How to write a freelance proposal that wins more clients

You’ve found the client, you’ve discussed the project in detail, and now’s your chance to make some money!

I’ve shared how to find clients without having to chase after them, how to start each project off on the right foot with a questionnaire, and now comes arguably one of the most important steps in the process – creating a proposal.

The thought of creating a proposal for your clients is intimidating, especially if you’re just starting out and have never written one before.

Hopefully by the end of this post you’ll feel confident in creating your own proposals, and you can start winning more clients.

What’s so effective about writing proposals?

The main reason why you need to be creating proposals is it clarifies and establishes the roles and goals of the project.

At this point in your process, you’re now formalizing what you’ve learned about the client: you’re taking the questionnaire as well as any discussions you’ve had and uncovering the real work behind what’s needed.

Not only will a proposal shed light on what’s important for the project, but it’s extremely valuable to the client.

The proposal acts as a roadmap, and to someone that might be unfamiliar with working with a freelancer, this can help them better understand what this type of work entails and what it’s going to cost.

It’s your job as the freelancer to familiarize the client with what you do, what they should expect from working with you, and you must communicate this effectively.

How to write your first freelance proposal

How much time does it take to create a proposal?

Proposals take time to put together, so plan on setting aside an hour or two for every project you decide to move forward with.

If this is your first time writing a proposal, then set aside several hours.

The proposals you create for your clients is the barrier between landing the project and getting paid. Don’t underestimate the amount of effort you should be putting into this.

It’s better to have quality over quantity in this case. Your proposal doesn’t have to be very long. 

One page is enough if you can fit the crucial information on there.

Also, plan on making revisions. You won’t nail the proposal on the first draft every time.

Writing a compelling proposal that wins the client

Nobody likes receiving a templated letter or especially a non-recipient specific email.

For example, DON’T DO THIS:

Dear Sir,

We are writing to confirm the process of which we will provide design services to your company…

If it were me receiving this type of message, I’d immediately delete it. It’s cold and impersonal.

You’re not a robot. And if you’re one person, don’t inflate your business and use pronouns like “we, use, or our.” 

There’s no value in trying to be perceived as a team of people if that’s not the truth.

When you go to write your proposals, spend the time to research your clients and their industry to better understand them. 

This will help tremendously in writing a proposal that speaks to the client.

Develop a baseline curiosity for the client and their business. And if possible, use their language. If they throw out any acronyms, don’t be afraid to use them back.

It’s very important you be genuine and show your point of view with the research you’ve done. Do this, and you’re investing in professionalism, and it’ll be the reason why you’ll land more client work.

Here’s how you DON’T write persuasively:

The proposed logo redesign will enhance the existing brand. I will map this work to your company values and work with you to ensure success.

That doesn’t sound terrible, but it looks so “insert company name here.”

It’s cold and generic. This doesn’t convey care or interest.

Instead, write like this:

The proposed logo redesign should reflect a funky, fun, and approachable company that strives to convey brand values of trust, quality, and play.

This type of wording pulls keywords that the client themselves used in their questionnaire, and this conveys the type of image they’re looking for. This shows you understand what they’re in need of and that you have a direction for the project that matches their own vision of it.

Once you have your proposal written out, have someone else it look over to check readability and grammar.

What makes an effective proposal that lands you more work?

Now that you know what to expect and how to approach writing your first proposal, let’s dive into the specifics of what content to include.

Content should be your focus. A proposal is a very basic document that should be simple in layout and easily read.

Stick to your brand, but no more than your logo and primary colors. You’re not trying to impress the client with your design skills at this point, rather, impress them with your professionalism.

Clients don’t like to waste time reading – no one does – so don’t write your proposal to be more than 1–2 pages.

Here’s a breakdown of what must be included in your proposals:

  • Project info: your name, client’s name, contact info, project title, and date
  • Goals: what’s the client looking for and how are you going to deliver on their needs?
    • This is your chance to demonstrate a solid understanding of what your client needs. Use this to describe how you’ll deliver a solution. Regurgitate and even quote words your client used in the questionnaire and preliminary discussions.
    • If you’re doing a website design or large project, then breakdown the features and solutions using bullet points to make it more digestible.
  • Timeline: how long will the project take to deliver?
    • Include “phases” and relevant milestone dates if it applies.
    • Also include specific deliverables and when to expect them (e.g. website wireframes after Phase 1 or logo variations upon completion.)
  • Cost: decide how much you’ll be paid and how you’ll be paid
    • State your price and/or price per deliverable (e.g. $XXX per t-shirt design)
  • Next Steps: what does the client need to do so the project can move forward?
    • E.g. acceptance of the proposal, sign contract, and down payment.
  • Optional: you could include the contract/terms within the proposal itself. This way, the client can sign for it all at once – saving you both time.

When you’re creating your first proposal, this will act as a template and boilerplate for those to follow. 

This template will live to adapt to you and the client’s needs, and will greatly reduce the time spent creating them.

How to deliver your proposal to the client

Now comes the intimidating part—sending the proposal to the client.

Will they agree with the established project goals?

Will they approve the estimated cost for the work?

If you’ve played all your cards right and followed the tips in this post, then you shouldn’t have any major concerns. You did your job in understanding the client’s needs, and you’re delivering them with the professional solution to get the job done.

In the end, the client either values your solution enough to pay for it, or not.

Here’s an example of how you could email the proposal to your client:

Hello [Client],

I’m excited to share with you the proposal for the [project name] logo redesign. [Reiterate the client’s goals and your plans/ideas to delivering on them. This will vary on every project. What’s important is that you again convey your understanding of what they’re looking for.]

I’m truly excited to be working with you on your new logo redesign.

I look forward to your response.

All the best,

But, what happens if you don’t hear back? Here’s how you can follow up:

Hello [Client],

I hope all has been well. Just wanted to follow up on the proposal I sent over [last week] and see if you had any questions or needed clarification on anything?

All the best,

It’s your job as the freelancer to be professional and on top of everything.

If the client doesn’t respond right away, give them some leeway. We’re all busy, so don’t fret. Just keep the conversation going.

Depending on the client and the number of people they have to run the proposal by, they could move really fast or really slow.

Winning and losing the project — What happens next?

As soon as the client gives the approval on the proposal, your next steps are to execute the contract and down payment.

Following those tasks or even in the meantime while waiting on the client’s response, you can can start organizing the project kick-off! (Set up the client folder on your computer, compile necessary documents, references, and schedule the time to do the work.)

What happens if the client declines your proposal?

The worst thing that happens is you don’t land the project and life goes on.

Unless the client replied with additional questions or a renegotiation, then the project ends there. Simple as that – no harm done.

There are plenty of clients out there. Learn from the experience and move on. Thank the client for the opportunity and leave the door open for future opportunities if you’d like.

Here’s a sample email for responding to lost projects:

Hello [Client],

Just wanted to say thank you again for the opportunity to work with you on [project]. I’m sorry to hear we won’t be working together on this, but I’ll be cheering you on from the sideline.

I do hope you’ll keep me in mind for any future opportunities. I just love your [business type/product] and would be thrilled to help you out on any key brand initiatives.

All the best,

After you start using proposals, you’ll never go back

No one enjoys writing proposals, but it’s a necessity to landing more work.

As soon as you give proposals a try, invest in professionalism, and land your first project with one, you’ll wonder why you didn’t start sooner.

Before I started using proposals, I thought working from the backlog of my email was enough. But conversations got mixed up, goals were never established and agreed upon, and I missed out on a lot of opportunities because of it.

The clients I work with now appreciate the clear process I have in place. It puts their mind at ease and gives them complete trust in working with me.

It’s easy to get hung up, so use the example content above and create your first proposal!

Even if you don’t have a project to propose, create the template and boilerplate content so when a project does come around, you can easily and quickly put it to use.

Do you create proposals for your projects? Why or why not?

Whatever questions you have on creating proposals, please leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to help.

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