Best practices — How to write a project proposal

If you want clients to buy your services, then you must sell your services.

How to write a project proposal - Don't be scared to sell your services!

The thought of "selling your services" sounds intimidating, doesn't it?

I don't know about you, but for me the word "selling" brings to mind smarmy cold callers trying to get me to part with my hard-earned money in exchange for stuff I don't really need. Selling doesn't have to be that way. In fact, if you're doing it right, your sales process should be the opposite of smarmy. You're exchanging a service your clients need for a fair price.

One way to remove the fear around selling is to take the word "selling" out of your freelance vocabulary. Instead of boasting about your expertise or trying to force through a sale, you send prospects a project proposal.

What Is a Project Proposal?

If your freelance business was a store, then a project proposal would be your window display. A project proposal allows your clients to see what's available at what price. Unlike at the shopping mall, each client gets their own window display, tailored to their needs.

Your project proposal outlines how you can meet a client's needs, and the rate you'll charge for that service. Sending a project proposal to a client is an effective way of getting them to make a decision on whether or not to hire you. You ramp up your conversation to sales point without explicitly asking for the sale.

There's no right way to create a project proposal. It can be a simple short email or a detailed and lengthy document. In other words, writing project proposals is an art rather than a science. How you write your proposals will depend on your industry, the type of clients you work with, your personality, your brand, and the services you sell.

That said, there are particular ways of researching, writing and structuring project proposals that win more and bigger sales.

Let's take a look at what makes an effective project proposal.

How to Begin Writing Your Proposal

Your work writing a project proposal doesn't begin when you sit down at your computer and boot up your word processor. It starts way before then, the moment a prospect makes contact.

As soon as a prospect gets in touch, you should go into listening mode. This isn't the point to sell anything. It's your opportunity to find out exactly what your prospect needs. Ask questions that help you understand what they're looking for from this project. Listen carefully to every response.

In listening to your client, and asking insightful questions, you're selling your services much more effectively than a "look how great I am!" approach ever could.

A listening ear and good questions show you care and that you understand. By demonstrating your ability to understand your client's needs, they'll want to trust you with the full project.

What's more, everything you learn will help in writing your project proposal. As far as possible, take notes in the language of your client.

The more a project proposal is tailored to the needs of your client, and is written in their language, the less work you'll need to do convincing them of your expertise and suitability for the project. The aim is to show exactly what you're capable of in the project proposal. It's a mini sample of the quality of your work.

Write Proposals Like a Pro

When it comes to writing your proposal, put it together in a professional manner.

This includes…

  • Branding the proposal with your logo.
  • Making your proposal clear and easy to understand.
  • Formatting your proposal document to look professional.
  • Checking your spelling and grammar.
  • Optional: Detailing your experience and expertise.
    (It's always better to show these in the quality of your proposal than to state them outright.)

Acting professionally doesn't necessarily mean being formal. Showing you've got personality and a sense of humor can be a selling point.

How to Structure Your Proposal

How you structure your proposal is up to you. That said, there are two structures that work well.

The "Three Packages" Structure

This is my personal favorite structure for project proposals, and time and again it's proven effective at winning me clients. It works particularly well for smaller projects, but it can be adjusted for large projects.

You offer your prospect three packages:

  • A basic package that meets what they've asked for, but offers nothing more ($).
  • A standard package that meets more of their needs you've picked up in your conversations with them ($$).
  • A premium package that offers lots of extras, designed to meet every need they've expressed ($$$).

The aim of the premium package is to provide an anchor price for the other packages. This anchor gives prospects a point of comparison for your basic and standard prices. This is particularly helpful if they've not worked previously with a freelancer in your field, or at your level of expertise.

Given these three options, most clients will go for the standard package. That said, you'll be surprised at how many will want to go all in with the premium package.

The "Project Breakdown" Structure

A project breakdown is exactly as it sounds.

The process of coming up with a project breakdown is relatively simple:

  1. Put together a package that's right for your client's budget.
  2. Break down the package into components, and price up each component.

The advantage of breaking down your proposal into components is that your client gets to see exactly what work you'll be doing to complete their project. They can see that rather than plucking a figure out of the air, you've carefully thought out and priced up the project to meet their needs.

Additionally, you can use the project breakdown as an opportunity to upsell, by offering optional extras. Don't go overboard on this, as it can be confusing for your client. Only offer extras that meet their needs.

Over to You

As I said in the article, there are many ways to write an effective project proposal. I'd love to know what's worked for you.

How do you structure your project proposals? What advice would you give to a newbie freelancer putting together their first proposal?

Written by David Masters

David Masters helps businesses find their sweet spot of creativity, productivity and making money. He's been earning his bread as an online business writer since 2008.

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