In an ideal world all new work would come from referrals via existing clients or potential clients would seek you out via Google. However in reality most businesses have to get out there and actively pursue new opportunities. That often means you need to create a pitch or proposal in response to an advertised opportunity.
These can range from serious multi-$k projects from large companies through to simple requirements that appear on freelance sites such as Upwork or PeoplePerHour etc.
Whatever the job, it is important to look professional and provide all the relevant information in an orderly and structured way. Obviously if it is for a large project, then you will need to invest more time in making sure your proposal is spot on. If however it is a smaller job then you really can't afford to be spending too much time writing brand new proposals everytime.
So you have to decide for yourself how much time to spend on each proposal - basically how much do you need or want the job?
To make your life easier there are some simple things you can do to take away the ‘pain of the pitch!’. Once you have prepared your first couple of proposals then you will be able to reuse elements - but do not get sloppy and just cut and paste everything! You may accidently include parts from an old proposal that are not relevant and clients will notice.
There is nothing worse for a prospective client than reading a proposal that has obviously been written for a previous job. Straight in the bin!
So to make your life easier and to allow you to pull together a proposal in no time at all I have put together a free template that you can customise for your own proposals & pitches!
Click the image below to download your FREE Customizable Proposal Template!
So what do you need to include?...
Structure of a proposal
The basics of a proposal are simple - you need to:
Demonstrate you know what the client requires - set out the problem / requirement.
Demonstrate that you have the solution or can deliver exactly what is required.
Demonstrate that you offer the best value out there (right price + free star dust!)
So let's explore these a little more...
#1 The Client Requirement
This should be pretty simple (if you have a decent brief to work from). Set out exactly what it is the client to needs or requires. This could virtually be a cut and paste from the advert.
Read their brief carefully and if you do not understand exactly what is required then seek clarification. Don’t waste your time if it is not clear. If they are serious about what they want they will come back to you. If they don’t - I wouldn’t waste time on guessing.
Make sure you re-state the required delivery date, which is obviously vital. Again if this is not clear - check with the client.
If the project is significant you may want to add an Executive Summary - summarising your proposal. I would only do this for large projects / proposals (otherwise it is likely to repetitious for the reader and a waste of time for you).
#2 The Solution / Proposal
This is where you set out how you are going to meet their requirement - your Approach and Methodology.
This is where you can shine if you can see that there are additional benefits / add-ons you can offer the client to win the project. If there is something you can add that will make them go ‘Wow this guy / girl really know their stuff!’ do it!
Steps required to deliver the project
Set out what steps you will go through to achieve what is required. Use bullet points and be thorough but concise.
Be sure to highlight any areas where you are adding additional value or believe are really important.
Include clear milestones that demonstrate that you can meet the required delivery date and what steps will be required in between. If this requires client feedback before completion of a project include these - this provides reassurance that they won't be stuck with a ‘final solution’ that is unworkable etc. Take them on the journey wherever possible.
Prove you are right for the job
You will also want to prove that you have the skill and ideally the track record to deliver what is required. Set this out with any relevant case studies. Add links to relevant case studies or testimonials on your website. Links to your website are important - especially for those of us working for ourselves or in small businesses. Your site will help demonstrate that you are a professional and established business.
You could also include your testimonials & case studies at the back of any proposal as an appendix, but I wouldn’t add them in full form in the main body as this can get a bit ‘busy’ for the reader.
#3 The Price
Estimating your price
Pricing a job is always difficult, as whilst some jobs may look the same clients are always different. As a rule of thumb try estimating the amount of time it will take you by multiplying the estimate by around x 1.5.
If you think it will take 10 hours allow 15. Multiply this by your hourly rate. Done.
If just starting out you have two main options - lower your hourly rate to try and win those important first clients or stick to your guns at a higher rate (the one you ultimately want to achieve) and see how you go. It's totally up to you and there is a lot of conflicting advice about which is best. (I could write a whole blog on this - which I might just do!)
Add value - provide additional benefits
As discussed above - if you are able to add value to the project in a different way (something that may not cost you too much, but would be great for the client), set these out under the price. You could add a heading - Additional Benefits / Added Value. These are what might win you the client.
#4 Include a ‘Call to Action’
Make sure your proposal has a call to action. This will set out the action you want the client to take. I.e. ‘If you would like to accept my proposal or require any additional information then please get contact via email on XXX or via telephone XXX.’
This could be included in the ‘Next Steps’ section.
#5 Legal stuff & Appendices
If you have any special Terms & Conditions add these in at the back. Unless there is anything particularly relevant or unusual I would keep these to a minimum - as these can be picked up when agreeing the contract.
Add any relevant Case studies & Testimonials or examples of previous work. Only do this if you have referenced these in the body of the proposal.
So hopefully that provided a whistle stop tour of the basics of proposal writing. There is plenty of information out there, but it is not rocket science - more of an art!
I’ve sent my proposal in and haven’t heard back?
Remember it’s a competitive world out there and like a high school disco - rejection comes with the territory!
If it was a job you really wanted and haven’t heard back - get in touch with the client. Emails do go missing etc. Persistence does also work.
Pitching and winning jobs takes time to perfect, so just make sure you get yourself out there and don’t worry about rejection, make sure your proposal is as good as it can be (no unedited cutting & pasting!) and go for it!
Free Customizable Proposal Template