How to get more proposals approved

Presented live on Tuesday, August 7, 2018

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One of your biggest challenges as a freelance copywriter is getting your bl**dy proposals approved! Are you too expensive? Did you fail to make the ‘why’ clear? Do you need to build your authority before even attempting to get that ‘yes’?
In this tutorial, conversion copywriter, Joanna Wiebe, teaches you the most direct path to getting your proposals approved.


Joanna Wiebe: Hello, welcome to today’s tutorial Tuesday, which we are doing on Facebook obviously instead of in our usual Zoom room. Joanna here from Copyhackers and Airstory, hello! We have Sarah moderating the comments, so you can’t see her today, sadly. But she is there. Today we are talking about freelance copywriting, and this is a big one that comes up a lot. And the thing, I’m sorry I saw a comment come in, that’s always gonna distract me whether I’m on Facebook or in Zoom or whatever, I’m like ooh, people are chatting, let’s talk.

Joanna Wiebe: And of course I have my cat Puff here with me. So thanks to everybody. Before we get into the full topic, sorry, but thanks to everybody for joining me on Facebook instead of in our Zoom room. I had to send out an email just a couple of minutes ago to say, uh oh, Zoom’s having some trouble for us. Thank you for coming over here, hello, people are chatting over, just like when we’re in Zoom, chatting where they’re from. Hey everybody, yeah, someone saw Puff. Puff will be making an appearance, I’m sure. He’s roaming around here right now.

Joanna Wiebe: So okay. So hi everyone. We are talking today about being a freelance copywriter. One of the biggest challenges that you may find you’re having as a freelance copywriter is that you’re struggling to get proposals approved, where you quote on something, you put a whole proposal together, and then people ghost on you, like you just don’t hear anything from them ever. You depend on the proposal software to tell you oh, they’ve opened it, they’ve opened that proposal more than once, but they haven’t got back to you. Or even worse, sometimes worse but sometimes better, still not the outcome you want, is when they just full on reject you. And they say nope, that’s too expensive is a big one that comes up, or there’s no reason why.

Joanna Wiebe: But that’s too expensive is one of the rejection notes that freelance copywriters are most terrified of. And when you go into quoting on a project, you often think, you’re thinking of that moment of rejection, especially if you’ve ever had a moment of rejection where people said mm-mm-hmm (negative), it’s too expensive, we don’t have budget for that. You’re thinking about that stuff, and that prevents you from quoting what you think you should.

Joanna Wiebe: But then you hear other people say like oh, you’re not charging enough, you should charge more. And that’s also a freaky stressful kind of thing for you, because you’re like, well I’m not even getting this proposal that’s a low ball kind of proposal, even that’s not getting approved. So what am I supposed to do, I really have to go and double my rates, increase my rates, but somehow get my proposal approved. People aren’t even approving proposals today. Do I go and write a whole bunch of blog posts and build up my authority and then they’ll always say yes? They won’t always say yes, that’s the thing, if you build your authority.

Joanna Wiebe: But there are a lot of things you can. That doesn’t mean shouldn’t build your authority, that’s another path to getting better proposals approved. But this is a more direct path that we’re talking about today. When you have a client lead. And you are going to quote a number. Here is what I recommend, and anybody who’s in my program, the 10X freelance copywriter has already heard this. Whether you’re doing it is another story entirely.

Joanna Wiebe: Sorry, there’s some background noise happening, someone’s doing construction next door, these are the joys of working from home.

Joanna Wiebe: So we want to follow this very simple process, but it’s different from what you’re already doing. That process goes like this. You have your first call with your prospective client, you have this wonderful call. Then after you go away and you take all of the information they gave you, then you go off and you start drafting your proposal but you don’t put the whole proposal together. You put your notes together on what you think this project’s gonna look like, and how much you think this project is actually worth for you, like how much should you be charging for this project.

Joanna Wiebe: And then before you actually put your proposal together, you call your client. This is the thing that you do that’s different from what you’re already doing. You pick up your phone, your real phone, just pick it on up, and you call that client. So make sure of course that you already had that client give your their phone number, which you can do on your intake form, or you can just do in that kickoff call when you’re collecting information, you can get your VA to do it.

Joanna Wiebe: Not gonna talk today about a VA but you need a VA. You call your client, or if you know that it’s a cell phone you text them and say hey, do you have a second? I just want to run a few ideas through you before I send you this proposal. Almost always they’re gonna say yep, I can squeeze, call me in like ten minutes, I’m just getting out of this meeting. Cool. You call them on a real phone, like you actually do pick up the phone and call and talk to them and say look, this is what I’m thinking. So here’s what we’re looking at for the projects really quickly, here the timelines, do you still agree to those timelines? Okay, if this is all true for you, here is the project amount that I’m gonna be quoting. How does that sit with you? Does that fit with your budget, does that fit with your expectations.

Joanna Wiebe: Now leading up to this you will have had meetings to make sure, a large meeting to make sure they understand your value and what you’re going to be providing for you. Like the real value, not just you shouting things at them about your project but really listening to them and making sure that they understand, you’ve heard them and you’re looking to solve a problem and to see if you can solve that problem. But make sure that you’ve had those meetings leading up to it. Then when you have that phone call, you’re talking to them like a normal person. You’re not afraid to talk about money, which shows of course also that you do value what you do and you know that there’s a money discussion to be had here because you’re in business, and they need something from you that you can provide extremely well. So you’re going to run that number by them, say look, we’re looking right now, it’s looking about like $8000, $12000. How does that sit with you?

Joanna Wiebe: That alone gives them a chance when they’re on the phone with you to say, oh. 12,000 bucks, eh? We were thinking it was going to be coming more around like 9. And then you can talk to them and say yeah, it looked like it may come around 9 to me too, but when we were having the discussion it sounded like we’re gonna need to do some more research up front, and that’s fantastic because that will help us get to x result. And we’ll be able to do that. Or, we’re probably gonna want to do a second variation on this, because based on what we’re seeing in the data you already provided, it looks like there are these two possible audiences that we might want to write for. So we’re coming in at 12,000 on this. And then you sit quietly.

Joanna Wiebe: And it’s their turn to say yes or no to you. And that’s it. That’s the whole process. It happens on a phone, like we’re in 1988. But it happens on a real phone, I’m distracted by Puff back there too, someone just chatted that over. But that’s all it is. It happens on the phone. Do not skip this process, because if they say no after that, cool. You do not have to put that proposal together and you can move on with your life. You’ve only wasted that time that it took to have that phone call and the call that came before it, that initial meeting that came before it.

Joanna Wiebe: That’s really all the time that you’ve put into it already, that’s your whole investment. If you put a whole proposal together without knowing if the number is even right for your prospect, you will get rejected more often than not, and you will have waited and waited and put all of this time and energy into and then you sit there stressing out and you’re beating yourself up the whole time, thinking, oh, everybody else can do this so easily and no one’s saying yes to me with my projects, I’m never gonna be able to do this as a full time thing ever in my whole life, I should just go find a job or whatever it might be, right. These things that we tell ourselves, don’t. Get on the phone. Be that person, because almost no other freelance copywriter is going to do this for them.

Joanna Wiebe: I guarantee it, because for all the people that are gonna watch this live right now and then afterward, only a fraction will actually take this advice. When you do it, when you talk to your client this way, when you proactively reach out to them and you talk confidently about your number and you talk about numbers as if it’s a normal thing to talk about numbers because yeah, you’re gonna get paid for this and they’re gonna pay you for this, when you do this you’re already setting yourself above where so many other freelancers are. Know that most freelance copywriters are hiding behind their monitors. If you can be the one that stands out and talks really well to your prospective client, that alone, that alone can set you apart.

Joanna Wiebe: Okay. I’m seeing some chats come in on this. If you do have questions about it do feel free to chat them over because I should be able to see them largely in real time, and if I can’t then I will just shut this down and get back to you separately. But yeah, I’m seeing a few things about getting used to talking to prospects on the phone. I’m not even getting into the really awkward stuff like actually being on camera all the time. In your earliest calls, be on camera with your client constantly, and that means from the very first call. You need to be that human where they’re looking at you and seeing you and trusting in you.

Joanna Wiebe: Almost every freelancer I know, and that’s people that I’ve tried to work with and have sometimes worked with but rarely feeling confident about, almost every freelancer I know hides. And that’s a problem if you want to get those big proposals approved. You can make yourself uncomfortable, a little uncomfortable. And it’s it’s not even uncomfortable, it’s picking up the phone. And we can all say we’re introverts, I’m as much an introvert as any other freelance copywriter out there. But when you do those uncomfortable things, that will set you apart.

Joanna Wiebe: And then you can say, it’s a $12000 project, and they can say to you, you know what? We’re thinking nine. And you can say, you can think through this as you’re talking to them, that you will revisit what they’ve shared with you and you’re just gonna text over the other number right afterwards. If you can redo the numbers, and of course never negotiate on price, you’re gonna negotiate on the project. So if you can say that, let me take another look at this project, I’ll see, maybe there’s a way that we would just do that one variation instead of two variations or whatever that thing was the reason that you’re coming in at that number.

Joanna Wiebe: But then you can still say, you know what, I looked over the numbers. You can come back and text them or just quickly call them again. Say I looked over the numbers, it still looks like a $12,000 project. By this point you already look more like a pro than any freelance copywriter they’ve worked with. I basically guarantee this.

Joanna Wiebe: So this alone, this act alone, can get your proposal approved more often than not. Okay. Yeah. So people are saying high ticket purchases happen largely over the phone, these high ticket things do. This is a sales process, right. Nobody wants to think of themselves, no freelancer wants to think oh, I’m sales. But do you want to close that big proposal, do you want to take tiny little jobs where you can safely email someone and say oh, you know it’s a thousand bucks for me to write these ten emails for you? Yeah, they’ll say yeah. But they don’t know who you are. You get more rejections still, or they want more and more iterations.

Joanna Wiebe: Do you want to be that kind of starving freelance copywriter, or the one who gets good leads and actually works to make those leads turn into clients? We do want the bigger projects and they are very often at your fingertips. And when you do want to quote more, you can’t quote more confidently. And I wouldn’t say that I would be confident that you would get proposals approved. You can’t just double your rate and email over proposal and be like oh, wow, everybody’s just gonna pay more now. You have to go through this sales process of actually getting on the phone.

Joanna Wiebe: Stop emailing your proposals, do this. And I’m saying this, if it feels like I’m saying this a lot, it’s because I’m seeing all the Facebook comments coming in right now and the conversations that are happening with that. So I know that someone’s thinking about going back to this fundamentally challenging yet traditional way of speaking to people, exactly. This is where previous work experience comes in handy, a good telephone manner, being able to listen. Stripping it back and using your initiative of being brave. I think that’s a really good point, there’s some bravery happening here and we all know this, right. You buy a Lululemon t-shirt and on the bag it says do things that make you uncomfortable or whatever. We hear these things all the time. But now you actually have to go do it.

Joanna Wiebe: So start doing it, say okay for the next three months I’m going to do this awkward thing where I call my clients, and go and say, my prospect, and actually say here’s the number I’m looking at, and have a confident conversation with them. Do that for three months, see how that works out. I’m not gonna guarantee anything but see how that works out for you. This is how I do it and when I see people not do it it breaks my heart.

Joanna Wiebe: Okay, I’m looking at another chat’s coming in, make sure you watch this every morning. Yes, if you have to rewatch it every morning, do so. Someone else said what if they would rather spend the budget on something else. Okay, now we’re talking about the proposal actually getting that number approved. We’re not even getting into the work that goes into getting to this point. We’re not gonna talk about that today, but what they would rather spend their money on is not the point. That’s completely not the point. They reached out to you. If they don’t have budget, they don’t have budget.

Joanna Wiebe: If you’re like this is a $12,000 project and they’re like we have five, okay. Well good luck finding a copywriter who can help you with that. And not the way I said that sounded like I had tone, and I would never say it like, good luck finding a copywriter who can help you at that rate. Not that at all. But you’re not gonna take that work on, you’re not even gonna do that proposal.

Joanna Wiebe: And that’s the beauty of this. People often, freelancers are like, should I just charge for proposals too? Because I spend like four hours making them. No, you don’t charge for a proposal. People say you should, I think that’s complete BS. You don’t charge for a proposal, you don’t do work that isn’t going to turn into something, though. So if it’s gonna take you four hours, or 20 minutes or whatever it takes you to do a proposal, don’t do any of that work until you know, until the client has said yep. We can afford that, yep, that’s perfect. Don’t do the proposal until you’ve heard that.

Joanna Wiebe: Then when you’ve heard that, then you can put the proposal together knowing that the client already said yeah, that sounds about right, I think we can make that work. It doesn’t mean they absolutely still will say yes to you in the end, but more often they still will say yes to you in the end and you will not have wasted that time.

Joanna Wiebe: Okay, yay for being a secret weapon. John asked, then after they agree to your fee to do you handle change orders? I don’t know if by change orders do you mean like revisions? I don’t know what you mean by change orders John, so if you want to like pop that back in there and I’ll try to get back to you here or afterward I’ll chat. The anticipation of a client call is way more stressful than the actual call itself, yes. When you’re the one doing the calling, not just meeting someone but doing the calling, it puts you in a position of power.

Joanna Wiebe: It sounds to the person on the other end like you are a professional. This is what you do, and you know what you’re doing because you called them to make sure the number was okay. You’re talking to them like a real person, not a scared freelancer. It sets you apart. Okay. Would it work for someone just starting out? Why wouldn’t it work for someone just starting out.

Joanna Wiebe: It’s the best way to just start out, to start out right. Even if it’s like you know what, we’re looking at, I heard everything you said in the past call or two that we had, in the emails you sent, I’ve taken a look at what you’ve sent over to me, this is looking like about a $500 project if you’re just starting out. That’s completely great. So the client then says yeah, $500 sounds great, perfect, let’s do this. You’ve heard let’s do this, good, I can put that hopefully not a big proposal if it’s a $500 project, but I can put that proposal together now, send it over, get my invoice ready to go for that 50% deposit. Yes, you want 50% up front, that’s a topic for another day.

Joanna Wiebe: But I’m gonna put that proposal together, send it over to them, immediately after they sign it I’ll have an invoice ready to go and I can start on this project right away. No more waiting for people to go hm, I have to get budget approval, we didn’t know it was gonna come in at this, et cetera et cetera.

Joanna Wiebe: Okay, I think the fear of underbidding is worse than quoting too much in my case, I work with a lot of big tech companies and agencies that serve them. Yeah. Okay, good. So charge more. And that’s where you can have that phone call and say, it looks like I’m coming in at $12,000 or it looks like I’m coming in at $15,000. And then here, listen for their pauses, listen for the sound, like what’s going on in their reaction. Don’t read into it, just read it. What are they thinking, how are they reacting to that number.

Joanna Wiebe: And if they’re like oh yeah, perfect, easy, then you can go back and when you actually send the proposal over to say like yeah, I said 15, when I was reviewing it again with my team it looks more like a $17,000 project. Now that might sound pretty sketchy and I haven’t done it that way. Once I quote a number that’s the number. It’s up to you to decide what you want to do there, but for best results, yeah, once you quote a number make that the number. And that means if you’re like I think we can do 17,000 for this project and then you quote 17,000 and they say no to it, then you have to just live with that.

Joanna Wiebe: So that’s, the more experience you get the more you’ll get cool with that. And you’re not just quoting on what you want to get paid, you’re quoting on the value. Not gonna get into a whole discussion of the value because I really loathe when people teach freelancers about talking about the value you’re providing. There’s so much more to say than that.

Joanna Wiebe: Point being is I’m reading all the comments as they’re coming in and then talking through them, yeah. Point being once you’ve quoted a number make sure that’s the number that you’re gonna feel confident. If they say yes to it, you’re gonna be happy about it. If they say no to it, can you live with yourself for quoting that number, and in most cases you should be able to live with yourself if they’re like, 17 thousand’s too high, we were thinking more like 14. If you can do 14, you want to finesse around how you’re saying yes to that number, and again that’s something with talked about in the 10x freelance copywriter, but you want to be a little careful around adjusting on price. I would never say negotiate on price, but then you can go back and adjust scope et cetera et cetera.

Joanna Wiebe: Okay, what about having set packages and doing a one call close instead of proposals? I moved away from proposals because of a desire to scale but now I’m unsure if that’s the right way to go. So what we’re talking about today are larger proposals, they’re not like oh, you need a couple emails written, that’ll be about a thousand bucks an email, I’ll send the contract right over and you’re like okay, it’s a $5000 job because you wanted five sales emails written and I’m gonna quote a thousand bucks per email.

Joanna Wiebe: Send that over as a contract with the first invoice, the deposit invoice, right away. There are cases where you can do that. But I’m talking about the kind of thing where it’s like, you’re gonna go through the conversion copywriting process, largely, where you’re like I’m gonna do the research and discovery, I’m going to do writing, wire framing, editing, and all of that. I’m gonna do validation and experimentation. That’s the kind of thing that if I’m someone who’s hiring you for that, I’m gonna want a proposal in place so I can show my team and get everybody on board. That proposal is another, the proposal is a sales document for you. It’s not just a thing that’s going to give people information. We’re copywriters, we’re selling.

Joanna Wiebe: So the proposal is a great chance for you to include your case studies, testimonials, remind them of their problem, agitate their problem, talk about results you got for other people, et cetera. So knowing that’s true, if you can move away from a proposal and still do all those things that a great proposal can do, okay, move away from them. But if you have a template that’s really strong then you don’t have to do that.

Joanna Wiebe: So a proposal software, we have one that we’re using. Sarah, I think Sarah knows what it’s called. Proposify it? I used to use Bidsketch. Sarah might know, Sarah can chat that over. Revisions on the work, so this came in, John had mentioned earlier in his comment well what about quoting on revisions for the work. That price that I recommend, so when I teach freelance copywriters and stuff, you should be writing into your contract one round of revisions for anything that you put together. So one round.

Joanna Wiebe: And the way you do that is again more that we teach inside the 10x copywriter, how do you get your client to look at your copy and have almost no feedback for you. And that is completely doable but usually not the way that copywriters go about doing it. So bake into your proposal one round of revisions, and I like to say light edits. I don’t say, we’re not gonna go back and redo something because we have too many points and we’re re-checking along the way to make sure that we’re on the right track, so you shouldn’t need to do that. But yeah, we can talk more about that.

Joanna Wiebe: Well, possibly down the road, but it’s something that we teach in the course. Okay. Bum bum bum, yes we can charge for proposals. I wouldn’t charge for a proposal and I wouldn’t work with somebody who made me pay for a proposal, that’s enterprise level stuff. So you do what you want to, that’s not what today’s training is about. There are better ways to get, it’s just not a really, I don’t want to nickel and dime my clients. I don’t want it to feel like I am charging them for every little thing that comes up, charge them for the value for their business that I am gonna provide and putting a proposal together isn’t something that I’m gonna charge anyone for ever.

Joanna Wiebe: The mindset shift of what I can afford to what they can afford, help me a lot. That’s true. But no. So oftentimes we think oh, a big tech company has a lot of money to spend. A big tech company has CFO and the CFO has accountants, and everybody has budgets and processes, and when you know that’s true, how often do they budget in $20,000 to get their emails written, $30,000 to get their emails written? There’s this myth that’s pervasive in freelancing that you want the big fish clients.

Joanna Wiebe: You want clients who value what you do and have money to spend to get that value. And very often that means not just what they can afford, like really put yourself in the shoes of the person who’s making the budgeting decisions in that organization. When you work with someone who doesn’t have a CFO like these people who are these large small businesses or small-medium size businesses, they’re unlikely to have a CFO, they budget a little more on the fly where they’re like campaign-based budgeting, where it’s like okay. How much money can we make off this campaign. How much can we afford then to spend. That’s how a lot of the decision making happens in smaller businesses, or like not large businesses. So think about that when you’re thinking about budgeting.

Joanna Wiebe: And really honestly think of the value you provide what you’re actually doing and the experience you have more than you think about what they can afford. We are not just randomly throwing numbers out there. When we do have client work that we do, we take it on. Doesn’t matter how big the company is and how much money they have to spend, we’re not gonna charge one business $2000 an email and another business $10000 an email just because we know the second business is big and rich. Like we’re never gonna do that, that would feel really sketchy to us to adjust our prices based on that.

Joanna Wiebe: It doesn’t mean you can’t do it but a lot of freelancers come into our training with these ideas and then they wonder why when they pitch Facebook on $10000 for something that’s kind of small, why they get rejected. It’s because Facebook has a CFO who’s got people reporting in with all sorts of budgets that have to get approved. So be careful before you jump into making assumptions about what people can afford.

Joanna Wiebe: Okay. Anything else, I think we’re wrapping up the end of it. How do you go about reacting to a client when a client is comparing prices between quotes? I’m stumbling over it because you are largely gonna be up against people who are hiding behind their inbox, they’re hiding behind their monitor. Don’t go into a project thinking of your competition. That’s almost always a recipe for disaster.

Joanna Wiebe: You are, it doesn’t matter what your client says about when they’re gonna get back to you and they’re comparing prices. Do you know why they’re telling you that? They’re telling you that so you can bring your price down. It doesn’t mean they’re absolutely comparing prices, they’re absolutely maybe. But your job isn’t to worry about the competition possibly coming in and going price lower than you are. Because you’re pricing on your value. So right, it doesn’t, it’s a nonissue. Like who cares, great, thank you for that information. I’m just gonna go on with my day quietly.

Joanna Wiebe: So Proposify, we’re having some cool chats over here about the solutions people are using. Dubsado comes up a lot, I know Red Hats or Many Hats, 17 Hats is the one that a lot of people like as well. We use Proposify. Or, sorry. Sarah’s like Joanna, you are wrong.

Joanna Wiebe: If the client calls I believe taking notes helps me focus on listening rather than waiting for the gap in the conversation to just jump in. Yeah. So I’m not gonna get too deeply into client calls but awesome note. Recording your call or having a VA on to take notes also helps a lot. Thanks to whoever loved my new space, yay!

Joanna Wiebe: Okay, so I’m gonna wrap this up here. Cool all these chats coming in about all the different proposal softwares. Point here is use the actual phone on your phone. Use it to call your prospective client before you put that proposal together. Get them to say yes or no to the number and only move forward on a no if you strongly believe that you will still get them to a yes. And even still I wouldn’t send a proposal ever without knowing that the numbers inside are in no way a surprise and have already been approved by the client.

Joanna Wiebe: Okay. Yes. The cat. The cat will be on camera once or twice down the road, all the time. They really like being on camera. So thanks again to everybody, thanks for moving over from our usual tutorial Tuesday space to here over on Word Workers, and we will see you next Tuesday hopefully where we will be talking more about email copywriting. See you then everybody, thanks.

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