1. Ask Questions
Before starting your proposal, take some time to make sure you know exactly what you are proposing. If you are unclear about nay part of the project, ask your potential client a few meaningful questions and if anything seems indefinite in their description of “what they want”, ask for clarification and then give them a list of possible options as to what you think they might have meant. For your sake, when preparing to give a price, it’s important that you and the client both have the same amount of work in mind.
2. Summaries the Project
Take all the information on the project that you are received from the client thus far and summarise it briefly, using your own words, in an openings paragraph. This not only helps you get a clearer concept of the project in your own mind, but also gives the client confidence that you have given it thought and understand what they want. It also provides a solid opportunity for them to clarify encase you didn’t understand.
“Below is a summary of my understanding of the project based on our conversation thus far.”
3. Break Down the Project Into a Nice “To Do” List
After your summary, follow-up with a solid “To Do” list, which is very useful for both you and the client. List everything that they have requested so far as well as your standard work on the project. For designers, this would include listing the initial drafts, etc. For programmers, this would include planning the database, building it, etc. Be thorough in your list. It will help give the client a strong sense that you know what you're doing and that you'll do the job well. It will also help you make sure nothing slips through the cracks. Use the list in your project updates and cross things off as you move along.
4. Split the Project Into Phases
After your "to do" list, split the project up into a number of clearly defined phases. I recommend starting out with a minimum of three. Your first phase might be the "Initial First Draft". During this phase, you begin work on the project and end the phase by sending the client a first draft for testing and revision. Your next phase, in a simple 3 phase project, could be "Bug Squashing and Customising" - During this phase (I recommend project appropriate naming conventions) the project is tested and revisions are made until the client is happy with the work and it's ready for action. Your last phase is "Finalisation". Once the work is finished, you send them an invoice, ask for referrals, collect payment, and end with a virtual handshake, all parties satisfied with a job well done. - Bonus: A useful strategy to keep in mind when it comes to pricing is splitting up a long to-do list into meaningful project phases and then pricing each of the "phases" individually. This can be especially useful for isolating features that require additional time and energy and being sure the client recognises the work involved when it comes time to give them the price.
5. Give Your Clients a Timeline
Once you've gone over the project phases, let your clients know approximately how long you expect the project to take. Be generous (overestimate if need be, but gently) and then strive to finish up ahead of time. While a project may only take you a few hours to finish up, keep in mind that there will be waiting time between the initial drafts and the finished project as the client reviews the work and provides feedback. If the client is in a rush, let them know exactly when it can be finished and be sure to go over in detail exactly what, if anything needs to be done on their part to make that deadline possible.
6. Estimate Your Time Involved
While not useful for all project types, giving an estimate of time involved is useful for most and not only gives the client a sense of what to expect and that you know what you're doing, but also helps you know exactly what to plan ahead for. A large design/programming project, for example, with a high dollar amount, can be an excellent opportunity to detail the hours involved in each step of the to-do list. Be generous, but honest. The last thing you want is word getting around that it takes you several hours to do what takes the average freelancer 15 minutes ;).
7. Use the Multiple Choice Price Strategy
Now that all the details have been clearly laid out and your client is confident in your understanding of the project and your ability to see it through, it's time to give them the price. Calculate your predicted time involved and be sure that nothing is overlooked. Then, give them the total number of hours along with your standard hourly rate followed by a discounted "flat rate". As an example, take a typical CSS design/coding project. Let's say you estimate about 5-8 hours involved in the project and your hourly rate is $40 an hour. Your proposal would then read something like this: "At around 5-8 hours of work, you're welcome to my basic hourly rate of $40 an hour or a discounted flat rate of $250." 9 times out of 10 the client will choose the flat rate over the hourly and will be happy with having had the freedom to choose. - Note: As an honest freelance artist who's abilities are constantly improving, you'll often reach a point where what once took you 5 hours now takes you an hour. Once that happens, the multiple price strategy is no longer needed. Give them your flat rate and do an excellent job :). - Be sure that, along with your price, you give them your options for accepting payment.
8. Offer a Satisfaction Guarantee
Once you've given them the price, be sure to include your satisfaction guarantee. Let them know that you're committed to working on the project until they're fully satisfied and then, once they've accepted your proposal, stick to it. There's always the possibility that it can backfire with a client who just doesn't ever seem to be satisfied (we can talk about dealing with them another day), but the vast majority of the time a solid guarantee will give your clients an extra vote of confidence and help to close the deal. There's always the possibility of a project costing you more time than it is worth, but no matter. Give the project your absolute best and learn everything that you can. Satisfied customers often end up being repeat customers and they are more than worth the time spent on those who may not appreciate your work.
9. End With a Call to Action
Finally, after all the details have been made clear, and the price and guarantee given, end with "what happens next." Let them know exactly what they need to do to get started. If you require payment upfront, let them know where to send the money. If everything prior has gone well, you now have a client who's excited and eager to see their project come to life and you want to make sure that they know what needs to happen next.
10. Write and Format Professionally
Nothing says "unprofessional" like a bunch of "misspellings", grammatical errors, and "IM Style" typing. Take the extra time to proof read your proposal and fix any little errors that may have slipped in. Use spacing between your paragraphs and divide your various sections (Project Summary, Timeline, Price Quote, etc.) with subheadings. For extra points, put your proposal up on a password protected page (make sure the password works!) within your website. - Note: If you're struggling with style or would just like some extra ideas/opinions, put together an example proposal and share it with family and friends along with a request for feedback.
And there you have it! Once the proposal has been accepted and the project complete, be sure to always ask the client if they have any suggestions for how you can improve and do even better work in the future. Ask them if your proposal was clear and ask, if you're able, what the deciding factor was in choosing you to do the work. Take note of all you learn and apply it to the next proposal you write.
Although not directly related to "proposal writing", here are two other tips that are worth mentioning:
Now go out there and do some excellent work 🙂