This article is aimed at freelance designers and developers who want more freelancing projects. (And who doesn’t want more business!)
If you’ve ever lost a bid——or you want to win MORE bids——this article can help you beat the competition.
I’ve worked with dozens of freelance web design and developers over the years. I’ve learned a lot from these projects, and would like to share what clients are really looking for.
Even more importantly, what clients are not looking for.
If you’re a client firm, this article could save you tons of hours and thousands of dollars on your next project.
We recently posted a requirement to complete a large internal WordPress project. The project included both design and programming elements.
Our internal staff were busy with client projects, so we made the smart business move——”outsource anything that isn’t your core business expertise.”
We opted to follow a colleague’s advice and try a new freelancing portal.
I won’t say which one, as it may dilute the message. And besides, ALL bid/portal services we’ve tried operate similarly.
This particular freelancer portal required a lengthy selection and bid process. The initial process wasn’t easy; and a final decision didn’t happen until the last possible minute.
Before putting this project out to bid, I thought to myself: it’s been a while since the last project.
Things have changed!…
Things have gotten better!…
There is more awesome talent available around the world!…
Well, the real-world reality is: yes and no on all counts. But before sharing all the details, here is our usual freelancer process:
- Find a freelance bid service or portal.
- Sign up for an account.
- Set budget, project type, deposit project listing funds.
- Submit project description and design document.
- “Upgrade” the project by hiding it from search engines (optional——but we almost always do this) and/or making the project a prominent featured listing (also optional, but recommended).
- Collect bids from individual freelancers and design firms.
- Review bids, ask questions, conduct interviews, filter out non-matching candidates.
- Create a short list of potential candidates.
- Exchange any paperwork, chats, emails, mockups, etc. as needed.
- Select a final provider.
- Exchange contracts, payment terms, milestone payments, start dates.
- Get started.
Our process worked great through step #5, and that’s where things got challenging.
True, there are now more service providers available than ever before.
And, there are even more payment options and tools to manage provider work. So far, so good.
What wasn’t so good was the sheer volume of bad / irrelevant bids and general “noise” submitted for the project. In exchange for our project description, I received responses like:
“Here is our list of portfolio links.”
(One of the “bids” was just that: a list of three links and nothing else. Two of the links didn’t even work!)
“Here are some portfolio links and two boilerplate blurbs about our awesomely fantastic ’guruific’ (is that a word?) amazing five-star socially conscious world-peace-inducing company.”
“I’m so awesome, I passed every possible proficiency test on this portal and even created a bunch of tests myself. No one is as good as I am, so you would be an idiot not to hire me!”
(Full Disclosure: The guy didn’t directly call me an idiot or our company idiots, but the hint was there…)
“You hire, we promote best for most web client satisfaction long time.”
(What??? Are we still talking about WordPress design here…or…something else entirely…?)
“Everyone loves us, you will too…”
“This is what I develop with, these are the technologies I support and that’s just the way it is.”
“I won’t do your project with the technologies you requested. But I will do your project with whatever technologies I decide are best for you…”
“Your budget is absurd! Such a project will cost you 3x your allotted budget, and we are happy to do it for 3x your budget…”
And so on, and so on…
At least 1/3 of the bids didn’t bother adding a “hello/hi/yo/‘Dear’..” salutation. Do you think any of these potential bidders won the business? Three guesses…
I must admit, one “bidder” was so blatantly brash and insulting, I couldn’t resist following up. (Maybe that was his intent? Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment?) He didn’t get the project either, but it was an interesting experience.
In the spirit of universal business gain, keep in mind this article is here to help service buyers and sellers. A dose of “tough love,” if you will. I want to see you succeed as a freelancer.
And I want businesses like ours to have a strong pool of talented providers to choose from. Think “WIN/WIN”. In that spirit, let’s step over to the buyer’s side of the table and share 15 Bid Win Tips.
15 Tips to Win More Freelancing Projects
1. If you’re not ready to go all-in and bid the right way, don’t bid at all.
As grandpa used to say (and say to me ALL the time…) “a job worth doing, is a job worth doing right.”
I think grandpa was on to something… Play the game of business to get the client and keep the client. Play to win. There really is no other point to your business!
If you’re not qualified for a particular project, or unhappy with the budget, do yourself and your potential client a favor and just don’t bid. Find an opportunity that interests you more and go for it!
As an international Enterprise Business and IT consultant, I totally appreciate it’s tempting to bid on everything. But in reality, it’s better for your own bottom line to pursue fewer contracts you can do well. (Your bottom line will grow much faster when you focus on your strengths.)
2. Thoroughly read and understand the client’s project brief.
On the surface, this seems like a no-brainer. Right?
No matter which freelancing service we use (and we’ve used all the majors over the years,) 50% of bidders don’t seem to read the requirements at all.
Another 25% of bidders appear to just skim parts of the project description which interest them.
It’s 25% or less of bidders who submit all the necessary materials in the right way.
Remember: most potential clients go to a lot of trouble figuring out his or her requirements. However, some project briefs can be confusing, or require more detail. If you don’t understand the requirements——ask.
3. Address ALL client requirements in your bid.
It’s time to convince your potential client that you have THE solution.
- What makes your solution special or unique?
- Why is your proposal different from the dozens (or hundreds) of other proposals your potential client will receive?
- How will you go above and beyond?
- Do you have some unconventional or creative ideas that might really help?
- How have you specifically addressed similar requirements in similar projects?
- NOTE: Avoid the “I’ve seen and done this all before” trap. EVERY business and project is unique, even within the same markets and industries. No client wants to hear that their business is commonplace, or that their model boils down to a few lines of code.
- What challenges did you overcome in other projects? How will your experience benefit this specific project?
- Have you addressed each and every specific point in the requirements list?
4. Go the extra mile.
Today’s web design and development markets are literally saturated. There are hundreds of thousands——if not millions——of people around the world with skills similar to yours.
Why are you different? What will you do for the projects that others can’t or won’t?
5. Use spelling and grammar checking tools.
If you are submitting bids to English-speaking audiences (hint: if the project / job description was written in English, you have an English-speaking audience…) your bid must make sense.
If in doubt, use one of the many translation / spelling /grammar checking tools available on the Internet. One such option is Grammarly.com (no affiliation).
Another option is to hire another freelancer to help you write your bid proposal. This is a great pay-it-forward strategy. Our firm does this before submitting large bid proposals.
NOTE: I’m not talking about a rare missed word——that happens to us all from time to time——even in professionally edited books with 6 or more editors. But errors should be extremely few, and preferably “0”.
Once you’ve written out your bid, take a few minutes and read it out loud. This extra step alone will separate you from 99% of bidders in the field.
Here’s a real-world example: we were recently hiring contractors for graphics work. One bidder had a nice portfolio which included a couple top brands. Visually, some of her work was stunning.
Flipping through her portfolio, we found numerous misspellings and grammatical errors. Her portfolio was large enough that we would have overlooked an error or two. But dozens of errors, across multiple projects? Not a chance. Too many other highly qualified bidders to choose from.
6. Offer one firm bid. And honor it.
It’s OK——and encouraged——to ask questions before submitting your bid. We ask tons of questions of prospective clients before bidding.
In fact, asking clarifying questions before you bid is a smart strategy which helps both you and the client.
Just make sure you’re not asking questions that are directly answered IN the project proposal.
When you do finally submit your bid, make it count.
On another recent project, several providers tried selling me on extra services unrelated to our project. They then went ahead and added the services to their final quote. This raised their original bid price WAY beyond our posted budget!
Don’t let this be you. Stick to the requirements. You can always propose add-ons later, once you’ve established a working relationship.
Be assured your competitors are offering firm bids. Why not you?
Remember: keep your bid within the potential client’s stated budget, unless you and your potential client _mutually agree there is a reason to change. For example, you and the potential client develop a rapport, and the client suddenly decides to add-on.
True professionals know their rates and what packages are appropriate for a project. As a professional freelancer, your bid decisions should be based on your rates and requirements. If a client’s budget is in your price range and area of expertise, then go for it. If not, then stay away. Deliver value, show understanding of the client’s needs and commitment to results.
Conversely, some clients are guilty of wanting way too much work for way too little money. Being a consultant (and freelancer) myself, I see some insultingly-low budgets posted for big projects. Our firm follows the very suggestions I’m sharing in this article.
Understand that real clients——the type you’d actually want to work for——will post fair budgets. If client budgets are unfair, your best option as a freelancer is to walk away. There are always more projects to bid on. This is exactly the model we follow in our own professional services business.
7. Offer support-after-the-sale. (HUGE!!)
Many freelancers miss this boat entirely. Offering after-sale support (and meaning it…) will leapfrog you ahead of 95% of your competitors.
Clients love the idea of post-project support. And many will insist on it.
After-project support reduces risk for your clients, making them far more likely to choose your firm. Most real clients take risk reduction very seriously and factor that into their project budgets.
But——and this is important——if you do offer support-after-the-sale, be sure to honor the agreement.
Avoid giving off that “you’re bothering me attitude” when clients ask a few questions. Yes, there are a handful of clients who may try and abuse the system. But in reality, these situations are very few and far between.
Case in point: in my own consulting career, there is exactly one——and only one——client who ever really abused the system. (But that’s a story for another time.)
Bottom line: most clients will respect your time. Those who don’t? Just don’t work with them again!
8. Don’t request exotic payment methods or processes.
Most bidding services and freelance portals provide milestone payments, hourly payments, or escrow services. As a general rule, it’s best to use whatever payment system the freelance portal supports.
Most potential clients aren’t interested in strange banking situations, how many friends or emails your payments have to pass through, or other reasons you’re unable or unwilling to use a standard payment system.
If you are doing business on the Internet, you have to play on established Internet terms just like everyone else. This includes using standard systems such as merchant accounts, PayPal, Stripe, Authorize.net, Bitcoin, wire transfers, etc.
Agree to, then use a standard method.
Also, avoid changing payment terms once you’ve agreed to them.
9. Don’t tell the client how fantastically awesome you are.
Let your bid quality, attention to detail, true interest in the client’s business (and not your own) and your professional portfolio speak for you.
It’s MUCH better to let your client tell you how awesome you are after the project.
10. Don’t go into great detail about your company’s inner workings unless asked.
I’ll let you in on a little secret: most clients are ONLY interested in whether or not you can do the job. Period.
If a client is really interested in all your awards, ISO certifications and the like, he will ask.
11. Be crystal clear on what your firm can and cannot do.
On one recent project, several bidders wanted to meet on Skype, or chat over the phone. Often, when I did meet on Skype, the providers could not answer basic questions about their portfolio, technologies, work history, or service offerings.
“Let me check on that and get back to you”…
“let me find out from the developers”
that type of thing.
If you don’t understand your company and services, it’s best to figure that out first, OR bring someone on the call to answer client questions.
I can tell you from my own experience: you NEVER want to look like you don’t know what you’re doing…it
12. Ask clarifying questions but don’t go overboard.
Smart, well-crafted questions about the proposal show you care enough to get the project done right.
Just be sure you’re not violating Tip #2 above. Ask questions about the proposal, not questions clearly answered in the proposal.
13. Test your portfolio samples before sharing them.
Our firm has received many “link farm” portfolios over the years. A link farm portfolio is a long list of links to websites or projects on which the bidder has worked. Some links may work, other links may give errors, or redirect to domain-parked ISP sites.
Other links may even link to sites that don’t exist!
Remember: your portfolio represents you. Make sure it shows off your unique skills and talents. It’s good practice to edit your portfolio every 2 – 3 months and make sure it’s up-to-date and relevant.
14. Avoid bid templates and automated messages.
Nothing screams “I don’t care about you or your project” more than sending a bid template. Or, having your automated email system send templates on your behalf.
Always be original, and treat each client individually.
Sure, there may be portions of bid templates you can re-use, but these should always be in the context of a highly custom bid.
15. Win or lose: always follow up, always seek feedback.
Even if you submit the perfect bid proposal, your competitor may submit one that’s even “more perfect.” Frustrating, but it does happen.
Even if you don’t win, be sure to follow up after the project is awarded and ask for feedback.
Also——and this is HUGE——mark your calendar to follow up with the client in the future.
FACT: over the years, our firm has on at least 6 different occasions, contracted with freelancers who lost the first project they bid on.
Things happen. The work gets completed, but the client isn’t happy. (Opportunity for you.)
Or the work doesn’t get completed, and enters a dispute with the freelance / work portal. (Opportunity for you.)
Or, the client decides to try a second or third design concept. (Opportunity for you.)
You get the idea…
Success for both sides of the table depends on clarity and attention to detail.
If you are a freelance service provider, I hope this article helps you win more business.
If you’re a client or service buyer, may the suggestions help you filter bids more quickly, and find the perfect provider for your next project.
To your success!