Proposal Writing: How an Unexpected Freelance Gig Paid $12,000


The lucrative land of proposal writing.

When I got a random phone call from a prospect about a proposal writing gig, I was curious.

“I need help writing an RFP [request for proposal] for a multi-year, multi-million dollar cyber security contract for a government agency,” the person said. “The deadline is in 30 days. Can you help me?”

You can make a lot of money doing this kind of work, right? That’s what I thought. But I had my doubts.

Months before this unexpected phone call, I did a lot of leg work to try and land proposal writing gigs and government contract work. And nothing happened.

I navigated clunky government websites and studied the jargon. I registered my writing business on sites like the System for Award Management and FedBizOpps where you can find contracts. I tried to land big contracts, then smaller ones without success.

It seemed like a lost cause. And then this prospect found me on one of those government sites for contractors.

I bid $12,000 for the work, and the client accepted. Here’s what the proposal writing process looked like:

Proposal writing basics

When a business or government agency needs goods or services, they often send out an RFP [request for proposal] to an approved list of vendors (writing is a service, you can be a vendor.) It’s why I spent so much time getting listed on those government contracting sites.

What is an RFP? It’s a document that describes in great detail what an organization needs and wants to purchase. For example: a website redesign, a remodel project, chairs and desks, computers, or in this case cybersecurity services. These are some common RFP requests.

Why an RFP? The primary reason businesses and government agencies use RFPs is to collect competitive bids for goods or services.

What’s in an RFP? A lot of writing. Besides quoting a price, RFPs also have to make a compelling case to help the contractor win the project and may require information such as:

  • Corporate history and information
  • Financial reports
  • Technical capabilities
  • Inventory availability
  • Case studies of similar projects
  • Customer service/support
  • Education, background, and experience of employees
  • Ability to meet project deadline
  • Warranty information

Fee factors for proposal writing

There wasn’t any time to waste when my prospect called. I was thrilled to learn the company had already won millions of dollars in contracts, and that my forgotten government profiles are still floating around out there, and still categorize me as a writer. I quoted $12,000 and the client accepted. There was no negotiation process.

Why such a high fee? It was a lot of work to complete this RFP and meet the deadline (4,000-plus words for eight pieces of the proposal, writing and editing a lot of technical content, and of course the drop-everything short time frame) The factors I considered were:

  • Level of effort: Took two writers, one editor to get the job done
  • Knowledge required: Government proposals for the cybersecurity industry
  • Time frame: Had to rearrange my schedule to accommodate the job on short notice. We had a couple of rounds of edits to tighten up the drafts. Some of the revisions were required in less than 24 hours, and the price reflected that deadlines were non-negotiable.

Steps to success

I knew that this job might segue to a great relationship with a new client that might offer future corporate writing opportunities at great rates. I had one shot, on a tight schedule, to provide outstanding service. Here’s what made the job a success:

The help this client needed was right in line with my past experience.

I maintain a wide network of writers and often collaborate, and so should you. Bigger opportunities depend on it. I reached out to a writer I met a couple of years ago in the Freelance Writers Den. I also enlisted my longtime editor, who has a strong government background.

The three of us completed eight pieces of work for the RFP that the client was very happy with. And of course we met the deadline.

The price I quoted reflected the expected effort and our expertise, but also the rather intense schedule shuffling we’d have to do to accommodate a very short timeline with virtually no advance notice.

If you want to land proposal writing gigs…

Get your name out there. Sign up on your neighborhood small business directory. Join professional organizations. Sign up on and Beef up your online professional presence on your website, LinkedIn, etc., to be more visible and generate inbound leads.

Get it done. When opportunity presents itself, be 110 percent reliable. Answer the phone. Return emails. Pay attention. Read the materials your client sends to you. Put the effort in to do a great job.

Be fair. Don’t shortchange yourself. If a potential client asks you to do a rush job, let your price reflect that. At the same time, don’t take advantage. Remember, the end goal is to land a great client that you can work with for a long time.

When this proposal writing assignment was complete, the client immediately asked if we were available to help on the next one. That is all the assurance I need to know that the job went well.

Have questions about proposal writing? Let’s discuss in the comments below.

Kimberly Rotter is a freelance writer, blogger, and editor based in San Diego, Calif., who doesn’t watch TV. She also runs the website An Army of Writers.

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  1. Johnson Matandi

    Very inspirational. I am looking for proposal writing jobs and that’s what landed me here. Any more leads?

    • Carol Tice

      You can find proposal prospects by looking up past winning bidders — all public record. Contact them to see if they need help on upcoming proposals they’re doing to RFPs.

      Good luck!

  2. Janet Thomson

    Kimberly, congrats on landing this gig!

    I was wondering how does the pay structure work for the sub-contractors? What’s considered a fair rate?

    I know that you need an EIN and Dunn & Bradstreet numbers, both relatively easy to obtain but do you have to have a business license to pursue government contract work?

    I move around every three to four years – my spouse is military – and paying for a business license each time could become costly. TIA


    • Kimberly Rotter

      Hi Janet,
      That’s a really great question. Pay structure for subs is something I have to evaluate job by job. My quote to the client includes a fee that covers my time managing the job, client meetings, all the research and recruiting I’ve done and continue to do to establish a network and bring on writers who have exactly the right qualifications, and so on. For this job all the writers had at least a Master’s degree and most of us had previous technical writing experience. This job also included high level editorial work before the client ever saw a draft. For a job like this the base pay should come out to at least $100/hr, and with the rush aspect, $140 is totally realistic. That said, it’s on each writer to focus focus focus and get the job done efficiently. If the person is a perfect fit and can get the job done quickly, they could potentially make more per hour. The price I quote is in the $2-$3 range per word, depending on the job. For $3 per word you better be able to show outstanding results. 🙂 The writer is going to get a minimum of $1.25 per word and the editor generally gets at least $0.50.

      As for a business license for govt contracts — I honestly can’t tell you the answer because I have never actually won a government contract. I have only been hired as the writer to help companies that are bidding. I would assume that you should have one.

      In San Diego it’s $55 each year whether you’re new to the area or not. In many cities it’s cheaper. I don’t think moving around will substantially increase the cost of remaining licensed, except that you might have to pay for a new license more than once in a 12 month period. For that price, I encourage you to always have a current license. Some clients require that you maintain insurance, and you can’t get insurance without the license.

      I guess I just like to have all paperwork in order. Doing business unlicensed is illegal pretty much everywhere in the US, and leaves you open to legal issues. I don’t want to do anything that might attract attention I don’t want, like an audit.

    • Janet Thomson

      Thanks for the response, I have a better understanding. I wasn’t sure if a flat rate scenario worked best in this type of situation. But $1.25 per word rate isn’t bad as the sub-contractor.

      I’m looking into insurance and licensing – just was curious about this before I have my consultation with an attorney to discuss my unique situation. Since I’m a military spouse, I’ve learned of some unique opportunities and just wanted to be prepared to ask the right questions.


    • Carol Tice

      My contract with a transit agency, I did have to show them proof I had a business owner’s insurance policy. And of course state licensing, especially if you’re dealing with a state agency, is going to be a must.

    • Carol Tice

      Janet, you renew your license annually anyway, so it shouldn’t make a huge difference as you move, though you can get socked in the transition year, that just happened to me. ;-( But hey, it’s a write-off. And yes, you’ll likely need it for government contract work. I don’t know how you get a DUNS without being registered with your state.

    • Janet Thomson

      Carol, you are right I’d need the license to get the DUNS number. I watched some videos at the website regarding contracting it’s an excellent overview of how the process works. It seems time-consuming but worth the effort in the long run.

  3. William Schietroma

    Interesting article Carol, could writing for a historical society or composing
    a newsletter in the area where I am living be possible. I live in Blairsville Pa the birth of the underground Railroad. This is a area with a lot of Historical land sites such as the French and Indian War and the Civil war at Gettysburg Pa and the Colonial Settlers who had to deal and relate with the locale Indian tribes. Although with could be another concept or finding inroads into these sites such as Gettysburg PA there it probably would need some sort of research process into these Historical events.

    • Carol Tice

      Kind of off the topic of this post about proposal writing, William. But…writing a newsletter, on your own or for a historical society, is certainly doable…the question is whether it would be lucrative. My guess is not very.

      I’d try to connect with the local tourism bureau and see if they’d like writing help, as they’ve got the pooled money of all the local businesses to work with for marketing.

    • William Schietroma

      Thank you Carol great idea, although most Historical site may be fund by Non profit locale Governments for Travel or public relation thanks again for your advice

    • Bob Hazlett

      The area you live in is overflowing with material for every kind of writing. I agree that newsletters probably would not be profitable, but they might be a good source for picking up By Lines. There are many websites that focus on history “Travel Thru History” is one of my favorites. Also consider the Historical Fiction genre as well as Creative non-fiction. It would take three lifetimes to use up all the possibilities in your location.

    • William Schietroma

      Thank you Bob I will check it out or Alternative history could be another topic

  4. Sharon Turnoy

    On a related topic that was touched on in the comments:

    Any course, web site, association, etc., that would be a good place to learn how to write a grant? Sounds very similar to a proposal, but different funding source. And does anyone know, do you need to be a non-profit to get any sort of grant? Or just certain types of grants?


    • Carol Tice

      Sharon, my experience is most freelance grantwriters come into it with a track record of grantwriting from a day job. You can always break in by finding a small nonprofit and writing a grant for them as a volunteer.

      I personally got into this by writing 3 proposals when I edited a small alternative paper — and 2 of them were funded. Got me an intern with one of them! I found slavishly following their directions on what they wanted to hear, plus studying past winners, was the winning formula.

      Believe there are professional grantwriting associations — they might be a good place to start if you want to learn academically about it, but my experience is simply getting out and doing proposals is a better way to learn. And yes, nonprofits get grants, generally speaking, not businesses.

    • Kimberly Rotter

      One thing I’ve seen people do is volunteer to help write grants for their favorite nonprofits. That gets you some experience and possibly even some mentoring.

  5. kareen

    Proposal Writing is new for me. Your sharing about its basics, Fee factors, Steps to success is really helpfull. I think I need a long time to study one by one. Hope we can discuss details in near future 🙂

    • Kimberly Rotter

      If you can do corporate marketing, you can probably do RFP responses. Just be prepared to work fast! Check out the other comments on the post. There are some helpful suggestions from Carol and others.

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