Last year I went to a restaurant with a very unusual item on the menu:
“Buy the kitchen a 6-pack of beer — $10”
I loved it! Anyone who’s ever worked in a restaurant knows the thankless misery of slaving away in a 110-degree kitchen all night.
But sending a few cold beers to the back of the house crew isn’t just a nice thing to do — it also guarantees you’ll get one of the best meals of your life.
It’s amazing how even small gestures like this can be powerful tools of influence when you picture yourself in someone else’s shoes.
The flipside is also true. Even seemingly minor details can work against you when you fail to think about the needs of the person you’re trying to influence.
I’ll give you a specific example. The first time I posted a job on Upwork, less than a quarter of the proposals I received started with “Hi Danny” — even though I signed my name right at the bottom of the post!
Think about that for a minute. Starting with a personal greeting is an easy, guaranteed way to improve your proposal…yet most people don’t think to do it.
Again, details like this might seem small — but they matter.
And it’s not like clients are going to tell you when you screw up. They just quietly move on to someone else.
After reviewing over 10,000+ Upwork proposals, I’ve noticed some specific phrases that keep cropping up — even though they do more harm than good. Today I’m going to share them with you, as well as specific recommendations for what to say instead.
If you want to get an endless supply of great clients, do work you enjoy, and charge what you’re worth, leveling up your proposal game is one of the best ways you can invest a few minutes of your time today.
These are the exact approaches I’ve tested and proven with thousands of FTW students around the world, and they can work for you too.
“I am passionate about…”
It’s great to have passion. But clients don’t want to hear about it.
Notice I didn’t say they don’t care. We all love to work with passionate people.
You also love to laugh. But when you watch a Louie CK comedy special, you don’t want him to talk about how funny he is — you just want the jokes.
Instead of talking about your passion, show it. Tell a story. Show off a piece of work you’re proud of. Or use your proposal as an opportunity to share a surprising bit of knowledge that’ll help the client.
“I believe I’m a good fit for this job / I believe I’m qualified for this job…”
This is a good example of an automatic line people fall back on when they haven’t thought about what clients really want to hear.
Imagine you’re a client reading that sentence. Does it help you at all to know that the person who wrote the proposal is recommending themselves to you?
Now picture yourself in the client’s shoes again — except this time, imagine you’re about to read the next proposal. What would you be hoping for it to say? The answer to that question will make a powerful opening line for your own proposal. (Looking for specific ideas? I’ve got you covered. Check out these real winning proposal examples.)
“I’ve done this hundreds of times / I’ve been doing this for __ years.”
This can be OK as a lead-in, but the problem is most people stop there. If you want to impress the client then you need to take it a step further.
It’s easy to say “I’ve been doing this for three years,” but it’s difficult for clients to relate to or remember because it’s too abstract. Following it up with a specific story about someone you’ve helped makes it 100x more powerful and memorable. (It doesn’t even have to be a previous client — a friend or relative you helped can make a great story too, as long as it’s relevant to the job you’re applying for.)
The fact that you’ve done something hundreds of times is great. But talking about one SPECIFIC experience is more impressive than even 1,000 faceless ones.
“Feel free to check out my portfolio.”
This one seems fine on the surface. But when you look at it from the client’s perspective, a small tweak can give you a big advantage.
Browsing through freelancer portfolios on Upwork is like browsing through Netflix — there’s a lot of great stuff, but it can also be a lot of work.
On the other hand, no one is more familiar with your portfolio than you are… Why not do the work for the client instead? Hand pick the pieces that are most relevant to their needs, then send them only those pieces.
That way, you’ll save them time, stand out from your competitors, and make sure they see exactly what you want them to see.
“Dear Sir or Madam / To whom it may concern / Dear Hiring Manager”
The high school English teacher who told you this was a good idea misled you in unspeakable ways.
No one wants to be talked to like this. Cut the formality and talk like a person instead.
“I’d love the opportunity to work on this.”
When James Altucher interviewed Brian Grazer on his podcast, Brian revealed the biggest mistake people make when they email him asking for work. Can you guess what it is?
They talked all about why they wanted to work with him — but they didn’t talk about how they could add value to his business.
When a client posts a job on Upwork, they either want to accomplish a goal, or solve a problem. Talking about how you can help do those things is the best way to get your foot in the door.
“When I read your job post it felt like you were describing me.”
Every sentence in your proposal has two meanings: What it means in your head as you say it, and how the client interprets it when they read it.
To show you what I mean, try tapping your finger on a table to the tune of “Happy Birthday”. When you listen to your own tapping, it’s easy for you to hear the song in your head. But if you ask someone else what song they think you’re playing, they’ll have no clue. All they hear is a bunch of random tapping sounds!
Similarly, saying “it felt like you were describing me” sounds innocent to you when you’re writing it. You’re just showing the client how excited you are about their job, right?
But from the client’s perspective, it sounds self-absorbed and disingenuous. They don’t even know you yet…and they probably didn’t write the job description “just for you.”
“I have a degree in…”
Sometimes it can be useful to mention your education. For example, a psychology degree can help you get hired writing articles on the subject of motivation and productivity.
But if there’s no specific reason to bring it up, it’s probably more likely to feel like a waste of time to the client. There’s a reason Upwork has a dedicated “Education” section in your profile — if clients want to know what you studied in college they can always scroll down and look.
“I’m the perfect person for this job.”
Jerry Seinfeld only bombed once in his entire comedy career. It was after being introduced to the audience as “the best comedian in the world.”
Don’t set expectations that are unrealistic and impossible to live up to. You don’t need to be perfect. Just do your best and focus on the client’s needs.
“I meet deadlines / my work is 100% original / etc.”
Whew, that was a close one. I was about to hire another freelancer who says he sucks at keeping deadlines and plagiarizes everything he writes. But you totally saved me!
Do you see where I’m going with this?
If you brag about things that clients consider basic expectations (like a bartender saying he won’t poison your drink), you’ll have a hard time being taken seriously.
“I am motivated / creative / organized / dedicated / other adjective.”
No one believes anything you say about yourself. I call this “Danny’s Rule Of Self-Promotion”.
But there’s a workaround — let other people say it for you. Testimonials work great for this. They can be from previous clients, but they can also come from coworkers, college professors, or anyone else who can vouch for you.
Take a look at these real winning proposal examples
No matter how many tips I give you, there’s nothing quite like seeing what real winning Upwork proposals actually look like.
That’s why I want to show you some, free of charge — my gift to you. You can get them here.
I’ve shared these with thousands of my readers, and the responses have been incredible. Like this:
“LOVE THIS! Thanks for creating this resource Danny! It was so eye opening! I’ve read so many articles on writing great Upwork proposals and most of them advise boring, cookie cutter proposals like some boring cover letter you would staple to the front of your CV for doing the job searching rounds around the town.
But this approach is so casual and personal that it really captures the reader. I mean I don’t know why I should be surprised this is the winning formula because it’s the exact tone I’m trying to tell people all the time to use in their marketing copy! I really need to follow my own advice!
It’s so funny to think even though we may tell our clients one thing, when it comes to marketing ourselves as freelancers we default to a boring, corporate clone…the very thing so many of us became freelancers to escape from!”
Get real winning proposal examples (for free) here.
(Flickr Creative Commons image via Patrik Theander)