The Fastest, Most Ethical Way to Reach Six Figures as a Freelancer

And a 4-part script to help you get there.

I received a memo from my editor at Entrepreneur magazine last month. “Do not use the term “six figures” in article headlines moving forward,” it said. This was a memo to everyone who writes for Entrepreneur.

It makes sense. The term “six figures” is now so overused in online business that it’s considered scammy — even though it refers to an objective number. Six figures seems to be a hallowed benchmark in entrepreneurship because it implies you at least know what you’re doing.

 

But it’s also confusing. Sure, someone gloats to you in an article that they’re making six figures… but what does that actually mean?

    • Is it six figures of top-line revenue?
    • Are we talking six figures in post-tax take-home salary?
    • What’s the profit margin on all of that? And how many hours a week are you actually working to generate that money in the first place?

If you’re running a “six figure” business that makes $100,000/year and spending $90,000 on Facebook ads, business coaching, and/or software widgets to get there… you’re broke.

 

Snake oil aside, $100,000/year is a healthy, invigorating target for freelancers. It validates that you’re headed in the right direction and inches you closer to your dream of making a comfortable living on your own terms.

 

There are many ways to reach this bar: Courses, programs, memberships, paid newsletters, creator life, e-commerce, and so on. But one approach is much faster than the others. And you can do it even as a beginner.

 

It’s simple. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

 

The fastest and most ethical way to reach six figures is with proposals. Let’s discuss why.

Why Proposals Are The Fastest Route To Six Figures

For the purposes of this article, I’ll define a proposal as a customized outline of services that you send to one prospective client at a time.

 

Proposals existed long before funnels did. So while I love both proposals and funnels for growing an online business, the former is far better for both bringing in cash and getting your offer off the ground.

 

Your same effort and knowledge that‘s going into a $10/month paid newsletter or $50 course could instead be put toward working with people directly and making $1,000-$10,000+ at a time. And if people like working with you, they’ll want to continue working with you.

 It’s harder to do that with a $17 e-book.

“But I want passive income”

 

I say this as nicely as I can… online business is not passive. Business is very active, especially when you start. And then it stays active.

 

Many of the biggest writers on this platform — people with far bigger followings than you and I will ever attract — have now attempted paid newsletters, and nearly all of them are flailing at it or have already given up. Business is wonderful, but the only way it becomes passive is when you remove yourself from your own value proposition, which usually requires employees or a buyout.

 

As I write this sentence, I have $54,500 in play from potential proposals. Some proposals will close this week. Some will close two months from now. And some will never close.

 

This is normal in high-ticket selling; according to marketer Dean Jackson, only 15% of high-ticket sales that are closed actually close in the first 90 days. The rest close over the next fifteen months. Proposals require patience as you plant and nurture seeds, but they are very lucrative when done well.

 

Even when it’s a lackluster month, proposals still drive the majority of my revenue, and the same can be true for you. Here’s a roundup of reasons why proposals are great.

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Proposals Enable Premium Pricing

A reason so many of you are stuck in Fiverr or Upwork purgatory trading your hours for dollars is that you’re looking for big fish in online marketplaces. You’re allowing your prospect to shape their own expectations on value, when in fact you should be shaping their expectations.

 

A client purchases your offer not only for its features and benefits, but also for the feeling or transformation both YOU and your offer give them. It’s positioning 101: Consumers buy on emotion, but justify their purchase with the presence of logic, so your offer needs both emotion and logic to fly.

 

Let’s look at an example in which a personal trainer sells twice-a-week virtual sessions with a nutrition consulting add-on.

 

These two offers are the same price. Which one sounds more premium?

    • “For 3 months, I’ll train you virtually twice a week, make recommendations on what you eat, and am available for questions. The price is $75/session and $150/month for the nutrition consulting.”
    • “For 3 months, you’ll be supported every step of the way under my watchful eye as you tweak your food and exercise habits. You will cement new behaviors that give you more energy, leave you feeling more confident, and improve your quality of life — for months and years to come. The package investment is $2,400.”

The offers and total price are the same, but the positioning is different. Positioning enables premium pricing, and you need premium pricing to reach and surpass six figures with healthy profit margins.

 

Charge more money. Proposals help you do that.

Proposals Are An Ethical Way To Test Out Your Offers

As LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman famously quipped: “If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.”

 

Some of you never launch because you want your offer to be “right” or perfect. There’s only so much you can do to perfect an offer before you go out and actually start testing it with real, paying clients. The advantage to using a proposal is that you can adjust the support levels up and down in real time as you go.

 

Perhaps something you thought would only take a week is taking closer to three weeks. Or perhaps your package depended on your client doing some preliminary work that only takes you a few hours, but for them takes days. The only way to learn these details is to actually have clients going through your offers.

 

Proposals also make it easier to clean up any messes you make as you work out the kinks of your offer. It’s much easier to step in and make things right in a 1-on-1 container, and most clients will give you some grace here.

“If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.” — Reid Hoffman

Proposals Are An Established, Normal, Boring Way Of Doing Business

And that’s what makes them great.

 

Everyone loves to chase the shiny new object in online business, but when we look at how money flows, the same mechanisms dominate the market.

 

Proposals, sales calls, webinars and email marketing outperform the competition and have done so for years. (Gentle reminder: Social media followers are sexy, but you can’t use them to pay your rent.)

 

Proposals have been around for decades if not centuries. In the corporate world, a company puts out an RFP (“Request For Proposal”) when they want to hire an agency, and agencies submit their proposals and bids. Then the company vets their options, chooses a winner, and signs a contract for a bazillion dollars. Proposals are a normal, natural mechanism for doing business.

 

Can you do 200 proposals at once? Probably not. But when you engage in this higher-ticket style of online business, you don’t need anywhere near that much volume. For those of you exploring this approach as a side hustle, one to three clients might be max capacity. You don’t need a ton of proposals to hit that number.

 

The best part of all? You don’t need to be famous to do business this way. I don’t want the fame, I just want the money and the freedom. Perhaps you’re in the same boat.

Proposals Don’t Require Fancy Marketing Or Design Assets

I do my proposals in Google docs, y’all. Clients don’t care a ton about design when you’re creating a custom pitch. In fact, they would expect it to be a little scrappy, because that shows you actually did customize the specs to fit their needs. This is how my proposals look:

freelance-proposals

Screenshot from the author

I have closed 5-figure proposals from this approach on multiple occasions, and in some cases the lifetime value of those clients stretches into the six figure range because they continued to work with me.

 

If you are just getting started and don’t have a good grip on your brand or visual aesthetic yet, the good news is that you don’t need to when you use proposals to attract clients.

 

While influencers sit around snapping selfies and flinging them into the endless Instagram abyss, you’ll be closing sales and collecting coins. Coins are more fun than likes.

Proposals Don’t Require A Big Audience

Thanks to the custom nature or proposals, you could have no audience whatsoever and still make money. That’s not the case with other types of online business offers — which is why you should be building your audience all the time in the background.

 

Before you send a proposal, you need to confirm that your prospect actually wants to receive one, which means doing some cold outreach and/or having a quick hello call.

 

I get that you don’t want to do cold outreach. I’m a huge introvert and don’t love doing it either. So let me share the prospecting script I use each week as a workaround.

A 4-step prospecting script

 

This prospecting script is robust and a little more involved than most direct messaging templates, but that’s also what helps it stand out.

This script has 4 parts:

    1. Custom introduction — the intro includes a sentence or two that tells the recipient this is not a stock pitch. This ensures busy decision-makers that your pitch is specific to them.
    2. Top concerns — What problem or problems could you help this person or company solve? Name them to the best of your ability. This doesn’t have to be perfect; later you’ll make a request that will help you gain more clarity.
    3. An example — If you got someone else similar results, show that off here. If you don’t have any results yet, tout your personal portfolio or credibility.
    4. Call to action — People are busy. Ask for the absolute minimum amount of time you need to establish clarity. In this short call, offer to send over your proposal.

This means you’ll have to actually care about the company or decision maker you are pitching. Caring will automatically put you ahead of 90% of other sales associates who are doing mediocre outreach.

 

Are we convinced yet that proposals are a good approach? Cool. Let’s quickly go over what exactly a proposal consists of.

What To Include In A Proposal

For the sake of brevity, I’ll stick to high-level notes about proposal formatting. Last year I wrote an article on proposal construction, which is here for reference if you want something deeper.

 

There are loads of different ways to put together a proposal. Know that, generally, your proposal should include the following four points:

    • An executive summary. Give me a paragraph or two on what the opportunity at hand is and why we should care.
    • Roles and responsibilities. Who’s going to do what, and when? What deliverables are each party responsible for? Do this thinking for me so that it’s easier for me to say yes.
    • Timeline. Will our time together take three days or three months? Paint me the picture of how the package will play out from week to week.
    • Package bid and next steps. Restate everything your client will receive, then provide your quote and instructions for how to take action.

Depending on your experience and your industry, you could also include things like case studies, examples, or more information on your value proposition. Clarify why working with you will give your client back their time, money, or peace of mind in the long run.

Final Takeaways

The pipe dream that you’ll write a few blogs and develop a massive audience, while technically possible, isn’t how most well-paid writers and consultants make bank.

 

To get money flowing now, your best next step is to develop and promote an offer that pays you what you’re worth. And the quickest, scrappiest way to validate that offer is with proposals. Let yourself be scared, take action anyway, and start sending out proposals today.

Thanks for reading. 🙏🏼

 

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Nick Wolny is a media and marketing strategist for entrepreneurs. Named a “40 Under 40” by the Houston Business Journal, he’s a contributor for Entrepreneur and Fast Company and a technology commentator for NBC and FOX with over 60 live TV appearances.