How to write a proposal that clients will want to read

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It’s no secret that the online world of freelancing is filled with providers who boast about their qualifications and throw proposals at every job that crosses their path.

Though their intention is to make money, most of their time is wasted searching for new work instead of actually getting paid for their skills.

Whether you’re starting out or you’ve been freelancing for years, writing an effective proposal is extremely important for keeping your freelance business alive (and paying your bills on time).

One of the biggest mistakes most freelancers make is to use the same proposal over and over again:

Sidenote: Once you finish, read how 4 freelancers built recurring revenue models that changed their business. You'll love it.

“I am a freelancer who has been working on Upwork for more than five years. My work is focused around delivering an excellent quality that received more than 120 live star reviews.

I think I am the suitable person for this job because t can ensure you are going to be 100 percent satisfied with the end product. Please take a look at the samples which I attached to see my previous work. My offer includes:

-A fast turnaround time of 24 hours

-Unlimited revisions until you are happy with the end product

You'll also enjoy this episode of our new podcast...

-Around the clock availability

Looking forward to working with you!”

What freelancers don’t seem to understand is that this is a weak tactic. Why? Because clients want to see proposals that are targeting their wants and needs.

They are often interested in getting advice before they even hire someone and the last thing they want to see is a generic proposal that doesn’t address their concerns.

There are a couple of strategies you can use to approach high quality clients and make them want to throw money at you. Not really, but you are sure to kickstart your business by following these tips.

Hooking the client from the first sentence

If you manage to capture the client’s attention from the first sentence, your chances of getting a response are higher.

Ninety-five percent of your time needs to be spent on presenting valuable information to your prospective client. This way, you detach from the group of “me, myself and I” proposals that other freelancers send.

Let’s analyze a proposal that Helena, one of my students, wrote before learning a couple of persuasion tactics. You’ll see how this proposal can be improved and how some simple psychological tricks can help your business grow.

“Hey there,

I see that you’re looking for a copywriter who can create a sales funnel for your E-com website and tweak the copy of the “About” page from your personal blog.”

Now, let’s see what the client is thinking when they read this introduction:

  1. Repeating exactly what I wrote in the project’s description doesn’t interest me. I don’t need to be reminded of what I am looking for. This doesn’t relate to my needs.
  2. Because it seems like I’m communicating with a robot, I don’t want to continue reading, even if there’s valuable information in this proposal.
  3. Almost all the other freelancers that applied to this job made the same mistake. I don’t see how this candidate is any better.

Instead of repeating what the client stated in the job description, you can easily relate to their need with a phrase like this:

“I see that you’re launching a new product in your store and you’re looking for a skilled copywriter who can create persuasive copy to attract buyers.”

Or you can also try to connect to the client’s emotional side and share highly relevant information about yourself. (Tip: avoid wording that sounds like you are bragging.)

Here’s an example from Paul, a freelance copywriter who took the advice from my mobile app while applying for a psychology copywriting job:

“Hi there,

Love your enthusiasm!

As a matter of fact, it’s fantastic that you mentioned psychology, simply because I happen to have a degree in NLP and human persuasion.”

How can you say no to this guy?

The beautiful part of this approach is that you don’t need to be a copywriter or a creative freelancer in order to apply this concept. This is just common sense that makes you more likable.

Offer specific recommendations

Delivering suggestions about how the project can be successful shows that you take the job seriously and you’re not only interested in making money.

You don’t need to send a step-by-step process for completing the project — rather, you need to research the client’s problem and identify a pain point that all the other applicants missed.

Here’s how Helena approached her potential client:

“Having been in the copywriting industry for a while now, I see that you are right in looking at your “About” page and fine tune the information.

This page is often forgotten, but if it is written correctly, it can be used as a powerful tool to encourage subscriptions.”

She focused on the importance of the About page. This is a good start, but personally, I think she took it a little too far.

The client already knows what’s needed when the project is finished and that’s why they mentioned the end goal in the job description.

Trying to showcase your knowledge in a particular area is something that the client will truly appreciate because it goes beyond the “I have experience with…” statement.

Follow up with a powerful statement that shows you know the subject matter:

“The best way to create an About Us page is by using X and Y.”

Even if you are not an expert in creating About Us pages, you can always find information by searching the web. You can grab one critical strategy and explain it to the client, or you can use a script that sounds like this:

“I just want to let you know about the one thing that most blogs overlook when writing About Us pages. It’s called strategy X and it would help you do Y.”

This makes your proposal jump right into the client’s eyes. How can a client stop reading when you show some relevant information that can help their business?

Not only are you showing that you are helpful, but the client is gaining insight about an overlooked detail they hadn’t considered before.

Being specific also solves another big problem. You avoid writing long phrases that will most likely be ignored due to the fact that clients receive dozens of proposals per job posting.

When you talk to one of your friends, you most likely act natural and discuss about topics that interest both of you. The same principle applies when you pitch a client.

Even if you’ve never met before, being on your client’s team from the start will benefit both of you in the long run.

Testimonials and the power of social proof

As I previously mentioned, clients love to see that you’re already experienced in the type of project which is described in the job post.

The power of social proof has been demonstrated in numerous studies, so by wisely inserting a testimonial in your proposal, you increase your chances of getting a positive response.

Here’s an example:

“To show you exactly what sort of copywriter I am, here’s a recent testimonial from one of my clients:

‘I feel very lucky that she applied to our job and we made the wise decision of hiring her on the spot. I already told her and say it again: she saved both our business (when we had an extremely tight deadline) and showed us the type of quality that we expect from future writers. She’s an example for all freelancers and I’m extremely lucky to have her on my side whenever I need high-quality copy.'”

The best place for inserting a testimonial in your proposal is after the specific recommendation, because it’s more likely that it will be read.

It’s a simple way of keeping the client’s attention until the next step.

Using only targeted portfolio samples

After you offer a key insight about the project and use the power of social proof, you can link to a targeted portfolio sample which is similar to what the client needs.

This way you show the client that you’ve done something similar and the client can easily rely on your expertise after starting the project.

Also, explaining how you helped a previous client on a similar project creates a clear picture of how your abilities are useful and generate outstanding results.

Essentially you are showing (rather than telling) your client that you are a great choice for the job.

Now, coming back to Helena’s proposal:

“Here’s an example of an About page that I’ve written:

https://examplewebsite.com/aboutus

This page was optimized for certain keywords and it was aimed to offer information about my client’s brand and the benefits that his knowledge brings.

If was written for the client, not at them, so they felt it’s more relevant. There’s also a signup box on the right side to make it easy for readers to subscribe.”

This is yet another example of long phrases that don’t quite persuade the client to click the link and evaluate the example of work.

Two short sentences placed before the link can sell the main idea about this particular sample and also respect the client’s time.

Wrap up the proposal with one call to action

Giving the client one last reason to contact you is the key for converting proposals into well paid projects.

The client may still be unsure about choosing you to be their freelancer.

In this case, giving them an opportunity to hear more about your experience or start a more in-depth discussion about the project is a natural way to close the proposal.

In her proposal, Helena used multiple calls to action:

“If you like my experience, perhaps we can schedule a quick chat over Skype or email? Can you tell me more about your business so I can personalize my proposal for you?

Cheers!”

If you give the client too many choices to choose from, they might end up saying, “I’ll come back to this one later,” and you’ll be forgotten in the ocean of copy and paste proposals.

On the other hand, if you only ask for a quick discussion or ask a question which can be answered with a yes or a no (e.g. “Did you use X in making your website/app/sales page?”) it’s more likely that you’ll get a response.

Writing a powerful proposal takes some additional time and research, but like any challenge out there, the payoff is ten times greater and has the possibility to skyrocket your freelance career.

Now, I’m curious: what other proposal writing strategies do you use to get your prospective clients to respond?

Maybe you’ve already used some of the strategies outlined here, or maybe you have a unique approach to attract clients.

Either way, the community will benefit from your insights, so let’s hear it in the comments!

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About Stefan Ionescu

Stefan Ionescu is the creator of Propi, a mobile app that analyzes proposals and offers suggestions to make them more persuasive. Get Propi and start getting more top paying projects.

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Comments

  1. This is an extremely useful and insightful article, Stefan!
    Apart from the helpful tips, it perfectly outlines that a proposal doesn’t have to be a boring document; it can be appealing as well!

    A trick I use to stay on the prospects’ radar -even or especially of those who’ll reject my proposal- is asking them to subscribe to my blog’s monthly newsletter to receive helpful articles and information while they can take advantage of gifts and offers.
    This worked fine so far! Some of them got back to me after a few months.

  2. To be honest Stefan, I thought there wouldn’t be anything new in this blog post, when I read the title, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised. I’ve especially found the tips you’ve shared on the ‘About Me page’ proposal (critical strategy) quite fresh!

    I also love the testimonial tip. I’ve done that severally in my proposals with great results.

  3. Thanks!!