What is a freelancing proposal and how to create one

10 elements of an effective proposal & a freelance proposal generator to take the pain out of proposals.

What is a freelancing proposal and how to create one

The client is committed.

You’ve confirmed your understanding of the scope and deliverables, and you have their approval in principle.

You blocked off a chunk of time—and money—to work on this project. Now, you need to produce a well-written project proposal that's pitched just right, so your freelance pricing aligns with the value proposition delivered. 

Maybe you don’t know what a freelance proposal is or how to create one. Don't worry.

By the end of this post, you’ll know exactly how to create winning, professional proposals that help you land more clients. Plus, we’ll talk about templates, freelance proposal generators, and the value of your time.

Let’s get started…

What is a freelance proposal?

A freelancing proposal is a persuasive document sent to a prospective customer that outlines a consulting or project engagement from your business perspective. Freelancers should use project proposals to show their expertise in value, as well as to sell the value that they bring to the project at hand.

Effective project proposals are the key to connecting with clients & earning more

Freelancing proposals are the soul of your freelance career. They set the tone and purpose for working with the client. Proposals are powerful tools for working with potential clients. 

Your proposal is a document detailing the project structure and terms of the engagement. It should also specify any milestones or deliverables. Clients want to be sure they know what they will get from you before committing any money.

<tweet-link>The important thing to remember is that clear, concise, client-focused proposals win more business.<tweet-link>

Look at it like this: Clients are busy. They're looking for help because they have a problem to solve. 

Let’s say you’re a freelance photographer and a potential client wants to know about your wedding photography services. Your potential client has a million things on their to-do list leading up to the big day. They’re also likely making a considerable investment (Not just for photography services, but on every cost associated with a wedding celebration.) 

Your prospective client wants reassurance you can do the job adequately and that they’ll get their money’s worth. After all, who wants to be disappointed on their wedding day!?

That’s why it’s important to make sure your project proposals are brief, easy-to-understand, and focused on the client’s specific problem and how you'll solve it for them.

Poor proposals show a lack of understanding, professionalism, and respect for the prospective client’s time while winning proposals demonstrate your understanding of the client and their problem and how your services address both.

Freelancers get paid to help others -- especially busy people -- solve their problems using their expertise and creativity. 

A good proposal showcases your understanding of the problem as well as your expertise and creativity... and allows a client to hire you with confidence. 

Which brings us to the next point...

What are the key elements and structure of successful proposals?

So, what exactly does an effective proposal look like?

That depends on a few factors like your industry, client needs, and the specific project. That said, successful proposals usually share some common elements.

For example, demonstrating that you understand the client and their problem is crucial.

What else do you need to know and how do you write a proposal for a project? Here are ten elements you’ll find in most winning proposals:

1. An overview/summary of the client's problems and how you'll help solve them -- One of the most overlooked areas in proposals is sharing an overview that will show the client a high-level view of exactly what you will do for them as well as how you will go about doing it. Even though you’ll dive into the details later in the proposal, this is the section that needs to grab your prospect’s attention.

2. Problem statement -- According to Corey Pemberton, a freelance copywriter and blogger, "The problem statement is one of the most important elements in any freelance... proposal. Forgetting to include one (or including one anywhere besides the beginning of your proposals) makes your proposal look like all the other boring ones flooding your clients’ inboxes. Your proposal loses its edge.”

3. Proposed solution -- Your proposal should clearly identify how your solution will solve the client's problem. It should also explain how it’s different from existing solutions. Even non-experts should be able to understand what your company will do based on this section of your proposal. Don’t make the mistake of conflating services with solutions. Instead, tie your recommended services to client benefits. For example, instead of proposing “freelance writing services” you could suggest providing “8 SEO-optimized blog posts with relevant calls-to-action to help you rank well, drive organic traffic, and grow your email list.” Which option sounds more valuable to you?

4. Pricing information/Fee Summary -- This section should be straightforward and easy for clients to understand. Be as detailed as you can but keep your pricing information “high level” and list a price for your entire service package instead of a separate price for each component of the project. Including 3 packages in your proposal gives your client options besides "yes" and "no."If you want to manage expectations around what happens when -- and when clients need to pay -- tie payments to specific project milestones. This is also helpful with long-term projects. 

5. Timeline and milestones -- Speaking of milestones, establishing an overall timeline for the project, as well as dates specific tasks will be accomplished, is a must. Include time for client review or approval in your schedule. Project milestones show clients which pieces of the project will happen when as well as when they'll receive project deliverables. 

6. Next desired actions -- Remember your proposal is a sales document so include a strong call-to-action at the end. Consider what steps you want your prospect to take next and make it easy for them to do so. Include your contact information, payment information, an expiration date for your proposal (after which, a new proposal must be solicited), and anything else your potential client needs to move forward.

7. Answer the (unspoken) question  “Why me?” -- You should always assume people are considering other freelancers. Communicate what makes you the best person for the job and sets you apart from other freelancers. 

8. Your proposal must answer Danny Margulies' 3 “invisible questions” -- Share information (and work samples or portfolio pieces) that makes your client confident the answer to these three questions is “yes!”:

  1. Invisible Question 1: “Are you capable of doing my project?”
  2. Invisible Question 2: “Will you make my life easier?”
  3. Invisible Question 3: “Do you care about helping me succeed?”

9. Confirm details you’ve previously discussed with the client -- Nothing in your proposal should be “new” information. In other words, nothing in the proposal should ever surprise a client. The document should sum up your conversation… and seal the deal. The proposal should not be the first time your client discovers something new about you or the project.

10. Signature -- The proposal should include signature lines so you and the recipient can accept the proposal’s terms (Typically, you’ll cover the terms and conditions and other “nitty-gritty” details in your contract.).

Proposals, like so much in life, are almost as much about what you don’t do as what you should do. Even if you’ve checked off everything we’ve covered so far, don't just send your potential client a PDF and call it a day.

Instead, be on the watch for...

How a few mistakes cost some freelancers thousands of dollars in business 

Good proposals help manage client expectations and prevent scope creep but sloppy or cut-and-paste proposals often do more harm than good.

How?

Clients won’t hire you unless they’re confident you understand their needs and an effective, persuasive proposal is one of the best ways to convince clients you're the best freelancer for the job.

But, bad proposals waste your time and the prospective client’s time.

Remember, a proposal will not only determine whether you win a project, but also how much money you make, how you work, and what the client is expecting.

According to in-house data collected via Folyo’s Design RFP Newsletter, “the average client looks at 15+ design proposals before deciding who to go with. If it’s a large website design project (contracts worth over $15,000+) that goes up to 30-40 proposals. This is why every serious design company needs to invest in a great proposal template that will actually help your company stand out.”

Folyo also found that “90% of all design proposals never see the light of day. They are instantly discarded by the client because of 3-5 common errors.”

That’s why it’s important to do everything you can to put your best foot forward.

With more people freelancing than ever before, each project has more people competing for it than will ultimately get the job.

In other words, because the number of freelancers angling for projects will always outnumber the available opportunities, clients have their pick from hundreds -- sometimes thousands -- of freelancers for every project.

And because clients get inundated with dull, generic proposals all the time, anything that loses their interest or confuses them gets deleted or ignored.

What are freelancers doing wrong that puts clients off?

Freelance writer Roshan Perera did an observational study where he posted two different jobs on Freelancer.com and UpWork -- a web design job for developing a real estate website and a content writing job for a business blog -- that received a total of 228 bid proposals from different freelancers. When he reviewed the proposals he received he found:

  • 85% of freelancers have bad writing skills – Approximately 190 bid proposals were poorly written and contained bad grammar he had to read two or three times just to understand what they were saying.
  • 7 out of 10 freelancers didn’t bother to read the full description. Roshan included a request (at the end of his job posting) for applicants to include a specific word in their response. Lots of people do this to screen out the freelancers who don’t pay attention to detail.
  • Many freelancers didn’t take the time to learn about the client and personalize their email. Roshan used an alias for posting the jobs,  “Mike Ford,” which was clearly visible in both the username and the client profile. None of the freelancers used that first name to address him in their proposals.
  • He also found many freelancers simply copy-pasted proposals without addressing the particulars of his project.
  • And surprisingly, a number of freelancers applied for the wrong job completely (Example: a designer responding to the content writing job).

Image source: Freelancing Hacks

Here are seven more mistakes freelancers make that cause them to lose out on lucrative projects:

  • Mistake #1 -- You're focusing on yourself instead of the client. Yes, your skills and experience are relevant. No, they shouldn't be the main focus of the proposal. Clients want to hear about what you can do for them, not your life story.
  • Mistake #2 -- You're not proofreading your proposal before sending it over. This is such a simple step but skipping it shows you don't pay attention to details. Mistakes and typos make you look unprofessional and unprepared.
  • Mistake #3 -- You're making it difficult to accept your proposal. Don't make your client jump through hoops to do business with you. Optimally, allow them to sign a proposal electronically which saves them time.
  • Mistake #4 -- Your proposals are too long. A recent Bidsketch survey discovered that proposals that are less than 5 pages in length are 31% more likely to win business than those that are longer. Make your proposal scannable and easy-to-read.
  • Mistake #5 -- You're too slow responding. That same Bidsketch survey found that winning freelance proposals get to their clients on average, 26% faster than losing proposals. In fact, the average winning proposal made it to the client in 2.7 days, compared to the average losing proposal which took 3.4 days to arrive
  • Mistake #6 -- You're not giving your prospective client options. Like I mentioned earlier, giving a prospect a few choices increases your odds of landing a project. Provide people options for: engaging with you, communicating with you, paying you, etc.
  • Mistake #7 -- You're making it all about price. Proposals shouldn’t read like a supermarket circular where you pay $X for Y. Instead showcase the value the client will receive from your solution and educate them on why you’re worth it. If possible, show how working with you will directly impact revenue, lead-gen, brand awareness, the bottom line, etc.

There are no shortcuts (but there is this…) 

Now that you know what an effective freelance proposal looks like, and its primary purpose—to show clients you understand their problem, how to solve it, and you’re the best choice for the job—let’s get to the fun stuff: How to create them!

Although there is research, personalization, and customization involved in creating effective proposals there are ways to reduce the time involved with creating, negotiating, and signing project proposals.

In most cases, whether you’re responding to an ad, job posting or RFP, the sections in your proposal won't change, just the specific details.

That means that as long as you include the right elements in your proposal and avoid the mistakes we’ve already covered, you’ll increase your chances of winning projects. 

More good news?

Using tools and templates reduces the amount of time you spend creating (and keeping track of) proposals which increases your hourly rate and helps you spend more time working and less time crafting proposals.

Let’s say you usually close 25% of your proposals, and it takes you four hours to write, proofread, and deliver a proposal. That means for each project you win, you’ll spend twelve hours creating proposals that don’t win you any work. When you multiply that figure by your hourly rate you’ll be even more motivated to improve your proposals!

But what if you can’t afford expensive software to help you create and send proposals to potential clients?

You can still save time with templates and proposal builders. There are even some free freelance proposal templates available online.

Don't reinvent the wheel every time you send a proposal. 

Use one of the many available freelance proposal generators and customize the document as needed for each particular project and client.

And since you’re here -- on the Hectic blog -- I’m going to recommend you check out Hectic’s easy-to-use, easy-to-send proposal builder!

Did you know that online proposals are accepted 60% faster and are 18% more likely to be accepted? That’s according to research based on 25,000 client proposals worth $270 million dollars. 

Image credit: Bidsketch

How to create proposals in 2021 (In record time)

If you want to create visually appealing, on-brand proposals that make it easy for clients to hire you, try using Hectic.

Hectic saves you time creating, sending, and managing proposals.

It took me about 5 minutes to customize Hectic’s sample proposal with my own cover page and company details. 

The proposal includes sections for:

  • Cover
  • Your Needs
  • My proposed Solution
  • Deliverables and Timeline
  • Signatures

Adding a few additional elements was as simple as clicking the “+” button and selecting the type of content block I wanted to add. It will appear at the bottom of the page and then you can drag to reorder it.

You can add text blocks, images and attachments, even contract terms.

The integration with Unsplash lets you create beautiful, on‑brand, professional proposals in just minutes with the drag‑and‑drop builder. 

If you’re budget-conscious, the great news is Hectic also saves you money.

The platform is free for your first customer. Unlimited customers costs $11.99 a month for as long as you choose to use the platform. That’s not just for proposal software, it includes tools to manage your entire freelance business (Consider: Netflix Premium is $17.99 a month and all you can do is Netflix and chill or search for the next series to binge watch!). 


Other solutions -- often designed for agencies and businesses -- charge monthly or annually but only offer proposal software while Hectic lets you do much more for a comparable (and often lower) price.

So, stop wasting valuable time manually building proposals for prospective clients. You probably do the same or similar work for clients, so why not start from a proposal you’ve sent in the past and modify it for each client? 

You can create beautiful proposals your clients won't be able to resist with a simple proposal builder in just a few minutes. Once the proposal has been sent and reviewed, easily turn it into an air‑tight contract and get to work.

There's an art and a science to creating proposals that impress clients and win freelance business. Now that you know what to do (and what not to do) it's time to go get your first (or next) freelance client!

Learn more about building proposals with Hectic


Read on...

Run your business like a pro
How to start freelance social media management
Are you looking to start freelancing in social media management? This guide will let you know everything you need to do to get started.
Run your business like a pro
How to create a winning freelance project proposal
One major step to landing new clients is creating project proposals. Learn here how to create a winning project proposal that doesn't oversell.
Run your business like a pro
How to manage my time most effectively as a freelancer
One question every freelancer wonders about when first starting out is "how to manage my time most effectively?" Learn how to manage your time here.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.