Perfect Proposal For Freelancers – the ultimate guide

We’ve all seen them. We’ve all thought of hitting reply. Some of us did. Others lie about it.

From Fiverr to LinkedIn, job posts are everywhere. People looking for online gigs are overwhelmed by the sheer amount of options available. But how do you go from lurking from your sofa to actually winning the job? The answer is a great proposal for freelancers. Here’s how to write it.

What got me started writing proposals

At the beginning of my freelancing journey, I had what every other aspiring freelancer has: zero experience, zero connections, no idea of where to start and some hope I’d make money. Where do you go from here?

On Upwork, of course!

Back then it wasn’t called Upwork, but Elance. Their system was already established – they gave you a certain number of Connects per month to bid on jobs, and then a few more if you subscribed to one of their plans. You could get ahead of the others if you paid more, and at the end it was up to the client to choose who they wanted to work with. Overall, it was pretty much the same as today.

Just like Upwork, Elance didn’t have many high-paying clients. Little did I know, however, that the three years I spent hunting clients on Upwork would give me something much more valuable than a few extra cents per word.

They would give me the ability to write freelance proposals that got me selected for jobs, even when I was not the lowest bidder and even if my quote didn’t fit the client’s budget.

How valuable is this skill? The answer varies based on the services you offer, but I recently did some math – over the last 10 years, I made more than $500,000 just by submitting proposals online! And if you know how to write a great proposal for freelance work, you can make even more.

The anatomy of a great proposal for freelancers

The answer to a job post is 50% observation, 40% writing and 10% timing.

If the observation is missing, you are basically sending your CV or portfolio and saying something like ‘hey, I can help. Hire me’. If the writing is missing, you know what the client needs, but you are sending them a proposal that is so horrible that they probably won’t even read it all. If the timing is missing, your proposal is unlikely to ever be seen.

50% observation

Most job posts are telling you much more than meets the eye… if you can read between the lines. Let’s take this job post as an example:

What does the post tell us? A lot of things.

The client used specific lingo (HARO outreach specialist, not HARO writer) which suggests one of two things:

  • They already worked with other freelancers/agencies for the same task in the past
  • The job is important enough for them to do some research into who they need to hire

Whatever the answer, the client knows they don’t have the expertise to do this by themselves. Why? Because they’ll ‘rely on your expertise to do the right outreach’. This, together with ‘preferably getting backlinks…’, ‘Flexible to work on any type of engagement’, ‘we’re also completey open‘ gives the full picture.

The client has a pain point – they need backlinks to establish brand authority and drive sales. The problem is that they don’t know how to get them.

Were they a big business, they’d hire someone in-house or go for a well known player in their field, but they probably aren’t. That’s why they need a freelancer and suggested they are ‘looking for a mix of experience and value’. They are probably a fairly new SaaS business.

What is the client looking for? A plan that’ll take them from point A to point B. They don’t want to be sold a standardized service, they want someone to hold their hand and show them a path to potential growth.

They may increase the budget if the freelancer is the perfect match, but not that much – while price is not the only factor they’ll consider, it’s an important one.

40% writing

Let’s start with this – what is the goal of every single word you use in your proposal? To make the client want to read the next line. Reach this goal for a sufficient number of lines, then end your proposal with your call to action.

Sounds easy, right? But people don’t do that. They make proposals that are boring AF, talking about themselves the whole time. No client is interested in you. None in the whole world. What they are interested in is how YOU can help THEM achieve THEIR goal.

In 2019, I sent this proposal to a potential client. I didn’t need to be fancy or try to impress them, because I knew I had everything I needed. They were my ideal client, and I was their ideal translator. I just had to be careful not to f*ck this up.

Important note: I read this post… and the job was already close. They only kept it open for 24 hours, and I was late. But I didn’t lose hope and added the contact person on LinkedIn, then I sent them the following message:

Proposal for freelance work that I sent to a client in 2019

Proposal length: 132 words. Generated revenue from this client: $51,220 over the course of 2,5 years.

This proposal looks really simple, which is exactly what you want all your proposals to look like. If you look at this carefully, though, there are a few interesting things going on. Let’s examine it better:

Thank you for accepting my connection request.Standard LinkedIn netiquette. You don’t need anything like this when you are answering via email or on a freelance platform.
My name is Domenico, and I am reaching out since I saw your post on Proz looking for an English to Italian translator for your bitcoin trading platform. This is a weak intro, but I wanted to clarify I had really read their post and start the conversation from there.
As an English to Italian translator passionate about blockchain and a part-time crypto trader, this is a project I’d love to help you with. First I established authority suggesting I knew their niche well.
I started to trade crypto assets around 2 years ago, but I have been working with Fintech companies (mainly Forex trading platforms) for 7 years.Then I shared my experience working in that same niche as a translator.

Actually, this was not the exact same niche, but a wider area – Forex and Crypto exchange platforms both fall under the Fintech umbrella, but they have significant differences. Which is exactly why I led with the authority part, and not the other way round.

Since I had more experience in Forex than crypto back then, I couldn’t use one of my favorite techniques – name dropping. You can’t drop names the recipient has never heard of – you’ll look like an idiot.
During this time, I have also been translating marketing and website contents for clients like Apple, Microsoft, Mastercard and a huge number of SMEs.‘Marketing and website contents’ was exactly what the client needed to translate. They didn’t mention that in their job post, but I had visited their website and I knew what they would need.

Plus, it gave me a chance to drop some huge names. My list of VIP clients was already significant back then, but I thought 3 would be more than enough. You don’t want to look self-centered.
I would love to further discuss how I can help you with your Italian localization needs. Shall we connect? A weak way for me to close – I should have been more specific and asked them to connect on Zoom, maybe that/the following week. But I had done a good enough job earlier in my proposal, so it still passed.

10% timing

In the example above, I got lucky – even though I was late to the party, my credentials helped me to still get the job. That doesn’t happen frequently.

Most of the time, job posts are inundated with proposals. 99% of them is terrible, but they still make it hard for the client to be able to pay any real attention to proposal number 78, which they got via email 2 days after posting the job.

Most of the time, the freelancer who wins the job is the first one who sends a great proposal.

Your turn – What does your perfect proposal look like?

All my initial proposals had one thing in common – they sucked.

But every time I sent one, I tried to make it suck a bit less. Over time, they started to suck just a little bit. Then they were ok. In a couple of years, they became pretty solid. But this never would have happened if I had given up at the beginning.

Starting a side hustle as a freelancer is never easy, and rejection is pretty normal when you start writing proposals. But if you keep working on them, you can turn your proposals into a phenomenal client acquisition strategy.

10 years ago, I worked for months to learn how to write the perfect proposal – now is your turn to do the same.

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