Job Proposals 101

What I’m listening to: When We Were Young by Adele 

contract-1426885-1280x960A late post today. It’s raining here — exactly what we needed. But rain makes me want to curl up somewhere comfy and read. That’s actually on my agenda today. First, though, I have to outline a project and get my own project off the ground.

For a slow week, it was full of little busy things.

I was asked to provide a quote for a company (and it won’t ever happen — their reputation is awful), but it made me think about the job proposal process. Freelance writers are asked all the time for their rates or their suggestions – or both.

When it comes to freelance writing proposals, presentation is everything.

I formalize it all — quote? Yep. Detailed proposal? Absolutely. Yes, sending an email outlining everything works, but it does send a message to clients that you’re a bit more relaxed. Maybe too relaxed, depending on the company or client.

If you create a visually appealing proposal, clients will take you more seriously.

Why that matters: in my experience, clients argue rates much less often when they’re reading through a professional proposal. They may pick out points they want to change, but they don’t focus on the rate.

Plus, you’re able to outline the exact scope of work, the skills you bring to the project, and your value. Not bad for about 30 minutes of work.

Let’s tackle the two instances in which freelance writers would send a proposal of any kind. Let’s start with a project quote:

In my latest quote, I put the following info in it:

  • Client name and address
  • Project info
  • Outline of areas I’d be working on, bulleted to show what I thought needed fixing (nothing too specific, particularly if it’s a new client)
  • Fee estimate (and I list it as an estimate — don’t lock yourself into a rate if the work hasn’t yet been outlined in detail)
  • Project terms and payment terms (including the payment prior to starting)

All of this goes in a document that has a formal header with my business name and the words “Project Estimate” as the subhead.

The other instance where you’d use a formal approach is the job proposal. Here’s what I do:

  • Choose a Word template: I use one titled Services Proposal (Business blue design)
  • Fill in your business info, changing fonts and colors as you see fit
  • Create an objective statement – make it specific to avoid scope creep
  • Delete sections that don’t apply, such as Executive Strategy, Rationale, or Resources
  • Spell out the project deliverables specifically, including the timeline, benchmarks or delivery times,  and pricing
  • Include client responsibilities in the delivery timeline
  • Include a Qualifications section that shows your experience in this area, the skills you bring to the job, and any related work history (separate the relevant experience in bullet points)
  • Conclude by repeating the project in a brief summary written like you would a cover letter sign-off (“I look forward to working with XXX Company to augment your communications efforts….”)

Writers, how often do you give clients formal proposals?

When don’t you think it’s necessary?

How do you provide quotes, and how effective has it been?


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  • Cathy Miller September 29, 2016 at 10:34 am

    I find I tend to give formal proposals more often when the client is either unsure of what all they want to contract for or if they have multiple projects. For the first scenario, I offer options – kind of high/low quote – e.g., Option #1 – A, B, C, Option #2 Perhaps just A, or B or C.

    For multiple projects, I provide the scope, timeline, and terms for each project. I customize each proposal with the prospect’s logo/branded colors so it doesn’t look too template – y (how’s that for a new word?) 😉 And, of course, it has my business header, business info.

    I don’t give a formal proposal if the client is inquiring about a single, defined project. I do provide a fee range in quotes and all contracted projects receive my Statement of Work, documenting the Scope of Services, Timeline, Fees and Terms.

    • lwidmer September 29, 2016 at 10:53 am

      That’s a great option, Cathy (and I love the new word!). Do you use the optional method with each proposal, or just those who are on the fence?

      I like your system overall. Sounds quite effective.

      • Cathy Miller September 30, 2016 at 7:49 am

        I would say I use options more often than not, except when the prospect has very specific instructions. Thanks, Lori.

        • lwidmer September 30, 2016 at 9:53 am

          It’s actually quite smart. Those on the fence will say “Well, let’s try the lower priced option” in which case, you’ve got a sale. Then they’ll be satisfied (because you ARE Cathy Miller) and they’ll become repeat customers.

          Really smart!

        • Paula Hendrickson September 30, 2016 at 12:25 pm

          Great tips, Lori. I’ve never used any of the Word Templates, but after reading this I think I’ll dig into those some more.

          Another benefit of a stand-alone proposal, instead of including it in an email: it’s easier for clients to save and come back to as needed. Easier than searching though email threads for the original email proposal!

          • lwidmer September 30, 2016 at 1:42 pm

            Very good point, Paula! One I should have remembered — I’m constantly trying to locate stuff. 🙂

  • Eileen September 30, 2016 at 5:44 pm

    Great discussion. I wanted to chime in and say that I put a statement on my proposals that goes something like this: “The terms of this proposal are good for 30 days; after that, the terms are subject to change.” That way, I’m not locked into a price that I might want to raise later for any reason.

    • lwidmer October 3, 2016 at 8:05 am

      That’s a good addition, Eileen. It also creates a bit of urgency — not a bad sales feature at all!

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