How To Write Winning Proposals As a Freelancer

Apr 13, 2024

our proposal is the final in your sales process. It's the bottleneck every client needs to go through.

And yet, most proposals are:

  • Mediocrely designed
  • Poorly written
  • Unconvincing 

So if this document is so important, why are they often so half-assed?

There are a few reasons:

  • We want to get 'em to the lead as quickly as possible.
  • Writing them is boring and repetitive work.
  • Not everyone can write well.
  • Or create decent designs.

Mostly, freelancers see writing proposals as something that just needs to be done. A shame, as you're losing business with this mindset.

The fix is using templates and proven tactics. In this e-mail, I will teach you in ten steps how to write a winning proposal. 


Step 1: Gather Information

A winning proposal is tailor-made. This all starts with researching your potential client. 

You’ll at least need answers to these questions: 

  • What is the background and role of my contact person?
  • Why does this person need my services?
  • Is this person the decision-maker?

This last question is important. Your contact might forward your proposal to the owner of the company, who might be the person calling the shots.

If you have not yet done so, I recommend scheduling an appointment, online meeting, or phone call before issuing your proposal. 

Prepare a list of questions. Some questions you can ask:

  • What are the products and services your company provides?
  • How do you describe your current customer?
  • How do you describe your ideal customer?
  • Who are your competitors?
  • What makes your company unique?
  • Have you worked with other parties before?
  • If so: what went well and what went wrong?
  • If not: why are you specifically hiring someone now?
  • What do you value in a collaboration?
  • What are the goals you're trying to reach?
  • Are there deadlines, and if so, what are they?
  • What is the budget available for this project?
  • Who will be my contact person? What is his or her role in the company and in the project?
  • What are the communication channels?
  • How often would you like an update from me?
  • If the collaboration goes well, is there a desire to purchase more hours?
  • When would you like to start the collaboration?

These are quite a few questions, but without answers to 'em you can't write a decent proposal. It might be smart to record the conversation. This way, you don’t have to take notes during the conversation and your focus remains on the meeting. 

Have you got your answers?

Game time. 

Open a blank document or use my template. This is a Google Doc that you can copy or download as a Word document.

Step 2: Describe The Problems

The core of your proposal should address your lead's pain points. Start by detailing all the problems mentioned during your first meeting(s). Use powerful headings to grab attention.

For instance, instead of a generic heading like:

"New Design for E-commerce Store"...

Use something more striking, like:

"Problem: Declining Customer Numbers" 

This approach ensures that the lead sees their exact issues reflected in your proposal, capturing their attention and setting the stage for your solutions. I've used this method for over ten years now, with good success.

Step 3: Solve Their Problems

After identifying the problems, it's time to present your solutions. The effectiveness of your proposal depends on how well you articulate the solutions. 

Use these five tips:

  1. Focus on benefits over features. Explain from the readers’ point of view why they should work with you.
  2. Write convincingly. Explain the tangible outcomes of your work, using your own words and adding personality to your writing. 
  3. Remember, clarity beats cleverness. Don’t try to be smart in your writing, use easy to understand words, examples and processes.
  4. Use short sentences and paragraphs. Noone wants to read walls of text.
  5. Limit each topic to one page for maximum impact. This makes your document scrollable.

Step 4: Show What You Do

Support your text with images or diagrams to make your solutions more tangible. Visual aids can significantly enhance the persuasiveness of your proposal. Personally I use Google Presentations to make simple doodles that I use in my proposals.

For example, if you're proposing a redesign, include before-and-after visuals or mockups to illustrate the potential improvements. This not only clarifies your proposal but also makes it more engaging and memorable.

Step 5: Show How You Do It

Transparency about your process reassures clients about what to expect when they decide to work with you. 

This step is about breaking down your methodology into clear, understandable stages, providing clients with a roadmap of how you'll go from understanding their problem to delivering the solution.

Including timelines, key milestones, and what each phase entails can help manage expectations and build trust.  

This section should convey not just the what and the why, but the how of your approach, demonstrating your professionalism and attention to detail. 

Step 6: Explain Why You 

This is your opportunity to sell yourself, to explain why you, among all the professionals out there, are the best fit for this particular project.  

I recommend that you reserve a full page just to introduce yourself properly. Include your qualifications, experience, unique selling points, and anything else that sets you apart from the competition. Don’t forget to include a picture of yourself. Remember that people do business with people, meaning your reader needs to get to know you.  

This personal touch can differentiate your proposal from others, making it not just a business document but a personal pitch. 

Step 7: Add Social Proof 

Social proof can significantly bolster your proposal's persuasiveness. Try adding this to your proposals:

  • Clients you worked for
  • Testimonials
  • Cases 

This evidence of your success and reliability reassures clients that they're making the right choice.

Including specific examples of how you've solved similar problems for other clients can make your proposal more compelling and provide tangible evidence of your capabilities.

Step 8: Pricing

Clear and transparent pricing is crucial. Your pricing structure should match your leads’ budget, of which, after step 1, you should have a decent understanding.

Offering options or packages can demonstrate flexibility and understanding of the client's needs.

The aim is to provide a clear understanding of the investment required and the value it represents, ensuring there are no surprises down the line.

Step 9: Create Your Cover Page

Now that you have more or less finished the proposal, it's time to write your cover page. Feel free to create a beautiful title page if it suits you or your company. I usually just plain text with some decent formatting. 

Five tips for your cover page:

  1. Make an entrance. The first page must stand out, whether through images, text, or a combination of both. 
  2. Convince quick decision-makers. Sum up all the important information on the very first page.
  3. Address your lead personally. Greet your reader by name and link back to where your last conversation ended. 
  4. Mention the services that have the most impact. This way, you not only convince quick decision-makers but also invite the lead to read further. 
  5. End with a call to action. You want your lead to take action, so take the lead and suggest the next step yourself. 

Step 10: Write The Perfect E-mail

Your lead might request proposals from more parties. You need to make sure you stand out from the get-go.

How do you do that? 

  1. Write a Catchy Subject Line
    Your first mission is to get the email opened. You won't achieve this with a vague or meaningless subject line.

    So, not: “Collaboration

    Better: “Collaboration Proposal of Edwin Dijkstra

    Bingo: “Attract Better Customers with Better Photos - Proposal of Edwin Dijkstra

  2. Tease Your Proposal
    Next, you need to pull the reader into your proposal. Tease what you're offering.

    For example:

    "Hello John,
    From our discussions and my analysis, I've identified three key areas for improvement that my photography will address. I expect these changes to bring about a 30% increase in leads, attract the right customers, and help you fill your vacancies faster."

  3. End with a Call-to-Action
    The closing is just as important as the beginning, but don’t make it harder than it needs to be. Just this is plenty:

    "I'm eager to hear your thoughts. Call me at [phone number] if you have any questions!"

    Be brief, clear, and inviting. 


Now it's your turn. (Re)write your own proposal template, or use mine. Good luck!


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