Why Indy
Free Resources
indy university
Start for free

How to Write a Winning Upwork Proposal?

Jun 16, 2021
(updated: Mar 27, 2023)
Lesson duration: 5 min

Upwork is a booming freelancing marketplace connecting freelancers (remote job seekers) with clients (remote employers). Over 12 million freelancers are on Upwork, and three million jobs are posted on the platform daily. This makes the competition fierce and getting a job as a new freelancer challenging.

Writing a winning Upwork proposal can give you a competitive edge and increase your chances of getting a job. Let's discuss the importance of writing an amazing proposal, along with top proposal tips to get more jobs on Upwork to grow your freelance business.

Why Upwork could boost your freelance success

What Is an Upwork Proposal?

An Upwork proposal is like a business proposal or cover letter. This is where you highlight your key offerings and how you make this a successful project. An Upwork proposal should be short and concise and explain why an Upwork client should choose you over others.

Some job posts will require applicants to answer a series of specific questions instead of requiring full cover letters. Answer these questions first before writing your proposal to avoid unnecessary duplicate information.

Why Are Upwork Proposals Important?

With the number of freelancers on Upwork constantly increasing, getting yourself noticed has become more difficult than ever. Each job posting gets multiple bids, and a client will need to choose among dozens of freelancers offering the same services. How can a client differentiate them?

Here is where Upwork proposals come into the picture. Each freelancer can write a proposal and stand out from the rest of the freelancers bidding on the job posting. The key to landing projects on Upwork is to stand out and get noticed, which will only happen if you write winning proposals.

This is how you can land your first gig on Upwork and land jobs in the future:

Answer These Questions with Your Proposal

Keys to upwork proposal success

We'll talk about how to write convincing Upwork proposals in a minute. But first, you need to ensure that it answers the following questions.

Can You Do the Project?

The biggest question a client will have is if a candidate can do the job. If you're unsure about your ability to solve their problem and meet the client's goals, save everyone some time and move on to another job.

Every client is different and has unique project requirements. For example, all "web development" projects may seem similar in the feed, but each client’s project is unique. It is essential to understand the client's exact requirements and determine if you can fulfill them.

If you can do the project, mention in your proposal the skills and experience you have that make you capable of doing the project.

writing a winning upwork proposal

Will You Make Your Client's Life Easier?

You need to understand why businesses hire freelancers. In most cases, they want to take the load off of their in-house teams. For instance, if a company is looking for an article writer, it's probably because its marketing team already has a lot on its plate.

Your goal as a freelancer should be to make your client's life easier, and it should reflect on your proposal. Tell them how you can reduce their workload and help them focus on other tasks.

Will You Make the Client Succeed?

Clients on Upwork aren't just looking for freelancers to get work done. They want to grow their business, and they are looking for someone to rely on. Your Upwork proposal should communicate that you will go the extra mile to help the client succeed.

Top Tips to Write a Winning Proposal and Get Your First Client

Your proposal plays a vital role in increasing your chances of getting a client. Here are a few helpful tips on how to write Upwork proposals to increase your chances of getting shortlisted by a client.

Read the Job Description and Restate the Requirements

Many clients use a "read the description" test to check if the bidding freelancers have read the description fully. They include a special word somewhere in the description and require freelancers to include it at the start of their proposal.

If you flunk this test, the clients will not even read your proposal, regardless of how well it was written. So, make sure that you read the entire job description.

Even if the client doesn't have a test, acknowledge in your first line that you have read and understood the job requirements by restating the client's requirements.

Use your cover letter to ask questions about anything you're unsure of. This will show your client that you actually read the job description and are not afraid to seek clarification to get on the same page as your client.

Give a Tip for Free

An effective way to break the ice and engage the client is by offering a helpful free tip. For instance, if the client is using an outdated method, suggest a better alternative.

Just be careful not to include clickbait links or intentionally belittle the client's existing work. Frame your tip positively. This advice will act as a demo of what you have to offer.

You may be solving a problem the client did not realize he/she had, which will put you at the top of the shortlist of candidates.

giving a tip for free

Make Your Cover Letter Personalized

If you are using templates for your Upwork proposals, don't just copy-paste all the sections. Upwork proposals are not one size fits all, so you can't use the same proposal for every single job.

The Upwork proposal samples you find should be used as a guide and should sound like they were written by an actual human being. A good proposal is personal to the project, and clients will get turned off by generic cover letters.

Personalize it by addressing your client with their name and customizing the greeting and intro paragraph. You can copy some sections like your top skills, previous experience, etc., but everything else should be specific to the particular project.

Tell Why You Are a Good Fit

Your Upwork proposal needs to mention why you are the right fit for the job and why the client should choose you above other freelancers. There may be a ton of other candidates with the same qualifications that are just as competent from the client's perspective. You have to really sell yourself and convince potential clients you are what he/she needs.

However, ensure that you don't talk too much. When writing proposals, include two to four sentences stating what makes you an ideal person for doing the job. Then, move on to how you'll be able to help with the client's project.

Keep Your Proposal Tight

Your proposal needs to be crisp, concise, and tight. Avoid writing a 5,000-word description suggested by most templates. Keep it tight and only include the information that the client wants to know.

Submitting an exceptionally lengthy proposal will bore the client, and they will end up skimming through it instead of fully reading it. If you have an extensive resume, mention critical points related to the project. The client doesn't have time to read through all your accomplishments and accolades.

Some clients will ignore long Upwork proposals altogether because it is an indication that the applicant doesn't know how to get to the point and might be a pain to work with.

If you're concerned about the length of your proposal, click here for some proposal examples you can use as a guide. Try to find an Upwork proposal example that is in the same field or niche for the job you are applying for.

Start Strong and End Stronger

creating an upwork proposal

The beginning and end are the most important parts of a proposal. The opening statement should glue the client and encourage them to read it completely. Many applicants will use the "test word" as their openers, but if you can find a creative way to incorporate it into your first sentence, your creativity will impress your client.

The second paragraph should be dedicated to your skills and why the client should hire you.

Ideally, the closing statement should be a call to action (CTA) that tells the next step the client should take. An effective CTA is to invite the client to send you a message and discuss the requirements further.

You can even use a question as a way to prompt your client to move you on to the interview stage, where you can further sell yourself as a great choice.

Show Examples of Your Work

So, you write a great proposal stating that you have understood the client's needs and believe you can help them achieve their goals. But why should the client believe you?

Winning the client's trust is the key to winning a proposal, and the best way to do that is by sharing examples of similar work. You can link your portfolio in the description so that your potential clients can see what you can do.

Avoid overwhelming prospective clients with examples of your work. Nobody has time to look through your entire portfolio. Successful freelancers send examples that are specific to the job description. This is enough to establish your track record.

If you're providing the client with a link to your work, try to categorize or group similar files. This way, your client won't have to sift through a ton of files to find something that relates to the project.

Learn to Let Go

Even if you write the best proposal letter, there is no guarantee that you will get the job. You may reach as far as the interview stage, and the client stops responding. Send a single follow-up message. If there's no response, don't keep messaging your client about the job. There's a strong chance that they saw the first one and have no desire to respond. This desperation reflects poorly on you and does your self-esteem as a freelancer no good.

Perhaps a freelancer with more expertise and experience received the project. But whatever the case, it is important to keep sending proposals for different projects. Don't live and die by each job proposal.

Take the time to learn from your canned proposal. Compare it with different Upwork proposal examples online, and try to spot the faults. Using an Upwork proposal example may help you discover key reasons why a client hired that freelancer. This will help you to write proposals in the future.

four mistakes that kill upwork proposals

Mistakes to Avoid When Creating an Upwork Proposal

typical mistakes of creating a proposal

From talking too much about yourself to filling your proposal with fluff, here are a few mistakes you should avoid when writing an Upwork proposal.

Don't Talk Too Much About Yourself

The purpose of writing an Upwork proposal is to let the client know if you can do the job or not. The client doesn't care about your personality, dreams, and hobbies. If your proposal is all about yourself, who you are, and what you can do, you'll lose the client's attention. 

Writing a proposal is no different than writing sales copy, as you are trying to sell yourself to a potential client. And by the rule of marketing, talk less about yourself and more about your client.

Instead of telling what you can do, focus on how the client can achieve certain goals if they decide to work with you.

Avoid Unnecessary Fluff

As discussed, your clients have little time, so avoid rambling too much in your proposal. A mistake many Upwork freelancers make is thinking the way to land jobs on Upwork is to send long proposals with every single qualification they have. That's already in your Upwork profile, and your client is more interested in knowing about the task at hand specifically.

Stick to only the important details that your client would want to know and avoid unnecessary fluff. When you discuss too much in the proposal, you make yourself look amateurish and desperate – two traits that can be red flags for clients.

Avoid Being Too Casual or Professional

When writing an Upwork proposal, presenting yourself professionally is probably the first thing you want to do.

Avoid being witty or entertaining. Clients are looking for serious individuals to make their lives easier, so trying to be overly casual can backfire. That said, being too professional can also do harm, as clients prefer someone with whom they can feel a connection.

Therefore, avoid these two extremes and find a balance between being professional and being informal. If you struggle to find the right balance, presenting as a bit more formal is always a safer option.

Get the Pricing Right

The bid price is one of the trickiest parts of sending a proposal. If you bid too low, you might sell yourself short, and your client might think you're not experienced enough for the job. But, if you bid too high, you might repel the client away if they have a low budget.

Your priority should always be to ask for a price that works for you. If you feel you deserve a better price than what the client is offering, ask for it. Otherwise, you will be forced to work for less than you think you're worth.

The best thing you can do is research the industry standards and make a bid that falls within those parameters. Google is always your friend, but you can also browse the jobs posted to see how much clients are paying for a similar project.

Writing great Upwork proposals is the first step to becoming a successful and highly paid freelancer on Upwork. And it's no rocket science. If you aspire to make thousands of dollars on Upwork, you need to master the art of writing good proposals that engage clients. 

By following the proposal tips and rules discussed earlier, you can level up your game and start landing more clients.

Interview prep

preparing for the interview

After writing your winning Upwork job proposal, you'll move on to the Interview stage. You haven't quite gotten the job yet, but the client is certainly interested and wants to hear more from you. Perhaps you need to clarify something from your cover letter or do a test run.

For example, if you're a freelance writer, you may be asked to do a test article before being hired. Or, if you're a freelance graphic designer, you may be required to complete a sort of competency test. In other cases, the client may wish to do a voice of view call to confirm a few things.

Some clients know right away that a candidate will be a good fit based on a good proposal. Instead of conducting an interview, you'll receive an offer straight away.

In preparation for your interview, here are some things you should do to improve your chances of landing your new client:

Check the client's Upwork profile

checking client's profile

Take a few minutes to glance at the profiles of your new clients. While it's not the same as a freelancer Upwork profile, you can still gather useful information, for instance, what other freelancers have had to say about working with him/her. This will help you figure out the best approach, especially if some past freelancers have had anything negative to say.

Reread the project description

You should expect the client to refer to the project description during the interview. You'll be expected to discuss it, so if you can't keep up with the conversation, the client will think you're not serious about the project.

Mic and camera check

Technical difficulties and mishaps are a red flag for a premium Upwork client. You're expected to properly prepare for meeting new clients and be professional.

Prepare for disappointment

The interview stage is a crucial step in the hiring process. However, it may not always go the way you want to. If a client decides to go with someone else, send your best regards on the project. Having a positive attitude can make a client double back and send you a direct invite whenever he/she has another freelancing job that needs to get done.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it hard to get approved on Upwork?

It isn't easy to get approved on Upwork, as there are tens of thousands of freelancers with similar skills offering the same services, and that number is increasing. However, if you offer unique services, have relevant experience, or specific training and education, you are more likely to be approved by Upwork.

What happens after you submit a proposal on Upwork?

After you submit an Upwork proposal, the client who has posted the job offer will read it. If they like what they read, they might contact you to discuss their requirements. Since each job receives many bids, a client might take a few hours to respond.  

Sometimes, new freelancers will be asked to do a trial to prove they can complete the entire job. This is usually paid work, so be sure to bring your A-game.

How many proposals can you send on Upwork in a day?

Upwork has no limits on the number of bids you can send in a day. However, you get 60 Connects every month, and sending one proposal costs at least two connects, and sometimes up to 6. So, you can send up to 30 proposals every month.

In some cases, connects are refunded if your proposal was rejected, but usually, there's enough to go around.

If you want to send more, you can always purchase additional connects. 

Should I apply if there are a lot of proposals for a job?

If there are a lot of proposals for a job, it might be a waste of time to apply unless you are 100% sure you have what the client needs. Clients tend to look at proposals in the order in which they appear, and once they find one or two they like, they tend to move forward to the interview stages with those clients.

Applying to a job with 20 to 50 proposals can be a waste of time and connects. You'll have a better chance applying to jobs with "less than 5" or "5 to 10" proposals.

What does client hire rate mean?

Hire rate is one of the few bits of information you can get from a client's Upwork profile. It is based on how likely a client is to hire freelancers after posting new jobs. A high “hire rate” means a client almost always hires freelancers.

How do I know if a client saw my proposal?

The only way you can know if a client saw your proposal is if it was rejected or approved. If you receive a notification saying "a job you submitted a proposal to was closed,” it means someone else was hired, the posting was removed from Upwork, or the client withdrew it without hiring a freelancer.

What happens to my proposal after it is accepted?

When a client accepts your bid, it automatically goes into the 'active candidacy' tab. This means you have been shortlisted and that the client may hire you. Use this opportunity to ask your client questions about the job.

Note that an active candidacy does not mean you were hired. You must wait till after you receive and accept an offer to start any kind of work, even if it is a trial.

Once you receive an offer, you'll likely receive a milestone. This will describe the tasks you must complete in order to be paid. If you don't receive milestones, this means the client intends to pay you by project versus by task.

If you need more clarification on how this works, this article should help.

Is it okay to ask for an update after an interview?

Yes, but only once. If you haven't heard from your client after he/she seemingly confirmed the job with you, go ahead and reach out for an update. You can also reach out for an update if you are unclear about something related to the job or have additional qualifications to provide.

Do not nag clients about sending an offer. You will only turn them away and make yourself look bad.

Never beg for a job, no matter how much you may need it. This gives you a bad rep, and clients aren't interested in doing charity work when it comes to their business. You won't always be a good fit, and you'll just have to accept that.

I just received an invitation to interview. Do I still have to send a proposal?

Yes, proposals are required for all new interactions between clients and freelancers. The good thing about this is that you have a higher chance of being hired, so it takes some of the pressure off sending the perfect proposal.

Use this chance to ask the client more about the job and to highlight the specific skills and experience you think will help make the project a success.

My client is asking about skills tests in the job posting. What does that mean?

Upwork allows freelancers to take a variety of skill tests from various fields to prove their competence to clients. These tests should be taken seriously, so make sure you prepare before starting an Upwork test. If you fail, you may have to wait a few weeks or months to do a retake.

NB: You are not required to display failed tests on your Upwork profile. If you don't do well this time around, hide it on your profile and prepare for your retake. 

Get started today!

Get the tools to manage your entire freelance business, free online courses to accelerate your growth, and join a community of freelancers just like you.
Mail icon