The Statement of Work: How to Move Past Proposals and Win More Clients

Statement of work

Does anyone like writing proposals? Probably not.

I don’t anyway.

Now, think about this: does anyone like reading proposals?

Does anyone like reading proposals?

Do you really think your clients like downloading a 20 page PDF, and reading it thoroughly with a cup of coffee in their hand? 

They don’t.

They just scan through it until they find the price. Then they maybe skim the rest of the document. That’s how I approach reading proposals.

So why do we torture ourselves writing proposals and then torture our clients by making them read proposals? 

What if instead we agreed to skip the dog and pony show of a fancy proposal that no one actually wants to make or read, and went straight ahead to defining the project in a collaborative way? 

As a business owner, you absolutely can.

That’s what I’ve been doing for years in my own Shopify consultancy, Ethercycle.

When I send out a proposal, it’s a plain-text email outlining a statement of work. 

And you know what? I’ve never had a single person comment or complain about the fact that I skipped the traditional proposal process. That’s why today, I’m going to walk you through how to write an effective statement of work that will help you win more client work.

Template Icon

How I formulate a statement of work

Statement of work: Formula

After a prospect or client has reached out to me with a potential project or need, I jump on the phone and have a discussion with them about why they need this work completed, when they need it completed by, and just generally like to talk through the project. No sales pitch, just a discussion.

Based on that discussion, I prepare a statement of work that recaps our call in a structured way, and I email it to them for review.

Sales Tip: I do follow up on these emails. If you’re not following up on proposals and projects, you’re losing a tremendous amount of work to people who are simply too busy. Think about the some of the last projects you’ve lost. What happened? You sent a proposal and never heard back, right? Then you assumed they weren’t interested. Maybe it just got lost in the shuffle of life, and they assumed you weren’t interested because you didn’t follow up. Remember, until you’ve heard a ‘no,’ the deal isn’t lost.

Remember, until you’ve heard a ‘no,’ the deal isn’t lost.

So, what is a statement of work, and how is that different from a proposal? 

According to Wikipedia:

“A Statement of Work (SOW) is a document routinely employed in the field of project management. It defines project-specific activities, deliverables, and timelines for a vendor providing services to the client. 

I personally think about a statement of work like this:

In practice, a statement of work is a document that I copy and paste into an email, and that’s largely based on a template I reuse with each client.


Because it’s easier for everyone involved!

You might also like: The Ultimate Guide to Finding Web Design Clients.

The basic statement of work 

Statement of work: Basics

The most basic statement of work would consist of three things:

  1. What you’ll be doing or delivering
  2. How long it will take
  3. What it will cost

That’s the most basic statement of work.  

I use this basic format with existing clients, and/or small projects. It’s the bare minimum statement of work that I’ll write, and could even be as minimal as one sentence. The reality is that it doesn’t have to be complicated.

In practice, a basic statement of work could look like:

Heya Joe Storeowner,

I can help you get your store buttoned up.

I can set your store up so that it lazy loads products on collection pages by next Tuesday for $499.

If that works for you, reply with a thumbs up, and I'll send over next steps.

Sounds too simple, right?

That’s why it works.

Why over complicate it?

By simplifying the description, we simplify the decision.

By simplifying the description, we simplify the decision.

The statement of work for new clients

Statement of work: New clients

The sort of stripped down statement of work approach described above would work for a simple project for an existing client, but it won’t work for a new relationship or a larger, more complex project.

So let’s adjust our approach.

For a new client, a statement of work needs to leave nothing to chance. This reduces risk on both sides of the table, making it easier to reach an agreement and a successful outcome.

As with all relationships, clear communication is the cornerstone of a successful relationship. By defining your understanding of the client’s business, problems, and goals, and defining what you will and won’t do during your project, you’ll kick it off with the greatest chance of success. 

In this case, your statement of work needs to answer a series of questions:

  1. Background — What’s your understanding of the client’s business?
  2. The problem — Agitate the client's pain by restating their current situation. This isn't redundant, it helps establish that you're on the same page after having a 'why conversation' with the client.
  3. The solution — What solution do you propose to solve the client’s issue? Try to avoid the technical talk, save that for the next section. Instead, give a high-level overview.
  4. The work — What’s involved in the solution? Only after you've written two sections establishing your understanding of the client's situation can you dive into how you're going make that a reality.
  5. Exclusions — What isn’t involved? Just as it’s important to define what is involved, it’s important to define what isn’t involved. While it should be assumed that anything not defined is out of scope, some items may be ambiguous. For example, if you’re setting up a Shopify theme, who pays for the license? Who has to provide banner images? Define what isn’t included in those situations.
  6. Measuring success — What does success look like? How is it measured? Define the dream by describing the outcome of a successful engagement
  7. Timeline — How long will it take?
  8. Investment — What will it cost, and when is payment due?
  9. Performance guarantee — This section is optional but encouraged. What happens if things go wrong? Entrepreneurs, like all people, are risk-averse. Offer a guarantee of performance to mitigate the risk.

I know what you’re thinking: “Kurt, this is starting to sound like a proposal.” 

Here’s the key difference: All of the points I suggest you hit in your statement of work are entirely focused on the client and their business. Unlike a proposal, we never discuss ourselves and why you should hire us in this approach. It’s assumed that after a discovery call, the client is confident in us as consultants; the hang-up is now the project itself.

Unlike a proposal, we never discuss ourselves and why you should hire us in this approach.

You might also like: The Secret to Persuading Clients to Hire Your Design Firm.

A statement of work sample

Your statement of work should echo the conversation you had with the client during your discovery call; this should be easy to do if you ask the questions outlined within the statement of work sample above. Don’t forget to shut up and listen while taking notes during the call.

Let’s walk through a statement of work sample, and see what this document might look like in practice.

Below I’ve included a full example of a statement of work for a new client. It’s based, in part, on a real email I sent to a new client recently that won the project.

Acme Fidget Spinners has enjoyed great success riding the wave of the fidget spinner craze.

The Problem
Recognizing that the fidget spinner craze won’t last forever, Acme is looking to extend customer lifetime value by increasing engagement with the brand through marketing automation.

The Solution
To establish a marketing automation solution that increases customer lifetime value, Acme has agreed on using email marketing automation service provider Klaviyo to add automated email workflows to their marketing mix.

The Work
To enable this, we will build automated triggered email flows for welcome series, abandoned shopping carts, and order follow ups directly into Klaviyo.

This project’s focus is on creating effortless engagement through automation. This means we won’t be building one-off newsletters or newsletter templates as part of this project. (If you’d like to explore those options as a new project, we can do so after completion of this automation project.)

Measuring Success
Based on past experience, our realistic goal is to add 10 percent additional revenue to Acme Fidget Spinner’s online sales through automation workflows.

After we’ve received your answers to our onboarding questions, our timeline to create draft workflows is two weeks. At this time, we’ll deliver a PDF with screenshots and explanations of workflows, as well as instructions on providing feedback. We’ll revise the workflows within one week of receiving feedback, and then go live. After 30 days, we’ll review the results of the various campaigns and advise next steps.

We require a one-time investment of $2,495 USD to add email marketing automation to your business. We ask for 100 percent payment upfront to reserve the time on our calendar (it’s a better system than the surprise balloon invoices other agencies use.)

Performance Guarantee
We stand behind our work, and will refund your entire fee if you find evidence that we have not performed in a professional and ethical manner.

The above statement of work, sent in a plain text email, should make it as easy as possible for a new client — starting a new project and a new working relationship — to confidently say, “yes, let’s move forward!” It should leave nothing to chance.

You might also like: The Counter-Intuitive Approach to Getting Your First Client.

Make your case

The way you approach a statement of work is not dissimilar to how your clients approach ecommerce sales. Treat every statement of work as a copywriting exercise, a sales letter intended to make the case for how hiring you will make the store owner's business better.

Rather than rent out your hands as hourly labor, this approach works because it establishes your expertise in solving problems, and focuses on the outcome of the project. 

Template Icon

Grow your business with the Shopify Partner Program

Learn more