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The Best Upwork Proposal Tips to Get Shortlisted Every Time

By Robert Williams | Last Updated: August 19, 2020

Here’s a dirty secret. The average Upwork freelancer sends the exact same cover letter to every client they pursue. So your “competition” is a generic template from a new freelancer with no reviews 99% of the time.

With that in mind, how do you move to the top of the client’s shortlist? How do you respond to projects quickly while giving yourself the best chance at winning the project and getting new clients? The tips below may only take a few minutes to implement, but over time can help your cover letters land you 50% more jobs on Upwork.

Best of all, almost nobody on Upwork uses them. Most of the Upwork tips you’ll find are ultra-beginner level. They say things like “include the client’s name in your proposal.” In this post we’re going to go a little deeper. I’ve also created a PDF version of the tips in this article that you can print out and keep handy the next time you’re submitting an Upwork proposal.

Send Your Best Upwork Proposals to More Clients

Since I wrote this article to help freelancers level up their Upwork lead generation game, I thought I’d mention the best way to increase your earnings: by sending more proposals. Technically, the same tips you use to send a great proposal on Upwork apply to any project. My favorite way to supplement Upwork jobs is with Folyo’s Web Design Leads Newsletter.

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If you’ve already searched Upwork, and want more opportunities, my Web Design and WordPress Leads newsletters are the fastest way to supplement the work you find on Upwork. Since they only take a few minutes to review each week, it pairs perfectly with your existing Upwork proposal process and can 10x the number of proposals you send each week.

That’s the easiest and best proposal tip I have: send more of them. You can get a free sample by clicking here.

Some Quick Upwork Proposal Stats

A one in four shot, isn’t bad – but if you adjust for inactive accounts and freelancers who are instantly disqualified for spamming with worthless templates … your real competition on Upwork is even smaller. Even the remaining freelancers are often beginners so your chances to make money are pretty solid.

Upwork Proposal Tips: Math & Stats

That goes for even on the most competitive jobs. So your chances are actually pretty good. If you follow the rest of the tips in this article, you should win 1/4 of your proposals. I’ll even include some proposal templates below so you can see exactly what we’re talking about. So without further ado…

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My top 10 Upwork proposal tips for getting shortlisted quickly

First I’m going to give you my 10 tips all at once. Then below I’ll expand on each one.

  1. Read the entire job description (and don’t flunk this test.)
  2. In your first line, acknowledge you read it.
  3. Give the client a free tip (but not how most freelancers do.)
  4. Share only the single most similar project.
  5. Write a personal, well-written, sentence.
  6. Include everything the client needs in your proposal.
  7. Find the perfect budget by using Upwork’s job history.
  8. Keep your proposal to under 500 words.
  9. Respond to all messages within 12 hours.
  10. Don’t live and die by each proposal.

So, how do you implement each of these quickly? Let’s go through each one.

1. Read the Entire Job Description (Don’t Flunk This Test)

Too many people skim through listings before applying. Don’t make this mistake. Overlooking a key detail, such as the common “read the full description test” that clients sneak into their posts, is one of the most common ways clients filter out careless applicants. Carefully reading descriptions will also help you create more relevant proposals. 

2. Get a Client’s Attention in the First Line

It’s not enough just to read the job description – you need to make it clear you read and understood what the client wants.

Some clients ask applicants to answer a specific question or include a keyword in their bid proposal. If a client asks you to do this, then great, but it’s also a good idea to start tour bid by summarizing what the client is looking for.

For example, if you are bidding on a job to write SEO blog posts for an artisan coffee company and the client mentions in their job post that they want to hire a freelance writer who is passionate about coffee, then you’re going to want to highlight this in your profile.

Hi Client, I noticed you’re looking for someone who’s passionate about coffee. I’ve tried every coffee and espresso contraption on the face of the earth (my favorite is still my Aeropress) and have even started a blog about my love of coffee which you can read about here.

You may not have the exact experience or interests that are outline in the post, and you don’t want to lie or exaggerate about your passions, but it’s important to highlight the relevant experience and interest that you do have for the subject quickly. When clients have a lot of applicants, they often will only get to see the first line of your bid when scanning your proposal. A client is more likely to click on your bid if they can see you’ve taken the time to acknowledge what they are looking for. 

3. Give the Client a Preview of Your Expertise by Offering a Free Tip

Like most people, your potential clients are probably tired of clickbait links, sleazy salesmen, and self-appointed gurus who will do and say anything to get in their wallet. They’re looking for real solutions. You can prove you’re capable of providing this, instead of just claiming it like 99% of freelancers by offering helpful suggestion. 

Make sure your tip is framed in a positive way, never belittle the client’s existing work. Here’s an example:

Upwork proposal sample

Hi Client, I noticed you’re looking to increase page speed and are on WordPress. One of my all-time favorite tools for this is WP Rocket. I noticed you’re not using it on your site and adding it will instantly help your page speed score by lazy loading your videos and other content. I helped X client do this on their website and it was an easy way to improve their ranking by speeding up their site.

Remember, your expertise might seem normal to you, but offering something simple can be really valuable to the client.

4. Find the Most Similar Work in Your Portfolio to the Client’s Project and Send Only That

Clients are looking for specific skill set. Relevant examples are worth 10x more than generic ones. To instantly earn a potential Upwork client’s confidence, show them examples of projects that align with the requested work. This will make it clear that you can get their specific job done. It doesn’t take an extensive portfolio to do this. You can even do this with your first client. Here are some ways you can do this if it’s your first job:

These are some ways to give the client an example of your work when you don’t have a ton of experience. It doesn’t have to take a long time to show the client your work quality. Even a newbie can do this.

5. Avoid Using Form Replies – Upwork Clients Can Smell Templates From a Mile Away

Look at things from the client’s perspective. Your job proposal is going to be one of many. 90% of your competition is going to use a template. Your potential clients can spot these shortcuts from a mile away; you’re better off not taking them. One personal, well-written, sentence on Upwork is a more effective proposal than the a 5000-word template.

6. Pretend Your Upwork Profile Doesn’t Exist, Send Clients What They Ask For Directly

Most freelancers expect clients to do too much work. The truth is a client will likely never see your Upwork profile.

So even if you have the same work in your profile, it’s important to show Upwork clients your work, experience, and testimonials directly in the DMs you send them.

This not only ensures they’ll see what you want them to, it shows the client you’re willing to take work off their plate by answering questions and requests they have directly. If the client wants to see your portfolio or examples of past work, then add them to your message. Avoid taking the opposite route and laying out expectations like “see my profile.” 

Aim to make it as quick as possible for a client to identify you as the most suitable candidate. Reducing the tedium of screening applicants makes you more likable. One of my favorite books: How to win friends and influence people is a must-read if you want to learn more about the methods that win potential clients over.

7. Use Upwork’s Job History to Propose the Perfect Budget

Take a moment to run through the job history of any client you want to work with. This should give you an idea of what they see as an appropriate budget for the project in question. You’ll obviously want to be wary of clients who pay bargain basement prices for work.

Even the most spectacular proposal can be rendered worthless if it’s attached to an unreasonably high price tag. Severely undercutting the competition is no good either. Rates that fall too far below the average indicate a lack of confidence and respect for your work. 

8. Keep Your Initial Proposal Message to Under 500 Words

Popular job postings attract a lot of interest, and some clients will be inundated with proposals within an hour of posting a job. Assuming you have done enough to persuade the client to open your proposal, the last thing you want to do is bore them into a coma with a long, rambling essay about why you are the right man or woman for the job.

Keep your proposal succinct and to the point. 

Say what you need to say in as few words as possible. The more you waffle, the less likely the client is to reply to your proposal. Remember, you can always say more later, once you’ve started a conversation with the client. 

9. Respond to Messages as Fast as You Can (Within 12 Hours)

On Upwork, fast and friendly is better than slow and perfect. Your proposals don’t need to be overly stuffy. Focus on being responsive. Keep your language professional but friendly. Be engaging and approachable. Ideally, you want this proposal to lead to a long-term working relationship, so an engaging, friendly, yet professional approach helps reassure the client you are a freelancer they can work with on other projects. 

Download the app on your phone, and get good at replying to Upwork clients quickly.

10. Don’t live and die by each Upwork proposal, enjoy the process.

Remember, creating a winning Upwork proposal takes practice and patience.  Make sure you don’t give up on the process.

Play to win, but enjoy the fun – David Ogilvy

When you pitch too hard, you turn clients away (and are less likely to continue practicing).

Often times, this can be a simple mindset shift. Instead of asking yourself how you can sell clients on your Upwork proposal, ask yourself how you can help the client – regardless of whether you land the work.

Bonus: Now That You’ve Created Your Best Upwork Proposal, Send it to More Clients

Upwork is a great place to find leads quickly, but what do you do when you’ve already reached out to all of the high-quality jobs on Upwork?

I recommend you supplement your Upwork process by reaching out to other companies who need your help outside of Upwork.

The best way to do that is to reach out to companies that need your skills right now. But how do you find these opportunities?

Until now, you had to do pain-staking prospecting by yourself.

But with Folyo’s Web Design, Web Development, and WordPress Leads Newsletters, you can get qualified leads sent directly to your inbox in minutes. It only takes a few minutes to review each week, which means it will pair perfectly with your existing Upwork proposal process. If you’re a graphic designer or web designer I strongly recommend you check it out below.

10x the number of proposals you send each week. Get a free sample by clicking here.

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