreement in principle, that the idea that the prospective client is not surprised by anything in the proposal, that, you know, they, they, they kind of figured it was going to be something like this. That’s what she’ll be going through their head, from my perspective that they should never get, like sticker shock when they see the proposal, even when the numbers on there are quite high, they should still have some expectations. So Is that Is that how you see that as well?


Reuben Swartz  08:20

Absolutely. I think sometimes we think that there’s a distinct proposal phase where the proposal is going to win the deal for us. And that’s not how it happens at all proposals, don’t win deals, they can lose them, but they don’t win them in a successful sales cycle that sets up a successful project. The proposal is just a summary of all the conversations you’ve had before just to make sure we’ve got everything locked down. And we have a game plan and we’re in we’re sharing the same game plan.


Alastair McDermott  08:48

Yeah, so one thing and as, as I’ve gone on my proposals, you know, over the years, and my, my knowledge and experience have developed over time, my proposals have become more and more cut down. I did when I had the Alan start on lifestyle proposal. And we’ll talk about that a little bit more, I think, but I had it down to, you know, four pages. And then when I went to Blair Enns, I have an even sometimes one page proposal. And I know this absolutely shocked people. And I’ve personally because I worked with my local authority. As business advisor, I got to see a lot of proposals from a lot of different consultants and companies. So I’ve seen proposals probably from hundreds of companies on different types of projects. And it just amazes me how big and how long they are, how much stuff people have in there about their team. And, you know, they put testimonials sometimes in there and case studies in their proposals. It’s just amazing how much stuff people put in there. So yeah, I just want to kind of get your perspective on that. Like, do you think that you know, do you think that it should be really cut down or you know, like, should you have some flavor, some color some background of the business in there?


Reuben Swartz  09:56

Well, I think the obvious answer is it depends what people are looking for. But I agree with you that people tend to throw a bunch of stuff in there, because they don’t know what to put in. So they think it’s going to make them look better if they have, here’s the background of our company and our team and, you know, the 38 milestones we achieved, and oh, we’re gonna copy the about us page from you guys the prospect to make it look like we’re paying attention to you. And before you know it, you have this ginormous thing, that’s just a waste of time. And again, then they skip to the pricing page, because it’s the one thing they understand. And the people selling are complaining that they only the buyer only cares about price. So I think the proposal should be as short as possible, but no shorter. And what that means is going to vary case to case. So my proposals are usually about eight depending on how because they’re online. So the actual pagination is questionable, but think about four pages. But a lot of that’s kind of whitespace. And then spacing, literally takes about five minutes for prospects to read through them. Because at the beginning of the meeting, I will just share it with them and let them read through it. And I’ll just sit there just quiet while they read because there’s no big hurry. And it doesn’t take a long time. And they should be able to read through it real quick and be like yep, yep, yep, you get it. Okay, great. All right. Hey, got a question here. Okay, great. Let’s go. It’s not, oh, gosh, I’ve got to carve out a whole hour at my calendar to read this proposal and understand what the heck you’re talking about. Now, some things are going to be more complex than others. Sometimes it depends how well does the prospect understand what it is you’re proposing. So for example, if you’re doing a repeat project with a client you’ve worked with in the past, hey, Alastair, we want to do the same thing again. But in blue this time, that can be a really short proposal, because they already everyone already understands the context. There are other situations where you might be specifying, hey, I’m developing these 13 software screens, and they’ve got to have the following things and blah, blah, blah. And you could argue whether that should be put in a separate document or not.  But some people want to put a whole bunch of detail on the proposal, that’s fine, too. I think where people kind of go off the rails is stuff that isn’t related to the problem and the solution. It’s sort of background like the about us being just pages and pages of junk, the about the client being a bunch of stuff that they already know, that isn’t relevant to letting them know that you understand their problem. And again, I’ve got that fill in the blank template, which kind of guide you and how I think about this, I want to make sure I set up, I want to make sure I understand the problem first. Because if you don’t have that nothing else really matters. And that’s usually where some of these proposals fall down. And why they revert to brochure where, because they don’t really understand what the problem is. They’re like, Oh, you need a new website or whatever. But not the why. And the why behind that. And the why behind that. So they’re kind of flailing around, just throwing stuff. It’s whether you’re presenting orally or you’re writing it down, you’re doing slides you’re doing online, whatever the format is, the critical thing is, do you understand what you’re trying to fix? It’s like, if you go to the doctor, and they’re like, Hey, we’re going to do surgery? Well, what kind of surgical, I don’t know, we’re gonna do some kind of surgery, that’s not a very comforting feeling, right, we want the doctor to do the appropriate diagnosis first. And that’s what I love about your whole recognized authority bit. It’s like, okay, I’m the knee doctor, for athletes who want to get back out on the ski slopes, or whatever. So that takes care of a whole bunch of stuff. My proposals can be much simpler and streamlined, because I’m talking to people who understand this domain, as opposed to the doctor who gets old ladies back on their feet after they break their hip or whatever, or the doctor who does ophthalmology, totally different. And so much about being The Recognized Authority, I think, gives you tons of leverage, obviously, in the marketing and the, the lead generation portion of your business. But even at the very end of the sales cycle, when you’re putting the proposal together and reviewing the proposals together, makes a huge difference, whether you’re talking to your ideal client, and they see you as an authority in the area they need help with, or whether you are one of 1000 consultants who are pitching a new website.


Alastair McDermott  14:07

Yeah, I think it’s, it’s really different. If you’re particularly if you’re in that kind of RFP type situation, that that becomes a whole different scenario. And, you know, I just recommend that people don’t work with anybody who’s looking for a tender looks, or FTS or RFPs, or whatever other that kind of scenario. You want to be the person you want to be the go to, you want to be asked for by name. And the other thing there that you mentioned, I think it’s really crucial. And I think it’s really important when you’re building your authority is that niching down part because your projects become really similar. And it’s not it’s not that it’s a one size fits all, but you are able to do I think of her Jonathan Stark call this a cold read. So you’re talking to somebody and you know already before they open their mouth, you are know already what the problem is. And you can make a good stab at what the cause of the problem is. Because you already No. And so that kind of that that does make your proposals a lot simpler. I know that when I wasn’t specialized when I was generalist that my proposals kind of differ wildly, because the scope of the different types of projects that I was I was working on were, you know, it was very broad in scope. And so one project was very different from the next. And that led to and I just opened up in the background here, just to have a look. And I opened up one of my proposals, and it was 21 pages long. And when I say pages, by the way, I’m talking about a four European a force size. So I think that’s like, 21 letter size American US Letter. It’s a lot, you know, I noticed that I had our methodology, communication and things like that in there as well. So and that still was, that’s still not even that crazy of a proposal compared to some of the others that I’ve seen. So. But yeah, so can we talk a little bit about what should go in a proposal and what should not go in the proposal? Do you have some thoughts on that for us?


Reuben Swartz  16:00

Absolutely. So let’s think at a high level what the proposal is. And I think of it as I mentioned, as it’s a story, not a brochure, the hero of the story, is the buyer, not the seller, and what is every story need to be compelling, and needs a great villain. So the other thing that I think sometimes trips people up or gets people frustrated, is they put together the proposal, maybe they present it, and then nothing happens. And a lot of times this is because we don’t truly understand what the villain is, what the cause that’s motivating the changes. And we get happy years, like, oh, they needed a new website, or whatever it is that we do. And then they we put the proposal together, they say, Thanks, we’ll get back to you. And then they don’t. And really, they might need a new website, right, we all need a new website, we all need to eat more broccoli, we all need to go work out more, etc. But we only have time to take on a certain finite number of projects. So we want to know what’s really driving the need for change. And I think if we can understand that, that’s basically the first paragraph, right? How did we get here? What’s the problem? Why is this problem important? And then what have you done to solve it, because probably the first thing they’ve tried isn’t picking up the phone and calling you maybe maybe it’s a repeat client it is. But for the most part, they’ve tried to do something else that didn’t work. And so you don’t want to just suggest something that even if to you as an expert, you know, you’re talking about something different, but to them, it might sound like the thing they just tried that didn’t work. Or they might be telling you something about how their organization works, that’s going to help you understand better how to actually make them successful. We want to know what they’ve tried, why it didn’t work. And then here’s a piece that I don’t see a lot of people, including that I think is important. Why did you turn to us? Right? What what did you hear about us? Or what about us makes you think that we’re a good fit to solve this problem. And a lot of times, it’s not what we think, right? We think it’s our amazing educational background, and our brilliance and our good looks and whatever else. But in reality, it might be, you know, Suzy recommended you, she said, you always call back within an hour, or something like that our last consultant would ghost us for weeks, but you always call back. That’s what we want. And that little nugget helps you understand what it is that it’s important to them, right? Like all the doctors can probably fix your knee some better than others. But there’s certain doctors that like you say they’re specialized in exactly what you want. So they can they know all the details. And they also make you feel like they like they get it and they care and they want to get you back out on the slopes. They’re not just there to cut you open and pass it down the line. So we want to make sure we convey that as well. And hopefully, that’s not just some marketing speak. That’s how we genuinely feel. So let’s let the prospects know what that is, then we want to talk about how are we actually going to solve this problem. And again, as much detail as needed, but no more. We don’t want to overwhelm people with, you know, the medical jargon of cutting open your knee, the patient doesn’t necessarily need to hear all that, unless perhaps they’re another doctor. And then you know, they might demand a little more detail. So we can we can kind of gauge from our conversations, what type of detail does this person want? Oh, they’re super technical. And they care about which particular technologies we use to run this, somebody else. Not texting at all, doesn’t want to be bothered with those details, just wants to hear about the revenue and the uptime, and the cost or whatever. We can gauge that from our conversation and have some flexibility. And then I think we need to talk about who’s responsible for these different things. One of the critical pieces that I didn’t do when I started but I learned to do later was hey, it’s not just what we’re doing for you. It’s what we’re going to do together to solve this problem. Because I can’t solve it by myself without your help, right? I’m going to come in and I’ll work hard for you. But I need you to do the following things for me, you need to give me access to this system. You need to make Alastair available for an interview on the 20th or whatever it is, whatever we need to do together to make sure that we’re successful so that we don’t actually start the project. And then we’re not able to hit the deadline because the client didn’t realize they had certain responsibilities too. So we’re not trying to be mean or anything. We’re just just laying out a path to success. And then another important piece, I think is what are the assumptions that we’re making, including what’s not included in this project. So sometimes, there’s things like, hey, client, you have to do the following things. By the way, this is not included, it can come across as harsh. But that’s not really what we were trying to do. Imagine we’re just doing a project with a friend, what are we trying to do, we’re trying to make sure that everyone knows who’s responsible for what and when we’re trying to make sure we’re clear that we’re not talking about the I don’t know if we’re doing redoing the website. But this does not include the custom Help Desk or whatever, that somebody on the team really cares about. And if they hear website redo in their mind, they think, Oh, great, I’m finally getting my custom Help Desk. And so they’re going to be all mad, even if the project’s wildly successful that they didn’t get that unless we say, we’re not doing that right now, we might do it in the future, but but not just yet. So the nice thing about this is we’ve set up, we’ve kind of let the action get started and rolling, showed how we resolve it. So they can say, Yes, this is a really important problem, really valuable to solve, these guys are gonna help me solve it. And then we can present the investment, because it’s going to look good compared to the ROI they’re gonna get. And the investment can be a single number, it can be a quote, with various line items, we can even have more than one option in a proposal. And I think it’s perfectly reasonable when we’re buyers, sometimes we don’t know enough to know kind of exactly what we want. So we want to see option A, B, C, and we can collaborate on what the right solution is. So they can say, Great, I want a and b but not C or can I take JSP? Or can I do B? But can I grab that one piece from C? Right? These are all reasonable things for professionals to discuss. And then I think you’ve got your terms and conditions. And I’ve got a couple of paragraphs there that have worked for me with Fortune 500 companies and other consultants haven’t really had any problems with it was drawn up by a lawyer, if you grab the template, you know, run it by your own lawyer if you want. But the point to me as it provides certain legal protections for me that are essential, but it doesn’t try to screw anybody over. It’s very fair. And it’s critically, it’s human readable. So a business owner can look at it and say, oh, yeah, that’s reasonable, okay, great. They don’t have to run it by their lawyer, which causes a whole other, you know, now the lawyer has got to find something that justify his fee. And then you’re in back and forth legal. And it’s also basically got the proposal in the contract, all in one place. And some people don’t like that. But I’m a big fan of hey, here, here’s everything you need to do to get started, there’s one signature that you need, you can read the whole thing in five minutes. It’s not like we do the proposal, and then we go to a separate contracting phase. And then only after we get through all that, everything they need to get started, and know that we’re gonna solve their problem. Have a little about me section. And I highly recommend putting a video in here, if you are doing your proposals online, just because you can convey so much more about who you are via video. But again, it’s not about your resume or a brochure where it’s just like, hey, this is why I care about solving these problems. I’m really glad that Alastair connected us, let me know if you have any questions. And that’s it.


Alastair McDermott  23:18

That’s a master


Reuben Swartz  23:19

your signature and you’re done.


Alastair McDermott  23:20

Thank you Master class on on what you should and shouldn’t be in a proposal. There’s there’s a few things that that stuck out as points of interest for me there. And one of those is that the questions that you ask in your initial diagnostic phase lead to what you actually put in that proposal. And the link should be really obvious, but I think it bears repeating, you know, asking the right questions, will give give you the answers to put into that proposal. And I got this from Jonathan Stark, and I discussed it at length with a guy called Brendon McAdams in Episode – Episode 24 of this podcast, which is quite a while back now it’s back August last year. But we discussed this the sales questions that you would ask in some depth. But in particular, like I have a one one page sales questions sheet that of all the questions that I asked her in that initial diagnostic. And one thing that I got from Jonathan Stark was asking why this why now why me? And so basically, why are you Why do you want to do this? Why do you want to do it this way? And why is it important? Why now? What like, what is it about the shedule? And then why me like what, why, you know, you know what, I’m going to be more expensive than hiring somebody from overseas or from somebody who’s just graduated out of college. So why do you want to work with me specifically? But when you ask those questions, you write down the answers and you put that back into the proposal, because you’ve you’ve got exactly why, why they want to do it this way. And you’re repeating that back to them maybe in slightly different terms, but But so I think the questions that you asked at that point are really important for that proposal later on. So that’s the first thing. And the second thing is the options. And this was just a game changer for me when I when I started, including multiple options. And that was the thing for me on the scope thing, when I thought that there might be and you talked about somebody talking about a website where you know, the Help Desk might or might not be included, what I would do is I would create a, an option one, two, and three, and option three always had everything had the kitchen sink in there. And that would include the help desk and everything else. And one thing that I got, I think from from Blair Enns, again, was, I would call that well, this is the if we had an unlimited budget option, this is if you won the lottery, this, this is what we could do. And I created this option, create this option, so that you know all of the various things that we could do, I know you’re probably not going to go for it. But I want you to know all the things that we could do if you had a blank check to do here. And I found that worked really well, because it also does price anchoring, which is important thing in pricing psychology is it gives them a kind of a top end number, and it makes it makes option. If that’s your option three, it makes option one and two. Look, you know, it makes them look much smaller in comparison, because usually they are so that so yeah, I wanted to ask you like, What’s your thinking on the options? Do you do three options? Or how do you do that?


Reuben Swartz  26:23

It depends a lot on the conversation. So sometimes you have the conversation, and it’s pretty clear, it’s going to be x, there’s no option, right? We’ve narrowed it down already. And that’s fine. So you don’t need options. In other cases, like we really want X ish. But we don’t know exactly what that means. Right? I try to remember when I asked somebody for a proposal, I often want to go round a couple times and figure out well, you know, what if we included this or didn’t do that, or whatever, right? Because I want to get the best bang for my buck. And sometimes to your point, you look at the kitchen sink option, you’re like, wow, I didn’t know we can get all that so affordably, if I had known we would have gone for that. I just thought it was 10x. Right. And so you can be pleasantly surprised sometimes with with a customer who says Actually, I’d love to do that, that’s great. Or they might say we you know, we’re only going to do this part A and B now, but you’ve given us some ideas, because we’re planning to do C next year. And if you can help us with that, that would be great. So, again, I think we want to keep things as simple as possible without depriving the customer have information that they need. And we can think of that when we’re buying as well. So we don’t want to be overwhelmed with choices when we know, we just want to walk in and grab this thing off the shelf. But there are other times when we’re a little bit less sure, we’d like to have some options. And the nice thing there is, instead of them having to go to a different vendor, you’ve basically given them say two or three proposals all in one.  And so you price yourself out of fewer proposals, because sometimes they are really budget constrained. But they’d love to get started with you on the pared down version. And sometimes they want to go for the kitchen sink or a good chunk of the kitchen sink. And that way you don’t leave as much money on the table. And most importantly, you set up the project for success because the buyer is actually getting closer to what they really ideally want. Instead of us feeling like we have to throw one dart at the board and we we try to get lucky. That’s another cause of stress. Right? We think we’ve got to, we’ve got to magically know what the right prices. And that’s often impossible at this stage. So give them some choices, right the same way we would want that from from a vendor as well, if we’re investing time, they say they you know, get a proposal for deck for your back yard or something. Well, I don’t know what that costs. And I don’t know what the right choices are or what would or you know how many are railings or whatever else, like I just don’t even know enough as a buyer, I’m going to have to get some options to make an intelligent choice and be happy and say, Hey, you did a great job. And I’m happy to recommend you to people. So it’s not yet there is a bunch of pricing psychology. And ironically, I was a pricing consultant. So I spent a lot of time worrying about the pricing. And I think it is really important. But the main thing is give people great value. And try to think of it as I’m not just optimizing the math here, I’m trying to help the customer get their best outcome. And my job is to just charge appropriately based on the value delivered and let them I want to be happy with whatever choice they pick, right? It’s up to me as the professional to be to construct my offer.  So I’m happy if they if they pick the minimal one, the middle one, the high one, whatever. Like it’s on me if I if they pick one, and I’m like, oh, man, I wish they hadn’t picked that. I’m the one putting the proposal together. Yeah, absolutely. And I think you also sorry, you said something really important about those questions and about how you basically put the answers back into the proposal with with some editing and I think that’s worth calling out because I like to think of it as the true author of the proposal. Not only is the story about the buyer, the buyers Really the author, we are the editor, and we supply certain technical information, if you will, we’re technical doesn’t necessarily have to mean computers, it means whatever our domain of expertise is. And so they’re telling the story, right? It’s about them. Here’s my problem. Here’s what I want to do. Here’s what I want to get it done by, here’s why it’s so darn important to me. Like, why are we telling them something different than what they already know? When instead, we can make sure we’re taking good notes, use those notes and telling the story back to them? And then they’re like, yes, somebody gets it. And you’ve probably been in the situation, I’ve been in the situation. And in the line of work that I’m in, I see a lot of proposals, or I get people to review proposals that vendors send them. And so many of them, it’s like, I have no idea who you should go with, because none of these people have demonstrated that they understand your problem.


Alastair McDermott  30:48

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I think those questions, so having a true understanding of the problem. And sometimes you have to go deep, you know, you get their initial brain dump. And then you have to start asking questions almost to the point that it starts to annoy them. Because you’re going so deep to get that understanding, I think that’s really important is to have that true, true kind of understanding of the situation, because only then you can understand what the value is. And then the other thing, speaking of value, and I was talking to Ron Baker on the podcast previously, and he is the he’s kind of like the godfather of, of value based pricing. So have a listen to that episode of if you’re interested in value pricing. I think that value pricing is really important, you know, to disconnect from things like hourly rates and time and materials and things like that. And, you know, shifted to that value value based price, because then it’s actually being priced on something that it’s being priced in an ethical way, which is important. That’s something Alan Weiss was actually saying, you know, early based pricing is unethical.  And Jonathan Stark talks about that a lot as well. So yeah, the options thing, I think, is that that, for me was a game changer when I started giving those options because people started going for option two, and sometimes option three, whereas option one was the was how I looked at the options was, option one always has to meet their budget. So whatever they said, to me their budget was, I would always make sure that that first option met their budget, so that whatever else they did that they always had something, but then I know that Jonathan Stark has a couple of pricing curves. And I know that because I looked at them often enough, he has one 2.2 And five, so option two is 2.2 times option one, and option three is five times option one, and then he has another formula, which is one 1.5 1.75, which is to move people up the chain from one I will we’re going to do one, we might as well do option two. And if we’re gonna do option two, we might as well do option three. So it’s kind of a more conservative one, but it’s interesting as well. So yeah, those are just some kind of pricing options. I’m sure you’ve, you’ve a lot of different thoughts on this on pricing, different different ways of pricing it.


Reuben Swartz  33:03

Yeah, we could probably spend days just talking about pricing. But I think that notion of generally what people do is they underprice they commoditize themselves, they don’t even get commoditized by their customers, as David Newman told me, they commoditize themselves before the customer even has a chance. So part of asking those questions is one we want to understand the real issue. And two, we want to understand the real value, so that we can do the right job and get paid appropriately for it. Right. It’s like if the knee doctor says I’m going to spend 15 minutes with you, and I’m going to charge you, I don’t know, $1,000 an hour or $50,000 an hour or something like that. We would all laugh and say that’s crazy. But when they say well, we’re gonna go in and we’re going to repair your knee and do X, Y and Z. Suddenly, it’s like, Okay, well that, quote unquote, hourly rate seems a lot more reasonable. Because having my knee back is actually really, really important.  So I think a lot of folks, they commoditize themselves via hourly billing, which I agree with you is not an ethical approach. I hate it. I hate the overhead. I hate the perverse incentives and so on. And a lot of people say, well, there’s just too much uncertainty for me to do anything other than hourly billing, I’ve been bitten on project based billing before, etc. It totally get that but you can always take a project and break it into smaller chunks. And the first chunk might be, we’re going to do a paid diagnostic to figure out what the heck is going on. That might be really valuable. And some folks have good success with that. And it even say, Hey, we’re gonna do a paid diagnostic, it’s, it’s gonna cost whatever. And then you can take our recommendations and you can shop them to whoever you want. Yeah, right. If you think that we’re too expensive and you want someone cheaper to do it, that’s fine. But I can’t ethically tell you how long it’s going to take what it’s going to cost what it’s really going to do, because we don’t have certain answers yet. So I don’t want to operate on your knee without doing the X ray or MRI, or I’m going to boggle the medical terminology. But hopefully people get the idea. Alright, we’ve got to do the appropriate tests first.


Alastair McDermott  35:09

Yeah, I’ve heard those paid diagnostics called things like diagnostics, strategy sessions, roadmapping audits, I’ve heard them presented as or framed as I think Kai Davis, who’s somebody I’d like to get in the podcast. I haven’t spoken to him on the podcast yet. But I think that he talks a lot about that. And he has some, some training around roadmapping and pay diagnostics. But I think that’s a perfect candidate for four productize service, which is like a fixed price service, fixed price, fixed scope service, which I think is a really, it’s totally the opposite of what we’re talking about with with custom projects and proposals. But I think that can be a great candidate for that, because it’s very simple. People will understand what they’re going to get the price you’re paying for it. So that I think that that’s really useful. And the thing is, if you’re an ethical consultants, and you want to help the client, you want to help change your condition, or you want to help improve their condition, you do need to do that diagnosis phase anyway, it has to happen. So if you can make it so that you get paid for that all the better?


Reuben Swartz  36:15

Well, I think going back to being The Recognized Authority, it’s much easier to productize, or to sort of standardize those diagnostics, if your, The Recognized Authority in the appropriate domain, right, like I can do the knee exam, and I can do various tests. And if I’m an athlete, or an old lady, those tests might be different. But that’s very different than I have to do a diagnosis on any patient who wanders into the emergency room with any symptom. And a lot of times, that’s why people can’t do those diagnostics, audits, whatever. Because they’re, they’re trying to treat anybody with any symptom. And if you can really narrow it down to former athletes with knees who need to get back out there, or whatever the niche is, then you can successfully productize right, it’s yet another example of how gaining that niche and becoming The Recognized Authority pays off.


Alastair McDermott  37:10

So okay, I just want to make sure we’re covering all the bases with with the proposals. Is there any other really important points around proposals that we haven’t spoken about yet?


Reuben Swartz  37:21

Well, I think a couple things, one, you’re not going to win them all. And that’s okay. Everyone hates getting rejected. But if you’re closing literally 100% of your proposals, which some people are, right, they’re very selective about which clients they take on. And at that point, it is literally a rubber stamp. But even then, like something’s gonna go wrong, right, somebody’s going to have a change of priority, someone’s gonna have a health issue, whatever, right? Like you, you’re not going to win 100%. And so I think you should probably win, the vast majority of them, people out there closing 25% of their proposals, if that’s you, or 30% 40%. Basically, what happens is you’re a commodity, you’re competing with other commodity vendors, and the customer is throwing a dart or picking the lowest price or picking the second lowest price or whatever it is that they’re doing. And if you follow the stuff that we’ve been talking about, you’re gonna stand out, I’ve seen people literally go from 25% to 75%, close rates, by plugging into this template, and actually asking the right questions, because that’s really where the real work happens. It’s not the proposal, don’t make the proposal do work is not supposed to do. Alright, it’s only there to lose deals is not there to win the deals, got to do the work ahead of time. And then you put together the proposal, as you mentioned, using a lot of their words, their responses to fill in the story. And you should have a great time. And if you’re not having fun with it, that’s a sign that something’s wrong because you care about what you do.  And you presumably have some fun doing the actual work. And if you do the proposal, right, it doesn’t feel like a necessary evil, which is what it used to feel like to me, it feels like it’s kind of it’s kind of just fun getting getting almost like getting warmed up for the game. It’s not something that you have to loath or be stressed out about now, something that will happen inevitably, is you’ll get all this going, Oh, this is great. Okay, awesome. And then you’re about to send the proposal off and you realize you don’t have the answer to a certain important question. And it’s embarrassing to say, gosh, you know, this was really important, and why didn’t I figure out if we’re supposed to be on site? Or, you know, is this really do it? You know, June 15, which is a Saturday or something, right? Like, there’s all these little weird things that maybe you forgot to ask, just pick up the phone and ask the prospect. It’s okay to say, hey, got excited, I forgot to ask a couple of things. Tell me what you think about travel or whatever. Or if you can’t get ahold of them and you promise the proposal by the close of business or whatever, and they’re gonna review it in an hour when you get on the Zoom together. You can just put in there. Hey, realize we forgot to discuss the details here. Let’s make sure that we work this out. And you know pricing we’re flex the assumption of XY and Z but could go up or down based on how you want to play this, right? Imagine we’re sending this to a friend, how do we want to treat them? How would we want someone sending a proposal to treat us, and you’ll be in good shape?


Alastair McDermott  40:14

Yeah, there’s some so many important things you said in there. I’m struggling to remember them all. And I think it probably be worth worth listening back to what you just said, I think one of the important things for me there is, you know, is getting the work done before the proposal, the proposal should not be doing the heavy lifting. The proposal is not marketing, it’s not, you know, it’s not selling you, it should just be confirming things you’ve already agreed you’ve already discussed. I think it goes back to one of the things that always sticks in my mind, there should never be a surprise in the proposal, it should always be something that was kind of agreed in principle, even if the the details weren’t weren’t sketched out. Yeah, I always liked the way Alan Weiss in his in his proposal, and something I’ve stuck with was, he actually didn’t have any legal jargon at all, because he specifically wants to avoid the legal review, he puts it all in plain English. And, and I love that approach. And personally, that my approach to to that is the value of the projects that I’m working on. It’s typically they’re usually five figure projects, there’s only been a few six figure projects that I’ve worked on, for sure, those had a little bit more legal language in them. But typically on on a five figure project, you know, the value of the project, it’s easier to refund an unhappy client, if there’s something where you know, where you’re disagreeing with something. And, and that should be, that, for me, is my first port of call, rather than, you know, going legal on it, and actually having to get the lawyers out and argue over something. And actually, that’s, you know, so what I’ve just done is I’ve put in a money back guarantee, if I’m going to refund the money anyway, then I’ll just put it in the money back guarantee in there, you know, and, and make it work. And also it when you’re going to do that, then that makes you make sure you make bloody well sure that you have everything figured out upfront, you have all the questions asked, and you know what the scope is so so that you never actually get to that scenario. And thankfully, I’ve never had to do it. But you know that that is in the back of my mind. You know, I want to have I want to have that. I also want to give that give that safety net to the client, where they know it’s risk free free for them. So yeah, I think everything that you said there, and you had so many great points, I’m struggling to remember them all. But I think that’s really great.


Reuben Swartz  42:33

When I think to build on what you said, I agree with Alan’s approach of, let’s avoid legal review, I think it’s important to have some basic legal protections for you, but not in such a way that it seems crazy. And as you say, it’s not worth the amounts of money typically are not worth lawsuits. And if a client is really unhappy, they’re probably just not going to pay you. And that’s a whole other problem. So one thing that you brought up that maybe thing is something important, I think it’s important to ask for, for money up front. And it depends. It could be 100%, it could be 50%, it could be 25% kind of depends on the project and exactly what’s going on. But I feel like that’s another thing that causes a ton of stress, when you’re waiting for invoices to be paid, and so on and so forth. And I don’t I don’t think it’s a way to take advantage of somebody else. I think it’s just a way of saying, Hey, we’re in this together, right? My common thing is just go 5050 It’s half up front half on delivery, right? We each take a little bit of risk, but we show good faith, right? You show good faith to me that I’m going to show up and do the work, I show good faith that you’re gonna be happy and pay the rest. And generally that works great. I think we again, we don’t want to commoditize ourselves by pricing too low or waiting and waiting and waiting to actually get paid.


Alastair McDermott  43:48

Yeah, I think that’s really important. And I don’t know how many years it’s been since I didn’t do either 50-50 or 100% upfront. But it’s it’s probably a decade. And again, go back to Alan Weiss get a newer column back to him an awful lot. But one suggestion that he had in his book, one of his books was to offer a discount if people pay upfront. And so he’s just offering a 5% or 10% discount for somebody if they pay the entire fee in advance. And I’ve used that successfully many times. Probably 40% of people have taken up that up offer when I’ve done custom proposals. So yeah, I find that works really well for me, Ruben, how are you doing for time? Do you have another five minutes for us? Sure. Okay, I have another couple of things that I want to ask you about. The first thing I want to ask you about is what’s the number one tip that you’d give to somebody who wants to build their authority and the personal brand?


Reuben Swartz  44:44

I’d say have an opinion. And I would ask yourself, is there anybody in your market that you’re pissing off because I think most of us don’t want to be unliked we don’t want to annoy people. We don’t want to rule out parts of Our market, there are people who who thrive on confrontation, or maybe too much the opposite, of course. But I think for a lot of folks, we’re so busy trying to say everyone’s great that we don’t express an opinion and you can’t attract people to your brand, without repelling the folks who aren’t a good fit. So if you’re the knee doctor, for the old ladies, you’re gonna repel the, the division one football players and vice versa. And that’s not a bad thing. That’s a good thing that helps you get that niche down so that you can be The Recognized Authority, because you’re not going to be The Recognized Authority for both of them. And if you try, you’re just going to end up unhappy So just as a silly way thing, but it’s like, is anyone pissed off at us? Anyone think you’re crazy? Because if nobody thinks you’re crazy, you’re not saying anything interesting.


Alastair McDermott  45:50

I love it. I love it. And yeah, so I think Alan Weiss has embraced that because he’s, he’s certainly a very polarizing person. So when you


Reuben Swartz  45:59

either like that, and you want to work with Alan, you’re like, Finally, someone who cuts through the BS, or you’re like, I can’t stand this guy. I don’t want to work with him, which is great. Because if you ended up working together, it’d be like one of those bad buddy cop movies where they’re fighting all the time.


Alastair McDermott  46:12

Yeah, absolutely. I have another couple of questions that I like to ask people that one thing is about failures in business? Do you have a failure in your business past that you can tell us about? You tell us what you learned from what happened, what you learned from it,


Reuben Swartz  46:25

you said you only had five minutes, I’ve got such a long list. I don’t know which one I should pick. But I think that


Alastair McDermott  46:31

everybody successful I’ve talked to has a lot of failures in their past. And I love that.


Reuben Swartz  46:36

Well, I think one of the things that’s really important, especially on this podcast is trying to find my niche. And I know myself well enough to know that I’m a technical person, I tend to make things more complicated than then maybe 90% of people need to be because I’m so worried about the 10% of power users or whatever. And I read this book called Four Steps to the Epiphany. I don’t know if you’ve heard it, but it’s one of those Silicon Valley Bibles that tries to help techies like me find their market, and not over build things ahead of time, and so on. So I’ve read this book. And finally, this guy gets me. And one of the things he says is, you know, find customers that are already building custom spreadsheets to do your, do what your software does, and, and they’re eager to pay you money because their spreadsheets have like collapsed under their own weight. And so when I started building this tool, I found people at companies who had spreadsheets that were collapsing under their own weight, they were trying to throw money at me, Reuben, finally you’re here. Let me fix this problem. And what I realized later was these people needed spreadsheets because they would never standardize anything. Even if they said that their number one desire was to standardize just the way their markets work, the way their sales teams worked, didn’t actually permit standardization in their view. And so I remember there a couple of people that I’m friends with that I feel like I let down and I did everything I said I would do, right, it’s just what I said I would do. And what they said they wanted wasn’t actually what they ended up needing, right, they still needed a spreadsheet back in the day. And that really helped me as painful as it was to focus on, okay, these independent consultants, they don’t have these crazy needs, they can actually standardize, and in permute things within our limited set of options, they don’t need a whole frickin spreadsheet. And I was actually able to get rid of whole chunks of code and hold database tables in my software that I didn’t need anymore. I was like, hallelujah, this is so much better. But it really took a lot of pain and suffering to get there. And I still feel bad about it.


Alastair McDermott  48:45

Yeah, yeah, I think I think we all have those kinds of projects and those those kind of relationships where you feel, you know, I could have done a better job with that. And I’m right there with you. But yeah, that’s an interesting one. Very interesting. But that brings us nicely into segue about asking for about books that you’re that you’re into in particular, I’m interested to know if there’s a nonfiction book that has been important for you like a business book or something like that. Has there been anything that that you felt has really been important for you in your understanding of business or, or, or life?


Reuben Swartz  49:19

Well, I could go on and I’ve got some really dirty recommendations that aren’t directly related to business but I love Alan Weiss has million dollar consulting. I love David de fields, the irresistible consultants guide to getting more clients those are probably be my top two. And I wish that I had had David A fields book when I was starting out because that that would have resonated with me and made a nice complement to million dollar consulting, but I would pick those two at the top.


Alastair McDermott  49:43

Awesome. Yeah. And he, I mean, he’s been mentioned a lot in this episode, but I think rightly so. I mean, love him or hate him, and he is a polarizing guy. But his his work is fantastic. I really respect you know, the work that he’s put out there and everything that he’s published. It’s it’s super so What about fiction? Do you read much fiction?


Reuben Swartz  50:02

Not as much as I would like, I’m actually trying to work my way through a fiction, a collection of short stories that somebody bought me for Christmas, like two or three years ago called exhalation. And it’s by Ted Chang. He’s the guy who wrote the book that the movie arrival was based on. Cool, right? But I’d love to read more


Alastair McDermott  50:22

fiction. And you say you’re a nerd. Are you big into sci fi fantasy?


Reuben Swartz  50:25

I’m not because I tend to find that the writing and the characters are not all that interesting. But I’m happy to be proven wrong.


Alastair McDermott  50:34

Okay, I talk to you afterwards. All right. On that, okay. Well, look, your podcast is sales for nerds. You’re one of your websites is Mimiron. That’s MI, M, I r a n, and that is your simple CRM for solo consultants. Can you just explain the name by the way,


Reuben Swartz  50:53

no mirrors the Norse god of wisdom. So when I was starting out as a consultant, I thought I’d be really clever, and have this sort of nice connotation. And the thing that’s funny is, nobody can spell it or pronounce it or know what it means. And so it’s a terrible, terrible marketing name. But everyone asked me, What the heck is this name? How do you spell it? How do you say it? What does it mean? So it’s a great sales name. So at least that’s my rationalization for not changing it to something easier to spell and pronounce.


Alastair McDermott  51:21

Awesome, awesome. And is there anywhere else people can find you online?


Reuben Swartz  51:26

Yeah, you can certainly find me on LinkedIn. That’s really the only social network that I spent a bunch of time on. I think I’m the only Reuben sports but my guess is if someone knows you and searches for me, I’ll be the one that pops up in case there’s more than one. And always happy to to connect with with folks in your tribe.


Alastair McDermott  51:42

Awesome. And what I’ll do is I’ll get a link from you to put in the show notes for people to find the proposal template that we talked about.


Reuben Swartz  51:50

Awesome. And it just so happens right now, I actually created an online course, on how to fill out this template because I was teaching people to so many times, and that’s actually on sale at AppSumo right now at 80% off. So if you want to drop a link in there in the show notes to that, that some people might find that helpful, too.


Alastair McDermott  52:08

We’ll do. That’s awesome. At Reuben Schwartz. Thank you so much for being with us today.


Reuben Swartz  52:13

Alastair, thank you so much for having me. I’m so glad we ran into each other and it’s been a pleasure. Can’t wait to have you on sales for nerds.


Alastair McDermott  52:19

Awesome. Look forward to it. Cheers. Thanks for listening. If you gained any insights or tips from this episode, please leave a review. It would really help us out. And it’s very easy to do. Just click on the review link in the show notes on your device and it will bring you straight to a page with options for the device that you’re listening on. Thanks. It really helps. It’s much appreciated.


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