I get a lot of questions about Upwork and about freelancing in general. By the way, save yourself some hassle and don’t call yourself a freelancer. Just call yourself self-employed or a business owner. You’ll save yourself a lot of frustration by doing that. People hear the word “freelancer” and they translate it to “unemployed.” Anyway, the most common question I’m asked is: how can I write an Upwork proposal that clients can’t turn down? (By the way, you can listen to this on YouTube or on Spreaker; while you’re there, make sure and subscribe, would you? And share with your friends). 

It’s a valid question. Clients have a lot of choices when it comes to choosing someone to complete their project. Some are more willing than others to take a chance on a new freelancer. So, before we talk about drafting a great proposal, let’s talk about what you need to do to screen potential clients. Yes, I said screen potential clients. Even if you don’t have any clients yet, it’s important that you know how to determine if you and the client are potentially a good fit. The last thing you want in life is to work with someone who is unresponsive, combative, or flat out abusive. It can and does happen – even on Upwork.

How to Screen Potential Clients (Yes, Really)

Before I tell you what I do to screen clients, let me tell you what I’m doing. I’m not necessarily making my decision based on the client being new to the platform. I will work with new clients sometimes even if they don’t have feedback, but only if I have a good conversation first and I get enough information to verify who they are…and only if they have a verified payment method. That’s important because I need to make sure I get paid…just like you have to make sure that you get paid. For all potential clients, I look at:

  • The details of the job (but I’ll explain more about that in a minute and why it’s important)
  • If there’s a deadline listed. If so, I need to determine if I can meet that deadline. Deadlines are important.
  • The client’s overall feedback score.
  • The feedback left for the client. I’m looking to determine if the client is unresponsive or otherwise hard to work with. I won’t work with people that I think could be a pain in the ass. Since it’s easy for people to put their best face forward in messages, it’s important to look at their previous projects and how those went.
  • If there’s a preferred location for a freelancer.
  • The average rate the client paid in the past. This isn’t necessarily a deal breaker, but it can tell me whether they’re likely to consider my proposal or if they’re likely going to hire someone in an area where the cost of living is lower.
  • The number of applicants. If there is one opening and 75+ applicants, I’m probably not going to waste my time unless I really really want to work on it.
  • The date the client last accessed the job. If the last time the client logged in was 2 weeks ago, things have changed – their priorities changed. It’s a red flag because what stops them from dropping off the radar during their project?
  • How many people were invited and how many are being interviewed. If two people were invited or one or two are interviewing, it’s likely the job was created just for those invitees. So, I’m not going to waste my credits.

Let’s Talk about the Details of the Job

Before you write the proposal, it is imperative that you read and understand the job details. You will refer to those details when you write your proposal. Read it carefully. Read it more than once. You need to make sure that it lines up with what you expect out of the project and matches up with the budget. It’s not always going to match up with the budget. A lot of times, a client may not really know what sort of budget to set. So, they might set something really low and not address it in the job description. That’s okay. Don’t let that scare you off. If it says “expert level” and has a decent budget but the job description says $2.00 for 1,000 words, that’s a problem for most writers (and other freelancers). You’ll also want to look for key phrases or words the client wants you to use in your proposal. Make sure that you use them. It helps the client know who bothered to read the entire job.

While you’re reading, come up with at least one question to ask. Even if you don’t have a single question, think of something. The question is an integral part of constructing a great proposal. Also think about exactly how you can help. How can your experience or knowledge directly benefit the client IF they choose you?

Writing a Great Upwork Proposal

So, now that you’ve decided to submit a proposal, let’s talk about what makes a great proposal. First, a great proposal is not copied and pasted. While it’s okay to have one or two basic proposal letters that you can pull from, if they’re not customized to the job, the client will know. They will know and they will ignore you.

If you’ve been invited to apply, your proposal will look different than a standard proposal. I want to talk about the proposal for an invitation because they’re usually shorter. Recently, I was invited to apply for a job for SEO refinement. The client mentioned the content they had was graded as a B- and listed the sort of site it was. In their invitation, they used their first and last name.

  • My replies to invitations I accept always starts with “Hello first name” or “Hi first name.”
  • I thank them for the invitation to interview.
  • I tell them that I’m excited to learn more about their project.
  • If I have actual questions, I put them next. For this particular job, I asked if they used ClearScope because of the grade.
  • I ask if they had a deadline for the project.
  • I mentioned that my husband and I use a similar app to what they needed help with.
  • Generally, I’ll go further and talk about previous experience on similar jobs.
  • I always tell them that I look forward to hearing back soon.
  • My sign off is “Best, Robin.”

Simple. So, what happened to that particular job? The client closed it and never hired anyone. He messaged me about a week after posting it and not replying saying they decided to do something else. Then he closed it. Whatever. It happens. Invitations are great because they cost any credits.

So, for proposals on jobs that you’re not invited to, you’re going to use a bit of a different approach.

  • Always start with a professional greeting. Sometimes, I’ll just write “Good morning” or “Good afternoon.”
  • I introduce myself, “My name is Robin Bull. I’m a top rated full time writer and editor here on Upwork. I’d love to know more about your project.”
  • Then I ask my questions: How often do you need blog posts? Do you generally provide keywords or topics? On average, how many words per post?
  • I explain why I’m asking so many questions (if I ask more than one or two). “I ask a lot of questions because I want to make sure that you get exactly what you want.”
  • I go into my education and experience (if it makes sense and only if it makes sense): “I hold a BS in Paralegal Studies. I worked in insurance defense, bankruptcy (creditor side), family law, and real estate law. I also taught and managed an Associate’s degree level Paralegal Studies course for X in OKC. I taught tort law, civil law, criminal law, LRW I and II, advanced communications, family law, trial prep, logic, intro to law (which placed heavy focus on the history of American law), and several other legal classes. I also managed their internship program. I’ve also managed a satellite law library (when I worked with X Law School in Oklahoma City). I also have extensive career services experience having worked with both X Law School and State University (not the law school, the “regular” college).

    I’ve written for several civil and criminal firms in the US…and one Irish law firm (that one kinda came out of nowhere – ha!). One of my more notable clients is X. I continue to write for them monthly. I also write for X in Dallas (I’m in OKC so it works out nicely!). I’ve written site content for a Durham County (NC) criminal defense firm, several PI firms, and family law firms. I’m also published by Lawyerist.com. Finally, I’ve ghostwritten (for attorneys / law offices) several books, articles, and Quora answers related to law. I’d be happy to send you samples of my work not covered under an NDA. :)”

  • I close with how I look forward to hearing from them.

As you can see from that, I’m going straight to the heart of the matter. This particular client wanted a blogger for personal injury posts. So, I wanted them to know about my direct experience. I went on to say that I provide both an affordable flat rate per post as well as an hourly rate. I closed with how I look forward to hearing form the client soon.

And yes, I got that job.

Here’s what I didn’t do:

  • I did not go out of my way to overwhelm the client with information. It might seem like I did if you don’t have any legal experience, but the name dropping served a purpose: the client could go and find my work. Because it was a law firm, I knew that my paralegal experience would make them happy since I know what actually happens in a law office. Remember, I said that I go into my background and education IF and ONLY IF it is relevant. It’s okay to cherry pick.
  • I did not beg for the job or ask for the job. I just said hey I’d like your consideration, here are some basic questions, here’s why I want to know (so they get what they want!), here’s my experience that would definitely be beneficial to you, I mentioned I have work under an NDA (so the client knows I’m not adverse to signing one that is reasonable in scope), and I told them I looked forward to hearing back. Do not bombard the client with demands to hire you or beg them to hire you. Desperation won’t get you hired by a good client, but it might make you a sitting duck for someone who wants to take advantage of you.
  • I did not just copy and paste something I previously wrote. I read the job details and I replied accordingly.

Why Is It Important to Ask a Question?

So, why is it important to ask at least one question? Well, I want to give the client a reason to respond to me. Most people won’t ignore a genuine or well posed question about their project. People love to talk about their needs. The question is a way to engage the client.

Should You Follow-Up?

It’s standard behavior to follow-up after you’ve applied and even interviewed for a traditional job. Should you follow-up a proposal? Sure, you can. However, just like with a traditional job, don’t make a nuisance of yourself. Wait a few days after you’ve sent your proposal before you message them about it. Be professional and short in your response. A simple, “Hi, I just thought I’d reach out to you and see where you are in your decision making process. Is there anything you need from me?” That’s it – simple.

So that’s pretty much it. Make sure you read the job description thoroughly to prepare your proposal. Address the client and their needs directly. Showcase your experience and education. Ask some questions. Don’t beg. Don’t annoy.

Now to answer one more important question…

What Do You Do If You Don’t Have Any Actual Experience?

What do you do if you don’t have any actual experience? Everyone has to start somewhere. It can be hard to get the first job or two under your belt. And those jobs needs to go really, really well so that you get either recurring work or great feedback. When I started freelancing on Upwork, I was teaching college. So, I wasn’t previously published anywhere. I started a HubPages account and started creating content. I did my best to make it as professional as possible to show off my capabilities. I wrote one or two evergreen blog posts and would use that as a sample, too.

As I started to land work, I’d make note of where the blogs were posted and share those as long as I wasn’t under an NDA. I also created a few samples of my own on basic legal concepts and kept them out in DropBox. I also made it a point to update the portfolio section on Upwork and on LinkedIn. I don’t really update the Upwork portfolio much anymore (I probably should – lol). I have over 2,000 hours logged and a ton of feedback. So, potential clients can get a feel for who I am and what I do. But, before they could do that, I made sure to make it easy on them to learn about me. You can learn more about portfolios in my 20 minute webinar hosted on sellfy.com.

Like what you read / heard from the podcast? Do me a favor and:

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