There are 2 reasons it’s so tough to make a good Upwork proposal template:
1) Every job post is unique. Clients want to feel heard, so a generic one-size-fits-all message is going to fail most of the time no matter how well it’s written.
2) Every freelancer has different assets and experiences. “Insert super-relevant portfolio sample here” makes a template useless for someone who doesn’t have one.
That’s why a true template (where you copy/paste the same base message and “Mad Libs” all the details in) is always going to be terrible. We need something more flexible…
Yeah, you WISH it were this easy!
The template I made for myself is more like a modular framework. After writing so many proposals, I just organized what worked in order to teach friends and coaching students.
You’ll still have ~90% of the ease of a copy/paste template, but with a bajillion times the results.
2 good reasons to trust my Upwork proposal template
1) Blah blah I’m very successful on Upwork. Here’s me making $3k from a single phone call (and yes, my rate is actually $999/hour):
The testimonial is actually pretty relevant too!
2) Equally important is that I’m also really, really lazy. I understand that you don’t want to spend 2-4 hours carefully hand-crafting every Upwork proposal, cause I don’t either.
With these powers combined, my Upwork proposal template was born.
Let’s go over it:
The 3 core sections every Upwork proposal needs
There are 3 main parts to all my proposals. No, it’s not “Intro”, “Body”, and “Conclusion” (these actually mess people up – more on this later).
You can remember the three I use with the acronym “GPA”, as in: “Steven’s GPA in college was so bad that they dropped out of college and started freelancing instead”.
It stands for:
- Grab attention
- Prove yourself
- Ask a question
That’s it! Your goal is to hit each of these as best you can.
As for the part that makes this an actual template: I’m going to give you multiple options for how you can write each one. Just pick whichever one is the best mix of a) a good fit for the job post, and b) a good fit for your personal experience.
Don’t worry, there are beginner-friendly options too and I’m going to give plenty of examples.
Here we go:
Part I: Grab attention with a “hook” (+ why you shouldn’t introduce yourself)
An introduction is one of the worst ways to start an Upwork proposal.
When clients are sorting through freelancers in the Review Proposals screen, the interface already shows your name, title, country, etc. – all in plain view. What Upwork doesn’t show is more than a few lines or so of your actual proposal:
Total waste of a proposal snippet
If you waste this limited real estate on things like repeating your name, you’re putting yourself at a disadvantage – or at least, wasting a big potential advantage over everyone else doing the same thing.
At this stage, clients are trying to quickly whittle down the number of proposals they need to review. No one wants to read more than they have to, and the interface for opening up full proposals can be slow and clunky (it also loads your entire profile underneath the proposal text).
That’s why if you don’t stand out, clients may never even open your full proposal. You might be pre-maturely judged for a bad Job Success Score, a low amount of total earnings, or something else you don’t have as much control over.
To grab attention, you need to start your proposal with some kind of “hook” to pull them from your snippet to your full proposal. Let’s go over a few that anyone can use:
Hook 1: Compliment the client
Flattery *genuine* compliments can be a great way to get people reading. Just don’t force it or you’ll sound lame – or worse, insult the client’s intelligence by complimenting something silly.
- “Wow, your company sounds so awesome to work with!”
- “I love your logo! Can’t believe you designed that yourself…”
- “What you’re doing is literally my dream life!”
- “OMG, this product looks so cool that I would buy one myself if I could!”
Try to poke around the client’s website or social media pages (if you can find them), make note of something you can give a legitimate compliment to, and write about it in the same language you’d use in your daily life.
Some more examples, of tougher cases:
- A client’s company / website / product aren’t the only things you can compliment. If they don’t give you enough information to find their site and do research, you can try complementing them on something like having a really well-written job description.
- Even with a really vague job description, keep your eyes peeled for clues. For example: In one job post, a client mentioned that their business hadn’t launched yet, so I complimented their foresight in posting the job so early (“I think it’s really great that you’re building out your XYZ so early on… most people ignore this until the last possible moment, but the sooner you implement these the easier your life will be when…”).
- If the client mentions a past project that didn’t go well, you can compliment their determination to get it right (“I’m so glad you haven’t given up on doing XYZ even after so many poor experiences… many people in your position would have stopped trying after such a bad experience, so I hope I can be the last freelancer you need to try…”)
It can sometimes take a bit more creativity, but there’s almost always something you can do. Compared to repeating your name and title, these have a much higher chance of getting your full proposal opened.
If there really isn’t anything you want to compliment (or maybe you just think it’s too cheesy), that’s ok – there are other openers you can use. The next one is just as accessible, whether you’ve been freelancing for 10 years or 10 days:
Hook 2: Strategically summarize the job
Here, you’re summarizing the job in order to show you really understand it.
- “Ok, so you need someone who can ___”
- “I understand you want to do both ___ and ___”
- “Sounds like you’re looking for someone who can ___”
- “If I understand you correctly, you basically need to ___”
- “Just to clarify… so you need ___ but without ___? If so, that’s simple…”
- “So essentially, you need ___ but for ___. Great, I can…”
This is something that anyone can do, but it’s one of the most commonly botched openings I see. You need to understand why this works for it to be effective.
One example of a great time to use this is when a client has a long, rambling job post where they seem like they don’t fully understand what they’re looking for. For example, if a job post says: “I need someone who can change the little icon thingy that comes up next to the website name in the tab”, you do NOT want to say “Hi, I can help you change your little icon thingy”. Instead, start your proposal with something like: “Hi, sounds like you’re talking about what’s called a ‘favicon’! I can fix the one you have or make you a custom one using blah blah…” Give the client some clarity right away and they’ll love you for it.
This still works even for long and detailed job posts, too. For example, if a job post says: “I need a freelancer to compile research on topic 1, topic 2, topic 3, and topics 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 with X, Y, and Z considerations in ___ special format. You must meet A, B, C, and D experience requirements.” then you can start your proposal with something like: “Sounds like you need an experienced research assistant to compile info on a variety of different topics…”
The key thing is to SUMMARIZE the job IN YOUR OWN WORDS. For the above example, you don’t want to say, “I get that you need someone with A, B, C, and D experience requirements to research topic 1, topic 2, topic 3, and topics 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 with X, Y, and Z constraints within 48 hours.” That’s just parroting all their exact words back. It will be way too wordy and you’ll sound like a robot.
I’ve seen some people justify this robotic reply by saying that it’s “mirroring”, which is a negotiation technique that’s supposed to be good and proven. To save you the google, mirroring is a fancy term for copying stuff the other person does in order to make them unconsciously like you more or whatever. This is a whole other discussion, but long story short: Repeating a bunch of stuff word-for-word in an Upwork proposal doesn’t work because it makes you sound like you don’t actually comprehend what they need.
Hook 3: Address a key need or objection quickly
Imagine a job description that says “I need someone to write a landing page. An ideal candidate will have experience in the ABC industry. It must be between X and Y words to fit into the designer’s template. This has to be done soon (ideally by the end of the week) to be ready in time for our launch. BTW: Only apply if you’re a native English speaker.”
Many people would write something like “Hi, I see you need a landing page written for your XYZ company. I’m an ABC specialist with __ years of experience who can write high-converting copy and blah blah.”
But compare that to this opening: “Woah – that’s a tight deadline! Sounds like you need someone who’s available now and can get started immediately. If you can get me all the details by X time today, I can get you a first draft as soon as Y time. Even with only 48 hours to go, we should still be able to squeeze in a round of revisions to get it sounding exactly as you want it. Normally it would be tough to meet a deadline like this AND keep the quality high, but because I have experience writing for your XYZ market, I’m confident I can make it happen for you. Blah blah here are some samples and more info on my experience…”
Instead of summarizing the whole job, this opening drills into one specific aspect that’s determined to be the most important. Quickly addressing a pressing need will give you an edge over everyone else who starts with something less focused.
Just make sure you’re addressing the right stuff. For this job post, you would NOT want to write: “I see you’re in need of a native English speaker!” This may technically be correct, but that’s just a terrible summary for obvious reasons.
Pre-Hook 1: Use the Client’s Name
This “pre-hook” is not really an intro on its own, but it’s something that can give you a big advantage when you’re able to start your proposal with it.
- “Hi <client name>! Blah blah”
- “Hey <client name>, blah blah”
- “<client name> – blah blah”
It works because our brains light up a little extra when we see our own name. It shows the client that this proposal has been personalized for them, unlike copy/pasted ones that start with “Hello Sir/Madam” or “To whom it may concern.”
How to find the client’s name:
- If they include it in their job post, they’ve made it super easy for you!
- If you look at the client’s reviews, you might see their name in feedback that another freelancer left. For example: “Bob was a great client, he was very communicative and blah blah.”
- If the client specifically mentions their job title like “I’m the marketing director of an XYZ company” and then links to their website in the job description, you may be able to sleuth out their name by reading the About page, Team page, etc.
The harder it is to find a name, the more you’ll stand out if you can get it right.
If you can’t get the client’s name but the job posting includes a website, you can use the company name instead: “Hi <company name> team, blah blah…”
And if you can’t find the client’s name or the company name, that’s fine – just don’t include it!
Pre-Hook 2: Mention the invite
If you’re sending a proposal in response to an invitation, thank the client for sending the invite. If they’re mindlessly checking their email notifications, this helps to jog their memory so you stand out from the regular proposals.
- “Hi <client name>, thanks for the invite!”
- “Hey <client name>, what a timely invite…”
- “<client name>, your job invitation really spoke to me because…”
The Proof-Hook: Just skip to the Proof
Sometimes the best Hook is to not use a dedicated Hook. If you have a super juicy sample or a ridiculously good testimonial, just start with that!
Your Hook should never be more boring than what comes after it. Don’t lead with something weak just for the sake of following a template if you don’t actually need it.
On that note, it’s time for the next section…
Part II: Prove yourself by “showing” (not “telling”)
Now we get to the juicy part of a proposal. But just as the last section wasn’t an “intro”, don’t think of this one as a “body” either. The terminology is important, and not just cause I have an acronym to match!
If you think of it as a “body”, it becomes a catch-all for all kinds of filler like giving yourself superlatives (“I’m super detail-oriented”) or talking about how much you want the job.
A golden rule of writing is: Show, don’t Tell. And that’s what Proof is all about.
We’ll start with a classic: How to properly include a sample in your proposal. But I’ll cover some that are more beginner-friendly too.
Proof 1: Present a Sample
Whenever you include a sample, you need to “sell” the client on it. If you just drop the link with no context, it won’t be as effective.
Remember: There might be dozens of other freelancers providing samples too, and clients may only open a few. Just assume that yours will be skipped over unless you give a good reason to look. And for cases where clients can’t open it for whatever reason, describe your sample (or the importance of it) with enough detail for them to be impressed even without actually looking.
- “Check out this page I wrote for a client in the same industry…”
- “Here’s a design I created for someone with a very similar product…”
- “You can see how I did this for another client who asked for the same specifications…”
- “This sample was for a recent client in an equally tough industry to break into…”
- “This piece here shows my ABC style: <link> and this piece shows my XYZ style: <link>”
- “Take a look at this project I did for another Upwork client that doubled their sales…”
- “I created this piece from scratch in just 2 hours, so I’m confident I can meet your tight deadline…”
Most times, one sample is enough. If you need to show range, you can include two. Don’t include three or more unless you have a very good reason. Too many samples can be daunting – don’t give the client a bunch of homework right away. You can always show more samples once you get into the interviewing stage.
The best way to include a sample is to link to it, either in a Google Doc or on a live webpage. Clients are sometimes wary of downloading samples, so avoid adding attachments if you can.
You should also avoid attaching a Word Doc or anything else that needs a specific program to open, if you can help it. No matter how common you think the program is, you never know – maybe the client is on a different device or something. Just stay on the safe side.
Proof 2: Show off a Testimonial
A testimonial is very similar to a sample. For both of them, you need to sell the client on looking at it:
- “Here’s a testimonial from a similar client…”
- “I did a project just like this one last week, and the client had this to say…”
- “Another client who found me right here on Upwork wrote this about me…”
If it’s a standard testimonial, just paste the text directly into the proposal – no need to attach a screenshot. Pasting the text in makes for a much smoother experience, which is an advantage over work samples. The only time I include a screenshot is if the testimonial is in a weirder format, like an email that’s way too long or other edge cases.
Keep in mind that you don’t really need to include the name/company of whoever gave you the testimonial at the end. Unless it’s a really big name, I almost always leave it off cause no one really cares.
A note on edits: A testimonial is NOT a news article. If there are typos in the testimonial, you can correct them without using [sic] or putting a footnote like “this was edited for spelling.” If the testimonial is 5 paragraphs long or contains an irrelevant detail in the middle, you can cut it down without using […].
Just don’t misrepresent whoever gave you the testimonial by adding flourishes that weren’t there (like changing a period into an exclamation point) or omitting key context (like changing “Bob is the best freelancer I have ever hired for transcription” into “Bob is the best freelancer I have ever hired”. If the person who wrote it wouldn’t recognize it as their words, you’ve gone too far.
If the testimonial is mediocre, it might be better not to use it. For example: “___ was a pretty decent freelancer who got the job done. I was satisfied with their work.” is too blah sounding. “___ did a great job for a beginner, we didn’t need to make too many edits.” will make you sound amateur. Better in this case to not show anything. Use your judgment and put your best foot forward.
Don’t have any testimonials yet? Keep in mind that they don’t have to come from Upwork clients. You can use testimonials from other freelance clients who have hired you elsewhere.
Don’t have any of those either? Well, they don’t need to come from freelance clients at all. You can use a testimonial from an employer. Or grab something a coworker said about you on LinkedIn. Or just ask around your network.
My first testimonial came from unpaid work I did through a website for charity volunteers. Almost anything goes – just make sure it’s a professional connection and not something your mom said.
Proof 3: Tell a “War Story”
This is basically telling the client about some relevant project you completed (or are in the middle of). You can think of this as “selling” a sample or testimonial, but without the actual sample or testimonial.
“I just wrapped up a very similar project for an XYZ-type client. They had ABC constraints, so I couldn’t use any DEF tactics. Instead I took a 123 approach and we got 456 results.”
At least, that’s the ideal War Story. But you can still get away with something like:
“I’m currently working on another project that’s just like this. An important thing for that one was getting the XYZ right – because they were dealing with ABC, I decided to do 123. For your project, you might want to explore something similar.”
And don’t worry, not every War Story needs to be from a super similar project. Maybe you can write:
“I once worked on a project in the XYZ space, which has all kinds of restrictions and special considerations. Since your project is just for ABC, it’s going to be a lot simpler. You’ll be saving a lot of money as long as we can keep things within 123.”
And no, you don’t need to be a grizzled veteran either. You can tell a War Story even if it’s not about an some epic triumph:
“Hmm… this is actually a pretty complex project, so you need to be really careful with the execution. I once worked at a company that messed their XYZ up because of ABC reason, which caused all sorts of major problems like 123. If I were to tackle this, I think we should consider doing it with 456 approach because…”
Tips for telling War Stories:
- Exclude irrelevant details. For example: Maybe only mention the industry if it’s the same industry as the client you’re talking to. Otherwise, it can potentially weaken the power of your story by drawing extra attention to the fact that you never worked on something in the same industry (otherwise, wouldn’t that be the story you tell?).
- Sell the story just like a portfolio sample or testimonial. Don’t make the client read a bunch of text before they understand WHY you’re telling the story. Start with why it’s relevant and impressive before you go into the details of how you did it.
- You don’t need to make the story too long. It can honestly be as short as a sentence or two like the examples above. If you make it significantly longer, make sure to establish why the additional details are relevant.
Proof 4: Tell ANY story
This is the same as telling a War Story, except the story doesn’t even have to be yours!
It still makes you look good if you can demonstrate knowledge rather than personal experience. So if you don’t have any past client projects to talk about, you can substitute them with a story from a book, article, podcast episode, or just stuff you experience in life.
For example, you can tell a story from a well-known company:
“Apple faced a similar situation when they launched the first iPhone. XYZ was happening but they couldn’t do ABC so they did 123 instead, and got 456 result. When you launch your product, you can also…”
Or really just any company:
“I actually follow an XYZ business that started out doing ABC in 123 way. But then they started having problems because of 456. Eventually they switched to doing 789 though, and that’s when they really started to take off. I think something similar could really work for you too…”
Proof 5: Teach something
This is a great option for beginners that don’t have strong portfolios, haven’t earned many testimonials, and are too green to have any war stories.
All you have to do is give some kind of tip or insight. It’ll show that you’re knowledgeable about your field without needing any special assets or having to talk about your accomplishments at all.
If you don’t have a good tip off the top of your head, you can always Google around for one (and hopefully learn something valuable in the process). Just make sure it’s not so basic/obvious that you look amateur for bringing it up!
- “Something that’s really popular these days is to use XYZ, which works because…”
- “A lot of businesses overlook XYZ, but it could really help make this more effective by…”
- “For your type of business, I would definitely consider incorporating some XYZ…”
- “A great way to speed this up would be to use XYZ when you…”
- “I’m not sure if you’re aware, but there’s a tool called XYZ that we could use to…”
- “A key part of projects like this is to figure out XYZ, so if you haven’t already…”
- “Fun fact: A lot of the top companies in your industry have some kind of XYZ that…”
Note: If you’re a strategist or consultant of some sort who sells advice, be careful not to accidentally give away too much or you’ll cannibalize your service. The next proof is a variation that may be a better option:
Proof 6: Warn them of potential issues
Instead of a tip on how to make a project better, you can also warn clients of negative things like common issues, mistakes, blind spots, etc.
- “If you’re going to make an XYZ, you really want to think about ABC beforehand or it’ll be a huge pain to change later on.”
- “A common mistake clients make when hiring XYZ freelancers is not establishing XYZ. This almost always results in them overpaying by the end.”
- “Other freelancers will probably advise you to do XYZ, but that’s only because it’s cheap and easy for them to do. It sounds like you’re looking for more flexibility, so you’ll definitely want to use ABC instead.”
By talking about a potential pitfall, you assure clients that it won’t happen under your watch. Sure, all your competitors might also be aware… but if they didn’t explicitly mention it in their proposals, the client can’t be sure. You can become the most trusted freelancer by default.
If you’re feeling gutsy, you can even call out your competition directly. In certain situations you can warn clients of something other freelancers might say in their proposals that’s either a sign of being amateur, not as helpful/impressive as it might sound, or actively misleading for the sake of profit. This is an advanced technique, so be careful – you have to know both your clients and your competition very, very well. But if you can pull it off, you’ll instantly establish both trust and authority.
Proof 7: Describe your approach to the job
This may seem like a tool for experienced veterans who have completed hundreds of projects, but your approach doesn’t always have to be a patented 10-step process – it can be as minimal as explaining the first step you would take for their specific job.
If you ARE a veteran, this is a great way to establish authority. It’s the “show don’t tell” version of saying “I’ve done this a million times”.
But beginners can easily pull this off too. It puts the focus on the future, rather than the past experience you may not have very much of.
- “When I work on this type of project, my first step is always to…”
- “I have a 3-step process for projects like this: Step 1…”
- “At the end of every project, I always include…”
- “If we work on this together, I’m going to use
- “I use a tool called XYZ to handle this type of work, which ensures that…”
- “If you hire me for this, my final deliverable will include…”
- “Most of my clients like to start by…”
Note: Don’t feel like you need to cram every detail of how you’ll complete the job into your proposal. There will be plenty of time to discuss more details at a later stage. Even just saying that you have some kind of approach at all is a great way to signal quality and experience.
In fact, getting too crazy with explaining your process can actually hurt you in certain situations. For example, you don’t want to overwhelm clients with a complex 50-step process if they’re just looking for someone to handle a simple task as quickly as possible.
Also, keep in mind that having too rigid a process may turn off clients who want a more personal touch. If you suspect that clients want a more bespoke approach, soften your language to let them know that you can accommodate their specific needs (“I usually…” vs “I always”).
Ok, that’s enough “Proofs” for now. Onto the final section:
Part III: Ask a question (to lead clients to the next step)
Most freelancers end their proposals with some kind of “conclusion line”:
- “Looking forward to hearing from you”
- “Let me know if you have any questions”
- “Please consider me for this job!”
The problem with these is that they don’t move the discussion forward in any way. You want your proposal to end with a specific “next step” for clients to take.
My go-to ending is almost always one of two types of questions that require a response:
Question 1: Ask for a call
Here, you ask clients if they want to do a short phone (or Zoom) call.
- “If you’d like, I’m happy to hop on a quick 5-10 minute phone call. You can ask me some questions, and we’ll see if we’re a good fit.”
- “Want to hop on a quick Zoom call? We can discuss the project some more, and I can screenshare an example of XYZ.”
- “If you’re available now, I can do a short call today. I have some clarifying questions I’d like to ask you that might be quicker over the phone – just grab a spot on my calendar here: [LINK]”
When using this technique, it’s always a good idea to “sell” the client on why they should do the call, just like when you sell the client on opening a portfolio sample:
- “Even if we don’t end up working together, I can at least give you a few pointers.”
- “I have some questions before I can give an exact quote and timeline.”
- “Rather than going back and forth on messages, you can ask me as many questions as you want in real-time.”
Phone or Zoom? Keep the client’s country and time zone in mind – I usually only use the phone call option if we’re in similar time zones and countries. Otherwise, I default to Zoom. And don’t get hung up on me saying Zoom, the other things like Google Meet are totally fine too.
How do you set it up? To reduce back-and-forth of scheduling, sometimes I’ll just include my phone number and tell clients to text me anytime to set up a call. You can also use a scheduling tool like Calendly and let clients pick from a list of open time slots. Just try to make it easy for them. Asking “what times are you free?” makes it more likely you’ll get ghosted.
Are you allowed to include contact info? While you’re not allowed to include your contact information in your profile, Upwork DOES allow you to share things like your phone number in proposals (yes, you can ignore the automated warnings).
How long should you talk? Try to keep the calls short. I never offer more than 5-10 minutes because I don’t want to devalue my time. Especially since one of my services is consulting, AKA getting paid to talk on the phone. Of course, you can always stay on the phone a bit longer if you need more time to close, but setting the expectation for a shorter call will help that along.
To phone or not to phone? I absolutely hate getting on the phone, even with my own friends. My generation grew up with texting, so calls give me anxiety. Even though I’m actually really good at closing on phone calls, I try to avoid it unless the client asks me for it first. If you happen to be comfortable on the phone, take advantage of it! Otherwise, maybe try the next question:
Question 2: Ask a “Moneyball question”
This is my favorite way to end a proposal. It’s super easy for anyone to use, can give you a huge advantage over all the other applicants, and the strategy helps you get work even if the client doesn’t hire you.
I wrote a whole separate blog post about this, which breaks down the strategy and shows a bunch of examples.
Check it out here: How to write Upwork proposals when everyone is better than you
Putting your Upwork proposal together…
Now that we’ve covered all 3 sections, all you need to do is pick one of each and stitch them together!
Author’s Note: This guide is a work in progress. I’ll be adding an FAQ section soon, which will address all the issues I know freelancers make when using the GPA template. If you aren’t on the email list already, make sure you join so you can get all the updates and bonus content.