The Human Freelancer

Happy and honest self-employment for conscientious newcomers

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How long is a piece of string? And, more importantly, how much effort will it take to get hold of – even though you don’t know the exact details of what the string’s supposed to do or even what kind of string it is? Oh, and can you sort it out ASAP?

Welcome to the art of preparing a quote for a new project.

Today we’re going to look at writing a carefully considered quote for a client when you’re invited to do some work for them. This is usually a speculative exercise, done over the phone or email, and chances are you’ll be up against other quotes, plus all your other daily distractions and responsibilities, like doing a decent job for your existing clients.

We won’t examine how to price your work or calculate how long something will take because that’s sufficiently covered by the legions of profiteering business vampires lurking on the web. Remember, this blog is all about empathy and emotional support for vulnerable newbies to self-employment like you – the softer shit which gets forgotten when people get blinded by the coin.

So: the style of response I’m advocating should hopefully endear you to the client (assuming you want the job of course) and solicit discussion to unearth those crucial, unexplored details. As well as cover your arse (and the client’s) against the vagaries of uncharted territory.

First though, ask yourself this important question: do you really want this work?

Is it creatively stimulating or is it bread-and-butter stuff you can do with your eyes closed? If so, there’s no harm in accepting the challenge. If it’s dull and you’re already busy, do the honourable thing and let the client know soon so they can find someone else.

As you’ll read in The Human Freelancer book, in the early days you tend to say yes to everything because you need to make ends meet. Thereafter though, you’re empowered to say no. Think about whether you’ll throw yourself into this new opportunity wholeheartedly because it interests you, or just drag your feet and become gradually more demoralised until your only refreshment is to surreptitiously slip ballbag photos into your work.

Anyway, at least ask the question because this is all about getting the right person for the right job (and vice versa).

One final thing to consider before we crack on with writing your response, is to question whether the job seems legit. A one line enquiry which reads:

“Hi I need some photos taken round the back of my home in the woods in two different outfits more the outdoor hippie look im needing Im in moortown leeds and was wondering if this is something your able to do it would probably take around or just less than an hour if so what kind of price am I looking at thanks”

… is probably worth politely declining or filing under ’spam’.

What to include in your written response to an enquiry

Let’s move on now to what you should include in your kindly response, then I’ll squeeze out a quick example which I recently sent to a client. Incidentally, I didn’t get the job. There’s no guarantee you ever will because there are countless factors beyond your control which affect the client’s decision, not least of all money, timing and politics.

That said, writing a kindly response is worth doing, not only because it’s the right thing to do but because it shows you take a pride in your craft. There are practical reasons too: people remember a favour like taking time to write a quote for them and showing an interest in their business. Our motive is to be genuine and perhaps tip the scales in your favour, while at the same time being courteous like every decent human freelancer should.

Here’s what you can include:

  • Express your interest: this should stem from genuine curiosity, because you wouldn’t take the job on in the first place if you weren’t interested, would you?
  • Recap on the problem: paraphrase the enquiry to demonstrate you’ve understood it (this usually helps you clarify it in your own mind too) and perhaps share some ideas on how you might fix it.
  • Educate: if you can, note important things the client should beware in making the right choice. This again boils down to matching the right freelancer with the right job and might come down to your style, experience and way of working.
  • Justify your costs: don’t just throw in a lone figure – explain what they’ll get for their money.
  • Get to the point: minimise your preamble to the actual cost, and don’t be too wordy, this is speculative remember and might never come to fruition so don’t expend too much effort.
  • Draw comparisons: write in terms of similar jobs or experiences you’ve had in the past. It’s useful because it sets expectations, makes estimating more accurate and shows you’re up to the job.
  • Say thank you: at the beginning and end of your quote because they’ve bothered to offer you the opportunity.

A sample quotation I wrote recently

First of all, thanks for thinking of me for your digital copywriting. It sounds like you’d benefit from my approach if “the same old wanky corporate” copy is what you want to avoid. That stuff is like poison to me. I prefer to do copywriting that’s all about unravelling complex ideas and translating them into clear, plain English with empathy – so it connects with people. Think words that sound smart, personable and informative with a strong narrative that persuades someone to do something (usually buy, book or enquire). Style is really important, so you might want to consider that if you’re getting quotes from other copywriters.

Anyway, as promised I’ve looked at (what sounds like) a similar copywriting job which will give you a rough estimate of how long and how much it will cost. It was for *************** who we positioned based on a ‘principle-led’ approach. I recall you mentioned something similar – wanting to talk about how you just “do what you do well” based on your collective experience, rather than pretending to revolutionise your industry.

Their brochure website page structure looked something like this:

  • Home page
  • etc.

The work involved was:

  • 4 hours of face-to-face meetings to unravel the challenge (not all at once, but essential all the same!)
  • Project management and planning
  • Copywriting/re-drafting

All this came in at 4 days so £****.00 (VAT-free at £***.00 per day). With this project we just went at it as a series of estimates matched to each corresponding chunk of work. A weekly update on progress vs estimate/budget seemed to work quite well for them. I usually try to cost per project too if all the information is available at the beginning (plus I never clock-watch or charge by the word).

Note that there wasn’t much ‘tone of voice’ work on this project which you’ll recognise as part of the branding process. That takes a little longer if you’d like me to research into and experiment with how your brand sounds – usually a day or so as a standalone exercise. It’s often worth doing that at the start so there’s less rewriting later.

There you have it. While budget is important, when you chew over your next move I encourage you to think about style and approach, because decent copywriting is more about analysis and design than putting pen to paper. If you’d like to collaborate in a process that involves learning about your business (and yourselves), even influencing its direction, then we should probably arrange a meeting to discuss ideas.

Hope something comes of this and thank you for the opportunity to quote.


p.s. if your colleagues would like to see examples my website is littered with them.

Final tip: get the word ‘wanky’ into every quote you write

Feel free to cobble something together based on that response and, finally, don’t forget to schedule a call or message to chase it up if you don’t hear back for a while.

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