In this post, I guide you through a thought-process that can help give you the best chances to win a freelance-bid which may attract tens, or even hundreds, of applications.

By solely focussing on the numbers, you may feel like it’s not worth trying too hard to write your proposal. You may be seduced into firing off as many as you can in the hope of playing the numbers game yourself.

Employing this strategy will most likely result in you winning few, if any, contracts whatsoever. If you do this, you are wasting your and the reader’s (customer) time and energy.

This article describes a thought process that you can employ that puts you in a much better frame of mind for bidding on contracts, either posted online, or even those found more locally. By considering this process, with a little bit of critical thought of your own, you stand in a much better position of submitting a winning proposal.

A point to note is that I have declined to provide a freelance proposal example. This is because I feel it’s better to help you develop the correct mindset, or thought process, to craft your own proposal.

The Thought Process

Ask yourself the following question:
“Why am I submitting a proposal for this job/project?”

Instinctive, you may arrive at the following answer: “To find some work and get paid.” Poor answer. Plain and simple.

In truth, it’s not inherently wrong to think in this way, but that kind of attitude does not put you in the prime frame of mind for preparing a proposal.

A better answer to the above question might be:
“To solve the customer’s problems by making use of my skills and ultimately be compensated for my time.”

This statement may seem a little academic, on the surface at least. I disagree. If you’re constantly focusing on what you can gain from the business relationship, you are significantly displaced from understanding, and describing, how you will help the customer. It’s not about you; it’s about them.

The Blanket Mail-shot

I’ve dealt with enough hirers in cyberspace, or in the “real world”[dagger] to know the sheer number of one-line applications they receive for a single project is immense.

[dagger]Note that I have made the distinction between the online and the real world, which is an error on my part. I decided to maintain the abstraction in my article since it leads me to a very important point that many people forget, including me occasionally, to state a very
important point. 

That is – there is no distinction between the online world and the real world.

Even online, you are going to submit a proposal that will eventually be read by a real person. When navigating the internet, and looking into your screen, it’s very easy to forget that there is a real human being at the other end of the line. Never forget that!

Writing the Proposal

When you are crafting a proposal, always have the context of the brief in mind, no matter how succinct or detailed. The reader (hirer) only cares what you can do, to solve their business problems.

I recall the adage that was hammered into my psyche whilst preparing for school exams: answer the question that was asked; not the one that you want to answer. Don’t be a politician!

Notice My use of the word “crafting”. When I’m writing a proposal, I consider it like developing a software project or a piece of creative writing. The first draft of the proposal will (probably) be very rough (rubbish).

That’s ok. The very act of forming this draft will help you mentally process the information in the brief. It gives me a deeper insight into what problem(s) that the customer requires to be solved for them.

Once you have a deeper understanding of the brief, along with the work requirements, it’s wide to completely rewrite the brief with the benefit of a fuller understanding of the problem set and the customer’s needs.

You can then go over it one more time to check for spelling, typing, or grammatical errors. This is an important step – if the customer finds it difficult to understand the proposal, they will simply flick through to the net applicant.

Presenting the Proposal

My number-1 go-to tool for presenting a proposal is the trusty spreadsheet. It’s a good idea to use a cloud-based version. This allows you to easily share the document with the client via a link or direct invite. Always remember to keep the document private and only share it with the original hiring party.

I would recommend avoid using an email attachment. In many companies, emails with attachments from unknown sources are often blocked by firewalls. Make it as convenient as possible for the hirer to view your proposal, but with security in mind. It’s not about you; it’s about
them.

I use my spreadsheet to list a set of tasks (and sub-tasks) that I deem necessary to complete the work. This simple presentation will demonstrate, to the reader, that you have taken the time to study and understand the brief. I also do this for customers that have requested a fixed-price job.

Doing so serves two purposes. It demonstrates clearly to the reader that you are being realistic about timescales not overcharging, or undercharging, for the project. It ensures that you can complete the work, within the budget, such you are not selling yourself short.

Estimating

After I have listed all of the tasks, I then go through each item and estimate how long I think it will take to complete each task or subtext. Estimating is not an exact science and I wouldn’t say that there is a single strict way to do it. Once you have completed a few projects, you will start to get a feel for this process and you will become more accurate. Experience counts here, and your estimates will demonstrate this to the reader.

 I like to use a granularity of 15 minutes. Even though I usually ask for an hourly rate, I always stick to this level of granularity. I find this degree of precision helps to even out uncertainties in my estimates. Some tasks will take me longer than I anticipated and others may be shorter. Any errors in my estimates tend to even out, throughout the whole project, and I feel it’s fair to both parties.

It’s Not All About Them

A potential customer will more than likely want to know who they’re hiring. In that light, it’s more than okay to include a summary of your experience. I like to do this in the form of a short story, which describes my experience and details how I’ve helped others in the past and how I can apply those skills and experiences to help the client.

I would encourage you to include this backstory, but only concisely and after you have presented the solution. If the reader has got this far into your proposal, then they are most likely at the point where they want to know more about you.

Personal view: I like to try to convey my personality and character in my story. I do this not just by describing my experiences, but also in the language that I use. I also try to throw in limited, but sincere emojis in my description. If these are well placed and positive, then it tells the reader how you feel about the work you do and how you enjoy helping others.

Tip: When I write a proposal, I often make-believe in my mind, that I have already won the contract.

Coming Up for Air

Even if you do all of what is described in this article, you may still receive a rejection. Or no response at all.

Do not let this deter you. It is an important part of the process. If this happens, I like to re-read the brief and my proposal. And, where possible, do some investigation into the party that has won the contract. In most cases, you will find that the other was chosen because their skill-set is a closer match to the client’s requirements.

If you conclude that that is the case, then there is no need to be subdued. You should view it in a positive light. That is, the client has found the solution they were looking for. It’s about them not you!

In your proposal, be sure to include anything that you think you do better than the competition. Remember your niche – your little place in the world of work that nobody does like you. Never denigrate other freelancers – this doesn’t sell you and only servers present you in a negative light.

Besides, these competitors may one day be your customers. Or even your hires, so you don’t want to create negative vibes in the community. If you are truly in your niche, then there is no need for this. Ever.

Summary

Consider presenting a proposal analogous (not the same!) as sending a CV to the prospective employer.

You need to tailor a proposal to a particular brief, just as you would tailor a CV to a specific job role. This is more so when it comes to proposals since briefs are much more varied and specific than a job. Additionally, the same company may have multiple briefs, just like a single company may have different job roles.

You never want to do a mailshot and merely fire off a bunch of generic proposals which merely present a one-liner of who you are and what school you attended. If you do this, you are probably wasting your time and that of your client.

Once you understand that and begin sending out proposals and start to receive responses (or rejections) then the process I have described is no longer mundane and laborious. It becomes an enjoyable and fulfilling experience and you’ll start to get a thirst for it and the fear of
rejection will subside.

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