The following post is an excerpt from my new e-Book series, How to Become an e-Learning Freelancer. The three volumes in the series are designed to be easy-to-use, practical guides to getting your freelance e-Learning career off the ground. Learn more here!
Congratulations! If you’ve made it this far into the sales pipeline process I discussed earlier in the series, you’ve found a client who is a good fit for your style and your skills, and it’s time to create your first project proposal. The project proposal is a document that functions both as a working guide for what needs to be done and a contractual agreement between you and the client. You may see this referred to elsewhere as a Statement of Work, or a quote, or a contract, but what it’s called doesn’t really matter, so long as it works as a record of the project outcomes and individual responsibilities of everyone involved.
Why Project Proposals Are Important
After several years of writing project proposals and delivering them to clients, it still takes me a decent amount of time and effort to create a new one, but doing it right is critical to my success, so I never hesitate to put in the time to get each one right. Before I go into what the document itself needs to have in it, I’d like to first go over a lesson I had to learn the hard way: Why it’s never a good idea to skip getting a written and signed agreement before beginning a freelance e-Learning project.
When I first started out, my first few client projects were relatively small—a few assets here and there, or initiatives that wouldn’t take me very long to complete. Because my first projects were mostly short-term, I didn’t think I needed to go through formalities like a project proposal!
Boy, was I wrong.
Project proposals are an essential part of any project you take on, regardless of the size, scope, or duration of the project. In one of my earliest projects, I started by estimating that the job would only take 2 to 3 days. “Why bother writing up a whole proposal for a job that won’t even last a week?” I thought. Without the project proposal in place, however, the client had their own conceptions about the work I would be doing for them, and I had mine, and we had no written records available to clear up any discrepancies. Of course, the client began to ask for additional items, and those quickly began to add up. Before I knew it, I had been doing work for them for 3 weeks, and I was taking starting to take a loss on the project. Each time the client needed more, they would say things like “I thought this was what we agreed to,” and I didn’t feel comfortable engaging in a “he said / she said” argument. The fact was, I wanted to keep this client, and if I pushed back too hard, I likely wouldn’t get their business again. What’s more, without a project proposal in place, I had no way of proving that the additional work was well beyond what they had paid for.
The fact is, there’s never a good reason to skip having a project proposal in place. Even if your client is your best friend, former co-worker, or even your spouse—there is no substitute for a document that clarifies what work is being done and for how much! I’ve also run into situations where I’m functioning as a subcontractor for someone else’s business, and even in the subcontractor role, I insist on a project proposal. I think of it this way: When I’m a subcontractor, the person who hired me is my client, and I just happen to be doing work for their client, and as part of my core values, I require all of my client work to be governed under the terms of a project proposal.
Each project proposal you write needs to be signed by both parties. While this may seem like a no-brainer, consider that people are far more likely to read documents you’re asking them to sign, and without a signature, the client has no legal obligation to abide by any of the terms in the proposal.
[This topic continues in my e-Book series, How to Become an e-Learning Freelancer.]