Finding and winning new clients is a huge part of what it means to be a freelancer. As a one-person operation, a single client can make up a large percentage of your work, particularly when compared with a larger business or agency that may have dozens or even hundreds of different clients.
This reliance on a smaller number of clients can be a good thing, but it also means that each and every possible client carries more significance for a freelancer over a bigger business. As a result, it’s vital that you maximize your chances when pitching for new work. But what’s the best way to do this?
A good place to start is finding the right clients that are worth spending your time pursuing. Then, in most cases, you’ll probably need to send a bid proposal. This is arguably the most important part of the process of winning new business, so you need to get it right if you want to make the most of your freelance career.
In this article, we look at what a freelance bid proposal is, how to write better proposals, and cover some general tips to boost your chances of grabbing the client’s attention. We’ve even created a professional freelance bid proposal template for you to use that could save you time and give you a winning advantage over other bidders.
What is a bid proposal?
A bid proposal is a document used by companies, agencies, and freelancers to give an overview of their services, as well as time and cost estimates they are able to offer prospective clients. The aim of the document is to convince the recipient to hire the sender for a specific job, so a bid proposal will generally outline the experience and qualifications of the sender and give the most important details of the service being offered.
As it can be the difference between getting a new client or not, a bid proposal is undoubtedly one of the most important documents any freelancer will use, so make sure you put an appropriate amount of thought and effort into every proposal you send.
Note: If you’re ready to start creating your own bid proposal, we offer a free editable template that includes all the elements of a client-winning proposal.
What to do before writing a proposal
A bid proposal could be your one big chance to win a new client, so you need to optimize it if you want to stand the best chance of succeeding and growing your freelance business. If you’re taking it seriously, this means not just focussing on the writing process but also preparing properly. Here are some key steps every freelancer should take before even starting to write a bid proposal.
Make sure the job is right for you
You’re very unlikely to win a bid if you start applying for contracts that are completely outside of your field of experience. But you’d be surprised just how many bid proposals come from completely unqualified, unsuitable people. This only wastes the time of both you and the recipient, so there’s nothing to gain from sending out huge quantities of proposals for poorly suited jobs.
To avoid getting immediately counted out by clients, always look carefully at the project details. Does it match your skills? Have you done similar work in the past? Can you genuinely envisage yourself doing a good job with it? If the answer to all of these questions is ‘no’, then perhaps the job isn’t a good fit for you this time and you should consider looking elsewhere before you waste any of your or the client’s time.
Research the target company
So you’ve decided that you’re a good fit for the job. Now, it’s always a good idea to start to build a better understanding of the company you’re going to approach. This means doing some research.
Obviously, the best place to start is with the project details, but beyond this, you can also delve a little deeper. For example, you can easily look over the company’s website, social media, and general online presence to get a good idea of their business, the industry they operate in, their customer base, their branding, and so on.
The focus of this research phase will obviously depend on the type of freelancer you are. For instance, if you are a designer, then you’ll be mostly looking at your target company’s existing branding and style, whereas if you’re a marketer, you’ll want to take a more general look at their online presence and marketing strategy, and so on.
While the research phase is crucial if you want to differentiate yourself from other proposals, you should be careful not to spend too much time on it. Once you’ve got a good idea of the company, take some notes and move on to the next step of your preparation.
Compile a list of your relevant skills and work
A bid proposal is all about convincing the recipient that you’re the best person for the job. To be convinced, most clients will want to know that you’re capable of doing the type of work that’s required, and this usually means demonstrating similar previous experience.
It’s up to you how you want to present your previous work. Some people may choose to simply attach their full portfolio, which is not a bad idea, but it can also be good to focus it a little more if possible. Look through the job description and your portfolio and try to find anything that matches up well, then highlight that in your proposal.
Being focused here is a great way to keep your proposal concise and ensure the client sees the most impressive work straight away, even if they’re just skimming through.
Check your schedule
Another major factor clients will look at when considering multiple proposals is how long the work will take to complete. This means it’s important you are competitive with the timeframe you offer if you want to convince clients to hire you, as the majority of clients will choose someone who can submit work and meet all the requirements quickly, all else being equal.
However, while you should try to submit work in a timely fashion, you should also be realistic. If you promise what you can’t deliver, you’re only going to disappoint the client and even risk not getting paid. Therefore, make sure you carefully check your upcoming schedule and only give a realistic time estimate that you know you can meet.
Estimate how much work will be required
It may sound obvious, but accurately estimating the amount of time a job will take you is something you need to take seriously. This is because most people base their pricing on how long a job will take them. A good general rule when quoting is to estimate the number of hours a job will take you, then multiply that by your hourly rate, possibly adding a small amount (such as 10%) to account for unforeseen extras.
Failing to accurately estimate how much work you’ll need to do is bad for two main reasons. Firstly, if you underestimate how long a job will take you, you will probably quote a price that’s too low. This might win you the job, but you’ll end up working for an hourly rate far lower than you intended and may even struggle to turn a profit. Secondly, if you overestimate the time a job will take you, you may price yourself out of a job when other bidders give more realistic quotes.
It can be difficult to get an accurate estimate of how long a job will take, but you can start by reading the job description carefully. Experience will also definitely help here, so try to look at similar work you’ve done in the past and base your estimate on how long it took.
What is the bidding process?
The bidding process is a period of time where a company will receive and consider various proposals from freelancers, agencies, and other service providers for a job. These bids will usually come in response to a job description or request for proposal sent out by the company, so they are all likely to be similar and the competition can be stiff. However, a surprising number of freelancers (maybe even most freelancers) don’t know how to write a work proposal that maximizes their chances of landing new clients.
Freelancers are in a unique position during the bidding process, and it comes with its benefits and drawbacks. On the positive side, freelancers are generally more flexible with their schedules, so can accommodate quick turnarounds. Additionally, they are usually able to offer lower rates for quality work than agencies, as these businesses have more overheads to account for. This enables freelancers to regularly undercut larger companies with their quotes, giving them a competitive advantage.
On the negative side, however, freelancers may not be able to provide proof in the form of an extensive portfolio of similar work in the same way that a long-running agency can. Also, they may find it more difficult to offer additional services. For example, a freelance web designer probably won’t be able to offer marketing services and content writing as well, if that’s something the client is interested in, whereas an agency is likely to have in-house web designers and marketers available.
Winning bids as a freelancer, even against intimidating agencies, is absolutely doable, but it relies on playing to your strengths in order to differentiate yourself from the competition. You may have to work harder for it, but the prize is usually worth it!
What to include in a proposal
There are no fixed rules for a proposal, so each document can actually look quite different depending on who’s written it. Saying this, there are absolutely a few common elements that you should always aim to include. After all, the document has a precise purpose—to convince a company to hire you for a specific job—so they’ll expect to see certain things.
A cover page is a ‘nice-to-have’ more than a necessity. However, it can set you apart by making your bid proposal look more professional. In certain situations, it can be more useful than others. For example, if you’re a designer, a cover page is a great way to showcase your design skills and style by using a colorful, personal design. A software developer, on the other hand, may not feel the need to include this kind of personal flourish to the proposal, as it’s irrelevant to the freelance services being offered.
A cover letter is a good way to start your proposal and can help you avoid sending out generic proposals. In it, you can introduce yourself with a friendly greeting, express interest in the work, lay out the purpose of the proposal, and get the standard business formalities out of the way. While it isn’t strictly necessary, a cover letter helps to give your proposal a more professional feel and can be a good opportunity to personalize the document with client-specific details, as well as get across your tone of voice and personality.
Scope of work/breakdown of services
This section, in some form, is vital and could take up the majority of the proposal. Essentially, you want to communicate what services you are going to provide as part of the project. Depending on the job, the client, and the description you’ve received, this section could be very brief or very detailed.
However, the main thing to remember is to make it clear and keep it as concise as you realistically can while still communicating the key points. Ideally, you want the reader to understand exactly what you’ll deliver as well as the limits to what you’ll offer as part of the package, without having to ask any additional questions.
Along with the cost of the project, the timeframe you can deliver it in is potentially the main thing that will determine whether the client chooses to hire you or not. This section doesn’t need to be detailed, just to get across a realistic estimated timeframe that you can deliver the work within. Be clear and realistic with your estimate, being sure that you have the time to deliver quality work. If you say you can start a project immediately and get hired but end up running over your estimate you risk annoying the client, not getting paid, and losing the chance of future work with them.
If the recipient of your bid proposal is impressed and chooses to hire you or discuss things further, then they’ll need to be able to contact you. Make sure you add a clear section with your contact details to ensure they can do this with minimal effort.
Actionable next steps
As with any kind of proposal, you want to make it as easy and simple as possible for your potential client to get in touch with you and, ideally, hire you. For this reason, it’s good practice to include a section outlining the next steps the client should take if they want to work with you. It only needs to be a couple of sentences, but it should cover how to contact you, what sort of correspondence they can expect, and possibly an idea of how long the negotiation process will take. For example, you could propose a video call within the next week, after which you’ll send a contract and start work.
Portfolio/samples of your work
This is another very significant section of any bid proposal that will often make the difference between being overlooked and being hired. Experience matters, and the more you can demonstrate that you have relevant skills and proven expertise with similar projects, the more likely you are to convince the reader that you’re the right person for the job. This section can be particularly crucial for many freelancers, who often don’t have the reputation for reliability that an established agency might.
Try to be as relevant to the job in question as you can. For example, if the contract is to design a website for an ecommerce business, try to highlight your qualifications, skills, expertise, and experience with past projects for other e-commerce websites rather than throwing in every website you’ve ever designed. There may be times that you don’t have particularly relevant experience, in which case you may have to get a little more creative with the work and skills you showcase. Just try to keep it concise, clearly laid out, and as relevant as possible to the description of the work required.
Like it or not, pricing is probably the most important part of any bid proposal, and it is likely to be the first thing that the reader looks at. This isn’t always the case, but it’s always going to play a big part in the selection process, so you need to state your cost estimate clearly rather than burying it among a wall of text.
While price is important, it’s also not something you should compromise on too much. As a freelancer, you need to make a sufficient profit on each job, so it’s paramount that your cost estimate is reflective of the job it will take you to complete, so always take the time to work out a realistic price for your bid that’s fair to both you and the potential clients.
How to write a proposal
Read the project description carefully
If anything will put you out of the running in the competitive bidding process, it’s not reading the description of work or request for proposal carefully and making an error in your bid proposal. Is the work needed on an urgent basis? Is there a certain time frame mentioned? Is it a single project or a long-term contract? Often a description will have a very specific summary of the work that’s needed, and whatever they’re requesting, you need to address it in your proposal. So, before you do anything, read through the description and project requirements, then start preparing your document, referencing the details from the description, where possible.
Research the company
As discussed above, you should research the company you’re sending your proposal to before you start writing. This can involve looking through their website and social media presence, for example. Also, don’t hesitate to contact the company directly if you need more information and to find out exactly what they’re looking for. Chances are they’ll appreciate your interest and dedication to fulfilling the project description.
Highlight what sets you apart
Bidding for a contract is a competitive process, here you’re essentially pitted against other freelancers and agencies. Therefore, you’ll need to make your proposal stand out in one way or another. The best way to do this is by being honest about what you offer that others can’t. This could be by highlighting a particular project of work that you’re particularly proud of, by mentioning a specific qualification you may have, or anything else that could set you apart and show you have the right skills.
Keep it brief
While you’ll generally want to include all the main points we’ve already discussed, make sure you remember to keep the proposal concise. Your potential client will be reading through several proposals, so they don’t want to trawl through masses of text to find the relevant details in your proposal. Keep your proposal short, focused, and clearly laid out for the best results.
Look at other proposals
One of the best ways to put together a good proposal is to look at what other people are sending. Do research online to see some examples, ask other freelancers and people in your network, and so on to get some ideas, then use the best ones to build your own winning bid proposal.
Use a proposal template
Creating an effective proposal takes time, and with no guarantee of landing the freelancer job. For this reason, using a pre-made bid proposal template can help you streamline the process, send out more proposals, and maximize your chances of landing work. Check out our extensive library of proposal templates.
Maximizing your chances of a successful proposal
When writing a bid proposal, it’s a good idea to try to think from the perspective of the client. Companies are likely to receive multiple different proposals for the same job from many freelancers and agencies for every freelancer job they post, so things can get competitive. To narrow down the selection process, most clients will look for certain things in a proposal. While the things they’re looking for will vary from job to job and client to client, there are a few final tips that will give you a good chance in most situations. Try to ensure that you:
- Proofread - Go over your finalized proposal carefully to iron out any potential errors.
- Personalize the proposal - Make sure you have a unique proposal with your own details and by showing you’ve properly read the project description.
- Don’t put all your eggs in one basket - Find multiple freelancer jobs that suit your past work experience and skill set, then send proposals to them all.
- Don’t spend too much time on one proposal - Using a tried-and-tested template can dramatically cut down the time you spend creating and sending proposals, helping you send more.
Creating a proposal is simple with Bonsai
- Build your proposal faster
- Customize your proposal
- Impress prospective clients
FAQ 1 - What is the difference between a proposal and a quote?
When it comes to proposals vs quotes, which should you send? A proposal is usually sent in response to a request for proposal, and it will generally go into more details than a quote. Quotes are primarily used to give a quick cost estimate and fewer other details. There is some crossover between the two documents, though, and a detailed quote may end up looking a lot like a proposal.
FAQ 2 - How long should a proposal be?
There’s no right or wrong answer to this question. Every bid proposal will be different, and the appropriate length largely depends on the job description, the size of the contract you’re bidding for, the type of client, and personal preference. However, do always try to remember that the client will probably be going through multiple proposals, so being concise is usually better.