Today, there are lots of outsourcing platforms that give full-time freelancers and “side hustlers” access to a variety of technical projects and gigs all over the world. On some sites, however, freelancers are expected to submit a detailed proposal and firm pricing—based only on a vague project description or hazy scope of work. Worse, domestic freelancers may have to compete against international workers who charge rock-bottom rates. To help you maximize your time and effort, here are some tips for winning bids for freelance tech projects, as well as some critical mistakes to avoid. 

Find Your Sweet Spot

Start by studying the profiles and value propositions of top earners with similar skills and experience, suggested Corbin Links, who regularly reviews bids for web development and security projects as managing partner of Links Business Group LLC. Some specialties are saturated with freelancers, Links explained. The purpose of your competitive analysis is to determine the strengths and weaknesses of rival bidders and what you can offer to set yourself apart. Find your sweet spot in a profitable niche and keep honing your message while you get your feet wet. “If you can’t go toe-to-toe with the top earners, offer a fresh perspective or something they can’t do,” Links advised. For instance, developers may want to offer a bug-free guarantee or warranty period, or a small credit toward the next site revision.

Avoid Bargain Hunters

Don’t waste your time with prospects who are looking for the cheapest price, advised Ryan Robinson, freelance writer, content marketer and creator of “The Side Hustle Project (Podcast).” Robinson suggests that you don’t bother bidding on projects that have fewer than three ‘dollar signs’ next to the description (or a similar metric, depending on the site). “Learn to gauge a prospective client’s motivation by reading the project description,” he noted. If you’re looking to develop a loyal following of repeat, value-added customers, for instance, look for prospects who emphasize their desire for quality work and have ongoing projects.

Quality over Quantity

Thoroughly read the client’s project brief and demonstrate your understanding by creating a custom, personalized response. Freelance bidders need to be willing to do some legwork up-front to improve their chances. And you need enough information to quote a market-based rate and structure. “It’s important to explain how you intend to meet each and every requirement in your proposal,” Links noted. Many bidders don’t seem to read the requirements at all, or they shotgun the market by submitting canned responses – and it shows. Bidding isn’t a numbers game. Freelancers definitely need a robust, professional portfolio, but clients don’t want to review your entire collection. Tailor the work samples or links in your proposal toward the needs of the company and project.

Turn Cold Bids into Hot Opportunities

If the project specs are unclear or unrealistic, seize the opportunity to engage with the buyer, preferably via video chat or over the phone. “There’s a lot of gold in the back-and-forth process,” Links noted. How you approach a needs analysis can build trust and set you apart, especially when it comes to communication skills. For example, you may have the opportunity to showcase your expertise by asking thought-provoking questions to uncover the client’s actual goals and needs. Or you may have the chance to suggest better alternatives or refine the scope of work, once you understand the project mission, stakeholder requirements, end-user profiles, and so forth.

Make It About Them, Not You

Be sure to write your proposal from the client’s point of view. The more you focus on helping the client achieve their goals, the more bids you’ll win. For example, personalize your response by referencing the client’s name and “you” as much as possible. Eliminate jargon and buzzwords, especially if the reviewer doesn’t have a technical background. And be aware that on some sites, the client actually sees your answers to questions or proposals before they see your cover letter. Finally, always close with a call to action – such as a request for a phone call or chat – to further explain how you intend to handle the project. Don’t be afraid to show your human side; after all, whether you meet in person or via an online platform, people still hire people. “My advice is to get off the sites as quickly as possible,” Robinson said. “If you use the online bidding process as a way to build client relationships, eventually you’ll be able to land plenty of freelance projects without going through the bidding process.”