The Dos and Don’ts of Quoting for a Job

A Project Manager’s Tips on How to Improve Your Chances When Quoting

All freelancers find ourselves quoting for jobs on a regular basis. Sometimes we’re really interested in the project and other times we’re not, but how many of us have been on the other end of this relationship, responsible for recruiting freelancers for a project? Have you ever wondered what influences whether the client hires you or not?

As a freelance translation project manager, I regularly contact freelancers on behalf of direct clients and ask them to provide quotations. It can be eye-opening to discover what makes someone a preferred freelancer and what can be an immediate turn-off.

Covering the Basics

Let the client know quickly if you aren’t interested

If you know straight away that you aren’t interested in quoting for the project, respond to the client to tell them so. If they’ve addressed you personally in the email, that means they’ve looked you up and are waiting for a response. Let them know in good time if they need to keep looking for someone else.

Confirm receipt

If you don’t have time to go through the project information properly within a couple of hours of the email coming in, send a holding email to the client so they know you’ve received it. You can then take all the time you need to read the information later without pressure to respond urgently, subject to any deadline the client has given.

Read the project information thoroughly

Make sure you read everything you’ve been sent, including any accompanying materials. If you don’t understand what you’re being asked for and what the project will involve, ask.

Be clear and concise

Use headings or bullet points and don’t expect the client to click on links to other sources. If the client has to go hunting on your website to find out about your experience of similar projects, they most likely won’t bother. That’s especially true if others are providing that information directly via email.

Provide all the information you’re asked for

It sounds obvious, but it’s very off-putting if the client has to remind you to send the information they’ve asked for in the first place. If you’re quoting for a direct client (as opposed to an agency), they probably aren’t very familiar with how your industry works. They need to know a bit more about you and your experience to be confident in hiring you. Ignoring such requests shows a lack of attention to detail and implies that you aren’t interested enough in the project to spend some time on your quotation.

Give your price in the requested format

If you’re asked how much you would charge for working on a project, give a total price rather than an hourly rate. A direct client probably isn’t very interested in how you reached the figure – they just want to know how much it will cost. If the client asks how much you charge per unit of work (whether that’s per word, per video, per social media post, or anything else), provide your quotation in that format. Make it easy for them to hire you.

Quote realistic turnaround times

If you say you’ll be able to do more than is realistic in a given time frame, the client might think you don’t know what you’re doing or that the quality of your work will be poor.

Stand Out from the Crowd

Format your quotation in an attractive way

A professional quotation as a proposal in a separate document with all the requested information is far more memorable than a figure in the body of an email. A little colour can certainly go a long way when quoting, too.

Summarise the client’s needs

Include a summary of the client’s needs and your interpretation of what’s required when you send your quotation. It will show you’ve really thought about the project and what you could bring to it.

Phone the client with any questions

If you have any questions, use this as an opportunity to pick up the phone and call the client. Having actually spoken to you, they are much more likely to think of you when it’s decision time.

Be friendly and enthusiastic

Showing your personality will make you more memorable than freelancers who are very matter-of-fact in their emails. By showing you are approachable and easy to work with, you make the client more likely to champion you and choose your quotation over others.

Mention any upcoming commitments

If there might be an issue in the event that the project overruns or starts late, state that from the beginning. Bear in mind that some projects don’t start when they’re expected to. This really isn’t something the client wants to find out later when it’s a problem. They’ll therefore appreciate you taking the initiative at the quoting stage.

Case Study

Efficient, accurate and enthusiastic: one translator who got the job

I was project managing the translation of a short educational marketing text into multiple languages. I found several translators who I thought might be a good fit in the ITI Directory and emailed them with the source text and project brief.

Within an hour and a half, one translator had replied to tell me that she was interested in the project. She didn’t give her quotation then, but told me when I could expect to receive it.

Within the time frame she’d stated, she sent me her quotation as a PDF document. It included a little bit about herself and her experience, explaining how she approaches each project. She told me what tone of voice she would use and the values she would convey in the translated text, based on her understanding of the source text. Lastly, she asked for confirmation that this was what the client was looking for.

The translator was friendly and professional in all her emails and showed real enthusiasm about the project. I received 10 quotations for her language pair and hers was right in the middle of the price range. However, price was not the most important consideration, and she convinced me that she was the best candidate.

Some Things to Avoid

Don’t quote within minutes

Although it’s important to be prompt, don’t respond too quickly – unless you know you aren’t available to take the project on or you just want to let them know you’ve received their email. Quoting within seconds could imply to the client that you haven’t read what they’ve sent you.

Don’t be vague about turnaround times

If you really aren’t sure how long a job might take, give a broad range or be generous with the deadline you suggest. It’s not helpful to say you don’t know or it depends on other work. The client just wants to get an idea.

Don’t undersell yourself

Don’t be tempted to undersell yourself or your services because you think you’re more likely to be hired that way. Some clients will focus most on price, but many are looking for the most qualified person for the job. In my experience, mid-range quotations are often accepted. Those freelancers who provide the cheapest quotes are sometimes seen as inexperienced, so they won’t be taken on. And if you have relevant experience for the project you’re being offered, charge for it accordingly.

Don’t quote if you wouldn’t do a good job

If you’re simply not qualified for a project, don’t quote for it. In other words, read the information you’ve been sent and be honest about your abilities. For example, if the project brief asks for native speakers of a certain language with experience of a particular sector and you don’t fit the bill, don’t apply. The client will respect your honesty and may contact you about a project that’s a better fit in the future.

Don’t pester the client for an answer

If you don’t hear from the client, resist the temptation to keep chasing them. If you haven’t heard anything by the date you were told you would, by all means email or phone to confirm that there’s no news. But if they say they need more time or there’s been a delay, leave it at that. It may be tempting to keep chasing, but the client may be waiting for a decision from someone else. Receiving prompts from you every few days will just annoy them. They will be in touch when they know more; if you never hear anything, then you haven’t been hired. Repeatedly chasing the job may make you come across as desperate.

Keep It Professional

Be professional and friendly in all communication. If you don’t agree with something the client says, take a breath, step away from your computer and respond once you’ve calmed down. Of course, simply tell them you aren’t interested in working on the project if it’s a major issue. But if it’s something minor, find a way to convey your difference of opinion without being offensive. The PM probably didn’t mean to offend, and an aggressive response from you will make them less likely to hire you. And most of all, don’t complain about other freelancers or rates of pay in your industry. Whatever your views, this really isn’t the time or place for that.

Do you have any tips for quoting that I haven’t mentioned here? Let me know in the comments!


Zuzanna Grochulska

Hi, great jobe with the articule! Could not agree more with you. I had many problema st the beginnibg if my freelance work with quoting as donde clients seem to be quite vague about It. They would change the units of work like once when I did translation of subtitles from Spanish to Polish, the company chances their mind un the middle of the proyecto and wanted to be charged just for the seconds I was translating. It was almost imposible to count! Therefore It is good to clear all that BEFORE. Cheers

Thanks for your comment, Zuzanna. I totally agree – it’s so important to agree terms with the client before starting work. Clear communication is key to a good relationship!

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