When freelancing, you’re responsible for your own time.
You decide when you get up, how much time you spend working, and how many clients you can handle.
While this is liberating in a lot of ways, being a freelancer means that you’re also in charge of finding and providing work for yourself.
Finding steady and reliable work is arguably the biggest issue for many modern freelancers.
The industry is so dynamic that you almost never know if you’ll have enough work or, on the contrary, if you’ll suddenly end up with more than you can handle.
It’s often called the “feast or famine lifecycle.” And, for many freelancer’s it’s more famine than feast.
But it doesn’t have to be that way if you know how to write a winning proposal.
Before you send in your next bid, read on to learn how to write a bid proposal for freelance work that will win you projects in no time!
Why (and when) you need a killer proposal
Bottom line up front: Great proposals win great clients.
But the reality is a bit more complicated than that.
The freelance industry is growing rapidly — almost one-third of the American workforce is considered freelance, contributing $1.2 trillion to the economy.
Keep in mind that this number is somewhat inflated since Uber / Lyft drivers and similar gig work is also counted as freelance.
However, even discounting those numbers, more and more potential freelancers join the workforce each and every year.
On top of that, freelancing (like any industry) can be somewhat “top-heavy.”
A glut of talent can lead to race-to-the-bottom pricing and make it difficult for new talent to break into a competitive market.
People that are just starting up can find it hard to land new jobs so they’re often forced to start with low hourly rates until they make a name for themselves.
That’s especially the case for people working on freelancing platforms like Upwork, Fiverr, and Freelancer.com, where prospective clients often look at previous freelance projects and portfolios as key hiring factors.
On the other hand, experts with years of professional experience are highly sought-after and they easily book more jobs than they can handle.
IT, admin, accounting and data entry are all very particularly popular.
Most freelancing fields are highly competitive and, in situations where you’re up against more experienced freelancers or highly talented individuals a strong proposal can be the difference between closing the deal and pounding the digital pavement.
Here’s how to write that winning proposal.
1. Write an honest cover letter
Once you’ve found a potential client and they’ve invited you to send a proposal, a cover letter is a good place to start.
The cover letter doesn’t have to be a part of the proposal.
It can even be sent as a separate document. You might even use it in the body of your email with a proposal attached.
Cover letters are often the first thing your prospective client will read.
These letters are short and streamlined, and they should give clients a good idea of who you are and how you do business.
When writing, keep the cover letter conversational and do each of the following:
- Introduce yourself.
- Thank them for the opportunity.
- Explain (briefly) the contents of the proposal.
Cover letters aren’t comprehensive documents.
Don’t go into too much detail. Give them the gist of your proposal and let them approach your offer with an open mind.
Write the cover letter in such a way to make the reader want to learn more.
Treat your cover letter as a one-page proposal that gives your clients a brief summary and invites them to explore your ideas further.
Here is an example of a brief cover letter for a freelance writer specializing in SEO.
Dear [client name],
Thank you for considering my services!
I have the skill set you need to make this project a reality. Given my substantial experience with SEO content writing for [specific niche], I’m confident I can deliver top-notch content within your required time frame.
Enclosed, you will find my proposal for [project] based on my estimation of your content needs. In short, the proposal will show you:
- My background, expertise, and previous experience in the field.
- A detailed plan of activities for the following 60 days.
Every piece of content in the proposal is based on my careful analysis of the market, your business, as well as the latest SEO trends. If you have any questions and/or suggestions, feel free to reach out, my contact information is included below.
Looking forward to a fruitful collaboration,
Be advised: There’s also a wrong way of using honesty in your cover letters. While getting a job might be of utmost importance to you, never get too personal.
While clients love honesty, they’re not very appreciative of sob stories. They’re looking for someone to get the job done and they’re not interested in scoring extra karma points by hiring you.
Here’s an example of how not to do it:
Dear [Client Name],
Thank you for inviting me to apply for this job. I am a very hard worker who’s in serious need of a job. I’ve been going through some difficult times and I am willing to do anything to get this position.
I am willing to offer a cheaper price for my services and I would be extremely grateful if you could hire me.
I’ve worked in this industry for 5 years but had to hit a brief pause because of very difficult personal issues.
While falling on hard times is completely normal and nothing to be ashamed of, you shouldn’t use it as the main selling point.
In the example above, the cover letter begins with a sob story and there’s no clear mention of the freelancer’s skills or expertise.
The freelancer is trying to play the emotional card without giving any actual information of how the client would benefit from hiring him.
2. Start with a neat title page
In terms of content, the title page is simple: It features your name, your client’s name, and the title of your proposal.
A winning proposal, however, takes the reader in right from the first page.
The page should display professionalism and let the customer know that they’re about to read a document written by an expert on a topic they’re knowledgeable about.
Keep this page minimalistic but don’t be afraid to impress the reader with cool graphic design. Just try not to overdo it and have too much stuff going on.
While adding a couple of graphic elements is cool and can make your proposal stand out, make sure that the graphics are neutral.
For example, don’t use flowers, emojis or colors that are too bright. Avoid using neon colors and weird fonts as well.
3. Consider your tone of voice
The way you sound will greatly affect people’s perception of you as a professional.
Why does this matter?
For starters, you might want to adapt your tone to the client you’re writing the proposal for. In other words, a young crypto startup may not be looking for the same freelancer as a major player in the financial market.
For some clients, you want to sound professional, serious, and responsible. Others might appreciate quirkiness, creativity, and even a joke or two.
Research your client, and review any previous interactions you’ve had with project stakeholders. Use that information to decide on the tone of voice you want to go for throughout your proposal.
Additionally, a tone of voice that matches the client’s sensibility will help create a bond and make them “click” with your way of expression.
4. Include a table of contents
Unless your proposal is only a page or two long (and some great proposal designs take this minimalist approach), include a table of contents.
Freelancers often underestimate the value of quick navigation, but remember that clients are busy.
They may not review your entire proposal at once, and they may skim or skip to various sections at random while considering your offer.
A table of contents makes all of this easier and much quicker, which is critical for project stakeholders operating on a limited amount of time.
This can really make the whole experience more enjoyable and hassle-free.
The good news is that a table of contents is a relatively easy addition to any proposal.
Almost all word processing or writing software will allow you to implement a table of contents with a couple of clicks.
5. Give a brief overview with an executive summary
An executive summary is essentially a place for you to set the scene for the rest of the proposal: Introduce yourself and give an overview of what the reader can expect going forward.
This section should give the reader just enough information that, without reading anything further, they can have a solid idea of who you are and what you’re offering.
Here is a brief freelance proposal example.
I am a digital marketing specialist with five years of experience working on social media strategies and online advertising with U.S. and Canada-based startups.
My specific area of expertise is the IT industry. I’ve worked on promoting over 20 SaaS companies and tech startups through different digital channels. Here is a brief overview of my latest results:
- Helped [company name] get a 31% increase in Instagram followers in a two-month period.
- Increased [company name] engagement rate by [X.X]% in the period between [Month] and [Month] 20[XX].
- Part of a team that helped [company name] increase customer retention rates by [X]% in the past year.
- Set up, managed, and grew [company name] Facebook page to [XX]k followers in six months with no prior social media presence.
Then briefly outline your plan/strategy for the client and entice them to keep reading.
Remember: Focus on specific information.
Don’t include any fluff, and use statistics and numbers where relevant to show exactly how you’ve performed in previous roles and for previous clients.
The goal here is to demonstrate your value by showing the client what they can expect as a return on their investment by hiring you.
A bad choice would be to use general statistics for your application. In the example above, the freelancer clearly states how exactly their previous work helped a former client succeed.
Had that said instead, “increasing your Instagram follower count has the potential to boost your sales by 21%,” the statistic would have no merit.
It demonstrates no value that the freelancer provides and only indicates a potential reward for a monetary investment.
Clients are often familiar with the statistics and peculiarities of their industries. They’re not looking for someone to cite already known information.
They want to learn how you will help their business.
Build proposals faster with PandaDoc templates
Every freelancer knows that time is money.
Delivering proposals quickly to prospective clients can demonstrate a level of promptness that many stakeholders appreciate.
Proposal platforms like PandaDoc help you get your proposal to your client’s inbox more quickly. With PandaDoc, you get:
- Instant, paperless delivery.
- Robust document editing.
- Fast, and accurate document analytics.
- Built-in e-signature tools.
- Hundreds of customizable templates.
- Fast and easy payment capture.
And so much more.
Sign up for PandaDoc today and use any of our freelance proposal templates to jumpstart your next gig.
6. Outline your proposal and solutions
Once the executive summary is out of the way, it’s time to get to specifics.
This is where you tell the client exactly what you’re proposing, including deliverables, timelines, and exact responsibilities.
Think of this as your job description: This is exactly what you’ll be doing for the client given your skill set and expertise.
After reading this section, the client should have no doubts about what they’re paying for and what to expect for the duration of your project or contract.
A lot of proposal writers like to put this section as a table, bulleted list, or section. Why? Because proper formatting can make or break your proposal.
Here is an example from a freelance writing proposal:
1. Researching topics and content
In this stage, I will conduct research to analyze the most relevant content already written on similar topics. In cooperation with your SEO specialist, I will formulate a content writing plan consisting of topics, keywords, and deadlines for each article.
2. Writing an outline
Once a topic has been approved, I will create an outline detailing the entire article and its sections. The goal of the outline is to reduce editing time and agree on the article structure before writing.
3. SEO Content writing
With the help of SEO writing tools, I will write optimized content that aims to rank high for chosen keywords. The amount of inbound/outbound links will be agreed upon with your SEO or outreach specialists. All content will be 100% original and use relevant sources.
After the first draft, I will make all edits required to ensure the article is of the highest quality and according to your standards. I will do a maximum of three rounds of free editing, after which each new edit will be charged.
The finished article will be uploaded to a task management tool of your choice and shared with the entire team.
We love the clarity and organization in this list. The text is broken into sections, and it’s very easy to read.
If you were to write it as long blocks of text without any formatting elements, it would be too cumbersome to read.
Take a look at the exact same content written as paragraphs instead of numbered sections:
In the first stage, I will do research to analyze the most relevant content already written on similar topics. In cooperation with your SEO specialist, I will formulate a content writing plan consisting of topics, keywords, and deadlines for each article.
Once a topic has been approved, I will create an outline detailing the entire article and its sections. The goal of the outline is to reduce editing time and agree on the article structure before writing. With the help of SEO writing tools, I will write optimized content that aims to rank high for chosen keywords. The amount of inbound/outbound links will be agreed upon with your SEO or outreach specialists.
All content will be 100% original and use relevant sources. After the first draft, I will make all edits required to ensure the article is of the highest quality and according to your standards. I will do a maximum of three rounds of free editing, after which each new edit will be charged. The finished article will be uploaded to a task management tool of your choice and shared with the entire team.
As you can see, the text is completely the same — we’ve only removed the bullet points and bolded text.
However, the text reads completely differently.
It’s difficult to distinguish one section from another and there are no paragraph breaks.
While writing, make your content easy to skim and use text formatting to highlight the most important parts. A few bold lines and extra line breaks can make all the difference.
7. Make a detailed pricing list
It’s not all about the money — until it is.
Like it or not, price is one of the most important in your client’s hiring decision.
However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that a potential client will hire the cheapest bidder.
Clients are often looking for freelancers who can give them the best return on their investment.
Cheap hires may be inexperienced or lack the knowledge to perform well in the role, which forces clients to hire new talent to clean up a mess.
No client wants to do that.
To show your clients that you’re running a serious freelance business, you need to have a transparent and precise pricing list that they can understand.
If you’re working on a per-project basis, this often means accounting for every deliverable and leaving no stone unturned.
If you price yourself hourly, you’ll need to have a rate that is logical, based on your experience and expertise.
In either case, your client should know exactly how much your services cost and how much they’re paying you for which part of the job.
Not only is this transparent and professional, it also gives the client an idea of where they might have some negotiation room.
Here is an example of a pricing list:
|Content creation – FB & IG posts||$10||24||$240|
|Analytics and reporting||$100||1||$100|
|Community management, weekends included||$150||1||$150|
8. Write an honest “About me” or “Why should you work with me” section
While your proposal, pricing, and executive summary sections need to be somewhat technical and detailed, this is a section in which you can address the client more directly.
Focus on what makes you unique and explain where you see a connection between you and the client’s project. Don’t be afraid to make a joke or two. Speak honestly and tell them why you’re the perfect person to solve the client’s problem.
Again, be aware who you’re talking to and don’t get too friendly if your reader is overly formal.
This is how you can start:
In 2017, I decided to quit my job and start a freelance career. There’s just something about being your own boss and watching new businesses thrive that made me so excited about this line of work.
Four years later, I believe this is the best decision I ever made. I’ve worked with clients from all over the world, made friends, and even visited some of my international clients in their countries. Most importantly, I developed a true passion for my work and I feel like I really make a difference with my writing services.
Working on this project would help me expand my horizons and step into the world of […]
You can also submit a CV with other detailed information about your past work experiences and successes.
9. Add testimonials and social proof to make a stronger connection
Recommendations and reviews are a great way to let your prospective clients know that you’re good at your job.
There is a reason why LinkedIn, Upwork, Fiverr, and other business platforms have entire sections dedicated to recommendations.
Clients trust other clients’ recommendations just like online buyers consult their friends and online reviews before making a purchase.
Add direct customer quotes or even videos into your proposal to demonstrate to your client that you already have a substantial list of completed and successful projects.
Testimonials and quotes can emphasize clear points about your process, workflow, and the effectiveness of your solution. Here are a few examples:
“With PandaDoc, not only do we have a consistently simple signing process that makes it easy for our clients, we can see detailed analytics to help us understand which parts of our proposal are being viewed more in order to tailor our documents more appropriately.” Datanyze
“As we improved our processes, we were able to see more deals coming in, with much more flexibility in the deals offered.”Jeff Keeney, Consultant
“PandaDoc stepped in as the conductor of [our] processes.”Jason Richman, VP of Sales
Every company relies on testimonials like this to prove that they can get the job done. We even do it at PandaDoc!
If you need inspiration, take a look at a few of the outstanding testimonials from our website.
Optional: Legal agreements and NDAs
One optional component you should consider is a legal agreement.
A winning proposal might get you the job you want, but you’re taking a risk if you proceed without a contract.
That’s why you should prepare a letter of agreement (LOA).
The letter of agreement is more of an informal version of a contract. It’s basically an agreement between two parties that outlines the terms of the agreement.
This document is useful to have as it can resolve later disputes that may arise.
Your LOA can be simple.
Using easy-to-understand language, this document should specify the terms and conditions that both the client and you need to follow for a specific project.
The main downside is the potential for loopholes.
LOAs are not designed to be ironclad contracts, and you should strongly consider creating and e-signing a legally binding contract prior to starting work.
Another agreement you can encounter while doing freelancing jobs is a non-disclosure agreement (NDA).
Some clients want to ensure you won’t reveal any details about their business or the proprietary information or processes they want to conceal.
If that is the case, they will probably request that you sign an NDA before they discuss work or rates.
This is not an odd practice — businesses want to protect themselves, so finding out how to write an NDA is their top priority.
Lastly, another way freelancers can protect themselves is through policies and clarifications around post-submission work like revisions and changes.
Sometimes freelancers submit a project to a client thinking their job is done. The client, however, comes back with additional requests.
This had led most high-performing freelancers to add a revisions clause in their document, which caps the number of change request, iterations, or updates they will include prior to adding a surcharge.
However, you’ll need to outline this policy within your contract or proposal.
Doing so will prevent nitpicking and ensure that future requests from a submitted project become billable if a client needs substantive changes.
Remember: Time is money and your clients should see you value your work and effort.
10. Finish up with an agreement and CTA
This is something that won’t be needed when writing an Upwork proposal, for example.
But, if you’re working directly with a client, you might absolutely need this section.
Essentially, an agreement and CTA section is a technical, often legal, end of your proposal document.
The purpose of this section is to either enter a contract, explain your terms and conditions, or write any other technical or legal summary.
Be aware that, if you require your clients to sign the document, you’re entering a contract.
An agreement often reads something like this:
Signing the below fields signifies the acceptance of the proposed terms and conditions in this document. Your eSignature automatically starts a contractual agreement beginning on the date below.
11. Put all together in one template
Once you’ve written a few freelance proposals, take the time to put them all together into a single, well-designed document.
Aside from assisting with legally binding signature capture, proposal tools like PandaDoc excel in this area.
PandaDoc offers a whole library of 750+ templates and 167 free samples you can use right now. We can make sure that your freelance proposals look neat, professional, and visually striking.
Here are some templates you can check out right now:
Sign up for a plan to get started.
Frequently asked questions about freelance proposals
Depending on the platform you’re working on, your proposal will need to follow a specific structure.
To submit a proposal in Upwork, for example, you need to answer the client’s questions and follow the form step by step.
If you’re working with the client directly, you can typically send a PDF document with all of the sections we went through in this article.
There are no strict rules when it comes to proposal length. However, it will do you good to keep it as brief as possible — under fifteen pages should be fine.
However, keep in mind that you should let those pages breathe. Instead of worrying about the number of pages, spend more time making each page easily readable and pleasant on the eye.
Upwork is one of the more competitive freelancing platforms. To land a job there, Upwork recommends focusing on the client’s needs and highlighting exactly how your specific expertise can help solve their problems.
When submitting a proposal on UpWork, don’t just write the same thing for everyone and simply change their company name. That’s a great way to get your proposal instantly rejected.
Instead, take some time to tailor your proposal to the client’s specific needs. Doing so will help you stand out from the crowd when clients begin to review candidates.
Originally was published in October 2017 and has been updated for comprehensiveness in February 2023