Five Mistakes to Avoid When Responding to Freelance Job Postings and RFPs
By Craig Cannings
Have you ever responded to a few freelance job postings, clicked send, crossed your fingers, and then heard … nothing? No response from the potential client. No upcoming discovery call. No freelance job. You start to wonder how you could have done it better.
Talking at, Talking to, or Talking with
When responding to a freelance job post or Request for Proposal (RFP), it’s helpful to imagine the potential client is sitting across from your desk. If you’ve already met them at a networking event, this will be easy. If not, you’ll have to use your imagination. But in any case, it’s helpful to envision your audience, just as you would when crafting a piece of content for marketing purposes.
And what makes a good response when addressing someone in person? Often a great first impression depends on how well someone listens to you. For example, you may have experienced different types of conversations. In essence, there’s a difference between talking at someone, talking to someone, and talking with someone.
Each type of response comes across differently:
Talking at — you have something you want to say, regardless of what the other person has asked. They’re unlikely to feel understood or connected to you.
Talking to — you’re responding to someone, but your focus is on what you want to tell them. They may feel like you’re lecturing them and being condescending.
Talking with — you’re listening carefully to what the other person has said so you can understand and respond with empathy and understanding. The other person is likely to feel heard, seen, and connected to you.
Our goal, in both spoken and written communication, is to literally or figuratively “talk with” a potential client. This is especially true in freelance job postings and RFPs. In these cases, clients have a particular need or serious problem that must be solved, and they want someone who is aware and empathetic.
Five Mistakes to Avoid When Responding to Freelance Job Postings and RFPs
Although every job posting and RFP may not lead to your ideal client relationship, you can increase your chance of success by avoiding common errors. These five mistakes run the risk of making you sound like you’re “talking at” or “talking to” the client.
1. Using a generic response
Have you ever asked a question or broached a topic with someone, and their response somehow missed the mark? You get the feeling they have mental cue cards, and they’re reciting a rehearsed speech to you. Only, the topic of the speech doesn’t address your concerns at all.
This is how your response to freelance job postings and RFPs can sound if you don’t personalize it. Although templates are an effective tool, allowing you to respond to several job posts quickly and efficiently, they must be tailored to each individual client. For example, in an article titled “How to Write a Winning Upwork Proposal?” Josh Cordray suggests,
“If you are using templates, don’t copy-paste all the sections. Make your proposal personalized by addressing your client with their name and customizing the greeting and intro paragraph. You can copy some sections like your top skills, previous experience, etc.”
Brad Buzzard has similar advice in his article, “How to write a winning bid.” He stresses the importance of demonstrating that you’ve read the project listing thoroughly by including specific details and relevant questions about the project. And he advises, “Remember that this project is very important to the person who posted it. They wouldn’t have taken the time to seek out a freelancer otherwise.”
2. Making it all about you
Going back to our examples of “talking at” or “talking to,” what both styles have in common is a focus on self. Never mind the other person — this is what you want to say and what you think they should hear.
But even the word “response” begs for something different. You’re responding, not telling, which means you’ve listened to what the other person wants. You’re putting yourself in their shoes and communicating from their point of view, not just your own. In this way, responding to freelance job postings and RFPs is a lot like crafting an “About Page” on your website.
Chris Misterek has a great way of describing it in his article, “How To Make A Winning Bid On Upwork.”
“… You’ve got to remember, you’re not the hero of the story. THE CLIENT IS.
“The client needs you to be their guide, not their savior. So, take the focus OFF OF YOURSELF and put it on them.
“Talk about how the project you’re going to help them with will help to advance THEIR vision. Use pronouns like You and Your way more than you use me and my.”
3. Forgetting your audience
Now we’re thinking from the potential client’s point of view, but are we still envisioning them sitting across from us? In the midst of personalizing the details, it’s possible to forget the audience sometimes.
For instance, we might get excited and start to ramble, making the response way too long. Indeed, as the article above says,
“Stick to only the important details that your client would want to know and avoid unnecessary fluff. When you discuss too much in the proposal, you make yourself look amateurish and desperate – two traits that can be red flags for clients.”
And furthermore, keep in mind what the client already knows. There’s nothing worse than being subjected to a repetitive, lengthy description of your own business. As this DesignRush article, “Effective RFP Response: How To Draft A Response To A Request for Proposal That Secures New Clients,” explains, “Unsurprisingly, a potential client is already very familiar with their company. So, don’t just reiterate their ‘About Us’ page to them.”
Instead, the article recommends proving that you can identify their pains and weaknesses, in addition to understanding their business model, by including a client overview section.
4. Trying to make yourself look too good
You know you want to look good. You want this client to choose you above all other freelancers or virtual assistants. So, what’s the harm in embellishing a little bit? If they want that project completed in a month, why not say you can finish it in two weeks?
And how about your skills? If you haven’t quite finished your web design training, can you still say you’re proficient with WordPress and Squarespace?
Timeframes and abilities are two elements where it’s important to be authentic. Otherwise, you risk getting in over your head and/or disappointing your client if you’re awarded the project. If you’ve been performing similar tasks for a while, you’ll have a good idea whether you can fulfil the requirements of the freelance job posting. And if you’re just starting out, it’s important to assess the requirements and wisely determine your capabilities.
Being honest is the first step to increasing your chance of success and building a healthy client relationship. Remember this important advice from the article above:
“Be realistic about your capabilities. The more you leave to the imagination, the more questions a company may have and the harder it will be to A) Land the project, and B) Actually hit your deadlines and markers if you do.”
5. Neglecting to proofread your response
This last point is close to my heart. For eight years I transcribed the dialogue and sound effects to be used for closed captioning on a number of TV shows. And during that time, I never forgot how important it was to have everything spelled correctly. Otherwise, people who were deaf or hard of hearing would lose accessibility and enjoyment of the show.
The lesson is that there’s always someone who will be affected by your words. Accuracy matters. Spelling and grammar matter. In all writing, and especially in responses to freelance job postings and RFPs.
Imagine how jarring it would be for your client to be called the wrong name or business title in person, let alone while reading a proposal. Seeing it written correctly keeps the client relaxed and appreciative of your precision.
And keeping typos at bay paves the way for a clear, uninterrupted journey through your response. The client won’t be distracted by spelling or grammar issues that make them stop and wonder about your attention to detail.
Here are a few ways you can ensure your response is carefully proofread:
– Give yourself enough time to write the response and then let it sit overnight or at least for a few hours.
– Take a break and clear your head.
– Refer to the appropriate dictionaries and style guides.
– If proofreading isn’t your strength, hire a professional proofreader or enlist a team member or colleague to look over your content.
Final Thoughts and Encouragement
Avoiding these five mistakes gets you well on your way to “talking with” a potential client. And as empathy and understanding shine through your responses to freelance job postings and RFPs, your chances of success will increase.
As we explain in a previous FreeU blog post, “How to Avoid Miscommunication with Your Clients,” avoiding miscommunication before it starts is one way to stop it. Now that you’re aware of the dangers of “talking at” and “talking to” potential clients, you can steer away from them. And as you do, you’ll be building a strong foundation for healthy relationships where you truly partner with clients to help them reach their goals.
And now we’d love to hear your thoughts! As a virtual assistant or freelancer, what challenges do you face when responding to job postings and RFPs? And what other advice would you recommend? Please share in the comments below.
Also, be sure to download our brand new Freelance Jobs Guide to help you source and land your next ideal client!