Every day on Upwork, a number of proposals are sent and only a few are hired for.
The exact numbers are unclear but if you look around, you’ll see people talking about it frequently.
It might be because many freelancers use an Upwork proposal template but it could also be due to flaky clients. If we send out one proposal per day, we should at least land a couple of clients each month. Imagine if we get just slightly better at it, we might be able to earn twice as much next month.
I’ve seen about twenty-four percent hire-rate during my own experiments and that likely due to the industry.
Now, we’ll look at examples you can use to land projects and earn more money with Upwork.
What not to do: little known mistakes that scream “don’t hire me!”
Most people use a copy-paste template like the examples you’ll see below. If you’ve tried hiring before, you’ll know how easy it is to spot them.
They SCREAM “me, me, me!” and when a client sees that, they might think “if this freelancer is so focused on themselves now, what will happen when they work on my project?”
Examples of bad Upwork proposal templates
What do you notice in these examples?
First of all, they are all the same. I have many more that are the same with a few minor changes.
The problem with them is that they assume that we trust them right away because of their credentials and that as a client, we are struggling to simply find a person — anyone — with the skills to handle the projects.
That is rarely true; with a simple search either on Upwork or Google we can learn how many other freelancers there are in a similar industry and we can even see how many else sent a proposal for the same project or got invited.
Clients are not looking for anyone with relevant skills. They are looking for the right fit.
For many, this is simply a cultural difference. The client might be used to plenty of skilled labor available and therefore instead of looking too much at the hard skills, assuming they are fairly good, rather look for soft skills to make sure the person is easy to work with and trustworthy.
If we don’t consider the client’s situation, we lose out. Almost all people care about themselves first, that is also true for our potential clients as they only care about us so much as it helps THEM. Since we know this, we can use it to our advantage (more on that in a minute).
I could write a book about what people are doing with their proposals but that isn’t going to help anyone and you’ll probably fall asleep before I’m done anyway.
Let’s keep it to the highlights with two of the most common mistakes I’ve seen when I’ve been hiring:
Mistake #1: Machine-gunning proposals like there is no tomorrow (and forgetting that the client doesn’t know you yet)
The client almost surely doesn’t know anything about you and they only have the proposal to judge by. If they aren’t too busy, they might even look at your profile and portfolio. Maybe.
There will always be some exceptions but generally, that isn’t the case. Businesses are used to using a proposal when the client has decided what they need done and they have discussed with the freelancer back and forth.
Then the proposal comes, summarizes everything, and lays the specific deal on the table in writing. When we send a proposal on Upwork it is our first encounter with the potential client and vice versa, so in reality, this is the same as speaking or meeting with the client for the very first time.
The freelancer assuming that what Upwork calls a “proposal” is a traditional proposal is losing out on projects by moving forward too fast.
If that was in real life, you won’t go meet the client and bring a proposal right away, would you? Wouldn’t you at least get to know them and their project a bit and see if you are a good fit?
That’s what we need to do here. Conveying complex topics is difficult enough as it is, so it is important to make sure you are on the same page, or it’ll end up in a disaster.
There are so many different cultures around the world, even within different states of the same country, that it’s easy to assume that everyone thinks the same way about a topic but often that is not true.
In a relationship-based business like freelancing, the invisible currency is trust and it is important to get the potential client to feel like they can trust us first.
The best approach for that is to focus on the problem and make the client feel understood. The solution comes later. Especially, because everyone focuses on the solution upfront, and doing the opposite usually pays off.
Even if they don’t intend to (or are from a different culture), it often comes across as trying to sell too hard which is offputting for many clients.
Clients don’t tally up all the results and case studies among the potential freelancers, find the winner and hire them. It’s not a logical process, it’s emotional.
Mistake #2: Focusing on the wrong things
Many freelancers focus on simple tactics to land more projects such as the best time of the day to send proposals and how long the ideal length should be.
They can help but if you are not focusing on first understanding the client and their challenges well, the tactics will never matter.
Teardown: Upwork proposals that won projects and why they worked
Examples from readers who landed real projects on Upwork.
The cover letter:
He landed the gig at $35 an hour.
Here’s another example. The project description:
And the proposal:
The reader won the project at a $250 flat rate.
What do you notice here?
The project descriptions are not that specific which makes it hard to write something great.
The proposals point this out by noting that there is some information that they don’t have so they can’t make things 100% accurate. But instead of shrugging and thinking “I might as well give up”, they show SPECIFIC examples.
Examples that might fit into the client’s situation and give enough details for the client to get an understanding of their expertise but most importantly show interest and commitment to them by all the work upfront.
This works particularly well because no one bothers to do the same and on Upwork, the proposals are displayed close to each other in the interface, so it’s easy for the client to compare.
How to rapidly creating a winning Upwork proposal template (even if you have no experience)
So how do we create something better? Everyone likes to say “it’s a number’s game”. And they are right…
But it’s a different numbers’ game if you haven’t been able to land much work yet.
They are neglecting that the challenge with sending many proposals and no results are that you’ll feel bad because you worked a lot with nothing to show for it. Instead, we’ll send fewer that are more specific to boost your motivation.
My approach is to first create proposals that win projects, then learn how to do it faster. Not both at once!
The first step to writing a good proposal is to have a good project description to write it for.
You have to write something PERSONAL for the potential client. And since it’s personal, you also need some specific information to write from.
This is a great example of a project description that is difficult to write a great proposal for, so you’ve lost before you even begin. The only thing it has going for it is that it mentions that it should be about nails.
While this isn’t an amazing project description, it gives us something to go after because the owner has given some specifics like the time period and specific items he’d like help looking at.
The rule of thumb is that if you feel like you can write something that is personal and not easy to copy-paste based on the job description, you are good to go.
Understanding the client is your number one priority if you want to land the project! Focusing on their problem and getting to know then BEFORE diving into the solution is crucial.
You can show examples of solutions like we saw above but remember the client usually won’t say “cool, let’s start” right away. The proposal is just a way to pass the initial test, so they can see if you are worth talking to.
Remember that our potential client might not know all the facts about his own projects — he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. That’s what you have to help him figure out or at least figure out if he does.
Freelancing is a relationship-based business so we have to earn their trust. An interesting thing about people is that we usually avoid the unknown more than something we know is not ideal.
I’ve found that the more we speak with clients, the more we move from the box of being an unknown freelancer into the box of at least being someone they are familiar with.
To be able to find projects with specific info, I like to search projects that share things like URLs (e.g. .com, .net, etc.) but it could also be names or other details that fit your line of work.
You can layer e.g. .com on top of design-jobs to find design-projects that share .com-URLs for example.
Once you have a project you like, the goal is to get the client to write back and schedule a phone call, not land the project! That comes later.
I like to write proposals with three “sections”:
Stage 1: This is the first couple of lines and the purpose is to get the future client to open the proposal and start reading. That’s it! I like to do that by making it… you guessed it! Personal.
I’ll include their name if I can (find it in their reviews) and write a line or two about my personal interest in the topic, a specific experience I’ve had, or a nice comment if I can find something relevant. Kinda like small talk if it was offline.
Stage 2: here I like to share my expertise or experience or how I would go about their project (e.g. the process I’ve found most helpful). The key is to spend time thinking about what the client’s business goal is and show HOW the project or process helps with that. Make it obvious for them, don’t let them guess it.
For example: if you are a video editor, they might want more engagement on their site, so show them how videos can drive more comments. You should have a good idea about the goals your type of customers are after. Sometimes you’ll get lucky and they write it in the project description and sometimes they won’t.
Stage 3: In the last section, I like to share relevant attachments like screenshots from previous projects that are RELEVANT! Not my entire portfolio so the client has to dig through it and figure out what is relevant. They are busy so do it for them.
I also like to finish with ONE question. Often, I’ll ask when we can get on a call so I can learn more about their business and feel out if they’ll be nice to work with.
That was step number one in writing proposals that’ll win you projects. Step two is learning how to do it fast and effectively.
You can’t copy-paste great proposals but you can create your own library of your winning proposals.
Not only will it help you avoid getting stuck on a blank page not knowing what to write but you can reuse parts of the proposals to create entirely new proposals.
Say, you have five different winning proposals in your library. You might reuse two halves of the second section and put them together in an entirely new way while using the third section from another proposal and just write a new introduction. That’s how the pro’s do it.
Some people recommend sending personal videos in your proposals. I tried it out for a while but I never got it to work for me. It might work but it is less important than thoroughly understanding your client.
Also, be careful of asking too many questions at once. It can lead to indecision which leads to “I’ll reply to this later” .. which becomes never. Ask the questions one at a time.
What if you have little or no experience?
This approach can work well if you have no experience because it focuses on one thing clients love: an attitude for working hard.
Some people even prefer this over hard skills because in their opinion hard skills are easier to learn than a great attitude.
With no experience, you shouldn’t lie and you’ll have to focus your proposals on how you’ll approach their project. Be as specific as you can through for example suggesting approaches from experts online.
- Understanding the client well should be your number one priority to get their interest
- It is a numbers game but you might feel demotivated sending lots of proposals without results so focus on fewer that are deeper
- If you can’t write a personal proposal based on the project description, ignore it. If you can copy-paste an entire proposal it probably isn’t good enough
- First, learn how to write awesome proposals, then learn how to create them fast and effectively by creating your own Upwork proposal templates!