It all starts with a winning proposal.

A great proposal template will demonstrate to potential clients how your work will support their business goals. A well-crafted proposal should clearly articulate the problem to be solved while defining the services that will be provided.

You’ll want to anticipate the questions that potential clients will ask you and structure your proposal to address them:

  • What is the central problem to be addressed?
  • What’s the objective and how will the work proceed?
  • How much will it cost?
  • How long will the project last?

If you think of your proposal as one step in a broader conversation with clients and an opportunity to put your best foot forward, you’re on the right track.

Let’s dig into the elements that go into creating proposals that will turn leads into clients.

How to write freelance proposals that win business

Stellar proposals demand a thoughtful and consistent process.

Move through the right steps and those proposals will really “pop.” The trick is to balance a solid formula for pulling together proposals with a healthy dose of personalization for each client.

Here’s a quick step-by-step guide to creating successful proposals:

Get to know the client and the project

This is an easy way to win early points.

Just do your homework. Show up prepared with significant background knowledge on the client and the space they occupy in the given market.

Potential clients will expect you to show up relatively well-versed in their brand identity and the industry within which they operate. Here is your opportunity to demonstrate that you’re working to reduce the amount of necessary on-the-job training.

You want to get to the heart of the project and this is where you build the foundation.

Address the unique needs

There’s no question: Potential clients want you to nail the problem statement.

More than anything, they want you to understand and empathize with the challenges they’re facing in their business. The goals you set together for the project will flow from those business goals and the opportunities available to the client.

Building on the homework you’ve done about the client and the market, you’ll want to do more than just repeat what the client has shared about the problems they’re facing. You’ll need to add value and synthesize different details to lay out a compelling narrative into which the client can buy.

Make no mistake, your ability to secure the contract and successfully complete the project flows from how well you articulate the problem at this stage.

Explain your qualifications

Connecting the dots for clients is crucial.

As much as you can, draw direct lines between the client’s unique needs and business goals over to your special skills and expertise. This shows the client that you understand the objective of the project and that you’ve done sufficient work prior to this project to be qualified to carry it out.

Nothing speaks to predicted outcomes like past performance.

Whether you’re using testimonials from past clients or actual work samples, make sure your proposals demonstrate the high-quality work you’ve done in the past. Curate what you share so it’s relevant to each individual client, rather than sharing a random sample of all past work.

Describe your process

Clients will vary on this particular step.

Some clients like to get in the weeds with you. Others will sign off on the project and let you run the show. Either way, be prepared to spell things out for them and involve them in the process where necessary.

This is an opportunity to show clients how the “secret sauce” is made. Without giving away all of your trade secrets, break down the incremental approach you’ll take to meet the project goals. Setting up benchmarks helps clients understand the value of your work and reduces the complexities inherent in larger, multi-faceted projects.

Mapping out a process also helps both parties--clients and freelancers—remain accountable for meeting stated goals and objectives.

Clarify timeline and deliverables

Whether this shows up as an actual timeline or a detailed work plan, this step helps clients understand how to track progress over time. 

For projects that require ongoing client feedback, it’s also a good idea to designated specific points where you’ll solicit their feedback and ask for resources to move the project forward.

Don’t be afraid to get “quantitative” with this aspect of the proposal. Even if your work is creative or more qualitative, clients will be looking for hard numbers in the form of dates and deliverables that will culminate in a finalized project.

Make sure these concrete markers of progress make it into the proposal.

Follow-up to answer any questions

Don’t expect to button up every stray detail in the proposal.

It’s worth a shot, but it just won’t happen every time. That’s why it’s important to think of the proposal as a dialogue and not just a document. The clients you want to work with will expect you to reach back to them after a few days to see if you can answer their questions and address any concerns.

That’s just good professional etiquette. 

Come to that follow-up conversation with a few additional points to further enrich the discussion and be prepared to dig into the details of the proposal with the client.

Tips for creating a winning freelance proposal

Creating a proposal from scratch can be tempting.

If you’re just starting out as a freelancer and you want to make your mark with a new brand identity, there’s a certain appeal to going your own way.

There’s a better way, though.

At the very least, use a template to get you started. With a template, you can focus more on the necessary details and personal flourishes you’ll need to make the proposal stand out. 

The less time you spend on structure, generally speaking, the better. When you’re not chasing down potential clients, then you can focus on revamping your proposal structure.

Armed a template you can focus on the aspects of the proposals that will actually help you win over clients:

  • Inject some humanity: Don’t let your proposal be just another one on the pile. Demonstrate what makes you unique as a freelancer and professional by baking it into your proposal. Clients will appreciate the honesty and originality.
  • Show your work: Offer up the most relevant work samples from past projects. As much as possible, show past experience with the subject matter along with any awards or social proof of your skill.
  • Nail the problem statement: Really spend time narrowing this down into a simple, elegant statement that captures the core challenge.
  • Keep it simple: Keep the proposal as succinct as possible. You can always answer more questions or give a quick voiceover on a call.
  • Offer pricing options: Give the client some freedom of choice by offering a range of prices for different packages. Make sure you do the behind-the-scenes math for each price point to ensure you’re still meeting your profit margins for each.
  • Focus on client goals: Make sure that the proposal constantly revisits and addresses stated and implicit client goals.
  • End with a call to action: Give clients a concrete next step to take at the end of the proposal, ideally an action item that will help to close the deal.

Following the strategic process above while keeping in mind these tactical tips will help your future proposals perform. Your goal is to convert potential clients into loyal customers and your proposal discussions with clients are absolutely central to that goal.

Invest the time and resources in building up a strong proposal practice that shows clients that you understand the issues they’re facing and have the talent to help them succeed.

Leveraging a modern platform for freelance proposals

Even better than a stand-alone template is using online proposal software that comes with pre-populated templates you can leverage. Ideally, you want a platform that links your proposals with other crucial business tools like your invoices, contracts, and time-tracking.

The goal is to take as much of the administrative burden off of your plate so that you can focus on your core work.

The key here is to get your hands on tools that streamline the proposal process for you. The right platform for your freelance work will make a world of difference for you and for your clients.