What makes a good project proposal

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 One hundred bids and I’ve not been hired! What am I doing wrong?

The perfect project proposal

I am going to start this section by repeating the very important statistics that affect most members of this website:

Over 95% of members of this site have incomplete, inaccurate or flawed profiles.

Over 95% of members of this site write inadequate, inaccurate or flawed project proposals.

Over 95% of members will almost certainly never get work here of value.

I said in the previous article, on profiles, that your aim should be to become one of the 5% who does get it right.  That does not mean you will win every project on which you write a proposal, but it does mean that you will substantially enhance your chances of doing so.

I also mentioned that I have been a member of this site, both as freelancer and employer, for almost twenty years and when I post projects here I typically get about forty to sixty bids per project.  95% of those bids are rubbish, (but you knew that anyway from what I said earlier).  Just one in twenty is worth looking at.  So if I get sixty bids, probably only three are actually worth my time studying in detail.

If you get your bid proposal right, you are not fighting to win that project against fifty-nine other bidders.  There are, in fact, only two other bids worth my consideration.  And if you are one of only three viable bidders your chances of winning that project are suddenly very good indeed.

I've not only worked through this site, but have also worked for a raft of good companies in sales and marketing.  A one in five pitch-to-sale success rate is usually seen as acceptable, one in four is regarded as good, and one in three puts you at the top of your marketplace.  And that's on buyers new to the marketplace, effectively cold-calling.  Working through this site is no different to cold-calling.  The buyer, at the point he posts a project, does not know you, nor any of the other bidders.  So if you can write a proposal that really stands out, then not only will you be in that small group of three contenders, you will also be a strong contender to win that project.

Yet most proposals I see make fundamental errors.  This is about avoiding those errors.

Remember, that your genuine, prospective clients are here to spend their money and do business.  Yes there are those who are not genuine, there are those whose budgets are unrealistically low and there are those that break the rules, so let's deal with them first.

Treat buyers professionally.  Never call a buyer “bro”.  (That's ghetto slang and unacceptable to a prospective business client.)  Never start a proposal “Dear” on its own, because it's somewhere between insincere and very rude in western civilisation; “Dear Sir” or “Dear Madame” or even “Dear Employer” perhaps.  “Dear” on its own is a term of address you should only use to close family.

Dealing with unworthy, inappropriate or fake buyers, or those who simply provide inadequate information.  There are two ways to spot them:

Firstly your principal task on this site is to make money, so if you bid on projects with ridiculously low budgets you are never going to make a profit.  Even if you get your proposal right, if the money the client is paying won't pay the bills then you are wasting your time.

People's financial needs vary from country to country across the world.  A good income in south Asia will often be seen as relatively poor in Europe, America, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and quite a lot of other countries in the world.  You need to calculate what you have to earn in one working day where you live to make a job worthwhile. 

If the earnings a client offers in a project are insufficient to give you that income, my first piece of advice is this: 

1. Do not bid on any project where the earnings offered are insufficient

to pay your bills and give you some spending money.


2. Pitch a valid bid proposal at the right budget and explain to the buyer the costings of your proposal.

And even if a client says a project will lead to further work, never ever believe that that will be the case.  There is a well-known saying in the direct sales industry:

 “Buyers are liars”

That is perhaps a little cruel.  What it means is that most buyers will not necessarily lie to you, but they may well either hide the truth from you or even not be aware themselves of what the budget, or their actual needs, really should be.  Always assume that that is the case until you find out otherwise, because, when you first read a project description, you have absolutely no way of being certain that buyers are genuine.

     1. Buyers with ridiculously low budgets
So let's assume you still choose to pitch a proposal to the client, but you know his budget is ridiculously low. 

And a very good example of this is a project I won, as freelancer here, a few years ago from an Australian buyer:

He wanted photos taken of one white Caucasian child, aged 5 – 8 years of age, using educational activity toys in a home environment.  There were sixteen different toys and the client wanted about five to six finished fully-edited images of each toy being used.

But his budget was set at between AUD 30 and AUD 250, and there were bidders already who had bid under AUD 150.  However, most of them were either not photographers at all, or were based in countries where the predominant population was not white Caucasian, so I immediately knew that those people were not contenders.

For a few minutes I sat down and costed the job out and this is what I came up with:

  • Sixteen toys, fifteen minutes each = four hours;

  • Because of the age of the child that meant two sessions of two hours each;
  • One professional child model – GBP 30 per hour, total GBP 120;

  • Because modelling is a skill and using just anyone is not a good idea;
  • Chaperone for each model – in this case the mother of the child, so no charge in this case, but usually it will double the model cost;

  • It is also a legal requirement to have a chaperone as the child is under 18;
  •  My shoot time – four hours – GBP 280;

  •  My post-production time, 80 to 100 fully edited images – four hours – GBP 100.

    Total – GBP 500, although on top of that if I had to travel any distance there might be travel costs to add.  As it happens, on this occasion, that was not the case.  I then added 10% to cover this site's fees.  Grand total GBP 550.

I then converted that to Australian dollars, his preferred currency.

My proposal was way over his budget, more than three times his declared maximum, so I had to cost the job out very carefully in my proposal and I explained it clearly in his currency.

He agreed and awarded me the job.  The model I chose was an experienced child actress who has, since then, worked on the production of a video for the United Nations and is probably one the most capable models with whom I have ever had the pleasure to work.  She is the only model with whom I have ever worked where, if you asked her to move one millimeter, then that is exactly how far she would move.  She has since undertaken six other jobs for me.  The first time she worked for me she was six years old.

The client got what he asked for, but at my price.

     2. Clients who say - “full details in chat” - or who provide inadequate information

These are clients who give away very little information, if any at all, in the project description, and frankly I would always be wary of them.  Yes, some of them are genuine, but they are inviting you to bid for something where you have absolutely no idea of the job details.

Genuine buyers will not be concerned by the fee you propose, but those that are scammers will tend only to contact bidders at the minimum fee range, so don't just bid at the minimum as you will attract scammers in situations like this.

Genuine buyers will discuss the project on this site's chat facility, but scammers will ask you to communicate outside this site's messaging system.  Don't do it!  Never, ever agree to communicate other than on this website's messaging service.  If the buyer asks you to do so, report the message thread, the project and the project owner / buyer using the links provided, and cease all communications with that person.

Both of the above are warning signals.  And do remember this.  The moment you agree to communicate outside this site's messaging system two things happen:

  • You breach this site's terms and conditions by communicating off-site and lose every scrap of support;

  • This site's support services cannot help you if things go wrong.

So all you can do is tell buyers in your proposal what you would charge for a set number of hours, but state that your proposed fee is subject to amendment once you have full details.  Invite them to look at your profile … you remember, the profile you have now completed … in full.

Again genuine buyers might still contact you, and if they treat you correctly, and keep communications on site, then you are not only safe to proceed but you should be able to negotiate the correct fee once you have full details.

So let's assume the project description the buyer supplies is reasonable, and the fee is realistic.

The next thing to avoid is what's known as the “race to the bottom”.

Many new freelancers think they have to bid low to get work.  The problem with that is that if you bid an inadequate fee (a) you won't make enough money to make the job viable, and (b) you'll get a reputation for being cheap.  Buyers, even genuine ones, are not stupid.  If they can get what they need at a lower price then many will opt for that.

So now we come to the right way to pitch a bid.  Let's start with the biggest mistakes new freelancers make, and some of these you will have already seen in the previous part of this tutorial:

Here's seven things you should never do or say in a bid proposal, (and why you should never say them):

  • Never start a proposal by copy-pasting the project description into your proposal.  Why?  The buyer already knows this information.  He does not need it repeated, and by the time he's read through it he's lost interest in you.  Result – wasted bid;

  • Never say you will offer unlimited revisions.  That says you will never ever actually get it right.  Result – at worst you'll be taken for a ride, or, if you are lucky, a wasted bid;

  • Never offer free samples.  Why?  Bad buyers will take the free samples but not employ you.  Result – wasted bid;

  • Never say you are “the best”, “the fastest”, or “the cheapest”.  Why?  Because someone else will always be better, faster or cheaper.  Result – wasted bid;

  • Never claim to be able to translate any language pair.  Why?  Because if you cannot translate from personal knowledge, you are simply doing what the buyer could do himself, and good buyers know that and will regard your bid with contempt.  Result – wasted bid;

  • Never offer a buyer their money back if they are not satisfied.  The fact is that good buyers want someone who can do the job well, and not admit the risk of failure before you start.  Result – wasted bid;

  • Never beg for work or state that you are new to freelancing.  Good buyers want professional freelancers.   Result – wasted bid.

Never, ever, put any of the above “claims” or “pleas” into your bid proposals.  Bad employers will take advantage of you and good employers will ignore you.

So what makes a good bid?
I've said several times that only about 5% of freelancers actually learn how to write a good bid proposal, and as I explained earlier, when I post projects I get, on average, sixty bidders of whom just three post a good bid worth reading.

  • Your profile is about you, your skills, your experience and how you gained it;

  • Your bid proposal is about the client, his needs and how you will solve his problems.

And the second point there is the biggest single mistake freelancers make when seeking work.  You thought getting your profile wrong or leaving it incomplete was bad.  Well that fades into insignificance when you get your bid proposal wrong.

There are two other very important things to remember.


Two types of jobs on which you should NOT bid:

  •      Many buyers leave out the localized marker on their projects even though it is needed.  Read the project description through carefully and check if it is obvious that the job can only be done at a specific location.  If it says, “I need a videographer in London” and you are based in New Delhi, DON'T BID, even if there is no “local” marker.  It's a wasted bid.

  •       Many buyers include skills which they put in as “additional secondary skills”.  If the job requires someone to take photos AND edit them, and you only do editing, but not photography, DON'T BID.  Photographers do their own editing, or have people they already employ regularly to do editing.  It's a wasted bid.

Offering to do a job for which you are in the wrong place, or only partially qualified is a waste of time.  Don't do it!  You are wasting a bid.  You are wasting your money.

So, what should you put in a good proposal?

  • The first ten words you write should identify the client's primary specific business need.  Fundamentally, what does he REALLY need;

  • The next ten words should summarize how your skills, sometimes referred to as your “unique selling points” will solve his problems.  Effectively, what makes you special or what can you do that nobody else can;

  • In the next paragraph you should define each element of the job the buyer needs you to do, and how you will address those needs.  Note the word “needs”.  It is his problem you are solving.  Don't talk about your profile content;

  • In the next paragraph you provide a realistic breakdown of the cost, just as I did with my Australian client and his educational activity toys;

  • In the next paragraph remind the client of the specific skills you have that will solve his problems.  If he asked for SEO, then talk about SEO.  If he didn't ask for Google AdWords, don't mention Google AdWords.  If someone mentioned something for which the buyer had not asked then the buyer would probably ignore the proposal;

  • Next, invite the buyer to check your profile.  Yes you can put a link to your profile in at this point, but NOT an off-site link, as that means you would be breaching this site's terms and conditions.

  • Next, ask the buyer a relevant question.  For example, if he hasn't asked for the job to be done in a specific period of time, ask him if he does have a preferred completion date;

  • And finally, with regard to your bid proposal, read it through, check it for errors.  Go through every line, every word.  Check the spelling.  Check the capital letters, check the punctuation.  There should be, for example, a space after every full stop and every comma.

And finally remember: never, ever use an auto-bid bot.  It's a wasted bid.

If you've got that lot right … and I do mean everything ... you are now one of the 5%.


Posted 15 February, 2023

Barney Douglas/BDFoto

Photographer, writer, translator for 40+ years

TOP RATED PREFERRED FREELANCER Professional British-born Commercial Photographer, Translator, Writer and Proof-reader. I am now based in France, in the town of Saint-Yrieix-la-Perche, south of Limoges, but undertake work for clients worldwide. If you are looking for commercial photography, whether in the studio or on location I have all the experience you seek. I also offer written work cover...

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