You want to know why clients ignore your proposals?
The reason is so counterintuitive, it will upset you that you didn’t think of it.
Here’s the truth. The reason clients’ ignore your proposals is because you try to close a sale with a proposal. As freelancers, we are trained by job boards to see proposals as transactional.
Think about it. The last time you applied to a job on Upwork, you clicked on it, and the first thing you do is set a price. After you pick a price, you set a completion date. This is nuts! This trains our minds to see the process as transactional.
Proposals are not transactional. Today, I am going to share how I approach proposals. You will learn everything from:
1)How I choose ‘who’ to send a proposal to. This is really important. Use this and stop wasting time on clients that will never book you.
2)How I find out what a client really wants and how they want to see it. This is a key soft skill. If you master this, you can set whatever price you want for a project.
3)How I write a proposal so a client is clicking as fast as they can to get my attention. Master this, and you’ll never have to worry about the feast and famine cycle of freelancing again.
Before I share how to put the best possible proposals in front of a client, I want to cover the key mistakes freelancers make when writing proposals.
The Five Mistakes Freelancers Make When Writing Proposals
Freelancers lose gigs before they ever get a chance to talk with a client. What really sucks is freelancers lose gigs through small mistakes. I am going to share the five small mistakes that lead to lost contracts.
1)Using ‘Broad’ Language:
I teach the key to increasing bookings is to write every single proposal. If you want to rely on template responses, you will never succeed. Clients see templates as white noise.
The catch is you can’t just ‘write’ a proposal, you have to personalize it too. In my coaching sessions, I review proposals, and I am always struck at how simple and easy to fix this mistake is.
The Problem:My students personalize the proposal at the beginning but don’t stay personal throughout the proposal. They make the mistake of using jargon or buzzwords in their field.
‘Hello Jake, I see you are looking for a copywriter to create a landing page for your shoe company. That’s cool! I’m a big shoe nerd myself’
Note how the language is clear. So far this is good. They relate to the customer, they used his name, so far so good.
‘I specialize in SEO rich conversion strong landing pages using white hat techniques. Traffic is a core demographic to growth and by leveraging social businesses can increase their market hold and transform low performance into a command hold’
This goes off the deep end real quick! In one sentence, you go from relating to the client to suddenly reading like corporate white noise. Don’t mistake being able to use language relevant to your market as creating social proof.
Freelancers lose work when they write like this. Don’t write like this. Here’s a positive way to rewrite the second part of the example.
‘Shoes are a big online seller. This is great for you, but it means finding people relevant to your specific product can be hard. Thankfully, I specialize in targeting people. Here are a few examples of how I increased warm leads for a busy market’
Notice how I am saying the same thing but doing so in a conversational and regular sounding way. Remember your proposal isn’t about convincing the client you are smart. The purpose of a proposal is to speak to clients on their level.
2)Not Including Project Links:
I spend a lot of time talking about ‘Social Proof’. This is HUGE. Social proof allows you to make a point using the authority people believe in because of their experience.
Example:If a client asks me to write product copy for a quality tailor-made clothing line, I would mention my love of Taylor Stitch. Taylor Stitch is another tailored clothing line. This shows the client that I understand and have experience in their market. It won’t lead to you getting booked, but it will accomplish our goal of starting a conversation.
Project links are powerful social proof. If a client who is selling a product with an email sequence sees that you have experience not only selling projects (your first project link), but you also have experience in writing email nurture sequences (your second link), they are going to want to talk with you!
Project links are powerful currency. With that said, I do suggest using them wisely. Unless a project I am bidding on is very large, I try to keep my project links to no more than two. Sending too many project links overwhelms the client and can quickly revert your proposal back to white noise.
I made this mistake when I my portfolio started to grow. I would send three to five project links every proposal. I was so pumped to send targeted links that I just loaded them in there.
I was an idiot.
Clients responded, but not as much as they should. I only realized the problem when a client mentioned it to me in a random side conversation we had after a project was done.
3)Using Insincere Language:
Have you ever said any of the following:
‘I can’t wait to start your project.’
‘I love the idea and am excited to be part of the team’
‘My love for this type of work is why I go into this’
If so, you are losing work. Don’t use language like this. This is a big mistake non-native speakers make. To a non-native speaker, this sounds professional and sincere, but it’s the exact opposite.
The reason for this is because it is over zealous. No matter how much you love photography, writing, coding, you aren’t in love with it.
Here’s another way to think of it. Say you are on a date. It’s your first date, and halfway through dinner your date looks at you with a mouthful of bread and red wine and says,
‘I love that we are doing this. This is the type of night I look for.’
That kind of shit would send you running for the hills. You don’t know this person. You barely remember their name, and they opt to tell you that they don’t just like what you two are doing or that they are having fun. No. They tell you they ‘love’ it. Just reading that makes your skin crawl, right? This kind of language sets off alarms for clients.
There are ways to express interest. My favorite way to do that is through lateral social proof. Earlier, I mentioned the Taylor Stitch example. This is a solid way to create social proof and express interest.
Here is another example to help you understand what I’m saying.
You apply for a job editing food photos for a direct to consumer site. In the proposal I would say,
‘I’m a big food fan myself. I have all the back issues to Lucky Peach stashed away somewhere.’
Notice what I’m doing here. I’m lightly using the terms relevant to the market while triggering social proof I know what I’m talking about by mentioning a semi-niche magazine. Note, you don’t have to go niche. You could mention a name brand magazine as long as you qualify yourself through it. For instance, I could mention I look for the New York Times food reviews every Sunday but,
‘I do miss Ruth Reichel’s reviews. Her palate really lined up with mine.’
Ruth is a well-known food author who wrote for the NYT as the food critic. By mentioning her, you show the client that your interest in food goes beyond a quick Google search.
4)You Don’t Include Your Full Name:
This one is counterintuitive. The client can see your full name from the proposal. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t include it at the end of your proposal.
Note:Don’t put JUST your initial. Put your full first and last name.
Why? Even if the client doesn’t have experience hiring out freelancers or dealing with proposals, they do know the expectations of a professional relationship. Signing off with your name signals a small level of professionalism. This is one of those details that adding it doesn’t increase anything but leaving it out takes away a lot.
I’d compare the psychological effect to that of a band playing a closing riff at the end of a song. Most people don’t pay attention to bands in bars, and at concerts the audience isn’t sure if the band is done playing at the end of a song. So the band signals to the audience when to clap by playing a quick flurry riff that signals the song is over. The same psychology applies here.
5)You Don’t Give Good Answers On All The Questions
This is an issue specific to Upwork. If you have filled out an Upwork proposal that has multiple questions, you know how frustrating it can be to keep filling them out and keep scrolling to find more questions.
You give your all writing a great proposal, and suddenly it looks like you have to write three times as much. So what do you do? You give one or two sentence answers to the rest and refer them to your CV.
This is stupid, and it is losing you work.
Pro-Tip:I look for jobs in my area that use these because almost no one fills them all out. This can be a HUGE opportunity for the right freelancer. In the past, I wrote about how I booked an extra $1K every other month because I’m the only freelancer to pay attention to all the requirements in a job post.
The same thing holds true for this. I landed a $2K product sales page because I was the only person that filled out all five questions they asked.
Don’t immediately look for jobs with multiple questions. Make sure to review a client’s history, reviews, and how much they have spent. If a client is asking for a month long project and you’ll need twenty minutes to write a good proposal, check their reviews, how much they have spent, and if their payment is verified.
Good clients, the ones you’ll want to look for, have a history on Upwork. So double check them before getting started.
Now that I’ve covered what not to do, let’s get into the three things you need to know to get booked solid.
Method 1:Choosing The Right Clients To Send Proposals To
This is a big issue. This addresses how to identify the key things in a proposal that signal a client fits your needs.
As you book more work, you’ll begin to notice patterns of language within your clients. They will say certain things, use certain language, and refer to projects in certain ways. Pay attention to these patterns. These are the key things that identify the clients you want to send proposals to when looking at projects.
Here are the three things I look for before sending a proposal:
1)The proposal is well written and is clear on what they want:
Good clients will take the time to write a good proposal. That means the proposal should be easy to read AND clear on the results it wants.
In copywriting and marketing consulting gigs, a good proposal gives you details about their numbers, things they have tried, and mentions the platforms or tools they are using. These are social triggers for you to follow and know the client is actually doing the work.
You want to avoid clients who do the inverse. Clients who post vague or unrealistic demands are either wasting your time or don’t understand how the market works. Don’t take work from clients who don’t have realistic expectations. Here’s why.
The Kickstarter That Never Was
I have experience in launching Kickstarters. Because of that, I get a LOT of offers for Kickstarters on Upwork. Last month, I got an offer for a product. The client was excited to set up a campaign and had done research. They knew the expectation, they knew the time frames, they had an account on Kickstarter. They checked out.
Then I got into the project. The client wanted to set a launch figure at $100K. The problem was they ONLY had a $5 project. They didn’t have upsells in place. They didn’t have shipping in place. They didn’t have anything.
I turned down the client. I even counseled them against going forward. They listened. But think about it. I could have taken the job-knowing it wouldn’t work-got paid and left. Don’t take advantage of people because they don’t know or understand. Being a stand up person will make you a stand out performer.
2)The Client Has Experience And Reviews Or, Barring That, A Website
I try and book clients who either have existing experience or a website I can review. Upwork sets low expectations of people hiring you. To make sure I don’t waste time sending proposals to people that will never respond no matter how great a proposal I write, I look for a client with history.
The easiest way to find that history is to look for reviews left by previous hires. Upwork also shows you the percentage of people the client has hired. You can take this number and compare it to the reviews of previous projects and see if the client has experience in hiring for your service.
Why You Can’t Always Rely On A Client’s History
Upwork has a great marketing team, and more and more people are getting on board with using it. Not only that, there are plenty of people who need projects that will only hire one person and never use Upwork again.
You don’t want to lose these clients. Here are two ways I use to tell if a client is real if they are new on Upwork.
1)They have a website:This is huge. If the client mentions their service, business, or website, Google it. You can see if they are real and see where they are in their development. If a client is asking for high level help but has an old website, outdated products, or unrealistic expectations for their current content, you’ll know right away.
2)They use language relevant to their needs:This is important. If a client knows the language behind what they need, that means they either have experience with what they want or have researched it up till now.
By reviewing the language they use, you can identify if they understand the expectations of your service or if they have unrealistic expectations.
Client Who Understands The Market: ‘I’m looking for a copywriter who can create a landing page that outperforms my existing content. I’d like to increase the number of subscribers and maybe make a few FB ads to target my traffic better.’
Client With Unrealistic Expectations: ‘I’m looking to increase my sales by 300%! If you are the right copywriter, you know exactly how to do this. I’m not interested in methods or strategies. I want results, real sales, and I want them without the upsells of ads and buying extra things for the site.’
3)They Have Hired People Who Provide Your Service In the Past
This seems obvious at first glance, but it is something people overlook. I read the reviews of every client I talk with. If a client has hired another marketing consultant or copywriter, I read the review the freelancer left and the review the client left of the freelancer.
This gives me an idea of the expectations a client has. One client might love having access and open lines of communication while another client doesn’t want to be bothered. One client will want to collaborate, and the other will only want one submission, on time, completed.
Knowing what a client wants makes it easier to choose if their intent fits your needs. If you are busy, you might not want a client relationship where the person hiring you expects multiple calls and being able to reach you on time.
You also shouldn’t work with someone who just wants the product submitted in full if you like feedback. Your approach might require feedback and, therefore, possibly cost you a good review.
Now that you know the things to look for and the right types of clients to send proposals to, let’s look at how you can read a proposal and identify the exact words a client needs to hear to book you.
How To Identify What A Client Really Wants And How To Present It To Them
The biggest issue I see with freelancers who start making money and then plateau is this:
The don’t take the time to identify what a client really wants.
I’m going to share something very counterintuitive. When a client posts a project, they don’t always want exactly what they post.
I talked a coaching student through a proposal two months ago. She was bidding on a Social Media Manager contract that wanted someone to increase their market share. As I reviewed their project and their FB page, I realized that the client was more interested in increasing engagement, not numbers.
The student agreed and asked about this during a call. This led to an ongoing booking that will result in a five-figure payout over the course of four months.
If you want to increase bookings and win more proposals, you need to intuit what a client really wants.
‘Wait …why doesn’t a client just ask for what they want?’
Most clients don’t ask for what they want because they don’t know how to explain it. There is a knowledge gap between us and our clients. That’s why they hire us! What we read signals certain things to us but that might not be what a client needs.
Here’s how you can identify what a client really wants when they post a job.
How To Figure Out The Exact Thing A Client Wants
I am going to teach you a skill to intuit what clients desire from projects. However, the best way to develop this skill deeply is to become an expert in your craft.
The greater your skill set becomes and the more quality and value you can provide a project, the greater your chances of being able to identify what a client wants right away.
I recently booked a Kickstarter gig writing a sales page for a client. Their project mentioned all the things they wanted like:
*Benefit rich copy
*More copywriter buzzwords
At the bottom of the proposal, they had one tiny sentence that contradicted all that. It mentioned they had a successful launch and wanted to grow from that.
The client didn’t want all that copywriter lingo. The client wanted to build on their brand and expand their market share through a Kickstarter. That wasn’t mentioned anywhere in the project, but because of my experience in building brand identity with copy, I recognized their issue on a professional level.
I ended up booking the client because of my observation. As your skill set increases, you’ll start getting more jobs doing this as well. The greater your knowledge, the greater your ability to see what projects are trying to do even when clients don’t know how to explain it. Until you get to that level, here is a simple question you can ask yourself when reviewing proposals to figure out what a client really wants.
The One Question You Can Ask To Figure Out What A Client Really Wants
I used to be a comic book and fantasy nerd. I won’t go into the dozen reasons as to why. However, there is one thing that is really important I picked up from that habit, thought experiments.
Fantasy and comic books help you think laterally by tapping your interest in the characters. They give you permission, through information, to think laterally about situations not covered in the books or comics.
This is called a Thought Experiment.
How To Use Thought Experiments To Quickly Discover What A Client Wants
The more proposals you send, the more you’ll begin to intuit what it is clients are looking for. Until you develop this skill, here is a way to get the same result without the experience in three steps.
Step 1:Imagine You Are The Client
After you read the proposal, take a moment and imagine yourself in the client’s shoes. You have a project, and you want results. You want to accomplish it yourself, but you don’t have the time, experience, or skills to do it yourself.
Do you know what you need but not have the time to do it? Or is this experience new to you entirely? Identifying these details will help you understand how to respond to your client.
A client who knows what they want will respond directly to targeted suggestions. If the client doesn’t have experience in your service, then they will need you to elaborate on why you will take the necessary actions, and what they can expect.
Imagining yourself as the client makes it easy to understand the tone to use with a client. Someone who owns three sites doesn’t need to be talked to the same way as someone who is having their first landing page put up.
Step 2:Identify The Result Of Your Tone And Suggestion To Their Needs
After you have identified how you will communicate with the client and the tone you will use, imagine sending them the proposal.
How do they respond? Is your proposal to long or too complicated? Or maybe your proposal assumes the client has more knowledge than they do.
Don’t skip this part. When I started, I would do this. It led me to trash entire proposals and rewrite them and get the job. Taking your time to understand not only the tone and message your client needs but also understanding how they will respond to what you write is huge.
We can use testimonials and project links to create social proof. But if you want to get booked, you need to provide more than regular social proof. Getting booked solid stems from providing Profound Social Proof.
Profound Social Proof
I’ve talked about profound social proof in my emails. It is a powerful tool that leads to high level bookings.
Quick Note:Profound social proof is social proof that acts on a deep level. If testimonials are obvious social proof, then writing well and anticipating a client’s questions before they ask them is profound social proof.
Anticipation is key. If you meet a client’s need before it arises, you come off as a seasoned pro. It is a way to provide value without costing you anything extra. A great lateral example would be a hiking boot sending you extra laces with your order. It costs the company little but shows they understand your needs.
Step 3:Imagine Their Response And Anticipate Their Questions
In step two, we anticipated how they would respond to the proposal and took time to tailor it to fit their needs. In this step, we want to imagine them getting your proposal and trying to think about the questions they would have about it.
I recently sent in a proposal that led to a $5K contract. In the project, the client wanted to know how to increase sales for a product page. The project didn’t ask for PPC ad work or FB ad work, but I knew it would need it.
What I Did:At the bottom of the proposal in my call to follow up with me, I included this line,
‘I also get the sense you need some guidance on ads. If that’s the case, we can talk about that too.’
The client responded with amazement. They told me that was on their mind, and seeing that proved to them they needed to talk with me.
Getting these kind of responses isn’t hard. All you have to do is use your knowledge about your service and extend the vision of the client. Think about it. As a copywriter, I know ads are part of the marketing package. By pointing out that the client would need to review strategies that include ads-something any copywriter would know-I created profound social proof by anticipating their follow up questions.
Here’s the crazy thing. They received forty proposals. Nearly every copywriter who submitted a proposal would know ads was involved. I stood out by anticipating it without asking for more work.
Now that you know how to turn the full spectrum of a client’s needs into a powerful booking strategy, let’s explore the final key to this system.
Writing proposals to get you booked.
How I Write Proposals That Get Me Booked
I spend a lot of time on this blog talking about writing. Writing is important. It is the first mode of communication you have with clients; it can create social proof, and it promotes you to great effect when used correctly.
The problem is most people don’t know how to write effectively. I’m sure you know how to write. However, you don’t know what to include and keep out of your writing. I am going to share the three things you need to put in your proposal which will lead you to getting booked solid.
Before we get to that, let’s explore the purpose behind a proposal.
What Proposals Really Do
Job boards have trained a new wave of freelancers to see proposals as transactional.
When you send a proposal for a job on Upwork, they ask you to commit to a price. It can either be a fixed price project or posting your hourly fee. I hate this for a host of reasons. My biggest issue is that it trains you to see proposals as a transaction. In my opinion, the price puts a line between you and quality service.
If you want to get booked solid, you need to know what a proposal does for both you and the client.
The Client’s View Of A Proposal
Clients view proposals as a call to conversation. Clients know what language they need to hear that signals social understanding in their field. They look for social proof, clear understanding of the project, and a communicator who can create interest in them spending time with you.
The Freelancer’s View Of A Proposal
Freelancers should see proposals as an opportunity to convince a client to start a conversation with them. The freelancer should do this by communicating value, experience, and results in an interesting manner that asks the client to talk with them to learn more about how it all works.
Here’s the three ways I use to get clients to talk with me.
3 Proposal Tips You Can Use To Get Booked Solid
Tip 1:Give The Client Enough Value They Want More
Clients get hundreds of proposals. Make yours stand out by presenting them with value tailored to their needs. That means featuring project links with explanations why the strategy you used in the project you shared applies to them.
Pro-Tip:Your project links don’t have to match your client’s project. Last month, I shared a squeeze page I wrote about weight loss for a client wanting a sales page for their ceramic cup company. I drew the comparison that the strategy I used to increase capture would work in their sales page. The client agreed, and I got the gig (and some cool bowls to).
Clients are interested in strategy. You can use most projects-even if they aren’t directly related-if you can explain in a clear manner how the strategy used applies on their project.
Tip 2:Share Lots of Ideas
I go into great depth in Get Booked Solid (my private course) about how ideas are booking currency.
Ideas are powerful. Most freelancers are afraid to share their ideas due to the mistaken belief that clients will steal them and have a cheaper freelancer do the work with your ideas. Clients don’t do this (and why the hell would you think it is a good idea to work with someone like that anyway?).
As you increase your skill level in your field, you’ll be able to suggest lots of ideas for projects. This is HUGE. You don’t want to overwhelm your client, but a few targeted ideas can create massive social proof that you have deep experience in getting results.
Don’t hold back. Share ideas with the client in your proposal how they can get bigger results.
Pro-Tip:Only share sincere tips. Clients can smell bullshit a thousand miles away. If you are suggesting stuff to just get more work, clients will know and tell other clients. Do good work, get good results.
Tip 3:Offer References For Them To Call
Almost every single freelancer has at least one testimonial. Testimonials are good. If you want to really stand out, offer a reference.
References seem ‘dated’ but are unique because unlike a testimonial they let someone speak for you physically. Not only that, a reference is a great way for a client to learn more about you through another source.
Don’t have any references currently? No big deal. What you can do is go back to your top three previous clients and ask them if you could use them as a reference. To make it easy for them to say yes, make sure to make your request specific.
“Hey Anne, I have a couple landing page proposals in the talks right now. If one of my clients wanted to follow up with you about the quality of my work, could I send them your email so they could shoot you a quick question?”
“Hey Anne, I have a ton of projects coming up, and the people I am talking with need to speak with someone about my work. Since you worked with me, it’d be great if you could take their calls. What’s your number?”
There are three key things the first request does well that you should focus on.
1)The first request limits the time and energy the client puts out. Make it easy for a client to say ‘yes’ to you by making your ask small like I did with ‘quick question’.
2)You limit the amount of asks you want to follow up with. The first request mentions that one client might follow up. Remember, limiting access to previous clients shows respect. Respect your client by not wasting there time.
3)Limit access to the client. Your client doesn’t want to take a ton of calls. Phone calls are easy to say ‘no’ to because it is hard to put a limit on a call. Emails keep everything concise and make it easy for a client to choose if and when to respond.
This month’s article was long. I wanted to take a month and really dig into just one idea. As a result, you got a 5K word article about getting a response to your proposal!
I have an awesome event I’m launching at the start of November. Stay tuned for more details!