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In the nearly two years that I’ve been freelancing, I have prepared and submitted close to a hundred project proposals.
Not all of those proposals successfully led to paid projects, of course. And because I’m too lazy and can’t be bothered with tracking my results (as Juliet Dupreez recommends in her ebook, “The Winning Proposal”), I can’t even tell you what my success rate is.
What stands out in my mind are the proposals I’ve sent out that have been less than stellar. Yes, I confess. I didn’t always put a lot of effort in my project proposals, especially in the early months when my fees were way below market standard and — again, I’m being perfectly honest here — when I was treating my freelancing more as a hobby than as a business.
Now that I’ve “grown up,” I put a lot more thought and effort into my project proposals. I’ve taken the time to learn how to prettify my template. But more importantly, I take the time and energy to really “listen” to what my prospective clients want and need, and where I fit into the process of them achieving their goals.
Looking back, I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my project proposals. I’m exposing myself for your sake, because I hope that by reading about my own foibles, you will avoid them for yourself.
Here are the top 5 project proposal mistakes I’ve made:
1. Not showing proof that I understand what my prospect wants and what they want to achieve
My proposals used to be stark documents devoid of personality and charm. It would be a list of tasks and their corresponding fees. I’m surprised I got ANY projects at all.
The last time I did this — and when it dawned on me what a big mistake I was making — was when I submitted a proposal to an entrepreneur I had been admiring for some time. I’d been reading her blog, subscribed to her newsletter, interacted with her on Twitter…. And when her assistant contacted me for a proposal, I was absolutely thrilled! I would absolutely love to work with her!
However, as soon as I hit the “send” button, I regretted it. Why did I not write a more personable, professional and thoughtful message along with my proposal? Truth be told, I think I was star struck, like a teenager who finds her mouth glued shut when her crush is standing in front of her.
After that incident, I vowed never to send a lifeless proposal ever again. Instead, I summarize what I understand to be my prospect’s needs are, and how I can help him or her achieve them.
2. Not breaking down tasks
My proposal used to say simply, “1 Sales Page = $XXX.” It looked more like a grocery receipt than a proposal from a copywriter.
Now, I specify exactly what I do to create the sales page, such as product research, market research, conceptualization, writing, design and layout, choosing photos and other graphical elements, etc.
This is particularly important when you’re bidding against other freelancers. Of course, you wouldn’t want the prospect to automatically go with the lowest bidder. By describing your work this way, you help your prospect appreciate the value you’re actually bringing.
3. Not double-checking for spelling, grammar, computation and other mistakes
This is the most shameful mistake of all, especially for a writer. Just two weeks ago, I sent a proposal that was incomplete. The prospect asked for three newsletter articles, but I only quoted for two. So I fired off another proposal — with the correct number of articles.
Fortunately, even though I managed to thoroughly confuse my prospect, she went ahead and paid in full for the second proposal so I could get started.
I got lucky that time, because apparently, the prospect was already sold on me. But had she not been, that mistake would have cost me a client. A costly mistake, indeed.
4. Skipping important details, such as mode of payment, delivery schedule, copyright, etc
I used to be timid about including anything related to money in my proposals. I waited until the prospect approved the proposal before I said that I required a deposit. This became even more difficult when I started requiring full payment before beginning work on a project.
However, by skipping these details, I was doing my prospects a disservice. I wasn’t giving them all the information they needed to make a wise decision about whether or not to contract my services.
On the other hand, by laying all my cards on the table, my prospects don’t have to deal with surprises, and things go more smoothly.
5. Forgetting to sell yourself
I heard somewhere that “Prospects become clients only after they pay you.”
This is more important than you may think. We sometimes assume that a person is already a client, because he or she wants to work with us and has asked for a quotation.
While for some prospects, the quotation is merely a formality, they are a minority. So until the prospect has paid you, either a down payment or full payment, they’re not clients — yet.
Therefore, you should consider your proposal to be a marketing piece. You’re still selling your services to the prospect. Don’t think that “the cat is in the bag.”
Avoiding mistake #1 above helps with this. You can also summarize what skills and expertise you have that make you suited to meet your clients’ requirements. Some even suggest including a good testimonial in the proposal itself. If you’ve done a similar project for another client, briefly describe the results that client achieved with your help.
It hasn’t been easy writing this post, because it brought back memories of times when I failed to focus on my prospects and market my services properly.
But I’m still glad I wrote this. Not only will it help me remember to never make these mistakes again. But if it will help you and other freelancers from making the same mistakes, then it’s been worth it.
Have you ever made any of these mistakes? Or have you made others that I haven’t mentioned here? Please do tell by posting a comment below.
photo credit: dps