I recently decided to hire a freelance video editor and I learned SO MUCH about writing a freelance proposal. Let me tell you: being on the other side of the hiring process is mind-boggling. I highly recommend it just as an empathy exercise. I posted the following brief in Asian Creative Network, and promptly received 15 proposals in about 24 hours. 

Screencap of Facebook post that reads: 
ISO Video Editor
I hired a high school student studying media to capture video of our wedding (and paid him with the camera he used to shoot it lol). He gave us a full cut of the ceremony, a trailer of highlights from throughout the day, and all the video clips he took. 
I have never loved the trailer because it uses panning over still photos (a la Ken Burns effect) and I just don't like that look very much, plus things like the toasts were not included that I would love to have in the trailer. I told myself I would remix the trailer with the original video clips, but five years, a baby, a PhD, a job change, and an interstate move later, I haven't gotten around to it (shockingly). 
I would love to hire someone to edit a new trailer for us in time for our fifth anniversary in June.
Things you should know before bidding on this project:
-There are about 80 video clips, including a 30-minute recording of the ceremony done on a tripoded camcorder while the videographer walked around with a DSLR (I believe it was a Nikon D7000). The majority of the clips are really short (5-10 seconds) B-roll type clips. Wild guess at total footage time: 2 hours? Would love the final trailer to be between 5-7 minutes.
-The ceremony audio is pretty bad because of wind and malfunctioning microphones. I do not have stand-alone audio recordings. I don't expect anyone to spin straw from gold here, but if you have any ideas on salvaging the sound, I'm all ears! (Heh.)
-Along the same lines, the original videographer was young and didn't have a lot of experience. I knew this at the time and feel that he delivered what he promised and what I expected. I am not expecting Academy Awards quality anything now, but I would like the best quality we can get from the raw materials we have. (Happy to share those for interested editors to look over before bidding.)
-My budget for the editing is between $300-$500. I will do my very best to make the editing process easier for the hired editor. (i.e. I can sort clips into folders for ceremony/dinner/reception and give you an approximate timeline of the day if that's helpful.)
-We also have a bunch of GoPro and other video clips from our honeymoon that, uh, still haven't gotten put together, so I'd love to find a good fit for both projects.

Here’s what I learned about writing a freelance proposal that gets you the job (and a few ways to lose a bid, for good measure).

What Not to Do When Writing a Freelance Proposal

Don’t send a form letter.

Bidding and pitching is hard and time-consuming, I get it. But as a client, I feel zero connection to and zero confidence in a freelancer who doesn’t even address me by name. If you’re going to use a canned email, at least customize it enough to show that you actually care about getting the project. 

Don’t make the client work too hard.

I received one email that told me to look up the person’s Facebook business page. I didn’t bother, and I can guarantee most clients won’t bother either if they’ve gotten ten other bids on the same day. Think about the client’s perspective: they want help with something and they want to be done with the decision now. They don’t want another hoop to jump through.

Now maybe the freelancer was in a hurry and wanted to make sure their hat made it into the ring, which I can understand. So keep a canned message on your phone with links included if you need to dash off a quick response. Don’t throw the ball into the client’s court this early in the game! The likelihood of them dropping it is way too high.

Don’t forget to answer the client’s questions.

I’m sad to say that I immediately rejected about half of the proposals I received. Not because the freelancers weren’t talented, but because they didn’t answer my questions. 

At the end of my brief, I requested the following details:

  • Proposed timeline for delivery
  • Proposed budget
  • Their approach to the project
  • What additional information they need from me to complete the project successfully
  • Relevant work samples if they have them

To me, the approach and next steps are the most important. But those were the most often omitted parts. As creatives, it’s convenient to assume that our work “speaks for itself,” but it doesn’t. The portfolio pieces you show off are the end result of a long process, and clients need to feel comfortable and confident with you throughout that process. And it starts at the proposal.

As creatives, it’s convenient to assume that our work “speaks for itself,” but it doesn’t. The portfolio pieces you show off are the end result of a long process, and clients need to feel comfortable and confident with you… Click To Tweet

Writing a Freelance Proposal That Actually Works

Now, if I can toot my own horn for just a minute: I wrote a very good job brief. I had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted. I provided as much information about what I needed as I could besides sharing all the video footage I had (which I was willing to do that if anybody asked). And I knew what kind of information to ask for in the proposals that would help me make an informed decision quickly.

A lot of briefs are bad. Which is just the nature of the beast when it comes to freelancing, unfortunately. My honest recommendation is to be picky about what you put in for. Choose potential clients who can articulate what they want with some semblance of clarity. Then you can step in and help them get the rest of the way with your proposal.

Choose potential clients who can articulate what they want with some semblance of clarity. Then you can step in and help them get the rest of the way with your proposal. Click To Tweet

Here’s how to craft a winning proposal:

Demonstrate your understanding of the client’s need.

Many of the bids I received (and many bids I’ve sent over the years, let’s be honest) started with a litany of reasons why the freelancer was qualified for this project or, worse, a laundry list of accomplishments with no explanation. Not super compelling.

Remember, the client is fixated on what they need or want. Their garage is messy, they’re having a baby in six months, they want to run a marathon, their wedding videos have languished for five years. They don’t care that you’re a professional organizer, baby photographer, personal trainer, or video editor. It doesn’t matter to them what you can do unless your skills can help them get what they want. So before you jump into your solution, make sure to show that you get their problem.

Include a brief summary, in your own words, of their project. Bonus points if you can empathize with the emotions driving their request. “I saw that you need a video editor for your wedding video and I’m sorry you’re disappointed by the first cut you got,” is a much more effective way to show you’ve read the brief than including “Purple Monkey Dishwasher” in the subject line. (I’m not going to tell you not to write “Purple Monkey Dishwasher,” because the reality is that clients do screen their bids. But you can demonstrate that you’re paying attention in so many other and better ways.)

Deliver a specific solution.

Once you’ve shown your understanding of the client’s needs, then you can present your solution to their problem. “Here’s my portfolio of similar projects,” is not a solution. You need to spell out:

  • What you propose creating or doing for them. (i.e. “Up to 12 hours of video editing services for a final video trailer between 5-8 minutes long”)
  • Your proposed timeline. Be as specific as you can and set expectations for the client as well. (i.e. “Project can be completed within 4 weeks after project start, with the first draft to be completed within 7 business days.”)
  • Your proposed budget. Again, spell out any conditions or limitations. (i.e. “Project rate will be between $350-$500 depending on number and scope of revisions.”)

Remember that this is a proposal, so you don’t have to send an entire contract or service agreement right this second. But make sure the fundamentals are clear.

Explain your process.

This is what will separate the winning proposals from the rest of the slush pile. Remember, your work will not speak for itself. You need to speak for yourself and explain how your skills and experience will help this client. Walking them through your process is one of the most effective ways to do that. Here’s what to tell them at this stage:

  • When you’re available to get started
  • What you need from them to be successful
  • The next steps if you choose to work together
Explaining your process is what separates winning proposals from the rest of the slush pile. Tell potential clients when you're available to get started, what you need from them to be successful, and the next steps if you choose to… Click To Tweet

I also recommend putting together a more detailed process packet that explains things like:

  • Project management tools you use
  • Expectations for communication (including frequency and channels)
  • Guidelines for feedback or revisions
  • General project timelines if you have standardized service packages
  • Policies for payment and scheduling (including late fees)

You could send this process packet with the proposal itself, or wait until the client responds with interest or more questions.

Practice Empathy

Pitching and bidding is a long, often discouraging process. I know it’s a pain to put “Purple Monkey Dishwasher” in the subject line to show that you read a brief. I’m not advocating for demanding obnoxious fluff from freelancers, but again, try to see the process from the client’s point of view. They want something specific done, but chances are they have no idea how to get what they want. They’re flooded with bids that are all starting to look the same. And they just want to make a decision, get what they’re looking for, and move on with their lives.

It’s your job to explain to them how you can take them from point A to point B, not preen about how awesome you are. If you can do that, they’ll naturally see how awesome you are and have greater confidence in hiring you. And that confidence can often override price and other objections. (Although, for the record, the most thoughtful and convincing bids I received in this round did not have the highest price proposals.)

Try to see the process from your client’s POV. They want something specific done, but chances are they have no idea how to get what they want. It’s your job to explain to them how you can take them from point A to point B. Click To Tweet

The most important recommendation for writing a freelance proposal is to put yourself in the mindset of your potential client. Focus on how your skills can meet their specific needs, and think beyond what’s in the project brief. Read between the lines or ask respectful questions to figure out the emotions and beliefs behind the scenes, because the vast majority of people make decisions based on feelings or hunches rather than cold, hard logic. Speak to clients’ underlying motivations and you’ll probably win more projects.

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