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The 6 Pillars of a Perfect Freelance Proposal

Ready to get your freelance proposal on?  Learning how to respond to an informal client ask or more formal request for proposal (RFP) can be one of the most impactful things you can do for your side hustles. You can have the best skills and create outstanding work, but if you don’t communicate that to your potential clients, you may never land one.

Sending the perfect freelance proposal isn’t all about you, though. It’s about communication. Think about ordering take-out food over the phone. If the person on the other end doesn’t understand you, it takes extra time and effort to repeat something and that can be annoying. The freelancer-client relationship is the same way. When a client puts out an RFP, they’re looking for someone who will understand what they want the first time. That’s why so many of the tips we’ll talk about have to do with communication:  following directions, restating the problem, using their language, etc. So let’s get to it. 

1. Details Matter

This is probably the most important tip for writing great proposals. If you don’t take a certain action outlined in the RFP, you’ll be out of the game. Requirements differ with each client, but be sure to follow them exactly. If you’re asked to give three examples of your work, give three and only three. Sometimes clients will even ask you to put a certain word or phrase at the top of your proposal. It might seem weird, but they’re looking for people who took the time to read the whole RFP carefully and followed directions. A quick way to disqualify yourself from the job is to skip this step. 

Many RFPs will also include questions for prospective freelancers. Make sure you answer these completely. Also, it’s good to go just a little above and beyond in answering questions. If a client asks “Have you done X before?” don’t just say “Yes.” Try elaborating on a specific experience you had in relation to the question.

2. Get into Your Client’s Head

When you start off, try to begin by summarizing exactly what they want, using the language they used. It can feel like you’re being redundant – don’t they already know what they want? But adding this step in will help the client to see that you really understand exactly what they need. 

Don’t forget, you’re a salesman for your own services. Jewelry salesmen are taught that an important step in closing a sale is to repeat back to the customer what they want. Think about it. Wouldn’t you feel more comfortable with a salesman who made sure they knew exactly what you wanted? This step of the proposal process lets your potential client know that you’re on the same page. 

3. Speak Their Language

You’re probably sending proposals to different types of businesses and to people with different roles. Try to tailor your language to each RFP you find. If they use certain terms or phrases unique to their field, incorporate those in your proposal. Also, try to capture the general attitude that you sense. Is it formal or informal? Using the same tone they use can show you really understand where they’re coming from and you’ll be easy to work with.

Keep in mind that prospective clients won’t always know the language you use to describe what you do. Let’s say you provide web development services. Many clients won’t know industry terminology or phrases specific to developers. The more unknowns you include in your proposal, the more chance that the client will stop reading and choose someone else. Write specifically to their industry, not yours. 

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4. Format Creativly

If an RFP calls for the submission of a PDF proposal, you have the opportunity to stand out of the crowd. Just like with resumes, there are certain visual layouts that are easier on the eye. You can use the arrangement of text, space, lines, and bits of color on the page to keep things interesting. Tables and charts are also great for communicating information in a visual way. 

And if you have a few bucks to spare, you could hire a freelance designer to make your proposal really stand out. If this proposal could lead to thousands in work, this step 

5. Copy and Paste Intelligently

This is a big one. If you’re sending multiple freelance proposals out per week (or day), it can be tempting to just copy your previous proposal and recycle it.  That’s more than likely not a good idea. If you used the techniques above for one proposal, there’s a slim chance the tone and phrasing will match another RFP, so be smart about what you leverage from the past.

Writing the perfect proposal is all about adding value in two ways:  showing you understand what the client needs, and showing that you can provide it. A pre-made proposal doesn’t do either of those things. And if you want to copy and paste just a list of your previous projects, don’t. A list of general projects doesn’t show the client that you can do their project. If you’re tempted to use a list, try to just include a few items with explanations for each one. You should explain how the past project relates to this new one and not expect the client to connect the dots for you. 

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6. What’s Your Call to Action?

A call to action (CTA) is the end cap on your proposal. It’s designed to encourage your prospective client to move forward with you in the process. A CTA can be as simple as stating your desire to work with the client on the particular project. The RFP may outline the next step you should take. If that’s the case, you can explain how you’ll follow the direction and use that as your CTA. 

You can also end by saying how you’ll follow up and when. The key is to not leave the client wondering what you’re going to do next. You could also pose a question as your CTA. Ending with an informal question shows the client you’re open to starting a conversation. Working with a client similar to other relationsihps. You wouldn’t propose on the first date, so don’t expect to be hired right away from your first proposal. 

Some form of back-and-forth communication is almost always involved before you’ll get the job. But a strong proposal containing these six elements will give you a better chance at making it to the second round of reviews. 

Go get you freelance proposal on and thank us later. You’re ready!

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