We live in a world where we’ve never had more marketing opportunities than right now. The art of creating a thriving freelancing business is not to use every marketing channel available, but to go all in on as few of them as possible.
I wrote this article to help you gain success with the one marketing channel I believe all freelancers can achieve success with relatively quick and without investing money.
In this article, I’m going through the process of writing a freelance proposal and getting in touch with clients through cold-emailing.
Before we get started, I recommend that you take a look at my freelance proposal template below. Please note that it’s customized for my industry, but using the same layout, it should be fairly easy to use it for any other type of freelancing project.
Are you ready to get started?
Make a list of potential clients that you’d like to land
If you’ve been following me for a while you know that I structure everything I do. I believe freelancing should be treated just like any other type of business and that requires tracking what you do and then optimizing it when you spot areas that can be improved.
My outreach process is no different.
It all starts with a simple excel spreadsheet where I gather all my notes and progress. I have columns for the email of my prospects, their name, their business name/URL, their problems, what they care about, whether I’ve emailed them or not and a column for additional notes and findings.
In this spreadsheet, I start with writing in the people I want to reach out to. I usually find these clients by searching on Google which is pretty easy in the online marketing niché.
I simply perform searches for keywords my ideal clients would like to rank for and then look through the first 2-300 results to find eCommerce stores who haven’t yet utilized the power of SEO.
The same tactic can be applied to most freelance areas, just think about what you’re client would most likely be found on in Google. (e.g. if you’ve specialized in web design for accountants just search for accountant related words on Google)
Another option is to go on Linkedin and look through job posts related to your niché. Chances are, that if company X is looking for a content marketer they could most likely use some editorial or graphic help as well. I would then add the person responsible for this job post in my spreadsheet for further research and outreach.
You could also have a look at recommended companies on Linkedin and go through them one-after-one to see if you can spot something you could maybe help them improve.
It could be that they have boring text-based blog posts that could need some graphic design, maybe they don’t even have a blog which would be an opportunity for a freelance writer or maybe their website is just terrible to look at or slow as hell which could be an opportunity for a web designer and programmer.
I recommend that you find at least 20 potential clients every time you go through this process. If you do it too often you’ll just be wasting time.
Do your research
You can’t just reach out to these potential clients randomly and expect to land them as paying clients. We all receive a ton of SPAM in our inbox so if you want a chance to stand out and gain their attention you need to do some ground work.
You need to find out as much as you can about the people you’re about to reach out to. What problems are they having? What do they care about? The more you understand them, their problems and their passions the easier it will be to gain their attention and ultimately sign them as a client.
This is how I approach researching the people I want to reach out to:
- I’ll do a professional assessment of what I can professionally help them with (e.g. optimize their on-page SEO, set up a better email campaign etc.) I won’t waste my time on someone I don’t believe I can help.
- I find the email of the person I’ll be contacting at this company I’ve found. Sometimes it might be a solopreneur which makes it easy to find the right person to get in touch with but in other cases of corporate companies, I’ll usually find the person responsible for the area I want to help them with.
- I’ll the find their email through the company web page or through LinkedIn. If that’s not straightforward in your case, here’s a guide on finding email addresses.
- I “stalk” them on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and I do a Google search on their name to see what they are passionate about and what they have posted about before in forums or commented on in blog posts etc. I take notes of everything I find interesting. (e.g. if I can see a potential client is travelling a lot, that person most likely values freedom and flexibility why it would make sense to highlight how easy it is to work with me. I could also mention that I also travel to let that person know that we have similar passions. By looking at forums where they might be active, it’s also common to find their exact wording of problems they have, which again will be to your benefit.)
Take your time. The more you invest in getting to know your potential clients, the easier it’ll be to land them later on.
Tip: To optimize your time it’ll make sense to do this research in batches of at least 5-10 at a time. You could also hire a VA to help identify prospects, find their email, name, social media profiles and blogs/forums they’ve used.
I’d, however, still recommend that you do the actual research on them – Looking through their social media pages, forums etc. and taking notes. It can be hard for a VA to understand exactly what you’re looking for and you want to be the expert on your potential clients cause you’ll be the one trying to persuade them to work with you.
Writing the actual proposal
It’s time to write the actual proposals. To have success with this, it’s important to make every proposal uniquely fitted for the person receiving it.
There are several ways of writing a proposal but I’m going to show you the template I’ve had the greatest success with. This is a template I always use and then modify to fit every potential client.
1) The intro
The first thing my clients see, well after the front page, is a small introduction where I in just a few sentences let them know what results I’ll deliver to them and that I understand their problems. You want to catch their attention so badly that they can’t put your proposal away before they’ve finished reading it.
2) This is what I’ll do to deliver result (x)
I’ll describe how I’m going to achieve the results I believe I can achieve for them and I might briefly mention previous success I’ve had doing this. Keep it simple and not too technical.
3) Measured results
Which KPI’s (Key point indicators) will you measure? How will you determine if your efforts have been successful? Let the client know exactly what you’ll be measuring.
4) The Fee summary
Let the client know what the prices of your service will be. Make it easy to understand and include all deliverables.
When will you deliver the entire project or just parts of it? Set up a clear timeframe that lets your client know exactly when certain milestones will be achieved or delivered. Be sure to give yourself enough time to meet the deadline, as this will be a binding promise to your client.
6) What are the next steps your client need to take?
Let your client know exactly what you need them to do to work with you. What’s the process going forward with your offer? It seems simple, but it’s very effective. By letting your client know exactly what you need them to do, you’ll make it far more likely that they take action.
7) Why chose you?
Let your client know why you are qualified to deliver results (x), (y) and (z). Use relevant testimonials if you have some as this will improve your response rate. Never write your entire life story. Keep it about your client and how you can help your client.
8) Terms and conditions
A contract is always recommended and ideally, you should have a lawyer create this or look it through for you, especially if it’s a high-value or high-risk client.
However, many freelancers don’t have funds to have a lawyer look through their contracts and if this is the case for you, I’ll give my best advice on writing a simple term and condition.
Please note that I’m not qualified to give legal advice. I’m simply showing what I’ve been doing.
Another thing worth noting is that it’s very common to not have contracts in most European countries and you’ll find that many companies don’t like this.
Personally, I tend to only write a simple “Terms and conditions” when I pitch European companies. I let them know that by accepting to work with me, they also accept these terms but I don’t require them to sign any papers.
- Be clear about your role – Make a note on who’s hiring you and what you’ll deliver. Keep it simple and define exactly what your role will be. That way you avoid that your client all of a sudden want you to also deliver technical support or whatever after the project has been finished.
- What’s the timeline? You’ve already mentioned the timeline and by which dates you’ll deliver (x), (y) and (z). So you could simply refer to this part, but make sure to make a note on this and don’t set too tight deadlines. You want to be able to hold up your part of the contract.
- Deliverables – What exactly will your client receive from you? If you’re a designer it could be a zip file containing (x), (y) and (z). If you’re a programmer it could be a file containing a script etc. Just make sure to note exactly what they’ll receive.
- Payment terms – What will the client have to pay you, how should the payment be done, in which currency and by what date? In most cases, it’s recommended to demand an upfront payment as a security deposit.
- Cancellation clause – A cancellation clause can be a smart thing to include to protect you in case the client backs out before your contract has finished. Write what exactly will happen in case a client backs out at a random point – Also note, what they’ll then receive from you if anything.
- Revisions, alternations or support – For designers and writers, in particular, revisions and alternations are very common. For tech freelancers, support is also something that clients tend to continually want. Be sure to write down how many revisions, alternations or how much support is included. Don’t let anything be up to interpretation.
- Contact – How and when can the client get in contact with you? Will you accept that they call you at all times and as frequently as they want? Also, make a note on how quickly you need a response in order for you to make your deadlines. It’s hard to make a deadline if you need to wait two weeks before getting an answer to your questions.
- Access – Do you need access to any data, files, programs etc. from them? Then write that in as well. Let them know exactly what you need and by what date.
- Confidentiality – What can be shared and what can’t be shared by you or your client? Do you want to use them as a case study, then write what you’ll want to be able to share. If there’s anything that needs to stay between you, then write that in as well.
- Validity – Make a note on when this offer will expire and that if there’s any change to x, y or z, then this offer is not valid. Example: If you’re offering to improve their newsletter sign-up rate and they all of a sudden decide to change their entire web design, the scope might be bigger than before, why your offer is not standing.
Tip: Make sure you don’t have any grammar errors in your proposal as that’s just unprofessional. Have it checked by someone who’s better at grammar checking than you or use a program like Grammarly.com to check for the most obvious mistakes. I personally use grammarly non-stop.
Getting the proposal through to your client
Now that you have your proposals ready, it’s time to pitch your list of prospects. As I mentioned earlier, we all receive so much SPAM and weird offers in our inbox that we really need to stand out from the crowd and this starts by crafting a good subject line.
Crafting an attention-grabbing subject line
You only have a split second to catch the attention from the receiver of your mail, so your subject line needs to really appeal to them. Through your research, you’ve hopefully learned what they care about and what they’d really love to achieve.
I’m going to surprise you… The length of your subject line and whether you write in all caps doesn’t matter that much. Sometimes it will grab more attention using capital letters. That part needs testing. What does matter, is that you’re on-point and don’t use unnecessary words. More importantly, you need to focus on them.
Examples of bad subject lines:
“Content writer looking for job“
“ I WANT TO WORK WITH YOU“
“Unique international SEO service“
These subject lines above are bad because they don’t focus on what your benefits are from reading those emails. The subject lines shown below are focused on a specific outcome you’ll receive, which will increase the chances of you reading a mail with this subject line.
Examples of good subject lines:
“Here’s how I can double (company name) opt-in rate”
“3 steps to double (Company name) online sales”
“3 ways for (Company name) to get an extra 6,000 monthly visitors”
“How I can save (Company name) for 50 man hours/month by optimizing your process”
As I stated in the beginning of this chapter, the length doesn’t really matter that much, as long as it’s relevant to what the receiver wants to hear.
I recommend that you take notes on the subject lines you use and whether you got an answer or not as you after a while will be able to see which types of subject lines yields the best result.
The body of the email
As we’ve written our entire proposal in a .pdf file our goal with the body of the email is to make the receiver open our proposal. I, therefore, don’t recommend that you write more than 1-2 small sections.
Small rules I recommend you follow:
- 1-2 smaller sections of text.
- Be polite.
- Be professional – No smilies, emojis or grammatical errors.
- Keep it short, on the point and focused on what the receiver will get from spending time reading your email and proposal.
Here’s an example of an email I wrote prospect that later became a client of mine:
Notice that I’m still focusing on the client and what they’ll receive. Not on who I am or what I do.
Important: Remember to attach your proposal to the email!
Tip: As you can see in my email, I have a signature including an image at the bottom of my mail. I haven’t conducted any valid tests on this, but I believe it makes you look more professional and by adding a professional headshot of myself I also seem human and more trustworthy.
Don’t overdo it and include links to everything you’ve ever done. Keep it simple and on point. A simple contact information, website, and image should be enough. I personally use Wisestamp to include this into my mail, simply because I don’t want to bother creating it myself.
Sending the email
You already know how to send the email, so I’ll skip that part.
Instead, I’d like for you to think about WHEN you send your emails.
As a freelancer, my bet is that you check your email daily and most likely several times a day. For a company to reach you, it might not matter that much when they send an email cause you’re always on.
But when you’re trying to reach a company, remember that they are most likely only working five days a week. Send an email during the weekend and it might be buried under a lot of other emails. Send it on a Friday and you risk being forgotten over the weekend. I usually send emails on Tuesdays. In my experience from using this tactic as a freelancer but also from working in a corporate company is that Tuesday and Wednesdays are the days I was most likely to open and think about an email.
I usually send emails on Tuesdays. In my experience from using this tactic as a freelancer but also from working in a corporate company is that Tuesday and Wednesdays are the days I was most likely to open and think about an email.
It might be different for you, but give it a thought at least.
Tip: Remember to track in your spreadsheet when you’ve sent out an email and what the subject line was.
Follow-up and track your progress
In my experience, following up after you’ve sent the proposal will double the number of responses you’ll get.
I understand if you have a mental barrier towards sending out follow up emails, I certainly did, but as I started to understand the people who like your email aren’t annoyed. To them, a follow-up email is a kindly reminder and you’d be surprised how many people receive interesting emails to then forget about them.
There’s also another point in favor of following up your emails. Research shows that 80% of sales made by sales people requires five or more follow-ups. Although that’s based primarily on phone calls, emails aren’t that different. Following up a few times can more than double your chance of getting a reply and thereby landing a new client.
I will normally follow up a total of four times after the proposal has been sent out.
My plan looks like this. (Remember that I send out proposals on Tuesdays)
1st follow-up is sent out two days after proposal
Hi, [NAME]. Have you had a chance to look at my ideas for [Their business]?
2nd follow-up is sent out the Monday after my proposal was sent out
Hi, [NAME]. I just wanted to check in and hear if you have any questions regarding my ideas for the growth of the traffic to your website?
3rd follow-up is sent out Thursday the same week
Hi, [NAME]. Just wanted to remind you of the ideas I sent your way.
4th and final email are sent out the following Thursday. In this mail, I’m ending our conversation for this time.
Hi, [NAME]. Since I haven’t heard back from you, I must assume that growing your traffic/client base from Google isn’t a priority for you right now? If it becomes a priority for you at another point in time, I’d be glad to give my input on, how you could double the orders you receive through Google.
To keep a track of this I use this simple outreach tracker spreadsheet which you can download below. By using this I’m able to track my progress and note my findings. If I made a mistake or if I had a huge win I’ll note that so I can use that at a later point or test it out some more.
Tip: I do all this manually and track it in an Excel spreadsheet as the solutions out there is overkill for me and my situation. I only believe in scaling or optimizing when it’s needed and I simply have bigger things to improve than my outreach process.
That being said, there are proposal software options out there that could help you improve this entire process. Bidsketch and Proposify are the ones I see being recommended the most. I don’t have any affiliation or experience using them, so I’ll let it be up to you to judge whether you need them.
The final words
As I wrote in the beginning, there are far too many marketing options when it comes to finding new clients. I like this simple outreach method as it’s easy to use and tweak and more importantly, it’s effective.
You can use it in a cold-email approach or you can use it when applying for specific jobs.
That beeing said I won’t sugarcoat it. It might take +50 tries before you land a client using this method, but the more you practise this process, the better results you’ll get and the beauty of this system is, that if you at some point is in need of even more clients, you can just double your outreach efforts and statistically you’d double your number of incoming clients.
It’s time to give you the word.
What are your thoughts, questions and experience? Please share with me and everyone else in the comments below.
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