Platforms like Upwork can seem extremely overwhelming, whether you’re just starting out as a freelancer, of have been on your own for years. There are thousands of competitors, many of whom are overseas and can offer much lower rates than you can.
But it is absolutely possible to find success as a freelancer on Upwork and similar platforms. It just takes a little more time and a little more work!
When it comes down to it, your pitch (whether you’re reaching out, or have been invited to apply for a job) is what will separate you from the pack. Below, you’ll find some of my favorite tips to write proposals that make you stand out and help you get the jobs that you want.
Make sure you understand the job
The first thing you need to do as a freelancer is read the job description thoroughly. If you don’t meet the qualifications, don’t apply. One of the keys to being a successful freelancer is to use your time wisely. Only apply for a job if you can complete the work, meet the deadline. And, of course, screen the clients before applying.
After some not-so-amazing experiences on Upwork, I only apply for jobs with clients who have their payment information verified, and have successfully completed at least one job on Upwork. And if they have less than 4 stars overall? I don’t waste my time.
If you don’t understand something, ask
After your first read-through, make a list of questions that you have about the job. Specific questions are great – they show that you’ve read the job description! You need to show that you’ve read the description, understand the qualifications, and care about the job.
Let’s say you’re a content writer. You might want to ask questions about the client’s target audience, monthly website traffic, or ideal word count. These types of questions will help you connect with the client, and show your expertise at the same time.
Greet the client personally
I always start out a proposal with a greeting. If possible, make it personal to them. For example, if you see that the client is located somewhere that you’ve traveled to before, let them know! Here’s an example:
“Hi John, how are you? I noticed that you’re from San Francisco. I went there on my honeymoon! I still think about the coffee from Blue Bottle Coffee all the time.”
Or, you could use information that they might have mentioned in their job description. If they list their website (or if you can find it from their business name) you could comment on their photos, or tell them how interesting their product is. The point is to connect with them immediately. This does two things: gives you personality, and shows them that you aren’t simply copying and pasting the proposal that you send each and every person.
If you meet a person offline, what is the first thing you do? Introduce yourself! You want to bring this same personal touch to your perfect pitch. Let them know your name, and summarize your experience in a couple of sentences. There’s no need to go too in-depth here; you’ll show that you’re knowledgeable in other ways throughout the proposal. Try to stick to a paragraph, but write naturally, not too formally.
Share examples of your work that directly apply to the job
Then, list or attach some examples of your work. Share examples that are as close to what your client is looking for as possible. If you’re a web designer, and the client is looking for an eCommerce site, make sure you include links to stores that you’ve created. If you’ve done work within the same industry that the client is in, share that work!
You should absolutely share your best portfolio items, and the things that you love the most, but providing specific examples that relate to the job at hand will give the client even more reason to consider working with you over someone else.
Explain how you meet their needs
This is absolutely the most important part of the entire proposal. You see, there are definitely people out there that can beat you on price. Perhaps they can beat you on time frame as well. But what will set you apart is how well you can address and meet your client’s needs.
One of the things that I do for website redesign proposals is go through their site and make a list of things that I would improve in the redesign. This shows that I’ve put in a lot of time, have made an investment this early in the process, and will continue to do these things. It also shows them that you know what you’re doing and can come up with great ideas.
This could honestly apply to any industry. For marketing, you could estimate an ROI using statistics from past campaigns that you’ve done. If you’re a writer, you could come up with several blog post ideas for them to consider. The goal here is to stand out from the freelancers who don’t personalize their proposals. Trust me; this works! I have clients comment all the time that the time that I spend on my proposals is what made them choose to work with me.
Thoroughly answer any questions they may have
This is critical. These clients spent the time to come up with their questions because they’re important to them. Make sure you answer them thoroughly, in a way that demonstrates your knowledge. I would generally recommend answering their questions pretty early on in the proposal, so they know that you’ve addressed them. And read through their entire job description another time to make sure you answered anything. As someone who’s hired on Upwork as well, if a freelancer doesn’t answer my questions, I don’t even read through the proposal, as it shows a lack of interest and attention to detail.
Assume they’re going to get in touch with you and ask questions!
Getting the potential client to respond to your proposal is the goal here! If they respond, you have the chance to interact with them, negotiate a rate, and “sell yourself” even further. So, I always end my proposals with two things: at least one question, and the assumption that they’re going to get in touch with me.
Remember the list of questions you came up with at the beginning? It may have been appropriate to ask some of those throughout your proposal, but save one or two for the end. Asking a question will make the client more likely to respond, as they feel the need to answer it.
I also end my proposals with something along the lines of, “Looking forward to hearing from you!” Assuming that they will respond to you and reach out makes them more likely to do just that. Sounding confident and put-together is important!
Don’t copy / paste your pitch
Everything that I mentioned above really goes back to this – don’t just copy and paste your proposals! You can absolutely use a basic template, but make sure that you customize each and every one for the specific job that you’re applying for. It’s far too common to see people submit proposals that don’t even make sense for the job! So by not doing that, you stand out from everyone else!
So, remember, be personal and professional. Spend time writing your proposals! A few well-written proposals are much better than a ton of sloppy ones. And don’t give up if you don’t hear back right away; keep going and you’ll find success! It’s all about hard work and perseverance. The right jobs will find you.
Kathryn Marr is the co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of Blue Ivory Creative, a digital marketing company based out of Nashville, TN. A graphic and web designer, as well as social media manager, she brings a passion for entrepreneurship and creativity to the table. Kathryn loves helping people pursue their dreams and be successful doing what they love to do!