The Freelance Proposal Toolkit

Freelancers don’t have time to waste on proposals that don’t close. That’s why this post is a collection of the best tools I’ve found for improving your proposals.

Below we walk through an exclusive free template, tips for increasing your chances of landing a sweet gig, and more.  

You can use the process to apply to any of our awesome website design RFPs or other contract design opportunities you find on Folyo.

So let’s get started!

Simply, using the process below won’t win you a project but it sure will increase your chances!

Step 1 – Download Jonathan Stark’s Website Proposal Template
This is a special proposal template created by my friend Jonathan Stark that’s easy to customize and gives you a great head start at creating a persuasive proposal.

Study the copy. Look at the way Jonathan is speaking to expensive problems. This is how you win high-value work. Look for expensive problems that a client needs solved, then mirror those back in your proposal.

Step 2 – Put the Template into Bidsketch
One of the best ways to speed up the proposal process is to make creating and sending them easy. My favorite app for this is Bidsketch because it comes with a bunch of additional templates and tools for customizing your proposal.

Step 3 – Track and Follow Up on Your Proposals with Pipedrive
Following up on your proposal is one of the biggest levers you can pull to increase your close rate. Some Folyo members even report this being the #1 factor to landing six-figure contracts. 

But very few people remember to do it and as a result baking it into your process is a huge advantage. Pipedrive is great for this because it’s designed around the proposal workflow. Here’s a video I made walking through how to set it up:

Step 4 – Read Up on How to Improve Your Proposals
Beyond software, a sound sales approach will have a huge effect on your proposal’s success. Here are a few book recommendations that will help you optimize your proposal process even further.

Step 5 – Customize the Website Proposal Template for Your Business
We analyzed over 500 RFPs, and listed out the most commonly requested elements. Create these once, put them in Bidsketch, and have them ready to add to your template to save a ton of time.

  1. Create Your Own Cover letter
    Introduce yourself in a friendly and concise way. Add something unique to the project you’re applying to.
  2. Write Your Own Bio
    Share with clients who’s behind the proposal. Have a bio ready to go that tells them why you’re awesome.
  3. Answer the Question: Why You?
    Tell your clients why they should hire you in particular and what makes you different than anyone else.
  4. Include Contact Info
    Make it clear what the best way to contact you is. Ideally, include this info on every page (especially first and last).
  5. Mention Team members
    Define roles for members on your team. Let the client know who else will be working on their project.
  6. Propose a Solution
    What are you proposing? What’s the benefit? It’s surprising how often you can re-use “custom” solutions.
  7. Clearly Define Your Price
    How much is it going to cost? Create a few packages you can offer for any budget range.
  8. Ask Questions
    Most RFPs have a Q+A process baked in. Always have a couple of questions ready to go for any project.
  9. Remember to Pick Up the Phone If an RFP starts dictating button colors, pick up the phone. It’s a cry for help and your opportunity to create mutual understanding. Speaking directly to a designer may be what they need, much more than getting 325 replies to a badly-formed RFP. Remember, not all organizations who send out formal documents have to.
  10. Offer a Roadmapping Session and Create a Productized Offer This is one of the best ways to save time in a design practice. By specializing on one problem area and refining your expertise, you create irresistible proposals by default. 
  11. Always include options in your proposal
    No matter what the budget is or how the scope is laid out, giving potential clients options in your proposal will double or triple the chances you’ve hit the spot for them.

    Ask a question with your proposal
    Keep in mind, there’s people behind the scenes. Remember to use the Q+A system built into the process. Asking a question can help build a relationship. A good starter: “I know you have a spot in the RFP for questions, but I wanted to quickly check-in and ask if you already have a firm in mind to handle the project?”

Step 6 – Find RFPs and Contracts Worth Pitching
Finding website RFPs and other contract opportunities worth pitching is near and dear to our hearts. We’ve been finding hundreds of awesome RFPs for our customers every year for the past 5+ years. That’s why we designed the best place to get every RFP on the internet in one place for one low monthly cost.

Time to get lucky!

There’s always going to be some luck involved. However, you can also create the opportunity for luck to strike by putting yourself in the right position. Most RFP issuers I’ve interviewed receive less than 30 proposals. That means by just being average, you have a 1/30 chance. Be consistent. Follow up. Send 50-100 RFPs this year and suddenly, you’ll get a lot more lucky.

Folyo members get the best RFPs on the web delivered to them. They get a head start on this entire entire process and get $10k+ graphic, web, and UI/UX design projects sent to them daily. You should sign up for a free trial today!

Joey Kirk is the owner of Made by Munsters a 3-person web design firm based in Indianapolis. A few months back, he emailed me to tell me he’d won a six-figure project off of my membership RFP site, Folyo. He even offered to chat with me to give you an inside look at the process. Here’s what an actual winning RFP response example looks like.

Quick note before we jump in… you might be expecting a long, detailed proposal template (like the kind I’ve shared before), but the response that Joey credits is actually much simpler. Yes, he sent in a bid that had everything requested in the RFP, but how he got there was what made the difference.

The Surprising One Line Winning RFP Response Example

The key response that Joey credits for winning the RFP, actually happened outside of the formal RFP process

It was a simple Linkedin message he sent after hearing about the project. It was something like this:

Hi my company is interested in submitting an RFP do you have any more information for me?

It doesn’t seem like much, but because Joey took the initiative to send this message, it opened up a dialogue and allowed him to build a much stronger relationship with the client.

He ended up getting additional insider information like when the RFP due date got extended, and why they were looking to do the project in the first place. Details that were not included in the initial RFP.

“Honestly, I was sort of fearful about coming off as pestering but I just wanted to make sure they had me in the back of their mind and knew they could reach out if they needed anything.

I always told them: “if you have any questions please reach out. if I don’t hear from you in the next couple weeks I’m going to reach out.”

This set the expectations on both sides and they’d immediately respond.

I wouldn’t respond every day, because that would be annoying but if you’re waiting and not getting any feedback, it’s perfectly fine to touch base every week or 2.”

Using These Additional Details for a Winning RFP Response Process

Because Joey was in contact with the client via Linkedin, he learned when they got funding, which had an effect on the client’s their budget amount. Joey also learned the following information outside of the RFP:

That information came in handy when it was time to send in his bid because he knew he was close to what they had in mind instead of just making a wild guess.

Key to Winning RFP Responses: Staying Persistent During a Long Sales Cycle

Another key to winning this RFP for Joey was his persistence despite a long sales cycle. Most agencies drop out or ghost the client once the project starts to go long.

Joey took another approach. He put himself in the clients shoes. He knew that great companies made decisions slowly. He knew that sometimes things changed, and companies got new information.

As such, he stayed professional and responsive.

Even though they delayed the hiring decision from October into November, into December, and finally, into January. Joey made sure to stay in touch every week or 2.

“Communication was incredibly important. Ultimately they made their decision based on how quickly they were able to communicate to questions.

When they had questions about adding a second site to the project, we were able to submit the update bid within a few hours, where as the other companies had taken more than 24 hours.”

Instantaneous communication was important to the client, so providing as much info as possible at the drop of a hat, helped them realize that Joey’s firm would provide excellent service throughout the project.

You May Have a Better Chance Than You Think

The biggest surprise Joey found in the process was that this six-figure project had only received 6 responses total.

You can’t control how many firms reply to an RFP, but you can improve your process with RFP templates and tools, so that you never miss an opportunity.

The best way to do that is to save as much time as possible. A Folyo subscription is the first step in that. We find every single design RFP on the web and put it in one place for our members.

“This six figure contract for our team of three will help sustain our company as we look to continue to grow.

We’re not looking to add designers or engineers so the money that we’ve made from it is going to pay our salaries and saving for a rainy day.

As an agency owner you have your ebbs and flows, and over the past 2 years theres been a lot of valleys… but landing a project of this size really helps us prepare for a better future. It’s helped us calm any stress and fears we had and approach our business calmly.

Without landing this project through Folyo we’d probably be in the same place we were 6 or 8 months ago, stressing to find as many projects to pitch as possible.

This is the biggest project we’ve ever landed on Folyo but I’ve been connected with a number of different people and opportunities to win work. So it’s been incredible.”

When you create an account on Folyo, you’ll receive the best RFP jobs on the web sent to you almost everyday. There’s even a 100% free plan you can try to see if it’s right for you. Here are a few projects we’ve sent recently:

I got a question from an experienced UI designer recently:

Should I ever talk about my “15+ years of experience”?

It’s a great question. The first thing you need to know about experience is that everyone claims they have it. As such — no matter how experienced you actually are — your claim of it is meaningless.

We live in a world where “rounding up” years of experience is pretty much the accepted standard. Especially among freelancers.

In fact, there’s often zero correlation between the quality of work coming from someone who claims 5 years of experience and someone who claims 20. It can be tough to find out who’s for real and who’s pretending.

Clients are left to sort out this pickle on their own. But you can help them. How? By presenting your experience differently. More authentically. Here are some ideas for separating yourself from the pretenders:

1. Instead of length, use before and after.

Say you worked on a project for Airbnb that took 3 years. Instead of telling new clients how long your project with them was — talk about how the company was struggling before you showed up and how they fixed those problems after you completed the project. This helps paint a picture about the results you created by telling a story. It shows a more dramatic rendering of how you had a hand in the company’s success overall. People love to hear a story with a beginning and end.

2. Suggest solutions with the phrase: “In the past, what worked best with clients in your situation was…”

This phrase lets you talk about your experience in a way that’s naturally interesting to the client — because it’s about solving their problems. Wrapping your advice in proof is more persuasive because it adds context to why your experience is valuable. By basing your solutions in evidence and experience it makes you more valuable by showing instead of telling.

3. Present your experience to somebody NOT anybody.

Knowing who you are presenting to is one of the biggest advantages you can give yourself. Instead of talking about your past projects in generic ways, tailor them to the specific person you’re speaking to. For example, if they need help with their messaging interface — talking about a project where you worked on similar problems is going to be more influential than sending a link to every portfolio project you’ve ever worked on. This relatively minor tweak makes a huge difference in a clients receptiveness to your expertise.

4. Tell new clients what your most successful clients did differently.

When you share the traits that have made your best clients successful it does two things 1) it sets expectations that new clients will need to reach and 2) it makes them feel like your experience is an asset that gives them an unfair advantage on everyone else. So start by cataloging your best clients. Separate them into two buckets: successes and flops. Then look for common traits among the successful and use them in your marketing.

5. Instead of years — break up your experience into larger numbers.

Most people are going to talk about their experience in years. However, studies show that bigger numbers are more impressive. So break your experience into smaller units of measurement. For example, say you’ve worked on over a hundred projects. Or that you’ve designed a thousand UI elements in your career. Or even talk about the hundreds of thousands of hours you’ve put in to your craft. All of these carry a different weight to them that will make you stand out — and make other numbers (like the price in your proposal) seem small in comparison.

6. Go 2nd.

In the sales process, silence is golden. Instead of jumping into your work experience off the bat, ask clients to tell you about themselves first. If at the start of a conversation, the client asks about you, you can politely respond with — “I’d love to talk about my experience. But first do you mind giving me some background on you? That way I can lead the conversation with what’s most relevant for helping you on this project.” That way, as they talk you can take notes on the words they use and then reflect these back at them to make your experience even more compelling.

7. Publish free samples of your experience online.

No one’s going to know what you know unless you write and publish your opinions. People are more likely to write you checks if they know who you are and what you stand for. So don’t treat your experience and learnings like a secret recipe. Emulate chefs. Write! Design! Put the result of your work out there for people to see. An example is worth a thousand boasts.

8. Feature testimonials with success metrics and results.

Instead of focusing your testimonials on yourself: “Jim was great to work with!” focus your testimonials on the outcomes of your engagement. For example: “Within six months of having Jim redesign our website, our online sales doubled.” Remember, clients aren’t just hiring you, they’re hiring you to provide a result. So match your testimonials with success metrics that point to an outcome you provided.

9. Be understood — put trust above experience.

When you talk about your past, you’re really telling people why they can rely on you. If you have to pick between building trust and making someone grasp your experience, it’s almost always more persuasive to built trust. The first step in this is being understood. Avoid jargon that only makes sense to people in the industry. Talk in terms of benefits that anyone would understand — and above all be honest about your ability and integrity.

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