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How to Write a Winning Freelance Project Proposal

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Writing a winning proposal starts long before the proposal is written. When you get a new lead, it’s up to you to ask qualifying questions that determine if the client and their project are an ideal fit for you and your business.

This is called “qualifying” your lead.

Qualifying your leads

Since proposals require a lot of time to write and your time is extremely valuable, it’s important to qualify your leads as quickly as possible. To do this, I ask the 5 “why“ questions to every prospective client. These questions are included directly in my contact form, but you can ask them in a live meeting environment too:

  • Why are you looking to start this project?
  • How is the current problem affecting your business?
  • What business goals do you want to achieve?
  • Do you have a budget set aside for this project?
  • When are you looking to get started?

Asking these questions will do several important things:

  • Set you apart from the majority of other freelancers
  • Tell your prospective client that you care about their business
  • Expose the real reason why they want this project to happen
  • Get them thinking in a new, different way
  • Position you to have a valuable conversation about their business.

The client’s answers to these key questions will help you understand if you’re a good fit to work together.

If you are, you’ll be closely aligned. If not, you’ll avoid wasting time.

But once you’ve pre-qualified your lead, you’ll need to ask more detailed questions about their project (usually features and functionality and the scope of work).

These follow-up questions should be constructed in such a way that the answers give you all the information you need to write a proposal and allow your prospective client to overcome any objections to hiring you.

What to include in your proposal

The structure and content of your proposal can be the difference between closing the deal or waiting for the next lead to come in. What to include is highly debated, but I’ve experienced an astonishing 90% close rate with sending the following structure to qualified leads:

  • Page 1: Cover (names, dates, etc)
  • Page 2: Project Summary (problem, goal, solution)
  • Page 3: Past Successes + Experience (tangible results)
  • Page 4: Recent Work Samples (grid of images)
  • Page 5: Clients You’ve Worked With (further validation)
  • Page 6: The Offer (summarize the project phases)
  • Page 7: Scope of Work (details about what’s included)
  • Page 8: Timeline + Pricing Breakdown
  • Page 9: Testimonials (additional validation)
  • Page 10: Closing Remarks & Signatures

Notice that there is no place for terms, conditions, clauses, or anything else that might be a barrier between my prospective client and the signature page. Your proposal should be kept as short as possible and void of lengthy legal jargon. This document is your proposed solution(s) to the client’s problem. It is not intended to be a legal contract.

At this point, you’re probably asking yourself questions like:

I recommend sending a legally-binding contract as a separate document attached to your proposal. That way, the client can focus on your sales pitch without getting lost in your terms and conditions.

Curious how that works? Check out my proposal and contract bundle!

If you’re still concerned about getting paid, I recommend putting the power in your own hands by collecting full upfront payment. When you do this, the money becomes the contract and everyone is committed.

In most cases, the only reason freelancers feel the need to have a contract at all is to make sure they get paid on time for the agreed upon scope of work (more on that later).

Offer multiple options

Offering multiple options to your prospective client is the best way to ensure they hire you. It’s a tried-and-true technique that has worked since the dawn of sales and marketing. Most freelancers only offer one option, which forces the prospective client to ask themselves, “how does this price compare to other freelancers?” and invites them to price-shop your solution.

However, when you offer multiple options, your clients will focus on comparing your prices instead of getting quotes from other freelancers. The more time they spend focused on you, the less you have to compete with other freelancers, and the more likely you will be to win the project.

For example, if your client’s website isn’t converting enough leads, you could offer 3 options:

Option 1

The first option might be to simply tweak a few things on the client’s existing website. This could include changing colors, titles, spacing, sizing, etc. It will take the least amount of time, but may not result in many more conversions. This solution might take 1 week and cost $2,000

Option 2

The second solution could be a new, pre-made website that uses a WordPress or SquareSpace theme. This saves you the time and effort of designing a custom website, but you have to assume that the theme creator did their homework and built a website that would generate leads effectively. This solution might take 3 weeks and cost $6,000

Option 3

The third solution could be to completely redesign and rebuild the website from scratch. This would include an in-depth user research and strategy phase to determine the reason behind why leads aren’t converting as intended. It will take the longest, but will also maximize conversions. This solution might take 5 weeks and cost $10,000

All three solutions fix the same problem, but in different ways. By offering multiple, business-focused options, you dramatically increase your chances of winning the project by reassuring your client that you’re right for the job.

You can even leverage these options to psychologically push your clients toward the option you want them to accept:

  • Push for option 2 with 1 / 2.2 / 5 distribution
  • Push for option 3 with 1 / 1.5 / 1.75 distribution

That means if you want them to choose option 2, your price structure would look like this: $2,000 / $4,200 / $10,000. Since there is an intentionally big gap between options 2 and 3, option 2 becomes the most appealing.

If you want them to choose option 3, your price structure would look like this: $2,000 / $3,000 / $3,500. Since option 3 is only slightly larger than option 2 and they get the best solution, option 3 is the most appealing.

Overcoming client objections

Every client starts out with objections. Why should they hire you? Why should they pay your rate? How do they know your solution will actually help them? What is protecting them if things go wrong? How do they know you are the right person for the job?

There is no simple answer, but your proposal should help them overcome these objections and allow you to earn their trust. If done correctly, it will be clear that you’re focused on helping their business grow and can offer a solution that is going to get them a tangible return on their investment. That’s ultimately the reason why they should hire you and pay your rate.

In my experience, showcasing client testimonials, writing project case studies, and communicating effectively are the best ways to convince a client that you’re the right freelancer for the job.

Lastly, keep in mind that your portfolio website can be a powerful business tool that establishes trust before the client even contacts you.

Last updated on March 3rd, 2023

About Matt Olpinski
I've been freelancing since 2009 and have worked with over 100+ clients including some of the biggest brands in the world. I later started my own company Matthew’s Design Co. and now teaches 50,000+ freelancers each year how to succeed through his personal blog, newsletter, and community for freelancers.