Upwork Proposal Tips – How to Get Shortlisted in the First 5 Minutes

By Robert Williams

Here’s the truth. It’s your Upwork Proposal vs. a template. Most Upwork freelancers send the same exact message to every client they pursue. Your competition is likely a generic, boring template. So how do you move to the top of the client’s shortlist? The tips below may only take a few minutes to implement, but over time they can help you land 50% more jobs on Upwork. Be sure to read about the hidden test that Upwork clients use in their job description (and most freelancers flunk.)

First, some quick Upwork proposal stats:

  • 12+ million freelancers use Upwork.
  • ~3 million jobs get posted each year.
  • That’s roughly 1 job for ever 4 freelancers. (But the real numbers are even better, read on below.)

If you adjust for inactive accounts and freelancers who are instantly disqualified for spamming with worthless templates, your real competition on Upwork is 50% smaller than this number. Even on the most competitive jobs.

So here’s 10 simple tips to help you move your Upwork proposal to the top of the client’s shortlist (click to read full tip).

  1. Read the entire job description (and don’t flunk this test.)
  2. Make the first line in your Upwork proposal message acknowledge you read it.
  3. Give the client a preview of your expertise by offering a free tip.
  4. Find the most similar past Upwork client and share only that project.
  5. Avoid using templates – Upwork clients can smell them from a mile away.
  6. Pretend your profile doesn’t exist, send clients what they ask for directly.
  7. Use Upwork’s job history to propose the perfect budget in minutes.
  8. Keep your initial proposal message to under 500 words.
  9. Respond to messages within 12 hours – fast and friendly is better than slow and impeccable.
  10. Don’t live and die by each Upwork proposal, enjoy the process.

1. Read the entire job description (and don’t flunk this test.)

As simple as it may seem, too many people skim through listings before applying. You needn’t overlook much to miss a key detail, such as the common “read the full description test” that clients sneak into their posts as a way to filter out careless applicants. Carefully reading descriptions will also help you create more relevant proposals. 

2. Make the first line in your Upwork proposal message acknowledge you read it.

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, let’s say you are bidding on a job to write blog posts for an artisan coffee company and the client wants a writer who is passionate about coffee. 

Acknowledge this in your proposal. It’s important because when clients have a lot of applicants, they only see the first line of your bid as they scan the list of proposals. 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.

4. Find the most similar past Upwork client and share only that project.

Relevant examples are worth 10x more than generic ones. You can instantly build a potential Upwork client’s confidence in you by showing examples of projects that align with the requested work. When it’s clear that you can get their specific job done, your chances of being shortlisted will skyrocket. It doesn’t take an extensive portfolio to do this. Here are some scenarios to drive the point home. 

  • A client wants someone to write up a business plan for their company. You can compile a marketing plan for another organization (real or otherwise) in the client’s industry and include it in your message. 
  • The project involves designing a custom spreadsheet. Creating a sample that fits the requirements of the project and attaching it to your proposal will prove that you have the necessary know-how for the job. 
  • The client has a video that requires some visual effects work. Find similar content and add those effects to the footage before sending it along with your pitch. 

5. Avoid using templates – Upwork clients can smell them from a mile away.

Here’s the truth. Your Upwork 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 profile doesn’t exist, send clients what they ask for directly.

Even if you have the same work in your profile, show Upwork clients that you’re willing to take work off their plate by ensuring you answer any questions or requests they make directly in your DM’s with the client. If the client wants a 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 in minutes.

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. 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. 

  • Start by acknowledging what they are looking for.
  • Show off your expertise and provide evidence to show you’re a good fit for the role
  • End by inviting them to discuss the job further, via telephone or Zoom, if possible. 

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 within 12 hours – fast and friendly is better than slow and impeccable.

Upwork 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 focus on replying to Upwork clients quickly.

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

Remember, creating winning Upwork proposals takes practices. That’s why you need to make sure you don’t give 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. 

This is how you create an offer that’s irresistible to clients. We cover how to create an irresistible client offer from scratch in my full course, Endless Clients.

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