If you’re a freelancer in today’s saturated market, low-fee platforms like Upwork and Fiverr can be critical to your success—and to your bank account. Yet many who make profiles, buy connects, and commit to the seemingly endless search for potential (reliable) clients can find it frustrating to actually get a response to their project proposals. To help, I’ve come up with a simple guide to writing an Upwork proposal that converts almost every time.
Top 3 Complaints I Hear from Converted Clients
I’ve been working with clients as a freelance content writer and manager for almost a decade, and for about three years through Upwork. I’ve garnered about $10K per year through the platform to supplement my existing client network and income, and meet tons of clients who prefer to work off-platform in the future. Of course, Upwork asks us never to work with Upwork clients off-platform, but it is sometimes inevitable as contact information is shared and trust is built.
Importantly, I have grown since then to develop an almost 2:1 ratio for successful Upwork conversions (proposal responses). Being on the other side - in the client's inbox - I can tell you with all honesty that clients are pretty cavalier about what they like and don't like when they receive different project proposals.
Here are just three complaints I have heard this year from clients who went on to offer me freelance contract work through Upwork.
“Applicants just send along copy and pasted proposals.”
Never, and I mean never copy and paste a full proposal and just hit send. Prospective clients may not see your other proposals, but they can smell when a proposal hasn’t been tailored to respond to their posting (at least a little).
How to avoid this mistake: In addition to a proposal template, keep a working document which has descriptions of previous projects you’ve worked on, positions or roles you’ve held, or accreditations you’ve received. That way, if you must copy and paste, you can at least piece an application together that is more relevant to the posting at hand. And always try to include at least one keyword from the job posting in your proposal!
“I can tell when applicants don’t read the assignment all the way through.”
Often, potential clients will hide a small instruction at the bottom of their posting to weed through applicants who aren’t taking the time to read the whole post. Usually it will involve an 'ask', i.e. that you to type a special word at the beginning of your proposal. Be sure to watch out for that wherever possible.
How to avoid this mistake: Basically, it’s a waste of everyone’s time to apply for a position without reading the job post in full. That means going through the whole posting, the extra questions they ask, and even checking the indicators they’ve checked off which appear below the post for added details on the position BEFORE you start to create the proposal.
“Some applicants don’t have “public” work that I can view.”
Listen, I know that a lot of clients prefer us to work behind closed doors. With NDAs, non-competes, and a bunch of other potential conflicts of interest on the line, it is understandable that you as a freelancer won’t be ‘free’ to share all your work with potential clients.
Still, you should never leave a client without an external link to view some more about you and your work—and I’m not just talking about your Upwork profile.
There are many easy-to-build web platform and social media options to choose from when it comes to advertising your work, skills, or services – whether that be LinkedIn, Behance, or another digital-type portfolio. You can add extra descriptions (and even photo evidence) of your previous work, which will go a long way with potential clients when you can’t share that work directly.
How to avoid this mistake: You’ll have many options here, but my favourite is to publish a short how-to article on an area of your business you feel confident about (LinkedIn and Medium let you publish articles for free). Sharing that article with potential clients will greatly supplement your ability to showcase your skills, and will show you are ready to take on the advertised long- or short-term role.
Next, let’s look some more ways you can set your proposal up for success before you click the ‘submit proposal’ button.
6 Ways to Set Your Proposal ‘Up’ for Success BEFORE You Apply
When I had the pleasure of working for a fast-growing app development company (based out of LA), I became a sales lead generator through Upwork. With guidance from the founder and lead communications manager/developer, I quickly learned that there are a few ways to weed out potentially bad or less viable projects before you begin writing an Upwork proposal.
1. Check the client’s budget or proposed hourly rate. It’s always important to have at least a rough idea of your rates per project/ per hour when you’re searching through postings. That way, if a title grabs your attention, you can quickly look to the rate and dismiss it without looking further if it’s not up to snuff with your bracket. (You can also set search parameters and save them to skip this step!).
2. Check when the client posted the project, and when they last checked the posting. Always try to catch postings as soon as they’re posted, and avoid postings that are more than a few days old. The sooner you get to the posting, the higher chance you have of getting a response. It’s also great to check when the client last looked at the posting – if it’s been only a few minutes since they last checked, it might be a great time to whip up a response.
3. Check how many proposals have been submitted so far, and how many interviewees are currently being reviewed. If you notice that a project has had 20 to 50 proposals submitted…it might not be worth the time. I usually only apply to saturated projects if there are still no interviewees AND when the poster has visited the posting within the last few hours. I’ll also apply if I feel extra confident in my ability to take on the proposed project.
4. Make sure they have a verified payment method. I would say to skip over projects which do not have a verified payment method entirely. Not only will this save time in the end, but I have found that projects without a verified payment are newer to Upwork. This means more time coaching the client on how to hire you, which means less return on your overall investment.
5. Look at their average pay rate and compare it to previous projects. If you see that they’re offering a great rate, but then notice that they’ve paid previous clients much less for similar work, it’s time to reconsider whether you want to spend time applying to a position that may end up low-balling you once you apply.
6. Look at prior reviews from freelancers. This can be a great way to pick up some qualitative information about the client who is looking for help. Often, you’ll see positive reviews, and even reviews from the client themselves, while other times you’ll see insider information about how previous client engagements have gone through the platform. If you see any red flags, get out of there!
What Do I Need to Start Writing a Great Upwork Proposal?
The honest truth? Not much!
Once I’ve gone ahead and selected a post that I think has a great chance of converting, I’ll begin writing the Upwork proposal from scratch. Here are FOUR things I need to get started on writing a great Upwork proposal:
1. Internet browser tab open to Upwork job posting
2. About 15 to 30 minutes (you may need more time when you are just starting out)
3. A blank, separate Word or Google Doc
4. External links to relevant projects, portfolios, case studies, or social media
Once I’ve gathered everything I need, I will first copy the job/posting description from Upwork and paste it to my blank Word or Google Doc.
Because Upwork can be a finicky fiend when it comes to proposals. I don’t know how many times I’ve gone to attach a project sample or submit, only to lose my whole proposal draft! That’s why I like to build my proposal in a blank, saveable space before I copy it to the ‘submit proposal’ page. It also helps for when you find a similar project in the future; you can copy and paste that project proposal and change the details to save time.
Now, you may be reading this section waiting for a framework or template on what your proposal should look like, or a breakdown of where you should include each piece of information about your skills. And while I’ve included some sample proposals that you can build from below, I want to emphasize my greatest belief about Upwork proposals: there is no ‘template that works every time’.
The only ‘template’ that always works? Being flexible, and consistently improving your ability to write about yourself (and sell yourself) quickly and efficiently.
How to Write an Upwork Proposal | 6 Steps to Writing an Upwork Proposal that Actually Converts
Like I said, there is no real template or formula that’ll guarantee a response, but there are a few boxes you can tick off every time you send a proposal to give your application the best chance for review.
WRITING HINT: Even I can get carried away with lengthy proposals, but I would say the best rule of thumb is to measure your response against the amount of time/text the poster put into writing about the project in the first place. Matching your proposal word count to the poster’s can save you a lot of time while writing.
Here are the six steps I take every time I begin a sales proposal, through Upwork or otherwise:
1. Gather related project information from your portfolio
Take a quick mental scan and come up with one or two projects that are closely related to the project being proposed. If you already have project descriptions, links, or case studies to add, copy and paste these to your new, blank document. If not, write down a few words to describe each project, which you can then incorporate later during writing.
2. Include an efficient, descriptive greeting
Keep greetings simple while still making sure they tell a little bit about yourself. For instance, if I notice a client is geographically near another client I serve (or have served), I’ll start with something like,
Hello, and great to connect with another client from Germany!
If a poster is located near me I’ll start with,
Afternoon, and nice to meet a fellow Canadian through Upwork.
You might also want to try connecting via the topic or service relayed in the proposed project. For instance, a computer scientist looking to freelance with a machine learning firm might start with,
Morning, and so great to come across such an interesting project in the machine learning space.
As you can see, in all cases these greetings give the poster some immediate information about you – where you’ve served clients before, where you’re located, or what type of work you are eager to complete. In my experience, this is a sure-fire way to get potential clients to at least open your proposal and keep reading.
REMEMBER: If the poster said to leave a specific greeting or word at the top of your application, put that before anything else in your application.
3. Confirm your ability to take on the proposed project
After a greeting and a short word of introduction, I usually like to confirm that I can take on the general scope of the client’s project requirements. This is a sure-fire way to tailor even a templated or pasted proposal—simply add a note or two which speaks to your confidence and motivation per the outlined project.
Here’s an example.
Say a virtual assistant wants to create a proposal to apply for a remote executive assistant position. The position is with an online education platform, who is looking for someone with experience in student-facing service positions. The applicant could then, for instance, begin the next lines of their proposal as follows:
My name is ___, and with a history of organizational expertise in the academic sector, I am always motivated by projects that commit to student success and self-improvement.
In one sentence, the applicant managed to introduce themselves, inspire confidence, as well as show they read the posting and haven’t just copied and pasted a templated response.
That’s also why Upwork proposals don’t always have to be that long. Once you get into the habit of proposal writing (and once you begin to understand which proposals have been the most successful converters for you), you’ll get better and better at squeezing a ton of important information into just a few words.
4. Respond directly to all project requirements
This portion is going to be the real ‘meat’ of your project proposal. This is where you will go through the copied version of the post, and then reference in your own proposal/application HOW you have proven your capacity for each of those skills in the past.
Depending on the project proposal, and the amount of work you have to share with potential clients, you may want to include links to case studies, client reviews and testimonials, or other online content or profiles that may be of interest. If you do so, be sure to include a line or two about HOW those projects relate to the proposed task at hand.
When I don’t have as much specifically relevant work to provide, or if I am on mobile and responding to a posting, instead what I’ll do is not only reference the specifics of the posting, but I will tell them that’s what I'm doing as I'm doing it.
Let’s use a real-life example from a recent project proposal I wrote, which has resulted in a successful conversion and long-term service sale.
FullPriceOffers.com posted this call for work through Upwork:
I'm launching a new business and need someone to take the reins to build out some content.
-Have enough content on the page to make it not look empty for running promotions for likes/follows
-Schedule / recycle over time as most of the content will be evergreen.
-We'll be running ads for lead generation in the next week.
1) G doc with ideas, some content articles on the website
2) Very nice looking Canva templates that are editable
3) A list of post ideas and copy from a 3rd party service provider
I'll give you access to all the above and your job will be to create drafts for me to review and approve for scheduling using the content calendar feature. Then we will work on scheduling recycling of the content to keep the page active.
The business is in the real estate market in the US similar to Opendoor.com
Here is a section of my submitted proposal where I broke down the specific ways in which I would tackle the more challenging aspects of the project. As you will see, I tried my best to repeat words from the post in this proposal, and to respond to each line of text in turn:
“To touch a bit more on the specifics of your posting (noting that I will leave links to my portfolio and LinkedIn below my signature), I want to mention that I can certainly create an active presence on Facebook that keeps the page active, while also scheduling recycled and up-cycled content assets to keep products evergreen. I would be happy to work within your current structure of the Google Document, the website content, the Canva templates you have on-hand (I use Canva extensively myself), as well as the copy provided by the third-party source to create new and engaging content that doesn't seem repetitive. I can also create several draft samples per scheduled post where necessary for your review, and have a basic understanding of most scheduling programs to help with social media management.”
Altogether this paragraph accounts for less than 150 words. Its brevity is supported by the fact that I do have external links to add, which don’t require me to go in-depth during the initial proposal.
Therefore, I suggest creating case studies (like this one or this one) that fully describe past projects you’ve completed. You only have to write them once, and it leaves you free to bring up the most important points in the written proposal, and stay on track with writing.
PS: If there is something listed in the proposal that you are not as familiar with, be upfront. With the above project, I mentioned that I was not a schooled content strategist, but a content manager and creator. After insisting that my honesty was a good sign, and exploring my experience a little more, the client decided they trusted my skills to govern some of the content strategy as their business scaled online!
5. Close out the proposal with a call to action
When you move to close out a proposal, it’s important to include a call to action that makes sense for the project. If a client has asked to get on a call, mention you’re available for one anytime. If a potential poster has said they want freelancers to complete a test project prior to hiring, mention that you are open to that as well.
Whatever the case, be sure to hint that you are ready to chat more about the project—a conversation will be the next step after all. I like to say something along the lines of:
“As you can see, I’m keen to get started right away and am available for questions anytime. I look forward to hearing from you, and wish you all the best in your search until then.”
More often, I’ll try to personalize the end of my proposal as much as possible. I do this by adding a more casual tone that reminds the reader I am as human as they are. This can be critical for potential clients who are used to seeing applications that look written by a computer, and not a person.
Here’s a brief example of how you could add a personal touch to the greeting above, while still including the call to action:
“As you can likely tell from my enthusiasm, I’m eager to jump in and get started right away with this project! I look forward to chatting with you more about how I can exceed your expectations with this engagement, and am available for questions anytime. I look forward to hearing from you, and to discussing more about how I can take care of this project and your team into the future.”
6. Review the post
Once you’ve completed the closer, it’s time to add your signature, any other links you think are worthwhile. Then, review what you’ve written! I like to get up and walk around the desk before I review, just to take my eyes away for a moment. When I come back, I’m ready to proofread for mistakes, change any last-minute wording, and call the proposal “complete”.
Once saved, I paste the proposal copy into Upwork’s required submission fields. If there are other questions that need to be answered, I’ll repeat the process, responding on the blank document and copying and pasting from there.
Then, I’ll go ahead and review everything once more, including milestones, proposed rates, the post itself, and my proposal/attachments/links to ensure I haven’t missed anything major. If everything’s set, I take a deep breath, and press send!
Time to Get Writing, and Start Getting Hired on Upwork!
It may seem like a gruelling process, but believe me, the returns and potential to gain long-term clients through initial project engagements on Upwork are worth it! It’s also a great way to continue to improve your sales skills as you begin selling yourself in an increasingly digital marketplace.
Better yet, these proposals actually have a MAJOR benefit in terms of other content you can post and provide to future clients—and I’m not talking about the proposals you plan to write for others. Sometimes you’ll write a proposal, and a phrase or project description will come out just right. In other words, these proposals can act as pages and pages of potential marketing copy and content at the ready.
Still, before I close I’ll leave you with a few more examples of successful Upwork proposals I’ve written. Feel free to copy and paste these, and to practice writing your own with them as a model during your next application process.
3 Upwork Proposal Examples to Help You Improve
As promised, here are three Upwork proposal samples I wrote that resulted in a hire, and the successful completion of a long or short-term project.
Good evening from out west!
My name is Jessica Barratt, and as a freelance content writer who continues to work as a copy-editor for a machine learning company out of LA (on the recommendation of a previous writing position with a mobile app company called TopFlight Apps in LA), I would be happy to take on the copy-writing of five web pages from your provided source material, as well as several drafts of copy for two social ads.
To be sure, I already serve one client out of Toronto (Bond Consulting), where I am a technical copywriter and proofreader for SR&ED research tax claims, so I don't anticipate any issues coordinating time zones on this project -- which I believe I can deliver very quickly for your convenience. If you were curious to learn about a few more of the clients I serve as a freelance writer (under the business title MCS), you're welcome to check out my work portfolio at the link below. I'll also include two links to articles I've written (where I own the byline) in the machine learning space to give you a sense of my technical aptitude for any future copywriting or writing that comes up:
Before closing, I also wanted to mention that I have a personal interest in machine learning and computer science in general! For instance, when I saw that Helsinki University offers an accredited online course in machine learning and AI algorithms (for free), I jumped right on board. You can see that certification (and more) on my LinkedIn profile, here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jessica-barratt-5a329925/
So yes! I do hope this proposal has piqued your interest. I believe I have what it takes to write emotionally driven and compelling copy (doubly supported by creative fiction publications that pull at the heart strings, which I am happy to share) that fully articulates the machine learning concepts you're trying to portray -- and more likely, how those concepts relate to your business!
With that said I can be available for questions at your earliest convenience, and look forward to hearing from you in the near future!
Until then, I wish you all the best in your search,
Great to meet a client in need of an eBook writer!
My name is Jessica Barratt and having just completed the first of what I hope are many successful eBook writing engagements to come, I am confident I have what it takes to quickly turn around a successful (and easy-to-read) eBook of about 20 to 30 pages from your provided educational material.
To be sure, I'm a long-time writer with a passion for the art -- so much so that I started my own business almost ten years ago to serve others with my writing talents. Since then I have been able to write various long-form articles, reports, manuscripts and other documents for clients across the globe, including (as I mentioned) the research, design, writing, editing, proofing AND formatting of a 22K-word eBook in the content creation space. The book is now available at Amazon; you are welcome to visit my little case study on that project here:
As you can see from the portfolio links below my signature as well, I have a long-standing talent for creative, emotion-dr