A Freelancer’s Guide to Writing a Better Project Proposal

Lauren Bonk

If you’re going to convince a client to hop on board with your project proposal, you’re going to have to focus on them.

Scoring a project with a potential client, or even a new project with a current client, can be an incredible bolster to your freelancing business. Working on something large-scale or long-term can bring you some much-needed financial stability… but it’s going to be harder to sell. This is why you’ve got to have your client in mind when you craft your project proposal.

We’ve touched on this before, but project proposals are such an important facet of a successful freelancing career, we think it’s worth a revisit. This time, we’d like to hammer home the necessity of a client-focused project proposal.

Rather than taking the perspective of our favorite freelancing superstar (that’s you), we’re going to get a little crazy and imagine that you’re the client.

Obviously, we’ll need some backstory, because backstory’s what we do around here.

Needs and Wants

You’re a big-time CEO who wants to throw an extravagant party (we’re allowed to dream, right?) for a traveling associate. You’ve got the food lined up, the entertainment booked, and most of the decorations taken care of. All that’s left is the icing on the cake, the “something perfect” that no one will ever forget:

You want an ice sculpture.

Not just any ice sculpture, though. You need an ice sculpture that is detailed, majestic, and looks exactly like William Shatner playing Captain Kirk in the first season of Star Trek.

(Let’s just say this traveling associate is a huge fan.)

You’ve done some shopping and found a few ice sculpting companies in the area, but none of their work seemed quite up to snuff. After more searching, you’ve finally narrowed it down to two independent sculptors, and your decision depends on the quality of their project proposals.

Value Is as Value Does

First and foremost, you (the client) want to make sure that you’re getting the best value out of a freelancer. This means you want the highest-quality product you can get, but for the best price you can find.

If a freelancer knows what they’re doing, they’ll want to do their best to steer you away from this whole “price” thing. Price represents an amount of money you will no longer have in your bank account once you start working together… and nobody wants to be reminded of that. Obviously, they can’t avoid discussing money, but they can place the focus somewhere else… somewhere like the value of their work.

If a freelancer wants to learn what a potential client values, it’s imperative to do some research.

This can go from digging up old articles all the way to checking out their Twitter presence. What kind of clues about their personality can be discovered?

For example’s sake, we’ll say you’re the kind of CEO who appreciates hard work and efficiency. Anyone who researches you will see from your company’s branding that you like all bases covered and no stone left unturned. “Hard work produces real results,” your website’s slogan confidently states.

As you flip through these product proposals, which one, do you think, will prove the most appealing? The one that focuses on artistic minutiae and flowery ice descriptions? Or the one that ensures an authentic replica while also highlighting their high-quality refrigeration and sculpting tools?

While a more creative and aesthetically pleasing angle appeals to many, it’s not as important to you. You value a job well-done that results in satisfaction, and it’s obvious that one of these freelancers knows that.

By focusing on the value that your services bring to the table, the cost will become less of an issue.

Use ease to please.

The more work a client has to do in order to understand a proposal, the less likely it is that they’ll want to reach out for clarification.

Even if you’re catering to a client who prefers a more flowery approach, you’ve still got to hammer out the details so that they don’t have to. For a no-nonsense-type (much like your CEO alter-ego), this ease-of-use will be even more appreciated.

The task of reading through and comparing proposals is made significantly easier when the writer gets straight to the point. A proposal that is over five pages long and full of unnecessary words will only pile more work onto the client… which will give them plenty of time to remember how much they’re going to have to pay for the services.

What about you? Think about what would make your life easier in this situation. What about the actual agreement accompanying the proposal? Do you want to have to print it out, sign it, scan it back in and email it, or even… put it in the mail? This would be a perfect opportunity for a freelancer to make your life easier by using a plugin like WPESignature to get the documents signed quickly and get the project up and running.

Bottom line? The process needs to be as simple as possible for the client. If mail, for whatever reason, is the only option, a pre-stamped envelope not only removes a step (and expense), but also serves as a reminder that a response is expected.

Embrace the details. Be One with the details.

Don’t avoid including essentials like payment terms and expenses in a proposal. Part of freelancing is having to confront issues head-on, regardless of awkwardness. Avoiding discussions that have the potential to be uncomfortable only ensures uncomfortable discussions in the future. A project proposal outline should be thorough and clear, making the process as quick and painless as possible.

As the super-important CEO, you’re going to want to see these things in a proposal:

1. An exact description of what you’re paying for. (5’10”-tall 1960s-era William Shatner/Captain Kirk ice sculpture, made from crystal clear ice blocks, making the “Live long and prosper” sign with right hand)
2. Completion date. (Day of your party)
3. An exact layout of the freelancer’s rates, material costs, and transport fees.
4. Any provisions specific to this project that may take extra time or money. (Specialty ice, hiring a Shatner look-alike-model for added authenticity)
5. A timeline of expected payments. (Will you need to put down a deposit? Pay in full before project completion?)
6. Written agreement. (You can sign off right away and get this chill party rollin.’)

If the process seems daunting, a good project proposal sample is a great starting point. As long as the freelancer does a thorough job of researching your values, hammering out the details, and drafting an explicit proposal, you’re not going to care about the fact that they looked off of a generic freelance proposal outline for direction.

Be thorough, be helpful, be clear.

Let’s talk as freelancers now, just the two of us.

A dependable freelance career is made up of solid client-relationships built out of an appreciation of your work–and every relationship has to start with an introduction.

By putting forth the time and effort to research, organize, and assemble a customized client proposal, you can set the stage for a partnerships that last into future projects, rather than one that melts after the party’s over.

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