Successful freelancers know the importance of learning how to become a good salesperson. Especially when it comes to the art of writing an effective proposal. Effectively presenting yourself as a knowledgeable professional who understands the needs of your clients is the best way to win contracts on Upwork. Especially for new freelancers without an established reputation or a stellar Job Success Score. In fact, my ability to communicate value to potential clients is one of the things that I credit most to earning over $600,000 on Upwork as a freelance graphic designer in just five years on the platform.
Below are a few of my personal Upwork proposal tips and best practices – along with a few winning Upwork proposal examples – for writing an amazing proposal and cover letter, regardless of your industry or niche. Editor’s Note: Get a quick-reference printable PDF checklist version of these tips here.
Upwork Proposal Writing Bootcamp by Morgan Overholt
This proposal writing boot camp gives you a behind-the-scenes look at exactly what the client experiences when hiring on the Upwork platform with a real-life case study that examines common mistakes freelancers make when submitting proposals. Topics covered include:
- A look at the client side of Upwork
- How I receive more invites
- How I optimize my profile
- How I optimize my proposals
Niche-specific Upwork proposal samples
For niche-specific templates and proposal samples, be sure to check out my article entitled “11 Upwork Cover Letter Samples and Examples from a $600k Freelancer“.
Industries covered include:
- Graphic Design
- Web Design
- WordPress Development
- Video Editing
- Social Media Marketing
- Content Writing
- Data Entry
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1. Keep it short and sweet
Try to keep your proposals and cover letters short and sweet – aim for 200 words or less. It isn’t unusual for clients to receive 50 or more proposals on a single Upwork job posting. And they simply won’t have time to read long proposals. Value your client’s time as you value your own.
2. Use the client’s name whenever possible
Dale Carnegie once wrote: “A person’s name is to that person, the sweetest, most important sound in any language.” When possible, begin every proposal letter with a personalized greeting. It’s the first thing a client sees. And it’s a great way to grab the client’s attention. Client names are not always included in job postings, but about 90% of the time you can figure it out with just a bit of detective work. Browsing through client reviews is usually a great place to start.
3. Display your understanding of the requirements and an interest in the work
It’s always good practice to try and think about things from your client’s perspective and make your cover letters client-centric. A good proposal focuses more on the client than it does the freelancer. Practice this technique by beginning each proposal with a couple of lines that acknowledge your client’s needs. Also be sure to mention critical points about the job, indicate a genuine interest in the work and prove that you read the posting carefully. Sometimes I also throw in a question in an effort to start a dialogue. Simply getting your client to send a message can drastically increase your odds of closing the deal. You would be shocked to see how many freelancers don’t even read the job description carefully and rely on hyper-generic proposals. It’s not as hard to stand out as you might think.
Wow. I have to say, this job post really stuck out to me – I’m a great fit for this project.
I’m personally interested in this topic and am a regular consumer of these types of products. E-book design happens to be my forte.
I’m curious, what brought you to Upwork? I’d love to hear more about yourself and your role in the company.
4. Throw in a compliment
It may also be a good idea to throw in a compliment about the client, their work or their business. Think about how you feel when a client compliments your work. It immediately puts a little extra skip in your step and makes for a memorable engagement. Just make sure it’s genuine. People can always tell when you’re sucking up.
I love your company’s mission of achieving sustainability, it’s an important aspect of my life as well. I also love your branding – your tagline made me smile!
5. List your professional qualifications
After acknowledging details about the job post, displaying an interest in the work and complimenting the client you may begin briefly talking about what makes you a good fit for the job. Provide a list of your professional qualifications by answering one or more of the following questions:
- How many years of experience do you have?
- Do you have any degrees or certifications?
- Have you won any awards?
- Have you worked on a similar project?
- Do you have any past work from a similar niche that you could talk about?
- Have you been a part of any massively successful projects recently?
- Have you worked with any impressive clientele?
And don’t be afraid to name-drop.
I am a graphic design guru with almost 20 years experience. I’ve work with nationally recognized clientele on a daily basis including the Centers for Disease Control Foundation (CDCF), QuickBooks and Kimberly-Clark.
My freelance business has received national recognition including a Gold Digital Health Award for my work with the CDC and features in Business Insider.
6. Include a unique selling point (what makes you the best fit for the job)
Always include a selling point that is unique to you. If you can’t come up with one, try asking yourself the following questions:
- How do you provide value to your clients?
- What do you do better than most?
- How can you improve your client’s business?
- How can you make your client’s life easier?
I’ve worked in this niche before. One of my most recent campaigns was even featured on the Amazon’s bestseller list for three months.
I love to partner with my clients and make their products shine. I am also fast, efficient and able to offer rapid turnarounds.
7. Include a link to an off-site portfolio and/or your Upwork profile
In my opinion, having an off-site portfolio site, especially if you’re presenting yourself as a tech or design professional, is a must if you want to attract new clients. Far too often, Upwork freelancers rely solely on their Upwork profiles to represent their entire body of work and experience. Especially in creative fields, it’s not at all uncommon for a client to ask for more information or additional portfolio samples. This is why it’s a good idea to have that supplemental site or landing page ready to go.
In the past, I’ve recommended using your website as that portfolio. But I recently learned – and I am not sure when this policy was implemented – that Upwork’s Terms of Service now disallows using any external link to a page that includes an alternate method of contact. Alternate methods of contact include e-mail addresses and contact forms. So now, I recommend linking to a simple landing-page style portfolio that doesn’t include any alternative method of contact (other than a link back to your Upwork profile if you so choose). Also, consider including a link to your Upwork profile in your proposal letter. As silly as this might sound, on the client-side of the interface, multiple clicks are required to see a freelancer’s full bio, so many clients never bother. It doesn’t hurt to make it a bit easier on them.
I am attaching a multi-page portfolio to this proposal. You can view additional work samples at MorganOverholt.com/Upwork-Portfolio
8. Include relevant portfolio examples
Include as many relevant portfolio samples as possible. I keep folders of portfolio examples on my computer labeled by category for a quick and easy reference. If the job is about a logo, send logo examples. If the job is about real estate, send real estate examples. This advice sounds intuitive, but you’d be surprised how many people take the easy way out with generic, unrelated examples. If you don’t have any related examples, make some. Demonstrating that you are capable of successfully completing this type of job is a crucial step to winning the contract.
9. Ban passive phrases from your vocabulary
Don’t subconsciously undermine yourself by using the wrong words. Consider the following phrases officially banned: “I think”, “I feel”, “I believe”, and “I should be able to”. These phrases indicate a lack of confidence. Instead, use phrases like “I will” and “I am”. Put yourself in the client’s shoes. It can be scary hiring a stranger on the internet. Smart clients want to hire a professional who knows they can get the job done. They aren’t hiring you because you’re a charity case, so don’t act like one.
10. If you’re new to Upwork, tackle the elephant in the room.
Winning that first contract can be a difficult task, especially with that “$0 earned” text staring both you and your prospective clients in the face. But it doesn’t mean that it can’t be done. I personally hire Upwork newbies all the time. Their earnings, or lack thereof, don’t play a huge role in my decision on whether or not to hire them. But with that said, don’t be afraid to explain to your prospective clients that you’re new to the platform. During my first month on Upwork, I included the following line with every proposal I sent out:
While I’m new to Upwork, I am a veteran in the graphic design industry with almost 20 years of experience.
Just remember, it’s unlikely you’ll get the first job you apply for, but if you take the time to craft a carefully worded proposal and demonstrate your abilities as a professional, success is sure to follow.
11. End with a call to action, a question and your full name
No proposal is complete without an effective close. What do you want your client to do next? Reach out to you for more information? Contact you for details? Make the next steps crystal clear, and 90% of the time they will follow suit. I also usually like to include a question with my call to action. Make your question irresistible and there’s a good chance you’ll get a response. People love to talk about themselves, so make the question semi-personal if possible.
Finally – here’s my cheat for the “no website” rule I referenced earlier – sign off with your first and last name. Upwork hasn’t banned using your full name inside of a proposal (yet). It makes you more Googlable. And you can’t help it if a client has the foresight to check you out on LinkedIn.
Go ahead and shoot me a quick message here on Upwork so we can chat a bit more about yourself and the project. I’m also happy to answer any questions you might have about me and my services. I’ll be at my computer for the rest of the day.
PS: How did you guys come up with the title of the book? It’s quite clever.
Two sample Upwork proposals
Ready to see how it all comes together? Check out these examples below. For variety, I will include two variations. Both, in my experience, have proven to be effective.
I have to say, this job post really stuck out to me – I’m a perfect fit for this project. I’m a regular consumer of these types of products. And e-book design happens to be my forte.
A bit about me …
I’m a designer with nearly 20 years of professional experience. I’ve worked with nationally recognized clientele like the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), Yogi Tea and Kimberly-Clark.
I am also Upwork Expert Vetted – which means I am ranked among the top 1% of professionals in my field on this platform. I pride myself on my ability to offer rapid turnarounds and quality products to my clients. And I would like to do the same for you. I am attaching a multi-page portfolio to this proposal. You can view additional work samples on at MorganOverholt.com/Upwork-Portfolio.
Go ahead and shoot me a quick message here on Upwork so we can chat a bit more about yourself and the project. I’ll be at my computer for the rest of the day.
Thanks for the invite! Very nice to meet you. I’d love to help you out with that menu redesign. And yes – you remembered correctly. Vector format is exactly what you need for a large format print. I can also provide a fast turnaround. What’s our print deadline?
I’d also love to see your sketches and reference pictures. I can match any style you have in mind. I am also incredibly fast.
As you may have already read on my profile – I’m a designer with nearly 20 years of professional experience. I’ve worked with internationally recognized clientele like the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), Yogi Tea and Granier Bakery. I am also Upwork Expert Vetted – which means I am ranked among the top 1% of professionals in my field on this platform.
I am attaching a multi-page portfolio to this proposal. You can view additional work samples on my Upwork profile here: https://www.upwork.com/freelancers/~017103f1940969128f
Go ahead and shoot me a quick message here on Upwork so we can chat a bit more about yourself and the project.
What are your favorite Upwork proposal tips? Let me know in the comments. Also, don’t forget to connect with me on social media using the links below.
PS: If you’ve found any of the above advice helpful, and you feel so inclined – buy me a coffee (leave a tip) on Kofi!