Upwork Proposals: 8 Golden Rules from a $2M Freelancer

95% of freelancers get their Upwork proposals INSTANTLY archived. I’m going to show you the 8 hilarious things they are doing WRONG so you can be in the 5% that land the big jobs.

I earned over $1,000,000 in my first 3 years on Upwork and I want to help you do the same.

3-year Upwork anniversary earnings message for a million-dollar Upwork freelancer, which reads: "In the 3 years you've been working on Upwork, you've worked with 222 clients, completed 265 projects and earned $1,129,396."
My Upwork earnings anniversary email from 2020.

Full disclosure: I’m not a sales copywriter, I haven’t read all the books. All I know is what consistently worked for me in attracting awesome Upwork clients who are tons of fun to work with and who pay top dollar. Winning jobs on Upwork starts with a high-converting cover letter.

YouTube video
This made such an impact that I made a YouTube video about Upwork Proposals

Your goal: Win jobs with great Upwork clients that pay lots of money.

My goal: Show you how to do that with a simple, repeatable process.

The 8 things to avoid in your Upwork proposals

To win high-paying jobs with your Upwork proposals, first you need to know what the vast majority of Upwork freelancers are doing horribly wrong in their cover letters (do NOT do these things!):

“Dear sir / madam”

I cannot believe that recruiters once advised job candidates to open their cover letters this way. It is the most impersonal method of writing an Upwork proposal – and in most cases, it either signifies a) You’re new to Upwork, b) you’re unimaginative, or c) you’ve copy-pasted a template cover letter.

According to our research, over 65% of freelancers copy-paste their Upwork proposals. Don’t copy-paste.

Portrait of an Upwork freelancer who was shocked to learn that over 60% of Upwork proposals are copy-pasted.
Copy-pasted Upwork proposal templates get deleted.

“I fully understand your requirements…”

In 99.9%+ of Upwork job posts, there’s at least 1 open point that would help a freelancer do a better job by asking the client questions about the role. Without having spoken with the client, you can’t claim to understand everything they need.

And even if you do think you understand a job’s scope in its entirety, then your next step better be to think of an interesting question that would help you deliver even more value to this client.

“I might not have much professional experience, but…”

Why would a freelancer point to a lack of experience? Doing so is tantamount to asking for your Upwork proposal to be immediately archived.

Instead of showing that you’re new to this, talk instead about the experience that you do have.

Photo of an Upwork client who has just read an Upwork proposal where the freelancer mentioned that they do not have relevant professional experience for that client's freelance job.
If you focus on the experience that you don’t have, then so will potential Upwork clients – and instead they’ll choose a to pursue an Upwork proposal from a freelancer who does have the experience you lack.

“I promise that I will…”

You don’t know this client, and they don’t know you. So why on earth would you make promises before you’ve even met or discussed the Upwork freelance job?

There’s a time and a place for promises. Promises should start when you press the “Accept Upwork Contract” button.

Screenshot from freelance platform Upwork following the best Upwork proposal, where the freelancer has received an Upwork job offer and is about to press the Accept Offer button shown.
The time to make promises is when you press the Accept Offer button on Upwork. At that point, freelancers make a promise to do the job they’ve agreed to.

“Please consider my proposal…”

This is needy.

If your proposal did a good job of convincing the client to work with you, you wouldn’t need to say “please.” Just write a better proposal. Here’s a video that will show you how to do that, step by step.

“You asked for 2 relevant work examples, I actually attached 4!”

When an Upwork client asks you to include something specific in your Upwork proposal, such as two work examples…

…don’t make the mistake of intentionally disobeying their instructions by attaching 4 work examples. Otherwise you’re just showing them: “Hey, Mr. / Mrs. Upwork Client – I don’t listen!”

“I have already done a draft of your job”

Great initiative, but this shows potential Upwork clients a couple of things: 1) you’re needy, 2) you don’t value your time or effort, and 3) you’re the kind of person who will run ahead and do a bunch of work without listening to the full instructions first. None of those are attractive qualities in a freelancer.

Alternatively, you attached a template you filled in to your Upwork proposal. That’s even worse, since good Upwork clients expect quality work – not filled-in templates. Remember, Upwork is not Fiverr.

Performing free work is also against Upwork’s Terms of Service.

“Here are my questions about your job”

In most cases, it’s better to save the questions for your intro call with a potential client than to include them in your Upwork proposal.

It’s probably best to avoid using this tactic unless you have included a limited number of extremely specific questions that demonstrate your highly advanced knowledge and / or that are carefully crafted to elicit a targeted response (this is a very advanced technique we talk about in the Pro Group).

If you’ve been making any of those mistakes in your Upwork proposals, you should pay close attention to what comes next:

The Golden Rules that get 3x Upwork proposal responses

There are some strategies you can use to win

1. Use this template to write an awesome beginner Upwork proposal

YouTube video
If you’re a beginner, here’s where you’ll find a walkthrough of your first Upwork proposal.

2. Use the client’s first name – and business if you can find it

When you’re reviewing an Upwork job post and considering sending a proposal, you might notice that a previous freelancer used the client’s name in the feedback history.

Starting your Upwork proposal with the client’s name can signal that you’ve done your research, and you’ve put in a bit of extra effort, which can be an incredibly valuable signal that improves your chances of getting hired. Just make sure that the rest of your proposal is also highly relevant and personalized too!

3. Personalize even further by researching the business

You can take your personalization strategy even further if you’re able to find the client’s business name in the Upwork feedback history. It won’t appear everywhere, but if you have the information, Google the business to find out what they do – that may help you do a better job personalizing the cover letter.

The more targeted, the better. But don’t try to contact clients outside the Upwork platform, since that would a clear violation of Upwork’s Terms of Service. Keep it on Upwork.

3. Make industry experience your game-changer

I’ve been doing this for years and have won projects totaling over $2,000,000 at this point… and I can honestly say that I still cannot understand why this is so powerful, but here’s the gist of it:

On average, Upwork clients tend to place an extremely high value on someone that understands their industry, and can speak fluently about their particular business. Being able to talk about a client’s specific desires, concerns, and needs can be an incredibly powerful tool in Upwork proposals.

You can find clues about the client’s industry from the past jobs they’ve hired for, and within other Upwork freelancers’ feedback they’ve left for that client. If you’ve worked with other clients in that industry, mention that you have!

Bear in mind that there’s a right way and a wrong way to do this. For example, if you were to mention that you’ve worked with that client’s competitor, the client might actually trust you less out of fear that you maintain allegiances and might share trade secrets.

To incorporate your industry experience properly, check out this step-by-step Upwork proposal walkthrough:

YouTube video

4. Demonstrate authority with your best review snippets

Use your reviews to show that you’ve done this before, and you’ve solved these problems in the past. The best Uwpwork reviews are short (a single phrase or sentence), and include things like:

  • Big client results
  • Clear key performance indicator improvement (KPI)
  • Client quotes with superlatives (e.g. “this was the best freelancer I ever worked with”)
  • Quotes from Upwork clients at notable companies

There’s more information about reviews in our Upwork beginners’ guide.

5. Keep it short & sweet

Surprise – the highest-paying clients don’t have time to read long messages!

Your Upwork proposal should only be as long as it needs to be. Resist the urge to include fluff in your Upwork proposals, and cut out as much “extra stuff” as you can.

Never use 10 words when 4 will do.

6. Don’t assume – give a clear call-to-action (CTA)

After reading your Upwork proposal, there should be only one thing a potential client has to do. In most cases, the logical next step would be to book a call with you.

The faster you can get a potential Upwork client on a call, the more likely you are to win the job. Make it crystal clear in your Upwork proposal that the next step toward working together is to book a call with you, instead of giving multiple “things” that client can / should do (or even worse, assuming that the client knows what to do next).

7. The P.S. plays

Research shows that when opening a proposal, 79% of people will read the post-script of a message before they read anything else – and this tends to hold true on Upwork.

On popular jobs, clients can receive more than 100 Upwork proposals from freelancers wanting to work with them. It is a tremendous job for an Upwork client even to just make a first-pass to eliminate freelancers who are clearly not a fit.

Screenshot from Upwork client's dashboard of an Upwork job post that received 149 Upwork proposals, with 3 Upwork freelancers shortlisted.
Some jobs can have extremely high interest. This job had 149 Upwork proposals. The client read fewer than half. The best proposals were highly personalized, and used all these elements to ensure maximum relevance for the Upwork client.

Most Upwork clients skim through proposals, and will not even click links to work examples, but there’s a strong likelihood they will read the P.S. on the bottom of an Upwork cover letter. Make your Upwork proposal’s postscript a powerful, punchy closing, and it’ll do more heavy lifting for you in winning Upwork jobs than you might think.

8. #1 thing that no one else will tell you

So you think you’re ready to go? Hold on a second.

The #1 thing you have to do: read Upwork’s Terms of Service from start to finish.

This is NOT optional. Every single freelancer who’s made over a million knows Upwork’s Terms of Service like the back of their hand. The better you know the ToS, the more money you’ll make freelancing on Upwork.

Not knowing the Terms of Service is like not reading an employment contract for $10,000… You show up on Monday, work hard all week, then on Friday you ask to be paid…and the CEO’s response is, “thanks for the work, I’ll take that, but we didn’t approve you to do that, so we’re not going to be paying you”.

If you don’t know exactly how that kind of situation could happen on Upwork, then you want to check out this step-by-step guide immediately.

Evan Fisher

Evan is an entrepreneur, content creator, finance expert and founder of Freelance MVP. At one point, Evan was the highest-earning freelancer worldwide on Upwork by annual earnings, and his collective freelance earnings total over $2,000,000.

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