4 Simple Steps to a Winning Freelance Proposal

Do you ever feel like you’re wasting your time writing proposals?

You’re not alone. I’ve definitely wasted hours of my life writing proposals that never got me a client. Some of them didn’t even get a reply. I wonder if some of them were ever read at all??

It can be frustrating at the best of times.

So many freelancers I’ve met over the years have complained of the same thing. It sounds something like this:

“How can I produce the best work when I’m spending so much time writing proposals for new clients.?!”

Take my client Matt, for example.

For years he was struggling to break his feast and famine cycle, and a large part of the problem was because of his proposal technique.

He’d spend hours putting  proposals together for a client, only to find they’d given the work to someone else. That’s time he could’ve been working on another client’s project…

…or working on his fitness…

…or spending with his kids.

We all have things have things we’d rather be doing than hurling proposals into the ether.

Over the years I’ve honed my technique to win clients much, much more often than not. Here are the steps I take to create a winning proposal (almost) every time.

Step 1: Make a Connection

The first thing to do is forget about getting them as a client.

“Whaat?!?!” I hear you cry…

Seriously, this is probably the most useful tip I’ve even been given.

It can be a lot easier said than done at times, especially when the wolf is knocking at the door. But it’s well worth the effort to do it.

Instead of getting them as a client, try to get them as a date.

Sounds weird, eh?

A lot of time, the success of a business is a personal thing to the person you’re speaking to. Even in larger corporations, the success of a project could be fundamental to a person’s career.

So be positive, be yourself, and be open to learning about them and their business.

Keep your phone or laptop off the table and let them to tell you why they want their problem solved, not just what their problem is.

Try to approach your meetings with the question, “How can I help this person and their busienss? in the forefront of your mind, and you will quickly find your client meetings taking a warmer turn.

When you show you understand what they want as a person, as well as a business, you’ll be well on your way to success.

You may even make a new friend!

For more info on making a winning client proposal, check out my First Meeting Success Formula, which you can grab a free copy of here.

Step 2: Explore the Gap

Once you’ve got to know them and their business a little bit, you can start to move on to the problem at hand.

The reason they’re speaking to you is because there’s a gap between where they are, and where they want to be.

And you need to be the bridge.

So it’s important to get a proper grasp of their issue (the gap), and exactly what materials you can use to solve it.

Note that ‘lead’ doesn’t mean you do all the talking.

Let them talk as much as you can, and probe deeper wherever it’s relevant to.

Take notes if you need to, but try to keep your focus on them as much as possible.

And don’t assume that just because they say they want a new website, that’s really what their problem is.

Often when probing deeper into a prospect’s answers, you will discover other issues which are either connected to, or will be affected your project.

Stay focused, and if you can get to the root cause of why they need help, you are on the way to success.

Step 3: Transition to Solutions

With any luck (and possibly some clarification) your potential client will now have told you the most pressing problems they’re currently facing client.

Now you know where they’re feeling pain, you can show them you’re the person to fix it.

This doesn’t mean you have to give away all your ideas, just a ‘taste’ of them.

The idea is to get the client excited about working with you, so go for the jugular.

“Based on what you’ve told me Dave, I believe I can help you out.
What would you say if I told you I could [build/design/create] you a [insert your solution here] that would [solve their issue]?”

Ideally, they’re going to respond with something like, “Yes that sounds like exactly what I’m looking for.”

With practice, you’ll be able to come up with on-the-spot solutions that literally have your prospects itching to do business with you.

Remember that if you’re following these steps correctly, you should have a lot of information about the client.

And you’ll have had a fair amount of time to think about solutions, and draw the dots between the problems.

Use your time wisely and keep them focused on problems they are having that are relevant to the project at hand.

That way you are much more likely to have the answers on the tip of your tongue.

Want to win more work and spend less time on proposals? Download my First Meeting Success Formula for free here

Step 4: Set up the Scope and Budget

It wasn’t really so long ago that I was tearing my hair out trying to figure out the pricing for a proposal.

Money can be a funny thing to talk about, especially pre-negotiation, when neither side really wants to show their cards.

When you follow this approach to your first discussion with a client, you’ll find you have an opportunity at this stage to scope out the project right there with them.

So you’ll no longer be writing your proposal in the dark.

Whatever your solution is will need to have collateral behind it.

For example, if it’s a website it’s going to need copy, images, logos, a domain, hosting and branding guidelines, just to get started.

So ask the client if they have those ready, or if they would like you to source them.

This is also a good place to establish some timelines with them, and set their expectations for what you can deliver.

Now you have your client working with you on a totally different level to many other freelancers – scoping out your proposal with you!

If the meeting is too short to do this properly, you can always sketch it out on your own and then circle back to ask them to confirm the details.

Step 4.5: The Proposal

You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t covered writing a proposal at all in this blog.

This is no accident.

I firmly believe that if you’re putting together a proposal without following these steps (or something very similar), then you’re wasting your time.

But why would you?

When you follow these steps, the client pretty much writes the proposal for you.

These steps can be very powerful you combine it with some of the other techniques I show you in the First Meeting Success Formula.

3 Questions You Can Ask to Get More Freelance Work

How many meetings do you take your portfolio, or a presentation of your work along to?

Why are you still bothering?

If you want to increase the number of new clients you get, you need to change your approach to first meetings with clients. And here’s why:

When you spend your first meeting with a potential client presenting your work, you’re only talking about yourself. And the only person who wants to talk about you is you (and maybe your mom). So stop.

Instead, purpose your meetings towards getting your prospect to open up about themselves, their business, and their challenges.

With a little practice, you shouldn’t find this too hard, and you’ll win lots more work using it.

Below I’ve put together three questions that you can use to keep the conversation on track and get the info you need for a winning proposal.

If you’re interested in learning more about winning clients at your first meeting, I’ve put together the ‘First Meeting Success Formula’, which you can grab a free copy here

Question 1: Where are you now?

This is a great question to start off with. You should have some idea about what the company does before the meeting, so the object of this question is to get more detail about it from an insider’s perspective.

It works best if you give them a little more context to start off with, for example:

“I see that XCompany has tripled in size over the last two years, that’s quite impressive – how did you achieve that?”

You want to get a sense for what the client has tried, what has worked and what failed, so that you don’t waste time. It’s useful to gather some of their likes and dislikes, anything that could help you personalise your proposal.

You should also to look out for information on how the company works, their size, budget, brand style, day-to-day challenges, and expectations.

All this gives you the context in which to frame your proposal.

Question 2: Where do you want to be?

Now you want to start to bring the conversation towards the project at hand.

This second question helps to put the it into to the context of the business as a whole – why do they have a need for this project? And why is it important to them?

It may also bring out some other areas you could help in, which are not directly connected to your project. These can be a powerful tool in winning you clients.

You should give them a specific scope, or time-frame to keep it relevant to your project.

For example,

“Where do you want your website to be 6 months from now?”

Your prospect may say something like,

“We’re trying to double the time visitors spend on the site by December”.

Later, you can refer back to these in your proposal as tangible benefits related to the wider business.

So instead of the quite uninteresting, “I’ll design you a good-looking new website”, you can say:

“I’ll design you a website that’s optimised to increase the time visitors spend on your site.“

Do you see why the second might be more compelling to a potential client?

You’re not just giving them a product, you’re giving them a real benefit to their business.

By taking the things that you know they want and demonstrating you can help them achieve it, you’re massively improving your chances of winning the client.

You can get your free copy of my guide ‘The First Meeting Success Formula’ for more great tips on winning business by clicking here.

Question 3: What challenges are in the way?

In reality, this question often naturally becomes entwined with the answers from question two, and you should encourage this.

The aim is to get an idea of what issues they’re currently having, or expecting to have, with a view to how you can help.

This could be wider company goals, such as profit or growth, or specific challenges related to the project itself.

You may discover that their sales are falling because of high website bounce rates. Or it may be that they can’t hire a full-time staff member due to budget issues.

Whatever it is, you may be able to use it as leverage in your proposal, as with the answers to question two. Except that question three should help you to establish the immediate issues they’re having.

Imagine your client has just answered question two with,

“We’re trying to double the time visitors spend on the site by December”.

You follow up with question three framed as,

“What obstacles can you see to doubling the time visitors spend on your site?”

Their reply may be something like,

“We’re getting a high bounce rate from mobile users.”

Later in your official proposal you can bring all their answers together:

“I’ll design you a website that is mobile-optimised, which will reduce bounce rates and help increase the time visitors spend on your site.“

This is so much more powerful than simply proposing a design to a client.

Shut Up and Listen

These questions can become an incredibly powerful technique when used properly.

It’s not hard to see why.

You’re getting your potential client to scope out the project for you, and tell you why it’s important to them. With that information, you can put together a winning proposal almost every time.

One of the keys to a successful client meeting, and using these questions effectively, is to just shut up and let them talk.

Don’t be afraid to clarify things you think may be important. But let them talk!

As they do, narrow down their answers into THREE main objectives you can relate to the project. When they’re finished, repeat these three objectives back to them.

Get them to confirm that those are their most pressing issues. And then use that as your base to scope out the project with them right there and then.

Once you have it, you’ll leave your preliminary meetings with the bulk of your proposal ready!

Would you like to know more about winning clients at the first meeting? If you do, I’ve put together a mini-guide you can download for free here.

Want to know the next steps to writing a winning proposal? Download your FREE Guide to First Meeting Success here.