How To Prequalify Leads Before You Begin Writing a Proposal

Ariele Sieling posted this on proposals

pre-koala-fy the lead meme with surprised koalaThe truth is, you don't need all the work. And all the work doesn't need you.

Some projects are just not worth the time and energy necessary to do them well (or even submit a proposal to them), and some will cause you far more anxiety and nightmares than the financial stress of refusing the job in the first place.

This is why it is critical that freelancers learn to prequalify leads before beginning the process of writing a proposal.

Let me tell you a story. Once upon a time, I was desperate for work. So I agreed to write five short blog posts for a client for $25. Not $25 each, $25 total. I whipped them out fast enough that I ended up making about $15/hour. I agreed to do another set for him, and another. It was easy and it was money, and I thought it was probably worth it. Then, the platform I was using took 13% of my earnings.

I quit. I should have been spending the time writing proposals for other jobs, and never should have considered this job in the first place.

Let me tell you another story. Once upon a time, I was still desperate for work. I applied for a position stating that they needed a contract writer for 35 hours a week. I was a little hesitant, but I thought, that would probably be fine, at least for a few months until I get other work to replace it. Then I can take fewer hours so I can work on my other clients' projects. They would start me out at $20/hour to "train" me, and then bump me up to $25/hour after 8 weeks of "training." And they wanted a Skype interview. So I agreed to talk.

As it turns out, they wanted 35 hours a week permanently, not just for a few months. They were completely unwilling to be flexible and didn't want me to have any other clients, even though I told them I was a freelancer and already had other clients. And the "training" period, was, in their words, "us giving you permission to be less efficient for a little while." I found that a little insulting. If I had listened to my gut, I never would have applied for the opportunity in the first place.

There are dozens of reasons why you might decide to say no to a job, and it doesn't always have to do with money.

When you are considering a contract or a job, keep some of these questions in the back of your mind to help you filter through whatever opportunities you're considering writing a proposal for. Because remember, not all jobs are worth it.

    1. Do they really need you? Is it a real opportunity or are they fishing?
      Sometimes companies will just put out feelers to see what types of people are out there and what they're charging for different services, even if they don't plan on hiring anyone or if they already have someone picked out for the job. If you get the sense, for any reason, that the job isn't real--run. In the writing world, there are a few online platforms that get you to write a bunch of stuff for free, and then pay you if you get traffic on those posts, or they offer you writing opportunities but require you to pay for the opportunity to submit a proposal (Outsource and Hubpages, for example). Don't do it! There's plenty of other work out there.
    2. Are you able to really provide the service they are looking for?
      In my line of work (writing) there are dozens of different types of writing. For example, someone might be looking for a blog writer or a general web content writer, a curriculum developer, a resume writer, a grant writer, an article writer, a creative writer, or a technical writer. I can't do all of these things, so I immediately disqualify anything that I can't specifically do. With a larger contracting company, you also have to consider things like: do you have the staff to provide what they need? Do you have the resources to fund the project until you get paid?
    3. Do you want to provide the service they're looking for?
      I get myself into trouble with this one sometimes, because I love writing. But every so often, I agree to do a project that I wish I hadn't agreed to--simply because I hate the subject matter. For example, I do copy editing in addition to writing. I have learned that there are few things I really enjoy copy editing. Novels are one. Certain types of nonfiction are another. Everything else? No. So I ignore most copy editing jobs. A project that you hate is not likely to be worth the money it's bringing in, so really consider whether it is something you want to do before you do it.
    4. Do your values align with theirs?
      Sometimes I don't necessarily enjoy a project, but I am happy to do it because I feel like I am making a difference. If I find any hint of scamminess, dishonesty, or a client who isn't willing to work with me and expects me to be their reasonably-paid slave, I ditch the proposal. Once again, it's not worth the time.
    5. Is the wage they are offering reasonable?
      Some people say that if you love what you do, how much you make doesn't matter. But this isn't entirely true. If you're not making enough to eek out a living, you are slowly going to hate what you do more and more as time goes by. Resentment will build up because you don't think your client values your work, and it will probably be reflected in the quality of work you are doing. So if it's not enough money, either don't bother, or ask for more. Don't get bogged down in being "that guy that works for cheap."
    6. Can you meet the timeline requirements?
      This is crucial. Nothing will destroy your reputation faster than taking on a job and then missing deadline after deadline. If you don't have time, don't take the job. It's as simple as that.

You don't need all the jobs, and all the jobs don't need you. So narrow down your scope of work, and spend your time applying for the jobs that are actually going to help you grow, pay you what you're worth, and not sap all the joy and happiness out of your life.

Let me end by telling you another story.

Once upon a time I was desperate for work (I'm not anymore, for those of you that are wondering/contemplating sending a care package [although I do like presents]), and a friend sent me a listing for a contract job writing short activities to help people develop their professional skills. I could find nothing wrong with the job; in fact, it looked perfect. I sent them an email and they asked me for a sample. They loved the sample and sent me more to write. And more. And more. And I'm still writing for them. And I love every minute of it: the work is of value, the people are wonderful, and the pay is good.

So don't take all the jobs, or all the jobs will eat your soul.

(If you're looking for some more in-depth strategies on pre-qualifying leads, check out Zoe Uwem's article on the Be a Freelance Blogger blog.)

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