Landing private clients requires many intangibles—confidence, determination, luck and more.
But you also need one concrete item: a proposal.
A proposal outlines the work you’ll do for a client, along with the rates you’ll charge. Whether you’re a newbie or a veteran freelancer, you’ll need to craft whip-smart proposals that will give clients exactly what they want and you the compensation you deserve.
The Goals of the Proposal
The proposal has a multi-functionary role. It serves as
- a marketing piece, showing the client what services you provide
- a quote, explaining your fees and price structure
- the basis for any negotiations and a future contract
As a marketing piece, you can use a proposal either during an initial cold call — if you think you know what a client will want — or after a client’s already expressed interest in the services you provide.
A well-crafted proposal will accomplish two specific goals.
A proposal should offer the products the client needs (whether they’re articles, social media posts, or other content), and create an outline from which to base any negotiations.
By outlining a structure of product services and rates, you set a foundation from which you can adjust and negotiate with the client to reach a fair agreement for both parties. In other words, a proposal sets you up to almost always be able to say “yes” to a potential client.
- It will protect the writer.
Specifically, a proposal ensures you are paid a fair rate for your time and talents by outlining your basic terms and expectations.
(Note: There are many potential clients who offer piddly sums for great amounts of work. Don’t spend time proposing or pitching to clients whose budgets are well below your minimum rates.)
The Heart of the Proposal
Every proposal should have a single feature product that forms the heart of the proposal. It may be an article, blog post, white paper, eBook, or some other form of content.
Typically, the feature is the longest and most involved writing the client needs and, therefore, also the most expensive. Because it’s the most expensive, this piece is also the easiest to adjust the price on. Just a small percentage change in price can be significant in terms of total dollars.
First, set the price at your per-word rate multiplied by the number of words (e.g. $.05 per word x 600 words = $30 for a 600-word blog post). Hold this number lightly, as it will be adjusted as you develop your proposal. The calculation is just a starting place.
There are two initial adjustments you might make. You might want to adjust the price up or down slightly, depending on the client’s perceived budget. (Don’t go below your minimum rate.) You could also create a package of several pieces. A package might have a little lower per-word rate but net you a longer contract.
At this point, you should have an idea of what you want to charge for each main piece, but even now the figure is not a final price—that will come after you’ve determined any add-on services to include in your proposal.
The Add-Ons: Upcharges and Extra Services
Add-on services are often beneficial to both clients and writers. For clients, extras can simplify the publication process and maximize their investment in content. For writers, they serve as upcharges that can significantly increase how much a client pays.
Some of the most common additional services that writers provide include:
- social media posts
- meta descriptions
- text for infographics
- image suggestions
The add-ons that you decide to provide will depend on both your potential client’s needs and your area of specialty. You may want to offer all of these, some of these or an entirely different set of extras.
Social Media Package
After writing a longer piece on the assigned topic, composing social media posts is quick and easy. To price them, you can simply multiply your per-word rate by the average number of words in each social media post you’ll do. This strategy lets you justify the price with your per-word rate, while also netting you a good hourly rate because they’re quick to write.
Once you have your prices for each type of post (e.g. one Facebook, one Twitter and one LinkedIn post), total them up into a “social media add-on.” The package is easy to price, and the per-word strategy lets you adjust the price if the client wants to add on or take away certain social posts. (This doesn’t include managing or posting to social media.)
Meta Descriptions Package
Writing meta descriptions is also extremely fast, but some private clients may not want to pay an additional fee for a meta description. If a client wants this, calculate the price the same way you calculated your social media post prices (multiplying you per-word rate by the average number of words in a meta description).
Instead of listing this as an extra charge, though, add the charge to the price of your main piece and tell the client you’ll include a “complimentary” meta description.
Infographic Copy Package
The text for infographics is also easy to write if you’ve already composed a feature piece on the topic, so you can use the same pricing structure.
When including a quote for an infographic, however, make sure to limit the number of revisions on the infographic text to just one. This will keep you from getting caught up in reformatting text so it fits an infographic’s layout, which can be quite time-consuming.
Image Suggestions Package
If a client asks you to include a quote for images, find out whether the client subscribes to a photo service. If they do, add a nominal fee for finding an image through that service. If a client doesn’t subscribe to a service, charge a decent amount for each image you’ll have to find.
To decide what to charge, multiply your desired hourly rate by the amount of time it will take to find an image—which may be longer than you expect. Don’t be surprised if you end up needing to charge a lot more than just a few dollars for the time it takes to do this.
A client may initially balk at the price you quote, but they should be more understanding after you explain that it can take time to find an appropriate image that is free and has a copyright license that permits commercial use. Include this fee as a separate price, so that they can drop it from your proposal if they still find it too high.
Policies: Protections for Writers
Your proposal should also include two policies that will help protect you from nightmare clients.
First, include a clause that limits the number of revisions. You might want to set the limit at either one or two minor (often no more than 25 percent of the text) revisions. This statement should be for the main piece only, as the infographic text should be limited to just one revision and social media post revisions are rare.
Rush Order Charges
Second, rush charges can protect you from clients who have demanding deadlines. What you set your rush charges at will depend on how much you want to work on short notice.
Personally, I like to charge an additional 30 to 50 percent for any orders that have less than a three-day turnaround. Such terms strongly deter rush orders and let me enjoy the weekends without worrying about work.
On the other hand, you can reduce your rush fee as a way to increase your rates. By setting lower rush fees, clients will be more likely to ask for rush orders, which can pad your net returns. Choose a strategy that works for you and your schedule.
Polish and Present Your Proposal
At this point, you should have everything priced and policies in place. Go through your prices and round them so that they’re easy numbers to work with. (Don’t be afraid to round them all up.)
Many writers (including myself) don’t do this when they first transition from content mills to private clients. Content mills often calculate the price of each piece down to the penny, but they have software that does these calculations.
Without a program to do the math for you, just charge clients round numbers. They may win a few cents or you might get a little extra. It’s not worth either person’s time to do the math over just a couple coins, though. As long as you provide costs for the average length of a piece, the finances should work out for both parties in the end.
With everything in place, you’re ready to present your proposal! When you make your pitch, remember to highlight what you can do for the client again and don’t be afraid to negotiate. Because all of the prices (except images) are based on a per-word rate, and most are itemized, you should be able to adjust the proposal to meet the client’s needs while still getting the returns you deserve.
Venturing into the private client sphere can be intimidating for new and veteran writers alike. But learning how to craft a strong proposal will give you greater freedom and control over the work you do and help you land the clients you really want.
How do these strategies compare to your pitching routine? What tips would you add? Tell us in the comments!