New to proposal templates? Read our guide below.
Before you reach the exciting stage of contracts, project management milestones, invoices, and money in the bank, there’s a fundamental first step to freelancing.
It’s one that sometimes gets overlooked, is often rushed, and can make or break a new project. It is, of course, the proposal template.
Essentially, before you can run, you need to talk. And in order to get your message across to your prospective customer in a clear and effective manner, you need a dynamite proposal template.
This vital document covers a whole host of important information straight off the bat — including some you simply won’t want to leave to chance.
It’s your opportunity to explain who you are, demonstrate your skills and experience, provide case studies and testimonials, outline your payment terms, and (crucially) guide your prospect through the solution you’re proposing.
Now, you can write a proposal from scratch every time you’re pitching for new work. No-one’s stopping you. But ask yourself, why? Don’t you value your time?
The very top 1% of freelancers know that time is money, and that by using a proposal template, it can make life so much easier.
But before you download the first template you see, there are a few things you need to know.
What is a proposal template?
A template is a standard document used to create a jumping-off point for a new, edited version of that same document, which can then be utilized over and over again.
When creating a template, you should produce a master copy using the information that you need to cover every time you share this particular document. For example, this could include your business name, address, company number, telephone number, website and social media details, and your terms and conditions.
A proposal template is, therefore, a document that’s pre-loaded with this important info, saving you the time and effort of typing it in whenever you want to send a pitch.
Instead, you’d simply open the template, make a copy, add in anything that’s relevant to the proposal (such as testimonials, case studies, estimated costs, and your proposed solution), and then save it with a unique identifier, like a proposal number, before sending it to your prospect.
Why use a proposal template?
There are some obvious reasons why you should use a templated proposal:
- Creating a reusable document saves precious time and energy;
- It allows you to be consistent with your tone and messaging;
- You can add your branding to the document, elevating your professionalism above the competition;
- It provides clarity to your prospective client, laying out exactly what you can do, how long it will take, and how much it will cost;
- And you can track and monitor the pitches you send, fine-tuning as you go, rather than starting from scratch each and every time.
But a proposal is so much more than simply a list of your services with prices attached.
Firstly, it’s your opportunity to lay the groundwork for a potentially fruitful working relationship. By using a proposal template, you get to establish smooth lines of communication, define expectations, and demonstrate that you understand the needs, goals, and ideas of the customer.
That last part is crucial because, if you’re responding to an RFP (“request for proposal” — sometimes called a “request for pitch”) you need to show that you’ve read and understood the initial brief. If you can’t do that, you’ve fallen at the first hurdle.
Then there’s the aesthetics. Your proposal should be an extension of your brand, and, as Jeff Bezos is so widely quoted as saying, “your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.”
By using a proposal template, you can control how your brand is perceived every time you pitch for new work. And by positioning yourself right, you can charge higher rates and work with a better quality of client.
Finally, your proposal can act as a framework for your contract. It’s your chance to clear up any misunderstandings, ask the right questions, and (importantly) get the answers to those questions.
Once your prospect accepts your proposal, you can then take the milestones and costs they’ve approved, and simply sweep them into your contract. Seamless.
Types of proposal templates
Besides a standard proposal that can be used for a simple project, there are a few specific kinds of proposals:
Project Proposal Template
For projects with complex requirements and multiple sub-tasks, a project proposal template is the way to go. It's very flexible and can be adapted to the needs of any type of work.
Bid Proposal Template
A bid proposal template is used to explain what you can do for your potential client, covering a detailed plan of action and the financial implications of getting the work done.
Services Proposal Template
A great way to present the services that you offer, together with the associated costs and estimated timeline of the work is through a services proposal template.
Simple Proposal Template
Best used for projects which don't have a complex set of requirements, a simple proposal template is the perfect solution when covering details of how you intent to help your potential client.
InDesign Proposal Template
One of the simplest way to fill in a proposal template and send it to your client for review is by using an Adobe InDesign proposal template.
Professional Proposal Template
If you're looking to present yourself as a true professional, your best bet is to start using a professional proposal template.
Basic Proposal Template
A basic proposal template is the fundamental document you will need for straightforward projects which are easily solved after a few hours of work.
Creative Proposal Template
A creative proposal template is the perfect choice for projects which have creative requirements. Use this proposal template to highlight your unique approach for the client.
Retainer Proposal Template
To win a new project on a retainer basis, the best way to go is a retainer proposal template, designed specifically to highlight why it's the best working method.
Proposal templates vary by industry
8 common mistakes to avoid while using proposal templates
While it’s undoubtedly true that using a proposal template can speed things up when it comes to pitching for new work, there are still some pitfalls you need to avoid.
By understanding what these are, you can tweak your template to make sure you aren’t making common mistakes. That’s the downside to a template — if one error slips the net, you’ll end up repeating it every time you make a new proposal.
Luckily, at Bonsai, we’ve worked with over 150,000 freelancers, many of whom are firmly in the top 1% when it comes to earnings and reputation.
We’ve asked them to share their top mistakes, and how best to avoid them:
Placing too much focus on your experience.
This is one thing many freelancers get wrong when writing a proposal. They get so swept up in selling themselves that they forget what it is their prospect wants to know: “How can you help me?”
Yes, it’s important to instil confidence that you’re the right person for the job. But don’t drone on about all your accomplishments and experiences. Make it clear and concise that you know what you’re doing, then move onto the task at hand, which is, of course, selling the solution.
In short, make sure your proposal isn’t all about you. A short blurb and a few bullet points should be enough to capture all the relevant info.
Being too salesy.
The flipside to mistake number one is that some freelancers tend to overcorrect. Instead of talking about themselves, they jump straight into sales mode, which can set the wrong tone from the outset.
Most successful freelancer-client relationships come about due to the fact that they’re framed as partnerships. You’re going to work together to overcome these challenges and deliver results.
To do this, you need to make a connection with your words. You need to treat your prospect as a human being, build trust, and get to know them better. If you fail to do this, you can come across as a sleazy salesperson trying to make a quick buck, rather than a focused freelancer who truly cares about their client’s goals.
Using the same cover letter over and over.
Another downside to using a template is the temptation to write something once and never change it. This is especially true of your cover letter. While other parts of your template can stay the same, you should spend some time tweaking (or rewriting) your cover letter to make sure it meets the client’s expectations.
It’s your opportunity to demonstrate that you’ve read and understood the brief, setting the tone for the rest of the proposal. If it appears generic, there’s a good chance your pitch will be dismissed, no matter how good your proposed solution.
Sending long proposals.
By now, it’s probably apparent that the key to a successful freelance proposal is balance. You might think that pouring hours into creating the perfect proposal will enhance your chances of winning the bid, but in most cases, the opposite is true.
If you make your proposal too long, you’ll fail to engage your prospect. Short and to the point will almost always win the day. Remember, you’ll have plenty of time to dig into the detail when you win the job. This is about making a quick and meaningful connection — not writing War and Peace.
Not sending a proposal quickly.
You’d think this would be a slam dunk when you’ve got a proposal template at your fingertips. And yet, some freelancers are still slow out the blocks when it comes to sending a proposal.
When a potential client reaches out, whether it’s informally through social media or via your website, or formally with an RFP, chances are they’re excited to get going. They’ve got an idea, and they need your expert help to make it happen.
If you’re slow in sending your proposal, you’re effectively failing to match their excitement, and that’ll show. Clients want to work with freelancers who want to work with them.
Don’t allow the fact that you’ve got a template to lure you into a false sense of security where time is concerned! Your competition won’t hang around. Snap to it.
Using the wrong language around price.
This is something the top 1% nail time and again — value language. When you’re creating the pricing section of your freelance proposal, it’s your opportunity to frame the tricky subject of cost in a positive light. By using the word “investment”, you’re moving the focus away from “money spent” to “money invested”.
It really is that simple. With one minor switch, you’re able to provoke a different psychological response. An “investment” suggests that they’ll see benefits or results, whereas “cost” is simply money out the door with nothing in return.
Failing to highlight ROI (return on investment).
Just because you’ve tweaked the language in your pricing section, don’t assume that every potential client will understand the benefits of working with you. Your proposal needs to hammer those benefits home.
To that end, make sure you include a section that highlights precisely what your prospect will get in return for working with you. If you can demonstrate that, by purchasing your service, they’ll receive benefits far in excess of the cost, you’ll put their mind at ease — and stand out from the competition.
Failing to follow up.
The final mistake freelancers make with their proposal template is thinking that sending it is the end of the conversation.
In reality, you need a systemic follow-up process to avoid getting lost in a sea of emails. Once 24 hours have passed, send another (brief) email confirming that your prospect has received the proposal. Ask if they have any questions, and gently reinforce that you’re looking for a decision by a certain date.
While most prospective clients will be keen to get started, they also have a business to run. By showing that you understand this — and by demonstrating a willingness to help — you’ll stand out as a solid and reliable freelance partner.
You’ll find a lot of the best practices mentioned in these tips built into our proposal tool, Bonsai. It costs just $19 per month and it’s used by over 150,000 freelancers worldwide. Give it a try with a 14 day free trial.
What should a good proposal template include?
(Whether you use our template or not)
Now that you know some of the benefits of using a template, and some of the most common mistakes you need to avoid, let’s take a look at the key elements of a proposal template.
For starters, every template will require certain information that will remain the same, including:
- A title page, with your name, your freelance business name and address, and your logo or business branding;
- A short personal statement, outlining your background and experience;
- Payment terms, such as accepted forms of payment (i.e., do you accept credit cards?) and when you expect to be paid (15 days, 30 days, etc.);
- Terms and conditions, including late fees, confidentiality, and copyright, etc.
Next, you need to include sections for the information that you’ll adapt as per the brief. This ensures that your format will remain consistent, even if this info changes from one pitch to the next.
Typically, you’ll add the following information as you flesh out your proposal:
- The customer’s name and address, including business name if applicable;
- A client number or reference, proposal number (for your own records), and the date;
- A cover letter, outlining your understanding of the brief;
- Relevant testimonials or personal recommendations, demonstrating your knowledge and experience of the industry in question;
- Your proposed solution to the brief;
- The timeframes and budgets involved in delivering your proposal;
- The estimated return on investment (ROI) of your solution;
- A list of the resources and information you need to make it happen;
- And a date by which the proposal must be accepted.
Remember: When you’re creating a freelance proposal template, you need to be meticulous when it comes to spelling and proofreading. If you brag about having “an eye for detail” while your proposal is riddled with errors, it (and you) won’t be taken seriously. Get someone you trust to check it over when you think it’s ready.
When to use a proposal template?
The way in which you pitch your services is a reflection of you and your business.
You could simply draft a few lines in an email, add an estimated cost, and hit send, but you’ll appear sloppy and prone to rushing into things.
Or you could open a blank document and try to write a full proposal from scratch, but you might miss key information, or write too much and miss the point of the brief entirely.
Now, imagine the alternative. Instead of doing too much or too little, you simply produce a polished proposal that covers all the key points and guides the prospect through your solution.
It’s not too long. It’s not too short. It’s just right. And if you do that, you’ll come across as professional, considered, and in control. With that in mind, you can use a proposal template whenever you’re pitching for new work:
- It might be a formal pitch, where you’re responding to an RFP. This allows you to gather information and insert it into your template, building a professional-looking document that demonstrates your knowledge and understanding of the task at hand.
- Or it might be less formal, where you’re pitching cold. You can use your template to once again build out a considered solution to a problem the client may not even realize they’re experiencing. Seeing it laid out in a proposal document would make it far more compelling than if it arrived in a short, easily dismissed email.
Either way, a template can bring structure to your pitching process and help you win more than you lose.
A note on proposal templates vs cold emailing and email pitches
Cold emailing can be an effective way to win new business. In fact, there are countless case studies out there that’ll back this up. But it’s not for the faint of heart.
It can take literally hundreds of cold emails (and hundreds of hours) to eventually break the ice with one prospect. And even then, you’re not guaranteed of anything more than a courteous exchange of pleasantries.
There’s also the fact that when you pitch via email (cold or otherwise), you’re simply adding to the noise of a prospect’s overstuffed inbox. From the moment you hit send, you’re relinquishing control. You’re giving your prospect the chance to scroll past, skim over, or simply delete your email, without so much as a second thought.
So let’s hit pause for a second. Is there wisdom in not emailing your proposal? Many of the top 1% of freelancers would say “yes”. You don’t want to simply email your proposal and cross your fingers, you don’t want to let your prospect talk themselves out of your solution. and you don’t want to give up control of the sales process.
Instead, you should arrange a time to present your proposal, whether that’s in-person or online. That way you can reinforce what’s good about your pitch, counter any objections your client may have (in real-time, no less), and sell them on your personality at the same time. While the old saying goes “people buy from people”, it’s missing a key component. People don’t just buy from anyone; they buy from people they like and trust. Use your proposal template as a jumping-off point to build that trust
Advantages of proposal templates
There are a number of clear advantages to using a proposal template. For example:
- Templates provide complete consistency. By using a template, you can produce several proposals in quick succession, and tailor each for a specific brief.
- The fact that you can turnaround proposals quicker than if you were writing them from scratch increases your chances of winning business. You can respond to a client’s request sooner than the competition.
- Templates can also encapsulate your brand. From the colours you use to your logo, font, and tone of voice, you can position yourself in whatever way you want to be perceived.
- They help free up your time — time that can be spent on other important freelance tasks.
- It becomes a repeatable process, and one you can tweak and improve as you go. You don’t have to completely reinvent the wheel each and every time you send out a new proposal. You’ll soon have an idea of what works and what doesn’t.
- A quality proposal template sends a positive message about your business. It screams professionalism, integrity, and reliability.
Disadvantages of proposal templates
However, there are some downsides to using a proposal template, too. For instance:
- If you choose the wrong template, it could lead to you repeating the same mistakes over and over again. A poorly structured template can be misinterpreted or ignored, and you could miss out on potentially lucrative opportunities without really knowing why.
- And if you continue to use the wrong template, you could waste countless hours chasing up potential clients who have no intention of working with you, thanks in large part to your initial proposal.
- Therefore, it’s vital that you choose a clear, high-quality freelance proposal template, and that you have it checked over by someone you trust before sending it.
Why are Bonsai’s automatically generated proposal templates better?
Once you have the hang of creating and writing a freelance proposal, the next step is to join the top 1% in using a dedicated online system.
This will do much of the heavy lifting for you, including adding and removing sections with a click, calculating fees instantly, sending reminders, and tracking when the proposal is opened.
And if you’re looking for an all-in-one freelancing tool for professional-looking proposals, look no further! Bonsai offers a 14-day free trial.
There are several key elements to note with a Bonsai sample proposal:
- The company logo and banner image, which establishes professionalism and reinforces the company’s branding.
- The title of the proposal, which clearly states what the proposal is for (“Homepage Redesign”).
- The business name and address (FROM) and the client’s name and address (TO).
- A clear structure, incorporating each important section with a natural and easy-to-scan flow.
- An easy-to-understand fee summary, with an option to choose between packages.
Why is this better? It’s crystal clear, easy to read, and looks professional. But that’s not all. If your prospective client is sold on your solution, they can accept your proposal from within the document. No need for unwieldy email chains or time-consuming back-and-forths.
How to create proposal templates using Bonsai?
Super simple. Bonsai makes creating, saving and sending proposal templates easy. Here’s how:
Create an account
First, set up a Bonsai account. The only information you need to enter is your name and email address. Once you’ve signed up, you’ll arrive at this screen:
Click on "draft a proposal"
Simply click on “Draft a proposal” from the options in your freelance workspace, and you’ll be able to create your new proposal template.
Insert client information
Now you’re ready to insert the client information, add the project name, select the currency, and choose the proposal template. You can pick from Generic, Design, Development, Consulting, and Writing.
Build your proposal
The proposal template will open, and you can then build your proposal. First, you can add a logo and banner to show off your brand to the client. Then you can add the necessary information:
Overview & Goals
Enter an overview of the project, and a summary of its goals:
Enter details of the project’s timeline:
Here you can create different options, allowing your client to choose only what they require. You can also create tiers of the same service, with added extras available at a higher price.
Add a bio and include a photo so that your prospective client can get to know you better.
Explain why the client should work with you:
Outline any additional services that you’ll offer as part of the proposal:
There’s also a drop-down menu with more options, like duplicating the proposal or downloading it as a PDF:
Send your proposal
When your proposal is ready, there’s a confirmation page where you can add a bespoke message to the client. Then you simply click send or schedule it to be sent automatically:
Track approval status
Once sent, you’ll see information at the top of the proposal dashboard, including whether it has been accepted:
Using Bonsai is simple and intuitive. Let us make your life easier while you focus on the work that you love.
Sign up for your free trial and send your first proposal today.
Bonsai vs generic proposal templates
While it may be free (and time-consuming) to download an online proposal template, customize it, fill it out, and send it, you really do get your money’s worth when you use Bonsai to handle pitching (and all those other admin tasks).
We’ve worked with over 150,000 freelancers over the years, and they all agree on the same thing: you’ll waste countless hours and miss out on lucrative business opportunities if you use generic proposal templates.
If you’re serious about your freelance or consulting business, it’s time to take your pitching game to the next level.
Here’s what you get for spending $19 / month on Bonsai:
Create, customize and send professional-looking proposals in minutes.
Add, move, or remove sections in seconds.
Get notifications when clients view or accept your proposals.
Optimize automatic reminders by choosing the right time to email each client.
Add single or multiple package options to your proposals that your clients can choose from automatically.
Make accepting as easy as possible with package selection and electronic-approval.
At Bonsai, we recommend ALL freelancers to protect their time like it’s the most important thing in the world. Otherwise, it’ll consume you.
Other proposal template categories
Running a freelance business means wearing a lot of different hats. And switching between those roles takes time and energy. Admin tasks, in particular, tend to steal time away from your more enjoyable creative work. But if you don’t perfect your proposal process, you won’t have a steady stream of work to enjoy in the first place.
Using a streamlined online proposal system can free up precious time for other work, while making sure that you’re responding to briefs and winning new projects. It also shows professionalism on your part and builds trust and confidence in your abilities.
So, now that you know why proposal templates matter — and how Bonsai can help you make it easy — we’ve only got one question left:
Are you ready for your no-strings 14-day free trial? We’ll see you on the other side!
on-time with Bonsai