5 Steps to Winning Any Client Project

how-to-win-client-projectsThe ability to win new client projects is an essential skill to any freelancer. It’s something we freelancers practice from the day we get started, and it’s usually a skill that builds over time.

Aside from just practice, there are actually a lot of things you can do to become better at winning new client projects. Winning projects is not a confusing process, and it can actually be broken down very methodically.

In this article we’ve done just that, and divided the project-winning process into five steps. Read on for an explanation of each step, and a few tips for what you need to do to win at each stage of the game.

Step 1: Foot In The Door

The very first step in winning any new project is to get your foot in the door. There could be tens or hundreds of freelancers vying for the attention of the client, and in this stage the client will typically only connect with 3-5 freelancers from the overall group. You need to find your way into that smaller group that gets past this stage.

Purpose — The overall purpose of this stage is for the client to weed out the poor quality freelancers and narrow it down to a few people to look at further. For the freelancer, the purpose of this stage is to simply get noticed and appear to be a reasonable solution.

How to win — To win this stage you need to do several things. First, put your best foot forward. Make sure you are polite and show your best work. Second, you need to be personal. The best freelancers will only respond to job ads where they can offer a personal response that is tailored to the individual client. Form letters tend not to work well.

Finally, there’s always the option of cheating. If you know someone in the organization or have another connection to the client, use it. A good referral will let you pass right by this stage and into the next one.

Step 2: The Icebreaker

The icebreaker stage starts as soon as you’ve actually gotten the attention of your potential new client. Maybe they emailed you back saying they were interested in your services, or possibly you talked to them over the phone and are scheduled for another conversation. Once they want to talk with you, that’s when this stage begins.

Purpose — No matter where your potential new client came from, the purpose of the icebreaker stage is the same: to show them you can communicate effectively. Via phone, via email, it doesn’t matter — you need to prove that you can listen, understand the client’s needs, and respond effectively. Only then will they be willing to move into the next stages.

How to win — Listen or read carefully so you know what they are looking for, then paraphrase their needs back to them so that you can show that you understood them. The key is to be able to explain their own needs and goals back to them, and that way they will have no doubt that you can listen and understand what they want.

Step 3: Due Diligence

The due diligence stage is where the client takes their favorite freelancers, as determined in the last few stages, and researches them a bit further to make sure that they are going to get a good final result. This stage generally includes looking at your website, portfolio, and other online profiles.

Purpose — The key purpose of this stage is for you to prove that you are capable of delivering high quality work on a reasonable time frame. The client needs to trust you enough to feel good spending their money.

How to win — This is stage of the process really can’t be faked (and it would be bad to do so). You need to put as much relevant information about you, your past work, and your company online as possible. Show the potential client that you can reliably deliver excellent work and, of course, always show your good side :-)

Step 4: Bidding

The bidding stage is where you will submit a proposal or discuss costs and scope with the client. This stage sometimes determines who will win the project, but often times it is just another step and the project will be awarded based on how the client feels about interacting with you.

Purpose — The purpose of this stage is to take the needs and goals of the potential client and use them to formulate a project proposal, decide on scope, and create an estimated price.

How to win — Winning the bidding stage has two distinct parts to it: getting the project, and getting a good project. Not only do you want to win the project, but you need to make sure it is a good price for you and that it is actually a project you want to have. The key to doing both of these things is to provide a cost estimate that is fair to both you and the client.

Another trick for winning at this stage is to provide a ‘modular’ proposal. Break the project into multiple different pieces and price them all out individually. That way the client can mix and match, and you’ll always get a fair price for the work you will be doing.

Step 5: The Close

The closing stage begins as soon as the client decides that they want to work with you. At this point you need to go from the client saying ‘yes’ to having signed contracts, an agreement on cost and scope, and an initial payment.

Purpose — The goal of this stage is to get contracts signed, payment handled, and the project started. At this point the project is practically won, and you need to make sure that everything goes smoothly so nothing can derail the project.

How to win — Closing the project is all about being organized and having a system. Know exactly what the client needs to sign, have your paperwork ready, and confidently request a deposit so that you can get started. If you’ve completed the other four stages well, this should all go very quickly and easily.

Putting It All Together

Combining these five stages into a solid overall strategy isn’t usually that difficult — it generally requires a bit of work and some practice . Once you have the individual parts created, it’s just a matter of learning how to implement everything together and work with the different situations that you’ll face.

Often times these five stages can get mixed around or smashed together, but the results and goals of each part are generally the same. Working on each of the building blocks will definitely improve your overall results, and with a bit of practice you’ll see that winning new projects isn’t all that difficult.

How Do You Win Projects?

Do you use a similar strategy to win your projects, or do you do something altogether different?

Are there any secret weapons you use to win projects? (That you wouldn’t mind sharing with the FreelanceFolder community…)

Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

top image by Philo Nordlund


  1. says

    Awesome, I never thought of winning clients in terms of these steps before.

    My own strategy is to:

    – always over-deliver and wow my current clients
    – document feedback and results from my current/previous clients
    – offer services my target client wants
    – charge a rate that’s reasonable and fair to both my client and me


  2. says

    Charging a rate that’s resonanle is my biggest problem at the moment, I have a client who I know for a fact has paid around £350 for asite including domain and hosting and it really is poor and he has already said to me, not what he wants.

    He has a second business and he wants me to do all his media design and ecommerce. I have drawn a quote based on an hourly rate and it looks as though I will be asking for around 2k minimum…

    A problem as I know he will not like the quote. Problem is it seems I will need to spend quite a few hours building the site to his spec.

    I think most people here would say put your quote in and walk away…

    Hard to find a good price that’s middle ground

  3. says

    Pricing is difficult, especially in these times, clients are looking to get everything for nothing, and it’s up to use to teach them why we charge a lot more than other designers/developers. The hard part is getting them to listen after you give them such a “high” quote.

  4. says

    Building a climate of trust is incredibly effective. Communication as well. One more thing : presentation + definite what you do, and what’s the purpose of what you’re doing.

  5. says

    @Lexi — From the sound of your strategy, my guess is that you aren’t having to go out and solicit many projects. You’ve probably reached the point where you have a decent amount of work rolling in all the time — correct?

    @Phil — As amber said, pricing can be tough. I always recommend at least being fair to yourself because, even if you really need the money, taking on an underpaid project can hurt your potential in the future. If a client really needs a lower price, then work with them to reduce the scope of the project until it works well for you.

    @Amber — If they don’t want to listen after receiving a reasonable quote, it may not be worth chasing them :-)

  6. says

    I approach getting clients in similar way in which you described. The one thing that I do differently is that when I present a bid, I offer the client a couple of different options depending upon the clients needs. I start with the largest bid then work my way down.


  7. Katie Martell says

    Hey, great article! One comment:

    “Finally, there’s always the option of cheating..”

    It’s not cheating – it’s smart networking ;) And it’s where LinkedIn can be especially helpful!

  8. says

    The greatest trick is to get a good project, not just a project – as you said. It’s the trickiest of the lot. I faced this problem several times how to convince the client that writing for a website is equally critical and involves lot of time and money. Moreover, we need to make ends meet as we make a living out of it.
    I started to decline several of their attempts to tempt me with little or close to 30% of what I quote in the estimate. I want to know how to go about with this trend of clients: who wish to get their copy for less; we can’t but lose it as it is painful and doesn’t give us our due.
    I really liked the way you said to provide a ‘modular’ proposal. I think that works a lot.
    I wish if you can touch the emotional problems of a freelancer who undergoes an emotional upheaval when his quote is rejected and when he lost it… what should be his goal and vision.
    Excellent post which of course touches the tricky thing of freelancing: getting clients!

  9. says


    I find that one thing that can really set you ahead (and is very easy to do) is to be professional. It’s amazing how that quality seems to be lacking.

    Professionalism has so many aspects from how you respond to communications, how prepared you are, how your documents and proposal look etc. It’s very easy to get yourself organised around the value of professionalism and it can take you a long way.


  10. says

    I have always found putting my foot in the door to be the biggest challenge. It is this stage where a lot of people just like you are trying to get the client’s attention and many times a new startup fails to get noticed due to lack of portfolio.

  11. says

    Very bad advice for the bidding phase.

    Proposing a modular project with a price for each piece will allow the client to micro-examine each little piece of the project and widdle down your estimate.

    Client will say:
    “if we loose one of the concepts for the email designs how much will the price come down?” and “Why is the logo $3,000 and the website is only $5,000?”

    What you need to do is this: Itemize the deliverables but quote a flat project rate that covers all of the deliverables. If the client insists that you itemize the prices, itemize them broadly:

    Branding work $10,000
    Interactive work: $20,000

    If the client says: “If we take off the newsletter design, will the overall price come down?”

    You say “no” because the price I gave you is a PACKAGE DEAL. If you pick the project apart into separate items, it will actually cost you more.”



  12. says

    Another thing,

    Getting your foot in the door means getting your foot in the door. Go see the potential client IN PERSON (significant projects only! it,s gotta be worth the effort)

    “I’d love to sit with you to discuss this project, it sounds great”

    Sit with them, Chat informally about design, trends, the best way to do a logo, about the web, show them how knowledgeable you are. That will be the end of any competition.



  13. says

    Aside from just practice, there are actually a lot of things you can do to become better at winning new client projects. Winning projects is not a confusing process, and it can actually be broken down very methodically


  1. […] Step 1: Foot In The Door The very first step in winning any new project is to get your foot in the door. There could be tens or hundreds of freelancers vying for the attention of the client, and in this stage the client will typically only connect with 3-5 freelancers from the overall group. You need to find your way into that smaller group that gets past this stage. Read the full article at Freelance Folder […]

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