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10 Tips to Make Your Freelance Proposal Stand Out

Updated on August 3, 2011

You’ve found your dream project – the subject is right in the middle of your expertise, the work sounds like fun, and the pay is outstanding. You have tons of portfolio examples that show you’re the cream of the crop, plus you can even get the work done 2 weeks ahead of their proposed schedule. So you fire off your usual proposal, certain that the body of your work speaks for itself.

And they go with someone else.

There is a little-known and seldom-voiced fact when it comes to responding to a RFP (Request for Proposal), or bidding on a freelancing site:

Companies aren’t looking for a reason to choose you. They are looking for a reason NOT to choose you.

Think about it – they may have 40, 50, maybe even 100s of proposals to look through, and they need to get the project started as soon as possible, in most instances. On a bidding site, where it’s typically a small business owner or professional doing the hiring, even 20 bids can take a long time to review thoroughly. These people don’t have the time to look at everyone’s portfolio in search of a hidden gem.

Your goal then, with your proposal, should be to get on the “short list” – those candidates that are under serious consideration. That’s when your stellar portfolio or body of work will really get to shine. And in those cases where your portfolio may be a little thin, an amazing proposal may get a company to take a chance and hire you anyway.

With that in mind, here are 10 essential tips to make your freelance proposal stand out from the crowd:

Proposal Writing Best Practices

Rephrase the Client’s Problem:

It may seem redundant, but clients often want to know that you understand exactly what they are asking for and rephrasing the problem or project in a sentence or two illustrates that you’ve taken the time to read their bid request or RPF from cover to cover.

Show Understanding of the Issues:

This digs a little deeper to answer the underlying question of why the client wants the project completed. Are they looking for SEO articles to improve their organic listings? Do they need a new website design to rebrand their products? Are they looking for translation services in order to move into a new market? Look at some of the reasons they need this project done and show how you can help them get the results behind the project itself.

Point to Related Successes:

Your proposal is where you need to point out exactly why you are the best candidate. How you do that is not by listing general talking points (i.e. “I’m the best freelancer you’ll ever meet!”) but by providing specifics as to how your past experience equates to the future success of the project (i.e. “My articles have helped past clients improve conversion rates by up to 125% when compared to their previous content.”).

Make the Proposal about the Client

Frame your solution and deliverables in terms of what they offer the client. Don’t spend a lot of time talking about your own accolades and accomplishments unless you tie it directly to a benefit that the client will derive from your expertise. The more you tailor your response to what the client gets out of the project, the more attractive your proposal becomes.

Clearly Organize Your Solution

If your proposal is one big blob of text, the client is probably not going to read it. Headings, subheadings, and bullet points are your friends. Make good use of them for clarity’s sake. Make sure your proposal follows a logical progression from the problem to your solution.

List all Deliverables and their Requirements

If you need something from the client in order to give them the deliverable they want/need be sure to list that in the proposal. For example, if they want a professional press release, you will probably need to schedule an interview with a relevant party, unless they have a prepared statement. Make sure that clients know this up front so there are no surprises.

Break Down the Cost

For small projects, this step may be optional. However, for a large project, a cost breakdown helps clients see how their money is being spent, and makes the higher price seem more reasonable and manageable.

Be Flexible

Even the best project plans can and do go astray. Be flexible to changes/additions/revisions, and spell out how these changes will be handled in your proposal. Additional work should come with additional pay, of course, but make it known that you are willing to revise the proposal to include that additional work if plans change.

Invite Communication

This one can be tricky depending upon how and where you are submitting a proposal. If you are responding to a job posting or RFP directly, you can easily include your contact information. On freelancing sites this is usually forbidden, so you would have to invite communication through the relevant private message boards or other official channels. But no matter how you do it, make sure that the client knows you welcome their questions and are happy to provide any additional information as needed.

Say Thank You

Writing a proposal is hard work, and reading through 50+ proposals is too. Thank the client for taking the time to review your proposal among all the others that he or she will have to sort through that day. When it comes right down to it, clients are looking for a professional with which they can build a rapport. By sounding professional, courteous and open to additional communication, you put yourself at the head of the pack.

Do you write a unique proposal for every client?

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