How to Craft a Strong Proposal So You Stand Out — With Examples

How to Craft a Strong Proposal So You Stand Out — With Examples

Katie Davies
Katie Davies
December 25, 2018
32

When you send out a proposal, you are demonstrating to a prospective client what your future work product will be like. Are you taking the time and care necessary to put together something that is personalized and polished, or does your proposal look rushed and generic?

According to Forbes, 57 million workers in the United States are already part of the gig economy—that’s more than one third (36%) of the workforce! This means that competition is fierce. Even on freelance marketplaces where there’s remote work in abundance, there are often hundreds of people bidding on a single job. Bottom line: If your proposal doesn’t stand out (for the right reasons), you won’t win the job. Lucky for you, we’ve compiled some of the best ways to ensure you make an excellent first impression.

#1: Catch Their Attention in the Introduction

Your proposal has a mere few seconds to win the client’s attention, so it’s important to make an impact right away and encourage them to read on. Look for ways to create an attention-grabbing opener.

What to Do

One surefire way to catch a client’s attention is to state a fact that applies to the project. For instance, if you’re a freelance writer, you could begin your proposal with the following, and then proceed with samples of evergreen blog posts that continually drive traffic to your previous clients’ websites:

Compounding blog posts can generate nearly 40% of a blog’s traffic over time, which means it’s incredibly important to create compelling content that has long-term relevancy. That’s where I come in!

Another option is to acknowledge the client’s pain points using their own words from their job description and tell them why you’re the person to help solve said problem. For example, a freelance web designer might begin their proposal with the following:

I understand that you’re looking for someone who can develop a highly-converting landing page. When done well, this will serve to build a targeted list of leads for your upcoming marketing campaign, while simultaneously keeping your ad costs low.

What to Avoid

Remember, you’re writing a freelance job proposal—not a traditional cover letter. The following example is too formal to serve as a proposal intro. Plus, it’s all “me, me, me,” which will start your collaboration off on the wrong foot:

Dear Sir/Madam,
I am writing to apply for the Virtual Assistant job posted on Freelancer. I would love to work with you because I’ve followed your company since its inception and believe I could be a valuable asset.

Pro Tips

  • Where possible, call the hiring party by his/her name vs. Sir/Madam; this shows that you’ve done your research and immediately makes your proposal more personal
  • The introduction should focus on the client’s problem, not on yourself; in the first line, make note of something from the job posting or include a relevant fact or figure
  • Avoid generic language that sounds like it could have been copied and pasted from any other job proposal; use engaging and upbeat language that catches the client’s attention straight away

#2: Include Compelling Samples

Let’s face it, the client doesn’t care about you personally (no offense). They care about what you can do for them. Therefore, the best way to tell them how relevant you are is to show them. And how do you show them? Through portfolio samples that match what it is they’re looking for.

Until you show the client your talents, they will always be skeptical about you.

What to Do

You should include a title or description of the link that you’re sending over to communicate your examples’ relevance to the client. If you are including an attachment rather than a link, be sure to include the words [Attached] to direct them to the right place.

The trick is to make your samples as clear and easy-to-access as possible. Make the placement of your links extremely straightforward and clickable—this is the best way to ensure that they actually take a look. Consider the example below:

Please find some examples of my writing on personal health:
How to Combat Negative Thoughts — ABC Health Publication (Mental Health Advice Community) at http://www.abchealthpub.com/blog-example-1
Is a Good Night’s Sleep the Secret to Happiness? — LMN Health Publication (International Parenting Blog) at http://www.lmnhealthpub.com/blog-example-2
Life Tip: How to Surround Yourself with Positive People — XYZ Health Publication (Online Women’s Health Magazine) at http://www.xyzhealthpub.com/blog-example-3

What to Avoid

Don’t just shoot over a ton of links without any context. This looks lazy, sloppy, and tells the client that you don’t really care about the project or their time.

Here are some examples of my work:
http://www.abchealthpub.com/blog-example-1
http://www.lmnhealthpub.com/blog-example-2
http://www.xyzhealthpub.com/blog-example-3
http://www.abchealthpub.com/blog-example-4
http://www.lmnhealthpub.com/blog-example-5
http://www.xyzhealthpub.com/blog-example-6

Pro Tips

  • Tailor your examples to the open job from a variety of angles. For example, if it’s a healthcare client looking for banner ads, show the print ads you’ve designed in the healthcare space, and some banner ads that you may have done for the finance industry; these examples will mean more than an infographic for the food industry
  • Perhaps you have a beautiful online portfolio that you’d like to direct a prospective client toward, if so, indicate what examples they should look at specifically; this respects their time and helps ensure that your most relevant work will be viewed
  • Some clients will list how many samples they’d like to see in the job description, whereas, others will leave the decision up to you. In this case, choose between two and four relevant samples

#3: Explain Why You’re a Good Fit

Once your introduction and sample sections are complete, your proposal should also explain why you’re a good fit for the open job. It’s all about establishing authority in your niche.

Essentially, this aim of this section is to present the advantages of collaborating with you while describing your qualities. You need to answer the question “why should this client work with me?” and demonstrate how you’re the best of the bunch in order to win the project.

What to Do

You don’t have to write out your entire history or list all of your qualifications—that’s what your freelance profile is for—just choose the information that is most relevant to the job at hand. For example, if you are a writer applying for a position writing content for a healthcare company, the following would be a good way to start:

For nearly ten years I have worked with a number of clients, specifically within the healthcare and pharmaceutical space. For organizations big and small, I have developed and managed communication campaigns that shape opinion and influence behavior. Given my background in brand strategy and positioning, I strongly believe that any content you produce should be consistent with your brand’s established voice. I can help to ensure that.

What to Avoid

Arrogance is one of the quickest ways to get your proposal tossed aside. Don’t just say that you are an expert; instead, explain your background which has given you this level of experience. Focus on being honest and delivering real information, the fact that you are amazingly talented will shine through without you having to state it directly. For example, avoid the following:

All of my previous healthcare clients have loved working with me on their various writing projects. This isn’t surprising, as I’ve had nearly 10 years of experience, so I often know more about the industry than they do!

Pro Tips

  • Consider including a testimonial from one of your previous clients, or indicate that references are available upon request; this substantiates your claims and provides assurance to the prospective client
  • Be sure to indicate the years of relevant experience you have, and any degrees or qualifications that can support this
  • In addition to noting the different projects that you’ve worked on, make an indication of a learning or insight that you’ve gained as a result of that experience; this tells a prospective client that you know what you are doing and won’t be learning on the job

#4: Answer Any Logistical Questions

In a job description, a client will often—but not always—make note of an anticipated turnaround time, budget, review system, etc. In addition to making a case for why you are qualified for the job, it is critical that you also indicate that you have read and understand the given parameters.

What to Do

The key is to professionally address a client’s logistical points, while demonstrating your experience with the type of work. Consider the following:

I saw your note on timing and am completely comfortable with the turnaround times; 3-5 days is more than enough to review a report of this length, and I can be very flexible with start dates. I can also plan to submit edits however you would like to receive them. What I have done in the past is track my changes in a Word document for the first draft, and then add sticky notes on the PDF when reviewing the designed draft.

What to Avoid

The biggest mistake that you can make is to just not include reference to any logistical points in your proposal. That said, being overly vague can be just as problematic; if you’d like to make an adjustment to their parameters, you need to include a reason why:

I’ll send you edits on the document for $500. Feel free to send the document over and I’ll get it back to you at some point soon.

Pro Tips

  • Some clients will not include information regarding deadline or price; in this case, it’s often still a good idea for you to give them a sense of what you have in mind; erring on the side of transparency allows the conversation to advance without wasting either party’s time
  • There may be an instance where, based on your personal experience, you feel like the proposed deadline, budget, review system, etc. is not appropriate for the job that has been outlined; in this case, you should still consider submitting a proposal, but indicate how you would like to adjust the parameters and why. This tells a client that you have enough experience with this type of work that you are able to anticipate any potential needs and/or issues
  • Another great way to set you apart from the crowd is to ask smart follow up questions that demonstrate your experience. For example, if they state that they would like two rounds of revisions, you can make a recommendation for how these revisions would be best submitted to streamline the review and approval process

#5: End with a Powerful CTA

Last but certainly not least, I can’t stress enough how important it is to end your proposal on a positive note and include a relevant call to action (CTA).

What to Do

At the end of your proposal, you should indicate any next steps for both parties and gently nudge the client to get in touch. If you include a question, it should be extremely straightforward to answer and make the client excited about the prospect of working with you. For example:

Is there a convenient time when we could discuss this project further? I am very interested to hear more about the article specifics, including the format and tone you envision. I would also be happy to compile any additional examples or references in the meantime.

What to Avoid

Your sign-off really needs to focus on how you will benefit the client, not the other way around. The following example does a poor job of motivating the client to continue along with the hiring process:

Hopefully I’ve managed to convince you that I’d be a great fit. I’d love to get this project because it works well with my schedule and sounds like I’d really enjoy it. Let me know when I can get started!

Pro Tips

  • You want to demonstrate confidence without coming across as arrogant; you want to ensure the client that you would do a great job, but still be seen as a team player who would be enjoyable to work with
  • Where possible, look for ways that can instill a sense of urgency into your sign-off, that inspires the client to take action sooner rather than later. Many clients post jobs that they never end up filling, because they have not been sufficiently motivated by the proposals
  • Include any outstanding questions that you may have, which can add clarification to the project parameters and help you get started quickly; this avoids a situation where you get the client excited to work with you, but then there is a lengthy back and forth before the project can actually begin

Perfecting Your Proposal So It Stands Out

If you want to stand out in the oversaturated freelance marketplace, then you need to have a killer proposal. The best tips that I can give you consist of the following:

  • Personalize Your Message: Don’t sound robotic or generic, and don’t use templates. Each proposal should be tailored according to the client’s requirements and specific pain points
  • Be Interesting Right from the Start: Don’t wait until your third or fourth paragraph to capture the client’s attention. Showcase your personality, but remember to exude professionalism at all times
  • Show How Valuable You Are: Use the main body of your proposal to demonstrate your experience and expertise; your samples are imperative for showcasing your abilities
  • Cover Any Logistics: Read the job description carefully to respond to every question that the client wants answered in your proposal. And if they want you to state your price when you apply to the job, then include your starting rates but be clear that you’re amenable

Ultimately, it might take you a fair few tweaks before you perfect your proposals and start landing high-quality jobs—and that’s okay. Freelancing is all about flexibility, trial and error, and learning as you go along. You’ve got this.


Sources

https ://www.forbes.com/sites/tjmccue/2018/08/31/57-million-u-s-workers-are-part-of-the-gig-economy/#5246c1077118
https ://research.hubspot.com/compounding-blog-posts-what-they-are-and-why-they-matter
https ://quickbooks.intuit.com/ca/resources/writing/write-effective-freelance-proposal/
https ://www.upwork.com/hiring/for-freelancers/how-to-create-a-proposal-that-wins-jobs/
https ://medium.com/bottom-line-grind/how-to-write-upwork-proposals-that-make-clients-practically-begging-to-work-with-you-d31a2c5bc2b
https ://www.economist.com/leaders/2014/01/18/coming-to-an-office-near-you

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