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I’ve been getting requests for the article on doing proposals, and it is finally here! This will cover the portion of your freelance career where you get the joy of quoting a project now that you’ve met with the client and have some time management skills under your belt. Whether you’ve done this two times or 200 times, the process will constantly need refining but the most important thing is to be clear, concise, accurate, and on time. Make your proposal bulletproof. Make sure it includes the scope of the project, so that anything outside of the scope will be billed extra. This will help with your time management, your billing, your timeline, and of course, your sanity. We’ll also talk a bit about a proposal system I love and highly recommend. Here we go!
So I know there’s like 27,000 (approx. :D) proposal systems out there to use. There’s some really great ones, I won’t lie. There’s some that suck too. But the one I ended up going with has worked out very well for me. I actually got involved with this system when it was called SixCentral. It was only out a few months when the creator of BidSketch decided he liked the functionality and wanted to merge it with his system, so he bought it. And somehow I got involved with some testing for him and I’ve been with the system ever since. The thing is that almost every time I send out a proposal or show a peer the app I’m using, they love it. I get compliments on the professionality of it constantly and I think it’s a big reason why I win most of the proposals I send out.
Well, in a nutshell, it does everything I need and pretty much nothing I don’t. If you remember from the previous article in this series, it’s important to keep it simple. BidSketch does just that. It’s got a very intuitive interface that has a pretty decent design and works extremely well. Here are some of the perks of what it does.
I don’t think I can say enough about this system, to be honest. It’s pretty incredible and using it to make a proposal is a breeze. All in all, I can create a new client, setup a proposal for them, and send it to them for approval and changes within about 20 minutes. That’s awesome. Most of my time is spent in the details of the project scope to clearly define what I’m going to be doing for them. But even then, most of those are already filled in since the majority of my projects are very similar in scope. I tend to spend more time on proposals that I know will require more work as they are usually larger projects anyway.
Oh, and yes you read that right…It integrates with Freshbooks and Highrise. Suh-weet! Personally, I don’t use Highrise as I really have no need for that at this point in my career, but hopefully someday I will. Freshbooks though…now that’s awesome to be able to generate an invoice from a proposal and have it kick me over to Freshbooks to finish up and send on to the client. It makes my life so much easier when things are streamlined. Keep it simple, stupid. Not that you’re stupid, but well, you might be if you don’t want to keep it simple :D
So after all that, the point I’m trying to make is to find something that’s simple, professional, and fits your style. Just because BidSketch fits mine, doesn’t mean it will fit yours. If you’re into something else, go for it. I want to stress that a professional proposal is vital to your health and wealth as a freelancer. People already look down on freelancers as if we are lesser than agencies and should be cheaper. But the fact is that most of us are professionals, maybe more so than many people working in agencies, and we need to make sure we look professional in all business aspects. Using an app like this will help you win more proposals and also save you time on creating them. Remember that we don’t get paid for making a proposal unless the prospect becomes a client.
In your proposal you’ll need to make sure you’re very clear about what you’ll be providing. You’ll also have to make the call as to whether you want to provide things like timelines, maintenance, and hosting. Personally, I usually don’t provide timelines, but I think that’s about to change. As for maintenance and hosting, I suggest you provide those. I’ve recently come to the realization that I need to generate steady income. It took me a while to get there, but I think that a hosting/maintenance plan is a good way to go. It also helps me because I can have control over the client’s site, just in case they decide not to pay and I get to collect money each month that I can count on coming in. These things are important to be very clear about, but there’s also the scope of the project…now that’s important!
The project scope is vital to your quote. If you don’t make it very specific as to what you’ll be providing, you’ll end up getting stuck with functionality and changes that you may not have taken into account when quoting. Every single project has things come up that the client wants to add, you know, one of those “I have a great idea!” moments. There’s nothing wrong with adding functionality to the project, but you have to make sure they know it’s out of scope and therefore its an additional cost. If it’s not defined, you’re stuck doing it because they will be unhappy if you don’t. And unhappy clients are no fun, I promise.
There’s really no need to get all wordy when you’re telling them what you’ll be providing. Just make it clear, simple, and keep it concise. They don’t care about the details of how you will be developing it or what language you’re using but they do want to know exactly what they’ll be getting. For example, you say “The site will feature a blog that will be built using PHP and integrated into the site” they may or may not actually know what a blog even is. So instead say “The site will feature a blog where you can create articles related to your business. It will include custom designed elements, dates, authors, and categories.” That tells them more what they are getting than the first. And being concise has its fine line. Concise is defined as being short in words but all-encompassing in scope. So basically, say what you need to say in as few words as possible while still making it effective.
I simply cannot stress to you enough the importance of being on time with someone. If you tell them Friday, have it to them by Friday. If you tell them Tuesday, don’t let it be Wednesday. And people also assume that you mean at some point during the workday. So Tuesday at 11:30pm isn’t really Tuesday, it’s Wednesday. Whether or not you’re on time says a lot about who you are as well, particularly if you’re still in the meeting/trying to get their business phase. No one has to choose you, you’re not that awesome, that’s just the way it is. And if you think you are, check out Dribbble or similar sites and you’ll find out quickly how many people are as good or better than you. Being on time builds credibility and trust. It also shows you care about their project and that you’ll follow through with timelines during their project. It’s important!
Now pricing is a touchy subject. It’s important to price like a professional because you are providing professional level services, we hope anyway. But starting out you won’t be able to charge premium prices for your work. The best thing to do is to research a bit what others are charging. If you know some other freelancers, see what they’re charging and take into account how long they’ve been doing it. Then be honest with yourself as to whether your work is as good as theirs. If it’s not, take that into account. There’s some tools out there for you to put in your desired income, expenses, etc and it will calculate what your hourly rate needs to be. Honestly, those are great if you’re able to price like a pro later down the road, but to start out charging $100 plus an hour probably isn’t going to work.
I have a bit of a different model for charging anyway. Many of you read the post of mine on time tracking and why it sucks. I got some conversation going on there for sure. :D The point is that I charge a flat rate for my services. Sure the cost varies from project to project, but charging a flat rate means that I get to set what I make per hour. If I manage to get the work done quickly, I very well may have made $125 an hour on the project or more. If slower, then I’ll make less. It helps me to work efficiently because I’m then on my time and not as much the clients. However you decide to price is up to you though. The best advice I can offer is to research things like other freelancers rates, your location, and the client you’re going for. It’s obvious that some clients will be able to pay much more than others. Just don’t get greedy, that never works out.
If a new client wants to get a project done, chances are they want it yesterday, or 3 days ago. I’m not going to say that you’ll always need to jump on projects like that, but to start it is important that you take some things you may not necessarily want to. I’ve found that making myself available for clients, even if it’s a phone call, can go a long ways in how they perceive you and your business. I’ve read articles saying how you shouldn’t respond to emails but maybe 1-2 times a day. I think there’s a time and place for that, but I have clients now who came to me because they could never get a hold of their “web guy” or whatever. Sometimes trying to take control too much will lead to you losing a good client. Also, in answering your clients frequently, it lets them know that if you don’t answer back immediately, you’re probably not available to do so and they’re more likely to leave you alone for a little while longer.
Creating a timeline for the project is something that’s always been difficult for me to do. I set one up, then the client doesn’t hit a date, and the whole thing is thrown off. I think the most important thing is to plan for mishaps. If you fail to plan, plan to fail. Here’s some tips on planning your project.
The most important part to remember is to keep the client informed of what is going on. They are going to need to approve the timeline as they may need to leave for a week or miss a day here or there. You’ll need to communicate with them on this for sure. Other than that you should be good on timelines, just make sure you actually hit your dates.
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I'm a designer, husband, father, and Christ-follower for life. Usability is key, sandwiches are awesome, and there's just no beating a Starbucks white chocolate mocha. You are cordially invited to be a twitter stalker of mine and I hope you love the articles so much it makes you want to share them every 15 seconds for the rest of your life. That would be some serious sharing going on. Drop me a line on my site even if it's just to say "Hey!"