You’re currently reading Chapter 3 of The Ultimate Guide to Getting Your First (Or Next) Freelance Job
Welcome to the final — and most critical — step of your adventure to get your first (or next) freelance client: Writing an Upwork proposal that stands out, grabs attention, and gets you instantly hired.
Hopefully you’re excited — but please, don’t let your guard down just yet.
There are still a few hurdles to cross before you arrive safely on the other side.
Let’s get SPECIFIC: Your proposal needs to…
- Instantly stand out from the pack
- Quickly build trust
- And resonate with clients on an emotional level so they feel compelled to message you back right away (before life gets in the way)
This is going to require some counterintuitive strategies, so please lean in and pay close attention throughout the rest of this section. We’re going to move fast and cover a lot of ground.
How to write a winning Upwork proposal: 3 key guidelines
We’ll start with a few key guidelines that I’ve personally tested with over 10,000+ Freelance To Win students over the past few years.
If you stick to these 3 things, you can write proposals that are better than 95% of your competitors, including many of the more experienced ones.
Winning Proposal Guideline #1: Resist the urge to “sell yourself”
When you first sit down to write a proposal there’s a knee jerk reaction that says, “I need to convince the client to hire me.” So you go into pitch mode and start to list out reasons why you think they should choose you.
It’s a very natural thing to do. But if you look closely you’ll see that the Sell Yourself approach contains a number of fatal flaws:
- Most (and many times all) of your competitors are doing it too, so instead of standing out you end up sounding just like everyone else
- As we discussed in the previous chapter, clients are mainly interested in themselves and accomplishing THEIR goals — so if you lead by talking about yourself then you’ll lose out to someone whose proposal is focused around the client and their needs
- No one — and I mean no one — likes being sold to by a total stranger
Having a better sales pitch than your competitors won’t solve these problems. You need a totally different approach.
I’d like to share a 2-minute segment of an audio interview I did with Chris Davis, a premium Upwork client.
Listen to Chris explain the real reasons why he hired me for $135/hr (hint: it’s not what most people think):
Winning Proposal Guideline #2: Build rapport
Some people think clients choose freelancers based solely on their qualifications and experience.
But is that really the way it works? When you look closer at how the hiring process unfolds, a different story starts to take shape…
For example, the other day a designer posted a comment on my blog about how a client chose her over a more skilled freelancer…because she cared more.
Another person reached out to me on Twitter to tell me a client hired him because he was from Boston — even though he was lacking experience.
Don’t underestimate the power of making a personal connection in your proposals. Freelancing is a people business — not a resume game.
Some great ways to quickly build rapport in your proposals:
- Say something friendly
- Write like you’re talking to a real person (avoid sounding robotic)
- Focus on helping the client — not just getting the job
Winning Proposal Guideline #3: Show, don’t tell.
Some of the most common phrases clients will encounter from your competitors sound like this:
- “I’m good at ______”
- “I have a degree in ______”
- “I’ve been doing this for __ years”
Those are all examples of telling the client you know what you’re doing.
People default to telling because it’s easy and it doesn’t require any imagination. You just copy and paste your qualifications and you’re done with it.
It’s also BORING. Like a comedian saying “I’m funny” — right before being booed off the stage.
Whether you think you’re amazing or not, say something that SHOWS clients you’re someone worth listening to. Here are some great ways to do that:
- Share a surprising piece of knowledge
- Offer a helpful suggestion
- Show them a relevant example of your work (No previous experience? I’ll show you how to overcome that in this section too)
How I put this into action in a real, winning Upwork proposal
Below I’ll show you an actual proposal I wrote that resulted in a $300 job offer within MINUTES.
The job description called for a copywriter to write a press release for a new company that had just launched its first app — but you can apply the principles to any work category or job you’re interested in:
Notice how I:
- Started out by recognizing the client’s accomplishment (instead of immediately talking about myself)
- Offered them helpful information they can use, regardless of whether or not they hire me
- Told them a story about a previous project I worked on — rather than giving them a boring list of credentials
Here’s how the client responded:
Minutes later, the offer came, like money in the bank…
Keep in mind I could have written this proposal any number of ways, but the underlying principles that make a great proposal effective are always the same.
How to prove you’re the right person for the job — even if you’ve never freelanced before
If you want to start getting Upwork jobs quickly, you need to prove to clients that you can do their job.
Not just any job — THEIR job.
The best way to do that is to show them hard proof. That way it’s a no-brainer for them to hire you.
For example, a few months ago I hired an Upwork freelancer to write case studies about successful Freelance To Win students. In addition to writing a great proposal, she also showed me an example of an article that was very similar to what I was asking for.
It wasn’t identical — but it was close enough that I didn’t have to wonder, “Will she be able to write the type of case studies I need?”
It made my decision fast and easy.
Which means that she got an Upwork job quickly and easily — exactly what I’m trying to help you accomplish.
Now you might be thinking, “That’s all fine and good Danny, but what if I don’t have any examples of work that are similar to what a client wants?”
No problem. Make one!
This approach is something I call my Crystal Ball Technique, and I’ve taught it to tens of thousands of FTW readers over the past few years. It’s one of the fastest and easiest ways to build up credibility with clients and get you hired QUICKLY, even if you feel totally clueless.
Sharmin lands her first 2 Upwork clients using the Crystal Ball Technique
When Sharmin started freelancing, she had zero professional writing experience. So when she came across a job post that interested her, she decided to put the Crystal Ball Technique to the test.
“Danny taught me that most clients don’t care if you have a portfolio full of samples. Most don’t even ask how much experience you have. What they really want to see is one single sample that’s very similar to what they need. That way, they feel confident you can get their job done.”
The job was to write reviews of beaches, so she reviewed a few NYC parks as proof she could do the type of work the client needed.
Sharmin also used the Crystal Ball Technique to get her first email automation client, even though she’d never done it professionally before.
The Crystal Ball Technique isn’t “just for writers”…
You can create proof of any type of work you do — including design, IT, spreadsheets, video editing, or anything else.
Mike N., a video editor, noticed lots of Upwork clients posting jobs looking for “green screen video editing” — so he created a short green screen video to prove his skills. It took him just a few minutes, and he was able to snag a new client almost immediately.
Please don’t confuse the Crystal Ball Technique with doing free work for clients — that is NOT what I’m suggesting. (Doing free work will get you banned from Upwork, so you should never, ever do that.)
What I AM suggesting is creating examples of work that are highly relevant and similar to what real paying clients on Upwork actually need and are willing to pay for.
That way you can show them proof of your ability and make it easy for them to hire you in a flash.
Go to Chapter 4: Recap + next steps for growing your freelance business