Using a freelance proposal template is not unlike taking your wedding vows off the internet — only more socially acceptable.
(image credit: Ben White via Unsplash)
You’re thrilled. You’ve been talking to the client about this project for over a week now, and it looks like they’re finally going to say yes. Instead, what they say is:
“Yeah no for sure [my imaginary client is from California – Oleg], this sounds great. Can you send me a proposal?”
And you say, “Of course!” — but in your heart of hearts you go like:
I don’t know about you, but this moment used to be terrifying. After all, I’ve been negotiating the project for days — what else do they want me to say? What if I write something wrong and they shoot this job down… and it’s all been for nothing?
In my experience, the best way to get over it is to use a simple and straightforward freelance proposal template. And if you feel a bit anxious and apprehensive at the idea of sending someone a “proper” proposal, I’m going to show it to you today.
What clients REALLY look for in your freelance proposal
First, let’s get on the same page and make sure that we mean the same thing whenever I write stuff like “freelance proposal.” Basically, a proposal is a document outlining the scope, goals, and the planning of a freelance job — usually something complex and/or long-term.
For example, if you get hired to write a blog post, you don’t need to craft a full-fledged proposal. Your client knows what a blog post looks like, you know what a blog post looks like — so there’s no need. On the other hand, if you get hired to write weekly content for the next year or two years… that warrants a proposal.
Same with everything else:
– Designing a landing page? Probably don’t need one.
– Doing a complete website redesign? Yup.
– Coding an Android app? For sure!
– Retouching some wedding pics? Nah.
By extension, that means you can’t really sit down and create a good one right off the bat, with no input from the client. If you read last month’s article about pitching clients by email, you know that a proposal is something your client sees at the very end. It happens after you’ve presented the idea, talked it out for some time, and agreed that you want to work together on this.
Because of this, there won’t be a lot of new information in your freelance proposal. It just summarizes everything you’ve discussed with the client up until that point… but also describes in detail what you’re going to do for them as a freelancer, and how. This combination of high-level overview and low-level elaboration is the tricky part. I’ll show you how to strike the right balance with my freelance proposal template.
That said, there are two other things a great proposal can do to make your job easier as a freelancer:
1. It locks in your pricing. In my experience, it’s better to quote the price as late as possible in your conversation with a client. Ideally, in the proposal itself. Obviously, you need to make sure they can afford you (otherwise it’s all for nothing). But other than that — take the time to get them to love your offer first. Then you’ll have no issues with the client accepting your quote.
2. It covers your ass. This is the essential safeguard for both the freelancer and the client. By agreeing on what the end result looks like, when it’s going to be delivered, and how the whole thing is going to work, you will be able to minimize fuck-ups and make it easier to wow your client.
My 5-step freelance proposal template
Once we assume that a great freelance proposal should: re-state the terms you discussed to the client; describe exactly what you will do, and why; secure your price and cover everyone’s squishy bums in case something unforeseen happens. With all this in mind, here’s a freelance proposal template you will want to emulate:
- A powerful introduction that frames the freelance job as valuable and necessary for the client.
- A detailed description of everything the freelancer will do to complete the job.
- A frank assessment of all potential challenges and concerns about the project.
- A matter-of-fact, professional quote, and sometimes a guarantee of some type to protect the client
- A simple, low-key call to action that feels confident and the opposite of pushy
Note: if you have a background in copywriting, you will notice that this proposal structure mirrors that of a sales page. But don’t worry, you don’t need to have any copywriting skills whatsoever to use this advice.
Now let’s go through all these elements step by step.
Step 1. Frame your freelance proposal
Your framing piece is one of the most important elements in a great freelance proposal. Basically, it’s a high-level summary of your project. With it, you should:
– Re-state the project and it’s goals.
– Describe, in broad strokes, what you will be doing.
– Connect it with your client’s goals.
– Introduce the list of necessary deliverables.
Here’s an example from one of my proposals:
Step 2. Describe your deliverables in dizzying detail
I swear I did not mean for this headline to be so alliterative. Oh well.
The second section is the meat and potatoes of your proposal. You summarized what needs to be done in the framing piece — now it’s time to get down and dirty with the details. This is where you describe everything you will be doing for the client, in a way that makes them eager to get started.
The basic structure goes something like this:
- Name the deliverable (as in, any substantial piece of work you will deliver to the client)
- Attach a due date to it (note: you might want to pad your deadline by a few days)
- Explain what it will accomplish for the client (always come back to the goals)
For example, here’s how I would break down a deliverable for a project about case studies or customer interviews:
Conduct 10 interviews with past customers
Timeline: depends on availability. We’ll aim to complete all the interviews by [date].
Customer development is a critical activity for [brand]. So much of our marketing hinges on the perceived effectiveness of our products in solving people’s problems. By talking to 10 of our best customers, we’ll achieve several big-picture goals at once:
– Create marketing material for hard-hitting testimonials and case studies that will attract more customers to us.
– Provide us with compelling copy straight from the source, to use in emails, product pages, website copy, advertising, etc.
– Give us first-hand input about which parts of our value proposition resonate with customers the most, and which they don’t really care about.
Write this for every major deliverable you’re going to complete as part of the project. Nothing pleases your client like seeing that you’re aware of what the job demands, and you know what you’re doing.
Step 3. Tackle potential challenges and objections
One of the most effective things you can do with your freelance proposal is to be honest and upfront about all the stuff that could go wrong. Addressing potential challenges and objections will show to your client that you’re not only aware about those complications, but you’re planning for them. “Forewarned means forearmed,” and all that.
Here’s another important point. When you bring up the challenges, always suggest a possible solution. There’s nothing worse than saying, “So… this sucks!” — and offering no recourse to your client. Here’s an example from one of my proposals:
Step 4. Name your price unapologetically
Asking for money is probably the most dreaded moment if any freelance proposal. Fortunately, there’s a great solution… Just. Be. Cool. About it. Something that doesn’t ever work in real life will actually look terrific in a written document — who knew?
Be matter-of-fact about your quote, and never apologize about charging for the kind of value you bring to the table. If you nailed what your client really wants, and you managed to convince them that you’re the one to make it happen, you should encounter no price resistance at all.
But hey, a picture is worth a thousand words, right? Here’s how I approached the pricing question in one of my recent proposals:
Note: giving the client two options instead of one is a trick I use from time to time. You don’t have to do the same thing in your freelance proposal. Just a straightforward, clearly articulated price will do.
Step 4.1. (optional) Give the client a guarantee
Your client shouldn’t feel like they’re making a gamble by hiring you. This makes them needlessly concerned, and makes your job as a freelancer more dificult. In the long term, you want them to brag about having the good sense to hire you and pay you lots of money to work your freelancing magic.
That’s why, in your proposal, you will want to do everything you can to reassure your client. And one of the best ways to do that is to give them a guarantee. That way, they will know their downside is protected, and there’s always a way out.
It could be a money-back guarantee: e.g. if they don’t like the work at the final draft stage, you will give them their money back. It could also be a creative guarantee: e.g. if they don’t like your work, you will spend 2 more rounds of revisions to improve it until they love it.
I don’t have a scripted example this time around, because most of my new projects come from repeat clients. But here’s my “blanket” guarantee I have for every project I do (and I only had to use it once):
Step 5. Close with a call to action
Last but not least, you want to close your freelance proposal with a simple but compelling call to action. Usually, I just ask the client to reply to my email and let me know if they want to go ahead with this. Once they say yes, I can send them an invoice for an upfront deposit. If they say no, I can talk to them about all the stuff they don’t like in my proposal, and modify it to their taste.
Here’s an example of what this might look like:
Want to download my field-tested freelance proposal template?
Click the link below to download the bonus PDF. And let me know in the comments if you’ve found this post helpful!