Writing proposals that successfully land clients
Early in my freelance career, when I held a day job and freelanced on the side, I had absolutely no clue what to do once a potential client rolled through my inbox. Maybe you’ve experienced the same mess I did. The process went something like this:
- Check my inbox, throw a fist in the air in excitement for a potential client
- Celebrate with a cookie, always. Then tell my husband of the news.
- Panic at the realization I have no idea how to “hook” this lead
- Read #allthethings related to “winning clients” from blog posts to podcasts
- Scramble to get my process together, and end up overwhelmed
This is no exaggeration. I was clueless when it came to onboarding clients, and especially on how to secure the lead to a paying customer.
Though you have the design skills, know the branding process inside and out, it is detrimental if you are lacking on the business side of things as a freelancer. I’ve learned a few tips along the way on how to transition these ideal potential clients into paying customers.
Apply for the job
This tip comes from my husband. He tells me to treat new exciting leads, you know the ones that are a great fit, as a job posting. Both of us have a wealth of experience applying to jobs. After graduating in a poor economic time, I probably applied to well over 200 applications my first go around. Though not ideal, I learned the art of selling myself in cover letters and interviews. I was picky to which jobs I accepted, and gained experience in pitching myself to potential employers.
If you’ve applied to a job before, you know that a lot goes into each application. Aside from the standard formalities of job history and education, you can tailor your cover letter and resume for the specific job. If the job is searching for someone skilled in illustration, customize your portfolio to showcase that work as well as adjust your cover letter to reflect your experience. This is no easy task, however through researching the company and qualifications desired, you can set yourself apart from the crowd and snag an interview.
I take the same approach with potential clients who seem like a great fit. Take the time to do your research prior to the consultation call. Show this client that you understand their brand, and already have wheels turning on next steps. When presenting the proposal, be thorough as if applying for a job — which in a way it is. Tailor it to your client, and put your best foot forward.
Know your process
To avoid that freelance scramble, understand your process. Potential clients can smell disorganization from a mile away. More often than not, your studio isn’t the only business the client has reached out to. Just like with anything else, they are gathering pricing and research to find the best fit for their brand. If you don’t have an established process — from on-boarding to design presentation — your client will likely look elsewhere.
It is frustrating when working with disorganized businesses, so alleviate your client and make them aware of your thorough and organized process. When presenting your proposal, include the process, or even a specific timeline for their project, to show your client you’ve got it covered. Understanding that this potential lead is hesitant where they invest their money, will help you navigate how to remove those hesitations. Through showing them you are a well oiled machine with your process, and have their brand in the best interest, you instill confidence in your services — which allows you to stand apart from the crowd!
Customize for your clients
Just as you would customize your portfolio, resume or cover letter for job applications, tailor the proposal specifically for your potential client. Having a template proposal is a great starting point, but take it a step further and adjust for your client’s needs. Include a specific timeline for their project. Be willing to step outside of your established process if needed for the client. Maybe they need to take the project in two phases, when you typically offer only one.
Through adapting your proposal and process for the client, you once again set yourself apart from the competitors. Most freelancers seek automation in their client process, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however if you want to book larger scale projects you will need to break this automation in favor of customization. Maybe your client needs packaging design, when you typically don’t offer that service. If you are confident in your skills, you can make an accommodation in hopes of winning the client.
Clients love to feel special, and not just another project on your plate. Through customizing the proposal to meet (or exceed) their needs, you show them that you value their brand more than automation.
Often times a client rolls through our inbox seeking “just a logo” for their brand. As a designer, I just simply can’t offer that service any longer. It goes against our entire branding approach, and philosophy of equipping our clients with a brand that serves them best. I’ve managed to never design “just a logo” since opening Spruce Rd. Instead, I always package our services together, better serving the client.
When presenting your proposal to a lead, offer recommended services your client can benefit from. If your potential client owns a coffee shop, offer business cards, coffee coasters, to-go cup packaging or even menu design. Your client will inevitably need these marketing materials, so invest a bit of time tailoring the proposal and recommended services to their business. Through packaging your primary package (ie: logo design) with marketing materials, your client walks away with tangible branded elements, and you can rest easy that the logo wasn’t stretched on the mugs! Not only that, but you also will book a larger project than anticipated, and your client will get excited for their customized collateral. It truly is a win/win.
Overall, pitching your services to potential clients can be overwhelming to say the least. Through establishing a firm process, and leaving room for flexibility, you can win the projects from the most dreamy clients.
Freelancers: I’ve got a (free) treat for you!
It’s finallllllly here! I’ve worked diligently on a new comprehensive course for freelancers that is launching in ONE MONTH. So save the date for September 7th to enroll in the Share-worthy Design for Freelancers course! To kick off the excitement of the new course, I’ve released a limited-time Freelance Blueprint workbook to guide you through the business complexities of freelancing. You can download it (for free!) here, as well as tune in to hear more about the upcoming course.
Got any questions about freelancing, or the course? Get in touch and let me know!