How to Put Together a Basic Freelance Writing Proposal

A well-written proposal results in cash in your account.
A well-written proposal results in cash in your account. (Image: Jupiterimages/ Images)

Freelance writing allows you to work as much or as little as you like. It gives you the freedom to set your own hours. You select the subjects and topics you write about. Unlike an hourly job, you set your own rates. In a world where writing fees go from a low of less than a penny a word to more than a dollar a word, coming up with a proposal is a challenge. The more specific and detailed the proposal outline, the higher the probability the client and you will be satisfied.

Define the project. Determine the word count and format. For example, if it's a white paper of 2500 words on healthy dog food, that information should be included in the proposal. Writing 20 400-word articles is a different project than writing an e-book on the same topic, even if the number of words is the same. The definition may be as short as a paragraph. Talk with the client if you have questions concerning the scope of the project.

Describe why you're the appropriate writer for the project. Include your specific qualifications on the subject matter, any previous writing credits and -- if requested -- referrals. Include experience in the industry if it's appropriate and any special skill sets. Writing sales copy is different from writing an instruction manual or press releases. The proposal sells your writing talents.

Outline the project. If you were writing a book, you'd include the title of each chapter plus a brief one-paragraph description of each chapter. Include the titles of each article you're to write or the keyword phrase for each article. If the client wants the keyword phrase used a certain number of times in each article, mention that as well.

Name the date the project is due. Breaking up the project into several deadlines is better when the project is more than a few thousand words. You don't want to hand in the final e-book and find out it's not what the client wanted. For an e-book, you could say that the first five chapters will be completed by a specified date. The client has a designated number of days to review the product and get back to you with any comments. Give a firm date the second five chapters are due, as well as a date for the last five chapters. If your assignment to write 20 articles, break up the deadlines the same way. Since each article stands alone and complete within itself -- unlike an e-book -- you could require payment after each batch of articles is finished. If so, include that requirement.

Determine the price. Freelance writing is paid by the project or by the word count. Peter Bowerman says to charge a flat rate and not an hourly rate in his book, "The Well-Fed Writer." Some writers give a discount for larger assignments. In other words, they charge less per article for writing 20 articles than for writing five articles. Clients sometimes want e-books priced by the page. However, a page can be 200 words if the margins are wide, it's double spaced and written in a large font or a page can be 400 words. Clarify that information in the proposal.

Select a payment option. If you're working through a freelance site, the payment method is already determined. If you're working on your own, include how you want to be paid in the proposal. Options include third-party processors such as Google Checkout, Moneybookers and PayPal. Electronic bank transfers, a paper check and accepting credit cards are others. If you don't accept credit cards and that's how the client wants to pay you, you're out of luck.

Set an expiration date for the proposal. As your workload changes, you may not be able to adhere to the dates in the proposal or be able to complete it at all. If the client comes back two months later when you're booked up, you have a problem.

Tips & Warnings

  • Ask new clients to pay a percentage of the project up front and the remainder when the project is finished. That way you and the client share the risk.
  • Words are not a commodity. If the client comes back and says that another writer will do the job for less, don't feel obligated to lower the price. Instead decrease the scope of the project or extend the deadline.
  • Decide what happens if the client doesn't pay for the project. If the client offers you a lower price than the proposal, you could accept it and call it square. Misunderstandings do happen. However, retaining the copyright to the materials you've written until payment has been received in full is a preferable option.

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