Updated: Jan 16
The client call was one of our best. Sarabeth and I pitched our vision for the project, asked solid questions, and detailed our backgrounds. The marketing lead on the other end of the Zoom call was ecstatic.
“Perfect, just send me a proposal and I’ll run it by the CEO. I’m excited to work together.”
We got off the call and knew we’d won the project. We drafted a quick proposal and sent it to the company.
A few hours later, I logged onto Facebook. In the same group where I’d met the marketing lead, the company’s CEO posted: “We’re looking for a skilled copywriter for a website copywriting project. Recommend your favorite copywriters.”
I blinked at the post. We lost the project. Where had we gone wrong?
I showed Sarabeth the post. With such a strong client call, we deduced that there was a communication breakdown between what we discussed on the phone and what was presented in our proposal. Our proposal lost us a valuable lead.
Something had to change. That week, we spoke to established freelancers in our network and studied the elements of what makes a proposal persuasive. We reworked our proposal, essentially starting from scratch. And from then on, our project success rate went way up.
Why you should create a powerful freelance writing proposal
There are two primary reasons to create a strong writing proposal. The first is fairly obvious: you want to capture the scope of your project in writing, including rates, payment terms, and deadlines. In this way, a proposal is a practical tool that helps both parties work together smoothly.
The second reason for a proposal is less obvious but way more important: Your proposal exists to sell your services when you’re not in the room. This can’t be overstated. The difference between a good copywriting proposal and a great one can be tens of thousands of dollars in writing income every year. It is your last and most vital piece of marketing.
The best writing proposal doesn't merely communicate the details of a project. It serves as a tailored marketing brochure that makes a case for why you’re the best writer for this job.
So, how do you write a freelance proposal that converts? Here are the elements of a persuasive freelance writing proposal.
Sell the client their own story
A good proposal tells a story. But it’s not just any story. The best proposals tell the client’s story—in their own words. And it all starts on a client call.
Here’s what I mean: When you get on the phone with a potential client, ask questions that probe into the reason they’re hiring a freelancer. Sure, they have a project they need completed. But why? There’s often a deeper story going on in the business that has led them to hire a freelancer.
Here are a few of my favorite questions for getting to the deeper reason for a new project:
What was going on in your business that caused you to launch this project?
Why are you launching this project now instead of six months ago or six month from now?
How has your organization solved this problem in the past?
As the client answers these questions, you’ll hear a story unfold. Take note of that story. When you write your proposal, you’ll recite this story back to them. This shows the customer that you paid attention and that you truly understand their situation. You’re not just a freelancer offering a service. You’re a problem solver who understands where they’re coming from and where they want to go.
Here’s an example of one I use recently (with a fake company name to replace the real client):
“Since their launch two and a half years ago, ABC Corp has relied on a website that was designed in two weeks on a shoestring budget. The company has grown fast and serves reputable clients. With their success, ABC Corp has essentially outgrown their website—it no longer represents the caliber of company they are today.
“To take the company to the next level, ABC Corp is performing a full website overhaul. Their goal is to create a professional website that reflects the current stage of their company and clients. ABC Corp is working with a web design team. Now, they’re looking for an experienced website copywriter to help highlight the unique value ABC Corp provides its clients.”
You’re a writer. Use your skills to tell a compelling story about where your client is going. Good storytelling sells.
Break down your process or philosophy
Writing is never just writing. As you mature as a writer, you’ll gradually gain a repeatable process in your work. I find it helpful to showcase that process for the client.
This does two things:
Shows the client how you’ll be working together. What is your method for research? How do you select a structure for the project? What important skills (in addition to writing) will you bring to the project? Tell prospects how you work.
Demonstrates your expertise. People love seeing a process. Processes communicate to your prospect that you’ve seen their project or problem before and know how to take it to the finish line.
Don’t find your process compelling? You can also spell out your writing or marketing philosophy. For example, customer research is a core part of my website copywriting methodology. I love to review mine, interview my client’s customers, and read comments sections to find real customer language, stories, and emotions.
I believe in customer language as a copywriting tool. It’s a form of marketing philosophy for me. So, I make a short case for it in every website copywriting proposal.
Use social proof
Prospects love to see that you’ve solved their problem before. The best way to communicate your accomplishments is through social proof.
Social proof comes in many forms. You can use brand logos, case studies, links to past work, or numbers that showcase your accomplishments (like: “200 published blog posts”). My personal favorite form of social proof is the testimonial. I usually include two testimonials in every proposal: the first at the beginning of my proposal and the second just after my rates.
At the beginning of your copywriting journey, any testimonial will be great. As you earn more testimonials, you can be more selective about when and how you use them. For example, I swap in testimonials that are most relevant to the project. If my proposal is for a website copywriting project, I tend to include a testimonial from someone pleased with my website copywriting skills. If my proposal is for blog writing, I use testimonials that speak to that skill. And so on.
Detail the full scope and objectives
The best way to combat scope creep is to detail the full scope of a project in writing. That happens in your proposal. The more detailed, the better—especially for longer projects. Here’s what you should include in scope:
Deadlines for every step of the project
The exact quantity of deliverables you’re creating (for example, in a website copywriting project, I name the number of landing pages I’m responsible for)
Payment terms (such as how much you’ll collect up front vs. at the end of the project)
The quantity of process-related tasks: How many rounds of edits? How many customer interviews?
The length of specific deliverables
Your included research (SEO keyword research, competitor research, stakeholder interviews, etc.)
Rates: Provide multiple project options
Every beginning freelancer feels uncomfortable about rates. You don’t want to scare the prospect away with high fees. But you also don’t want to leave money on the table by charging unnecessarily low. So, how do you set your rates?
The best way to maximize your earnings without scaring away prospects is to give them tiered options. I tend to include three options per proposal.
Lowest tier: This is the bare bones project. Here, you will include your lowest preferred rate for the simplest version of this project.
Middle tier: Think of this as your average project. For your average amount of time and effort, how much would you prefer to earn? This is where you’ll include those details.
Highest tier: This tier is reserved for the client looking for a delux service. They don’t just want a deliverable. They want someone to go above and beyond—no matter the cost. For me, this version tends to include options like: manage other writers, provide unlimited edits on website copy (within the timeline of the project), project management or content calendar research and planning, etc. By taking more ownership over the project, you can charge significantly more.
Include your bio
At the bottom of every copywriting proposal, I include a professional bio with my photo. This adds a human element to my pitch. It also reminds clients that this isn’t my first brain surgery. I can showcase my experience, brag a little about the problems I solve, and highlight some of the customers I’ve partnered with over the years.
Also, if the prospect is considering pitches from other freelancers, a bio and photo adds a personal touch. They can recognize your face from your website or from speaking with you on the phone.
Freelance proposal template
Writing a strong proposal from scratch requires a lot of time and effort. To save you a little time, I've included the exact template I use for my copywriting projects.
Grab the template (and subscribe to my *newsletter) here:
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