Freelance Designer 101: Initial Quote and Project Proposal

April 2024 Edition

Hey guys! 👋 

In previous editions, I explained how to handle the first contact with your client, and how to estimate and price your projects.

In this edition, I will focus on how to prepare the initial quote, run a discovery call, and create a project proposal.

Ready? Let's dive in.

Client Process: Initial Quote and Project Proposal

In my last edition about project pricing, I explained how to estimate project hours and break down the scope. This estimation is critical because it’s the base of your initial quote & project proposal. Many of your personal notes that help you estimate the project can be included in the client-facing proposal.

🤔 The difference between the initial quote and proposal (or final quote)

The key difference lies in their purpose. A proposal is a detailed document with the scope breakdown, timelines, terms, and exact fixed price. The initial quote is way more flexible and helps to align the pricing expectations and scope of work.

Think of the initial quote as your proposal draft. It has a lot of room for flexibility, you can add more or reduce the scope, you can have some assumptions about clients’ requirements, and so on.

The initial quote is something that I normally include in my call summary email after the first chat or even before it (if the client provided enough details and prefers to get some rough estimates first). I also use it to introduce clients to my timeline, availability, payment terms, and project management.

Proposals take more time and effort. So I prepare proposals only if the client says that my initial quote and scope of work sound good and they want to receive a final quote. This way you avoid investing too much time in a proposal that will never be accepted.

What to include in your initial freelance quote

1. Project goals

This is a very important part of any quote or proposal. It helps clients immediately understand that you are aligned with their goals and that you understand why this project exists.

Example of a redesign project goals:

  • Move away from WordPress to a customizable and flexible platform (Webflow) to help with company expansion and growth

  • Look more innovative to align with the company's mission

  • Tighten connection with the brand through Glassmorphism and Dark UI

2. High-level scope of work

For website projects, I include website structure, pages, CMS requirements or even sections (for smaller projects like one-pager).

For mobile apps, I list the core user flows and approximate number of screens (steps) for these flows. For example, for the onboarding flow, I would list the sign-up/log-in screen, accept notification screen, and account creation screens.

Example of website structure:

  • Home page (around 7-8 sections)

  • About page

  • Contact form or page

  • Blog (Webflow CMS Plan needed)

  • Blog Template (article)

  • Two languages: DE & EN (Note: this will cost +9$/mo additional Webflow fee)

3. Design assets (other deliverables)

Here I list all other design assets I may need to create or find to deliver the project. This normally includes logos, branding, style guides, design systems, stock images, illustrations (custom or stock), icons (custom or free/paid packages), typography (free or paid), and other supportive images (open graphs, favicon, social banners).

Freelance Designer 101: Initial Quote, Project Proposal, Invoice | Kristina Volchek |

4. Price range and timeline

At this stage, I provide a price range and approximate timeline for the project. I go with a wider range if I lack project requirements or enough information. Also, I don’t provide a detailed timeline (e.g. weekly breakdown) in the initial quote.

Example of approx. costs and timeline:

Timeline: Around 4-5 weeks
Estimated cost: around $3,000-4,000 USD

As for my availability, I would be able to start around [Date].

5. Project process and other details

The initial quote is a good place to remind your clients about your design process, billing terms, and project management. I’m saying “to remind” because, ideally, you already mentioned all these details in your first chat with your client.


Feedback & project management:

I prefer quite an iterative process so I gather feedback regularly. This helps avoid mistakes & additional revisions and keeps you updated throughout the project.  

I would happily join your preferred project management tool (e.g. Asana, Trello, Jira). Otherwise, I use Trello for feedback & task management.  

Regarding other project details:

I normally split the payment into two parts - a 50% deposit before the project starts and a final payment of 50% after the website is finished.

Next steps:

If everything sounds good, the next step would be to decide on the direction and share your new content. We can have another quick chat to go through the options & project details before I prepare my final quote. 

Please let me know if you have any questions.

Also, as you see in the example above, I always explain the next steps for my clients. This removes friction and questions around “Okay, what should I do now when I want to continue working with Kristina”.

Freelance project proposal: myths vs reality

Before jumping into what I normally include in my proposals, I want to go through what I would “never include” first.

A bit of background story: When I returned to freelancing this year (after working full-time for 3 years), I wanted to check if there were changes in freelance processes and client expectations.

So I did my research, trying to find project quotes and proposal templates recommended for freelancers and small agencies. The results were a bit terrifying.

☠️ The problem with “killer” proposal templates

All these killer, winning, and amazing freelancer proposal templates are super corporate, complex to understand (poor client who needs to read that), and simply overdesigned.

I can’t imagine a client enjoying scrolling 10 pages of a PDF file with a cover letter, our team (which team? you’re solo), table of contents (really?), testimonials, selected work, methodology, credentials, contact information before they can scroll to some more valuable information related to their project: scope of work, timeline & deliverables, pricing & billing terms.

Freelance Designer 101: Initial Quote, Project Proposal, Invoice | Kristina Volchek |

On top of it, it feels like these proposal templates are meant to be sent to clients you’ve never talked to. So it’s really surprising that almost every resource or influencer is advertising these proposal templates.

I would never include something not related to the project and client’s goals in my proposal. In other words, proposals are about clients, their vision, their goals, how long it will take, and how much it will cost to achieve these goals. You’re proposing to make their dreams a reality.

Discovery Call and Detailed Scope

Before you can write your proposal, you need to define the scope of work in greater detail. In my experience, a discovery call is the easiest way to gather all the necessary details.

Freelance Designer 101: Initial Quote, Project Proposal, Invoice | Kristina Volchek |

During the discovery call, you need to verify and align the following project details:

  1. High-Level Project Scope: I would go through every page of the website or core mobile app screens verifying the main user actions and page/screen goals.

  2. Deep-Level Project Scope: For larger or more complex projects, I would also list the core elements of page/screen sections and main features.

  3. Special Requirements: Any non-standard features or unique client requests. The discovery call is the best time to ask questions and understand these requests.

  4. Deliverables: What and how you would deliver. Would you prepare a simple brand guideline? Design System in Figma? Figma files? Other design assets (like logo, typography, icons, illustrations). Should they be custom, paid, or free?

  5. Timeline: Here I would align one more time with the client’s deadlines and expectations. Keep in mind to add one buffer week for any projects longer than two weeks.

After you have all your notes and final scope, you can finally start working on your project proposal. So what would you include in it?

What to include in your proposal

1. Project goals, yes, again

Adding project goals sets the direction and helps both parties stay focused on the desired outcomes. Plus, after the discovery call these goals can slightly transform or be more specific than in your initial quote. So list them here too.

2. High-Level Scope of Work

I write all my proposals in Notion, so I create a high-level structure using toggles. Each toggle is dedicated to a big part of the scope (like the whole page, user flow, and design assets). This way the proposal doesn’t feel too detailed, yet it contains all the information.

Freelance Designer 101: Project Proposal High-Level Scope of Work | Kristina Volchek |

3. Detailed Scope of Work

These are inside my high-level toggles and can be broken down into several deeper toggles. Depending on the project's complexity I can have Page/Screen > Secton > Specific Feature > Feature Details. This means I can go through 4 levels of scope depth if needed.

Freelance Designer 101: Project Proposal Detailed Scope of Work | Kristina Volchek |

4. Process and Timeline

I prepare a weekly breakdown for complex and bigger projects. I don’t go much into detail here, just mentioning the high-level tasks that I plan to do in a particular week. This also helps with duration visualization and justifies your pricing.

Freelance Designer 101: Project Proposal Process & Timeline | Kristina Volchek |

5. Pricing and Billing Terms

At this stage, I know the detailed scope and timeline, so I can estimate my hours and calculate the fixed price (see my previous edition on how to estimate your project hours).

I would also include instructions regarding my billing terms and payment options. I also prepare invoices in Notion and add an easy payment link inside.

Freelance Designer 101: Project Proposal Invoice Payment Billing Terms | Kristina Volchek |

In most cases, I use Wise to create payment links and receive money worldwide with lower fees and nicer exchange rates. It also helps with managing multiple currencies.

Freelance Designer 101: Project Proposal Invoice Payment Billing Terms | Kristina Volchek |
Freelance Designer 101: Initial Quote Project Proposal Invoice Billing Terms Templates | Kristina Volchek |

🎒 Want my exact templates? Get my Notion kit!

If you want the exact templates and workflow I use myself, I’ve got you covered!
I’ve packaged it all up into this small Notion kit with my templates for Initial Quote, Project Proposal, and Invoice. Each template has example content and small tips on how to use it.

Stay tuned for more

That’s all for now.

In the next edition, I will explain the next steps of client onboarding once they accept your project proposal.

That’s all for today! If you found the newsletter interesting, don’t forget to share it with your friends 😉. And if you have any cool links to share - drop them my way. 📮 

See you next time!

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