When you send proposals (AKA cover letters) to clients on Upwork, you will often be one of 10 to 20 or even 50 people or more applying to that job. So let’s start with a look at my hiring process so you have an idea of how a client might make a decision about who to interview.
1. Is there ANYTHING that is an instant disqualifier?
This is the first thing I look for. Is the freelancer from a country I want to work with? Do they offer the skill I asked for? Did they upload attachments if I asked for them? Is their proposal full of spelling and grammar errors? Do those errors matter for this project? Did they answer my question that shows they paid attention? Did they address my needs?
Basically I look for any indicator that this person ISN’T the one. When I see those signs, I archive them immediately because I know there is 0 chance we will work together. Please note that this has NOTHING to do with their rate (although that might be the case for some clients). Usually rates won’t stop clients from responding. Here’s an example from just last week…
What’s important about this is that even though the client technically disqualified me based on my rates,she responded. At $135/hr she responded. Why is that important? Because it gave me a second chance to communicate with her and let her know that I only offer fixed rates, what they are, and why that actually benefits her over paying hourly freelancers even when their rate is set much lower.
2. Can this freelancer get the job done?
The second thing I try to identify is whether or not this freelancer is competent enough to do the job. Based on their proposal, do I believe they are skilled enough to deliver what I want? If not, do I believe they are smart enough to figure out how to get it done? If the answer isn’t “yes” and if it isn’t clear to me that you are a competent freelancer, and if I don’t feel confident in your abilities, then I won’t feelcomfortable going forward with you.
For that reason, Upwork proposals must meet those 3 criteria:
- Establish you competence
- So the client feels confident
- Which makes them feel comfortable
When those 3 keys are set in place, THEN you are very likely to get the interview.
3. Is this freelancer the BEST person for the job?
Beyond the 3 C’s there’s one last thing I look for. Out of those 2-3 freelancer who made me feel comfortable, which one seems to be the best fit?
To answer this question I look at several things. First, is it clear from their proposal that they care about me and that they put in effort? Do they WANT to do this job? What does their bio say about them? Are they an expert in this field? Do they have the skills to back it up? Are they clearly the kind of person I would want to work with? Finally, I look at their portfolio. Are their samples relevant? Are they in the style I need? Are they good enough for the amount I’m willing to pay?
It’s a WHOLE PERSON concept.
That’s what clients are looking for. Instant DQ, do you meet the 3 C’s, are you the best person for the job? It’s NOT based on your rates. Now that we’ve established that, and we’ve built you a powerful bio and portfolio, it’s time to improve your proposals for better results.
YOU Focused Proposals
YOU Focus is the art of showing clients you care about them, want to help them, can get the job done, and are the BEST fit for the gig. It is NOT simply using the word “you.”
Steps to a YOU Focused Proposal
- Never start with the word “I”
- Use some variation of “you” before “I” or “me” or “my”
- Use “you” 10x as much as you use “I” or “me” or “my”
- Repeat the client’s own words back to them
- Connect your skills with their needs
- Establish credibility fast
- Prove your competence
- Call them to Action
- Show them little details that set you apart
Getting Hired Happens in Steps
As with any kind of marketing, we move clients one step at a time. The first step is to get a response. The second step is to get interviewed. The third step is to get hired. Just because you get a response doesn’t mean you’ve been interviewed. Technically you’ve secured the interview, but you haven’t done it until you’ve done it.
Knowing this, we can now work on a YOU Focused proposal that has a single intent…getting a response. NOT getting you hired. That happens later. So let’s look at a YOU Focused Proposal…
YOU Focused Proposal
First the original job post…
Now the proposal (written live in the video)…
Cover Letter Intro
For this proposal you can see that it does NOT start with “I” or “me” or “my.” Instead, it starts with a headline that identifies this as “Copywriting for Roofing Contractors” which is what they are…targeting.
First Line Starts with “You”
Next I give a simple greeting followed by the word “You.”
Second Line Mirrors Them
Now I repeat their own words back to them about what they need…copywriting for their roofing business.
Then I start to prove competence by DEMONSTRATING that I can help them stand out. Instead of just telling them “I can help you stand out,” I used a metaphor to SHOW them something different by talking about a “sea of sameness.” If I wasn’t doing this on video and distracted by that, I would spend even more time forming a more relevant idea for this particular client.
Establish Crediblity and Connect it with Their Job
In the next sentence I bridge the gap between us. I let them know that I’m the exact thing they need, and then I drop several relevant credibility markers that will likely stand out to them. For instance, “industrial companies” targets BLUE COLLAR companies which is what a roofing company also is. If you don’t find RELEVANT credibility markers then your credibility will appear weak and won’t support your competence very well.
Ask Good Questions
You don’t have to ask questions, but they can help establish competence. If your questions make the client think or have an “aha” moment, then you are golden. Don’t just ask questions for the sake of asking questions. Ask GOOD questions. Targeted questions. Questions about their business. Questions that prove you care and want to help them.
Prove You’re a Professional
One of the biggest impressions a freelancer ever made on me was when she directly stated exactly what she’d deliver and how much it would cost. While others were blasting me with hourly rates, this person said “here’s what you get and here’s how much it is.” No guessing games. I love that, and so do a lot of business owners because they don’t have time to keep track of you. So the next section of my proposal clearly states what I’ll do and how much it will cost. You don’t have to add your prices here, but it’s a good way to filter through clients if you don’t want to work with anyone for less than X amount.
Call them to Action
The last line of the proposal is a simple call to action that gives them next steps. Since the very next step is to get them to contact me or to message me, then that’s what I use. If I’ve applied with a proper YOU Focus, then all of the above IS what they need, so they SHOULD message me.
Kind regards is fine for most gigs, but when you write for creative jobs you should use something more interesting. Keep that in mind.
This is just one last chance to catch the client with something they might value. You could add your phone number in here (I do this regularly). You could let them know you’re standing by to help in case others fail. You could offer a discount for your first project. You could offer a satisfaction guarantee etc. Just something to give them one last reason to want to talk to you.
Attachments and Samples
I don’t always add attachments. In fact, I don’t ever add them unless I really think it’s an opportunity to stand out OR if the client specifically asks for them. Otherwise I just direct the client to my profile because I already spent 20+ hours honing it in to a sharpened spear for harpooning whales! Why would I waste that? The more times they come into contact with me the more likely it is I’ll get contacted.
Use what you’ve learned in this lesson to go out and find at least 3 potential clients. Spend time thinking about what THEY actually need to read from your proposal before they will respond. Once you’ve done that, go ahead and craft a YOU Focused proposal. Remember to read over it and spell check it to make sure it’s good to go. Then send it!
Lex is your super villain freelance writing overlord! He’s trained 1,000’s of people to write for pay, and he’s on a mission to train hundreds of thousands more to Escape Corporate Prison and Build a Freelance Empire! You can check out his Freelance Courses here.