How to create freelance quotes and proposals: Dos and don’ts

Finding the sweet spot

Years ago, when I started freelance writing, I talked to another writer friend, Cindy, about what my freelance quotes should be. “I’m worried people will think I’m too expensive,” I said. “How is $50 per hour?”

Cindy said, “If you do that, I’ll kick your ass.”

That was a bit surprising. “Why?” I asked.

I had been a professional marketer for some years, and had been a writer for nearly 20 years at that point. She said I needed to be charging a lot more with my freelance quotes.

Fast forward two years later, and I’ve not only been getting freelance copywriting clients, I had my own business with recurring revenue and rates that were easily $100 per hour, although my pricing structure was not hourly. (More on that in a minute.)

I happened to post something on Facebook about how freelance writers needed to charge what they’re worth. Cindy chimed in and said she was struggling with raising her own rates because she was worried her clients would think it was too high.

The lesson I learned is that you need to set your freelance quotes to match what the market will bear, not necessarily what you think you’re worth.

If we have low self-confidence, it means we make stupid decisions about the quality of our work.

How to price freelance quotes and proposals

Freelance Quotes Math

I say that not to discourage you from charging rates that are too high, but because most new freelancers tend to be filled with self-doubt and suffer from Impostor Syndrome.

So there are a few dos and don’ts to creating good freelance quotes that will not only help you earn what you need, but help you look like a professional.

1. Determine your hourly rate

Freelancers struggle with this issue, but it’s a simple formula:

  • Determine how much money you need to earn as a salary. For this example, let’s say $60,000 per year.
  • Divide that number by 1,000. Why 1,000? Because there are 2,000 working hours in a year (2,080 actually, but then the math gets hard). And you’ll spend roughly half your time doing the work and the other half finding new work, doing administrative stuff, having meetings, etc., so you’ll only get to work half the time.
  • $60,000 ÷ 1,000 = $60/hour That’s your basic hourly rate.

Add in your extra experience, skills, knowledge — and adjust your price as needed. If you’ve been using your freelance skill (writing, graphic design, marketing) for years, but as a professional elsewhere, you could easily charge $75 per hour. If you’re still new to the field, you might want to scale back to $50, but only for a few months. Get back up to $60 as your confidence grows, or after four to six weeks, no longer.

But don’t include your hourly rate in your freelance quotes if you can help it.

 

When you hit a high enough rate, people freak out. They get visions of you working 100 hours on their project and it freaks them out.

Related: How to set professional, fair and profitable freelance graphic design rates

Quote a project rate, not an hourly rate

Instead, figure out how many hours the project is going to take you. Multiply that by your hourly rate, and that’s your project rate. And that’s the price you should always quote for every client.

For example, if you charge $60 per hour, and you know a project is going to take you five hours, quote $300 for the entire project. This way, you don’t have to worry about losing money if you go too fast, and your client doesn’t worry that you’re going to go slow. You’re both protected because you have the budgetary amount right up front.

Similarly, don’t charge too little, because people will think you aren’t very good.

I actually once had someone from New York tell me I didn’t charge enough, and he was worried that I wasn’t very good. I told him, “I live in Indiana where a 3-bedroom house costs $180,000. That means I charge what it takes to live comfortably in Indiana. But I’m more than happy to charge you New York prices. Just know that I’m going to stay here in Indiana while I do it.” He was suddenly happy with my rates.

Related: The 4 cardinal sins of freelance pricing strategy

2. Include payment terms

With your freelance quotes and proposals, don’t leave it to chance and don’t assume they’re going to pay whenever they get around to it. Give them 30-day terms and tell them how you’ll accept payment.

I use Freshbooks. They have a system where they can accept credit cards on my behalf. Other freelancers will use PayPal, Venmo, Square, or just a simple ACH or check. GoDaddy also offers an easy-to-use invoicing tool within its Online Bookkeeping solution. Read this post to learn how to use GoDaddy Online Bookkeeping to invoice clients in a snap.

Whatever you use, make sure it’s easy for the client to pay — give them several options, in case they don’t like to use PayPal or don’t have a company credit card.

Related: Habits of business owners who get paid on time

3. Include a detailed description of your services

But don’t spell out strategies and tactics.

Freelance Quotes Spelling

That is, if you’re going to design a WordPress site, include a description of the name and number of pages, word count for each page, how many photos you’ll provide, and whether the pages will be optimized for SEO.

But don’t detail all the SEO techniques you’ll use or list the plugins you’re going to use. Otherwise they’ll just go do it themselves and you did all the knowledge work for them.

I once gave a strategy proposal to a potential client who ended up not hiring me, but they used at least half the suggestions in the plan I had given them.

Related: Payment plan templates for web design projects

Final thoughts on freelance quotes

Don’t stop learning. Don’t stop improving. Study your craft like you were in school. Take seminars, read articles — and practice, practice, practice. Do you want to be worth $100 per hour one day? That doesn’t come from watching Netflix over lunch. Get your butt in your chair and start working. The better you get, the more you can charge — and the less you can work.

Being a freelancer can be tough. You chase down clients, do the work, do several revisions, chase down the money, and then do it all over again the next month. (Hint: this is why recurring clients are the best to have.)

But it sure beats working in a 9-to-5 job. At least, if you’re going to grind away hour after hour, it should enrich you. Plus you can take days off whenever you feel like it, which is what I’m doing right after I finish writing this piece.

Erik Deckers
Erik Deckers is the president of Pro Blog Service, a content marketing agency. He is also the co-author of Branding Yourself, and No Bullshit Social Media. Erik has been blogging since 1997, and has been a newspaper humor columnist for over 20 years. He has written several radio plays and stage plays, and numerous business articles. Erik was recently the Spring 2016 writer-in-residence at the Jack Kerouac House in Orlando, FL.