A big part of freelance success lies in your ability to follow up on open proposals and quotes.
Poor or inconsistent follow-up can cost a freelancer thousands in lost work. Add up the hours spent talking with clients and assembling proposals, and you end up with a very costly process that may not be yielding the value you need.
I realize that some people don’t particularly enjoy following up. It feels too much like selling. Yet a major reason so many proposals fall through the cracks is that many freelancers don’t have a tracking tool to streamline this process.
That was one of my biggest problems early on. I didn’t have a practical system to stay on top of all my open quotes and proposals. I also had no way to gauge how much business was coming in and what projects had a high probability of closure in the next two or three months.
This all changed when I implemented a tracking tool I had used years before when I was in sales. Once I began to use this system as a freelancer, my success rate (from proposal to signed contract) increased considerably. I also gained a much better handle on my workload…and my sanity!
Here’s how the system works:
#1: First, you’ll want to download my basic spreadsheet tool. As you’ll see, the top section has a series of columns (one for each month). Each month has a series of rows where you can list potential projects (let’s call them “opportunities”) and their quoted or estimated value. In the bottom half of the spreadsheet you can then list the opportunities you’ve already booked.
#2: Now comes the fun part. Every time you come across a qualified opportunity, add it to your spreadsheet (I keep mine open at all times so I don’t have to go back and forth). List the client, the abbreviated project name and an estimated value. As you’ll see in the examples already filled in, I like to use single digits to make it more manageable (e.g., 3.5 instead of $3,500).
In deciding where to actually list an opportunity, add it to the month when you expect the contract to be signed — NOT the month when the actual work will start. This allows you to view your numbers from a sales perspective (work booked) rather than from a production perspective.
In the case of a long-term opportunity, I would spread it out over the duration of the contract. For example, if you landed a 6-month engagement with a $1,000 monthly retainer, instead of listing it only this month with a $6,000 value (the project’s total value), I would list it 6 times over the next 6 months, and have each listing tagged with a $1,000 value. That way you'll have a better idea of what your cash flow will look like.
#3: Again, the bottom half of the spreadsheet is where you want to list projects already booked. So, once you get a contract for a project, cut and paste it (along with its value) from the top area (the “opportunities” area) to the bottom area (the “booked” section). The running total at the bottom will help you quickly see how much work you have booked for any given month. It’s a great way to always know if you’re on track to meet your monthly income objectives.
#4: Make adjustments as things change. When projects get pushed off or delayed, or just simply lost, make the necessary adjustments in your spreadsheet.
What’s the value of using this tool? In the world of sales we call this a sales pipeline. As a freelancer, a sales pipeline enables you to see what open opportunities you have, how much work you have booked and the value of both opportunities and current/upcoming projects.
Such a visual representation of your business enables you to see if there’s a potentially dry month ahead — in which case you might need to start working on filling those slots — or if you’re in danger of over-committing yourself.
Finally, this tool acts as a reliable and practical follow-up mechanism. By looking at it every day, I’m reminded of opportunities I need to follow up on. This ensures that nothing falls through the cracks and I maximize my prospecting and selling efforts.