Companies looking for freelancers and contractors can get dozens if not hundreds of proposals for one position or project. So you need to make your proposal stand out -- but in a good way. Let your personality shine, but don't fill the proposal with Grumpy Cat memes or elephant pictures, unless the project is to make Grumpy Cat memes or work with elephants.
Although it is important for your personality, work style, and attitudes to shine through the proposal, there are a few basics it is crucial that you include, regardless if you're sending an informal email as a proposal, you're giving a verbal proposal on the phone, or you are designing and developing a multi-chapter proposal with images, charts, and diagrams.
Think of this as a cover letter. In short, if the potential client doesn't read any other part of your proposal, what do you want them to remember about you? Do you want them to remember that you love cherry pie, or do you want them to remember that you won an award for Graphic Design in 2013? These details should be catered specifically to the client and to the project. For example, I might include the fact that I'm an author, but that is only relevant if I am submitting a proposal for a writing project, not if I'm submitting a proposal to do social media management or copy editing.
This serves a few purposes, the most important of which is to make sure you and the client are on the same page. Hopefully they will have outlined the project in the RFP, but this is an opportunity for you to take a look at the project and say, "This is what needs to be fixed." Then in the next section, you can clearly say, "This is what I can do to fix it."
This section can be broken down into multiple segments, depending on how massive the Problem is and what kind of Solution it requires. If it's a simple, "I can write ten blog posts and share them with your audience," a simple one sentence is probably fine. But if you are suggesting that you create an entire social media strategy, you might want to outline what you are going to do and how that is going to help solve the problem. If someone was trying to increase their virtual influence, I might suggest a combination of regular blog posts, regular and relevant social media posts, paid advertising, and brand development. Then, I would break down each of those into an actionable plan, with a way to measure the impact and a few details on why each piece is important.
The client's biggest question is going to be: "how much will I have to spend on this?"
There are several ways to do this. You can offer one price for the whole project (i.e. one blog post for $150). You can do a breakdown of hours and charge that way. You can use your Solution to break down the costs of each piece of your proposed solution. This is beneficial because it will offer the client a means to negotiate. For example, maybe they want you to do the marketing strategy and social media, but will have their own staff do blogging and brand development.
However you decide to do it, remember to be clear, concise, and stick to the point.
Fill this section with whatever details you want the client to most remember from the proposal. It might be similar to the beginning, but it might be a particular concept, a particular solution, or a particular detail that you think is specifically relevant to this client. Talk about the benefits of working with you and re-emphasize exactly what you bring to the table.
A proposal is your opportunity to start a conversation with a potential client, and by writing a good one, you make yourself memorable. It's not just about this one contract; it's also about increasing your chances of winning future contracts and building a positive reputation.