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How to write a freelance proposal: a step-by-step guide for freelancers

How to write a freelance proposal: a step-by-step guide for freelancers

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. You’re also in charge of finding and providing work for yourself.

While this is liberating in a lot of ways, it’s also arguably the biggest issue for many freelancers.

The industry is so dynamic that you almost never know if you’ll have enough work this month or you’ll, on the contrary, end up with more than you can handle.

The freelance industry is growing rapidly — almost one-third of the American workforce is freelance, contributing $1.2 trillion to the economy.

This is a 22% increase compared to 2019 and we can safely say that the global pandemic played a big role in accelerating this trend.

How to write a freelance proposal

  1. Write an honest cover letter
  2. Start with a neat title page
  3. Consider your tone of voice
  4. Don’t forget the table of contents
  5. Give a brief overview with an executive summary
  6. Outline your proposal and solutions
  7. Make a detailed pricing list
  8. Write an honest “About me” or ”Why should you work with me” section
  9. Add Testimonials & Social Proof to make a stronger connection
  10. Finish up with an Agreement & CTA
  11. Put all together in one template

The issue with freelancing

Another potential problem for new freelancers is that the industry is “top-heavy”.

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.

Developers, finance, and digital marketing experts are particularly popular.

So, what does this tell us?

For starters, it tells us that you should take freelance job hunting seriously. You need to be dedicated to writing each project proposal as professionally as you can and wowing your potential clients.

The competition is growing so the road to becoming the leader in your field is becoming increasingly hard.

That’s when a proposal template can come in handy: you can show your prospective clients that you’re professional, take your job seriously, and go the extra mile.

With a freelance proposal solution, you can do all of this in a few minutes so you don’t need to be writing proposals for new clients all the time.

Here is how to write a detailed freelance proposal that will win you projects in no time!

Step 1. Write an honest cover letter

The cover letter doesn’t have to be a part of the proposal, it’s often sent as a separate document. Even so, it’s often the first thing your prospective client will read.

It’s short and streamlined, and it can give them a good idea of who you are and how you do business.

So, try to keep the cover letter conversational — introduce yourself, thank them for the opportunity, and briefly explain what awaits them in the rest of the proposal.

Don’t go into too much detail since you want them to approach the proposal with an open mind.

The best advice here is to write the cover letter in such a way to make the reader want to learn more.

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 believe I have just the toolset 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;
  • Pricing.

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,

[name]

Step 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.

Step 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 your writing the proposal for. In other words, a young crypto startup isn’t looking for the same freelancer as a big 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 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.

Step 4. Don’t forget the table of contents

Unless your proposal is a page or two long, you’ll need a table of contents.

People writing a freelance proposal often underestimate the value of this element but you have to remember that not all readers will go through your proposal chronologically.

They also might want to refer back to something you mentioned in the earlier sections. A table of contents makes all of this easier and much quicker.

And, if you have a freelance proposal template or any software to help you with proposal writing, you can implement a clickable table of contents.

This can really make the whole experience more enjoyable and hassle-free for the reader.

Step 5. Give a brief overview with an executive summary

Now we’re getting to the “meat” of your proposal.

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 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 2.1% in the period between June and November 2020.
  • Part of a team that helped [company name] increase customer retention rates by 7% in the past year.
  • Set up, managed, and got [company name] Facebook page to 55k followers in six months with zero previous social media presence.

Then briefly outline your plan/strategy for the client and entice them to keep reading. Remember, focus on specific information, no fluff!

Step 6. Outline your proposal and solutions

Now is the time to get specific and tell the client exactly what you’re proposing. What are your deliverables, timeline, 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.

A lot of proposal writers like to put this section as a table, bulleted list, or timeline. You usually outline your solutions briefly in the executive summary and then expand on them in this section.

Here is an example from a freelance writing proposal.

1. Researching topics and content

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.

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 willk be agreed with your SEO or outreach specialists. All content will be 100% original and use relevant sources.

4. Editing

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.

5. Uploading

The finished article will be uploaded to a task management tool of your choice and shared with the entire team.

Step 7. Make a detailed pricing list

To show your potential clients that you’re running a serious freelance business, you need to have a transparent and precise pricing list.

That means accounting for every deliverable and leaving no stone unturned. 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.

ItemPriceQty.Subtotal
Content creation – FB & IG posts$1024$240
Analytics and reporting$1001$100
Product photography$2001$200
Community management, weekends included$1501$150
Total$690

Step 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 word, 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 […]

Step 9. Add Testimonials & 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.

Step 10. Finish up with an Agreement & 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.

Step 11. Put all together in one template

Finally, the hardest part of writing a freelance proposal is often putting it all together in a single, well-design document.

That’s where PandaDoc can come in handy. With a whole library of 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:

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 them 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.

    Keep in mind, though, that you should let those pages breathe. So, instead of worrying about the number of pages, spend more time making each page easily readable and pleasant on the eye. It’s better to have more, well-designed pages than less, crowded ones.

  • Upwork is one of the more competitive freelancing platforms. To land a job there, Upwork recommends focusing on the client needs and highlighting exactly how your specific expertise can help solve their problems. Don’t just write the same proposal for everyone and simply change their company name — that’s a great way to get your proposal instantly rejected.

Originally published October 20, 2017, updated September 27, 2021

Yauhen is the Director of Demand Generation at PandaDoc. He’s been a marketer for 10+ years, and for the last five years, he’s been entirely focused on the electronic signature, proposal, and document management markets. Yauhen has experience speaking at niche conferences where he enjoys sharing his expertise with other curious marketers. And in his spare time, he is an avid fisherman and takes nearly 20 fishing trips every year.

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