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#1 Mistake You Keep Making And Why I Don't Hire You

Active Member
Michael H Member Since: Jan 21, 2017
1 of 40

Hi.  Thanks for reading this post.  I am a fairly prolific buyer here on Upwork and of-course I use other sites as well.  Upwork seems to have one of the most experienced set of freelancers so I keep coming back.  Our mutual goal is to work together and in that effort I wish you all the best of luck but I wanted to take one minute out of my day to share with you again, why I don't hire you.


I posted a gig two days ago for a custom website requiring user customization features.  I used as an example the common experience of users going to a T-shirt website and having the ability to customize the T-shirt.  The project is a 30 day delivery project at $2,000USD.  


Within 48 hours I received about 49 proposals.  Here is what I did.


1.  I immediately look at every summary profile and DELETE any proposal where the freelancer has less than a 90% success rate.  That may not be fair but that is what I do.  My thinking is somewhere along this line you have taken on a project where the communication broke down.  Maybe it was the buyers fault but as a client, I always think there is a reasonable solution to a problem and it is on the freelancer to work to resolve the problem.  Most buyers are not unreasonable and I can only assume the act in a manner similar to me.  If I had a problem on a project (and I have had issues before) I would not provide a negative rating if the misunderstanding resulted in a reasonable compromise.  UPWORK unfortunately does a dis-service to the freelancer community by requiring all clients to provide a rating.  The fact is, sometimes a gig just goes bad and the two parties were not the right pairing.  While I may not want to recommend you to others, I certainly do not want to hurt your prospects for future work.  I believe that one bad experience with me should not forever damage your reputation on this site.  My preference would be to part ways and NOT rate you.  But when forced to rate you- I will be honest.  I will not recommend you nor will I give you 5 star ratings.  However, I will try to provide a summary of what occured but the truth is, your next client might just DELETE your propopsal before ever reading the note about why you received a bad rating.  I don't have time to read all of the reviews you have received, especially when I have 49 proposals.  Unfortunately for you I will DELETE your proposal if you are less than 90%.  My guess is...others do the same.   My suggestion is do whatever you need to do to ensure the client rates you high even if you think he/she is wrong and you are right.  Sometimes we just have to deal with bad situations.


2.  I immediately DELETE any proposal where the freelancer has not generated any earnings.  Some people will take a chance on newbies.  I don't.  Your best bet is to stay focused on proposals that ask for entry-level freelancers.  Your are wasting my time trying to win a project where I clearly asked for EXPERT freelancers.  You are also wasting my time.  Before you all freak out and try to tell me that while you have not earned any money on Upwork you have all kinds of experiences on other sites...please understand-  I don't have time to read your history.  Here is your challenge-  your cover letters all look the same...for the most part.  Everyone says they have 7 years experience with...blah blah blah.  The only benchmark that differentiates you from the initial proposal review process is you earnings and ratings.  High ratings with now earnings (I still can't understand how this happens) means I am going to filter you out.  My suggestion is to build up some earning on entry-level jobs...even though you think they are beneath you, and then submit for the higher skill projects where the earnings might be more in line with our goals.  If you earn as little as $10k I will keep you in my grouping.


3.  I immediately DELETE any proposal that is either 20% higher than my budget.  Why are you wasting your time and mine bidding on projects I can't afford?  Of-course you are an expert.  Of-course you deserve more money.  The market is what the market is.  I received more than 60 proposals and roughly 90% agreed to do the gig at $2,000.  Except you came in at $3,500.  Bye Bye.  Oh- if you think noboday else can do the job at $2,000 you are really hurting your own ability to win projects on this platform.  Excellent designers and developers on this site will deliver sites as good or better than you... the competition is that good. My suggestion is don't submit proposals on projects that your can deliver on budget.  It is a waste of your time and a waste of mine.


4.  I immediately DELETE any proposal that is 20% lower than my budget.  Same as above.  I don't chase lowballers.  Look- I have been lured into awarding projects to the lowest bidder plenty of times.  Sometimes the gigs go great.  Other times...not so good.  I try to stay within a single deviation of the mean.


5.  Once I filtered out the noise I am left with what I call my preferred grouping.  I then start by reading every cover letter.  In the case of this project, I was left with 12.  I am now going through each proposal.  I took a break to write this post because I was frustrated with the amount of wasted time on your part and mine.  Right now, I have read 7 proposals and only 2 specifically referenced my exact project and/or provided examples of work that was similar to what I am looking for.  The rest of the proposals lacked several things:


a.  They did not provide a cover letter that let me know they really read my proposal.  I think they saw $2,000 Custom Website in my title and just sumbitted a bid.  Of-course every one writes:  "I read your proposal thoroughly and feel I am the perfect fit for your "Custom Website" project....blah blah blah.  This just stinks of boilerplate lingo that is sure to follow.  Here is my suggestion.  Open with this:


GOOD-  So you need users to customize their products-  great.  I can absolutely help..  Here are some examples of relevant work.


BETTER-  Okay- lets talk about why I am the right choice for this gig.  You need users to be able to customize their products-  as it turns out, I just completed this similar project.  You also need it done in 30 days-  I did a quick milestone draft and I can deliver in 28 (or 35...whatever).  Finally, your budget is $2,000.  How about $1,900 (or $2,100). 


BEST-  Mike- allowing customers to customize products is something we see more and more everyday.  In fact, we have done many sites like this in the past and I have given you a few examples below.  I personally believe provide a custom user experience like this is a powerful way to differentiate sites and products and in the event that you need help with promoting a site like this in the future, we can help with that as well.  But for now, let me share a path for accomplishing your goal.  First, you said you like a clean webiste.  Whitespace is an important, dramatic and powerful design feature so our mutual goal will be to minimize site noise while maximizing your product visability.  Let's use short copy that packs powerful benefits and features.  You emphasisze customization- so there are several easy to use pluggins that will help us achieve the customization features you require and this will help us save some money.  In fact, I will try to use tools like this wherever we can.  It makes development easier, faster and more stable on my end and administratively, the process is much more streamlined on your end.  Your budget is $2,000 and since I noticed in your profile that you have awareded more than 50 jobs over the past 24 months with excellent feedback, you  sound like a client I would like to build a long-term relationship with.  How about $1,900?  Finally, you said you need this in 30 days.  I have 4 people on my team and we believe we can deliver this project exactly the way you would like in 28 days.  I have proposed a milestone schedule below for your consideration.  If you are ready to start-  I am as well.  I look forward to hearing from you soon.


Now the BEST actually could be written in a way that in could be re-used for other projects but my point is the more you CONNECT with me the better. 


Here is where I think most freelancers fail.  They fail to understand that their experiences are nearly ubiquitous with every other freelancer.  Let's just stipulate that you are all EXCELLENT.  Now, if we have acheived the commoditization of development skills then we need to focus on a different value proposition.  The single most important feature you can offer a client is UNDERSTANDING.  I want you to pressume you are on my team.  You need to talk about US not you.   You need to paint a picture why you are more than just a developer.  You are a stake holder invested in my success.  Use "we" often. 


Finally, where is the pickle?  When I order a sandwhich, I only go to sandwhich shops that give me a free pickle on the side.  What is your pickle?  A lot of people offer 3 months of support or more.  That isn't really a pickle anymore because everyone offers it.  What is your pickle?


I hope this helps save you time and I wish you all continued success.



Community Guru
Petra R Member Since: Aug 3, 2011
2 of 40

Nice article Smiley Happy


Personally I do bid well above budget at times and my hire rate is well above average - however, I am usually invited and hardly ever bid on anything. When I do and feel the job warrants a much higher bid I'll bid much hire. The client is free to take it or leave it Smiley Wink


The rest should be so beeping obvious to someone who is supposed to be running their own business, but unfortunately isn't.


One piece of advice back:


If you really don't wish to leave feedback be honest to our freelancer and tell them that you'd rather not leave feedback on this occasion and tell them to feel free to end the contract themselves. That way you don't have to leave feedback.


Try not to do this too often as smart freelancers avoid clients who have a history of a lot (!) of closed contracts where they left bad or no feedback.


I would go as far as saying I almost ignore the feedback clients get from other freelancers. A difficult client is a temporary challenge at worst. I do, very much, care about the feedback the client leaves for their freelancers. Every piece of feedback is a permanent part of my profile and my profile is important to me.

Community Guru
Randy S Member Since: Mar 20, 2017
3 of 40

There's some really good advice here, and as a freelancer, I appreciate it. 


Though I do get quite a bit of work through upwork, I'm always looking for ways I can improve my initial presentation and up my game. I particularly found the notes about the cover letter and "pickle" useful. I tend to keep my cover letters very short and to the point, and don't generally get into specifics (particularly with lower paying jobs). I also never really go into detail about exactly what I'm offering clients for the money, such as two free script revisions and clean, edited audio, which are both value-added items a lot of VO talent doesn't offer up front. 


This gives me a lot to think about as I move my freelancing to the next level -- so thanks once again! 



Community Guru
Tiffany S Member Since: Jan 15, 2016
4 of 40

@Michael H wrote:


3.  I immediately DELETE any proposal that is either 20% higher than my budget.  Why are you wasting your time and mine bidding on projects I can't afford?  Of-course you are an expert.  Of-course you deserve more money.  The market is what the market is.  I received more than 60 proposals and roughly 90% agreed to do the gig at $2,000.  Except you came in at $3,500.  Bye Bye.  Oh- if you think noboday else can do the job at $2,000 you are really hurting your own ability to win projects on this platform.  Excellent designers and developers on this site will deliver sites as good or better than you... the competition is that good. My suggestion is don't submit proposals on projects that your can deliver on budget.  It is a waste of your time and a waste of mine.



Your perspective is unique to a very experienced client with a good sense of what it costs to complete each project at an acceptable quality level. Many Upwork clients are hiring freelancers because they need work performed in an area completely outside their experience and ability. They don't know what the right price is. Or, they have a budget they're hoping will work out, but when they see the discrepancy in proposals and samples, they realize that it is worth paying more. 


I have been hired on quite a few projects where I bid 50-100% above the posted budget, and on at least one where my bid was substantially more than double the posted budget. 


This was not a waste of my time, because I got hired, made money and got great ratings. Presumably, it was not a waste of the clients' time, as they hired me, expressed satisfaction, rated me well, and in many cases hired me again later.


Similarly, I see clients from time to time who have priced their projects too high. At $90/hour, I'm toward the higher end of writers on this platform, though there are many who charge more than I do. I doubt that any reasonable person would consider me a "lowballer". Occasionally, I see someone post a project  along the lines of someone looking for content for a single landing page of 400 words with a 7-day turnaround time and a budget of $300. 


I work within a specialized niche, and I know from experience that a very good first draft will take me about 45 minutes to write. If the client requests revisions, that might add 10-15 minutes, but 90%+ of my clients are satisfied with the first draft, so odds are this is a 45-minute project. I'm not going to charge that client $300 for 45 minutes work when I would have charged anyone else $90 just because he made the mistake of overestimating the budget.


It sounds as if you are that rare client who already knows absolutely everything there is to know about each project you post, each niche you need assistance in, working with freelancers, etc--but, if that's true, you are in no way representative of the typical Upwork client.



4.  I immediately DELETE any proposal that is 20% lower than my budget.  Same as above.  I don't chase lowballers.  Look- I have been lured into awarding projects to the lowest bidder plenty of times.  Sometimes the gigs go great.  Other times...not so good.  I try to stay within a single deviation of the mean.



Community Guru
Rene K Member Since: Jul 10, 2014
5 of 40

I'm gonna to bookmark this thread so I can serve it back to confused freelancers. It's very useful.


I agree with mostly everything that Michael wrote. It makes perfect sense. Not all clients follow the same reasoning because not all clients are as experienced as he is, but this is how a seasoned client may think and act.


I would partially disagree with the no newbies part. I find that hiring newbies is great because they are eager to impress. However, I understand that one may be reluctant to hire newbies for anything else but small projects. I can see myself hiring a newbie for a small task, and I already did. But I wouldn't hire them for larger tasks. This is where Michael's advice to newbies makes sense: go for small gigs and build yourself some cred.


Michael provided nice examples of bad and good proposals. He's right, this is a weak point for many. I, however, don't like it when people share those examples because it gives bad freelancers a hint :-)


(And I'm d@amn serious, some losers will certainly copy/paste examples that Michael provided in their own proposals.) Lol Smiley Happy


In any case, thank you Michael.

"Where darkness shines like dazzling light"   —William Ashbless
Community Guru
Preston H Member Since: Nov 24, 2014
6 of 40

I intentionally hire a mix of newbies and experienced freelancers.


Hiring newbies is a "hit and miss" prospect.


I undestand going into it that some newbies won't deliver any work at all.


I understand that sometimes I need to stop them while they're working and explain how to use the time-tracker application.


But often newbie freelancers can provide good value for the dollar. And they're appreciative of getting a break.

Community Guru
Wendy C Member Since: Aug 24, 2015
7 of 40

Bravo, Mike!  While I disagree with some aspects such as bidding over budget, I acknowledge doing so and explain why my quote is at XXX, your overall comments  should be mandatory reading.  Copyright your "Best" suggestions; my guess is your words will appear in more bids than  you can imagine.


Community Guru
John K Member Since: Feb 17, 2015
8 of 40

I’ll make a few comments:

  1. I have Job Success above 90% and I always address job specifics in my cover letters
  2. I will bid 20% or more below the stated budget IF I believe the budget is excessive for the project
  3. I have no intention of offering free support after the project is completed, let alone for 3 months
"No good deed goes unpunished." -- Clare Boothe Luce
Community Guru
Richard W Member Since: Jun 22, 2017
9 of 40

Thanks, Mike, for taking the time to give us an insight into how a client thinks. As a new-ish freelancer, thIs is just the sort of thing I need to know. Your advice on writing proposals was particularly valuable. I do some of those things already, but I still need improve.


That said, it would be good to hear from other clients too, since I know that not all follow the same policies as you. I've been able to get some good jobs despite not yet having a Job Success Score.


One thing I'm particularly keen to hear about at the moment Is different clients' attitudes to budgets and bids.  A couple of days ago I bid on a job where I thought I had a very good chance (provided  the client actually looked at my proposal) because I was able to show a very similar job that I'd recently done for another client. But I was afraid I might blow my chances by bidding the wrong amount. I considered the client's budget high for the amount of work, and would happily have done the job for half the budget. Maybe the budget was the client's maximum, but he was expecting to pay less. On the other hand, if I bid  only half the budget, perhaps he would consider that a "lowball" and not take me seriously. In the end I bid 70% of the budget... and got the job! I probably could have got 100%, but I wouldn't have been comfortable charging that much. As it is, I'm hoping to throw in an extra feature or two to justify my high-ish price.





Community Guru
Isabelle Anne A Member Since: May 19, 2014
10 of 40

I really appreciate it when clients post their insights & perspectives in the forums, but I'm also really glad that not all clients are like you.


- Maybe ignoring freelancers with less than a 90% JSS works for you but I know some get great value from contractors with 80% and up. Keep in mind that the concept behind JSS is great but the actual system and its calculations are flawed in many ways. I’m lucky to be benefitting from it at the moment, but this comes with a lot of hassle regarding pushing for feedback, ending contracts, etc., and I’ve had to pass on so much work because I think those clients would negatively affect my score.


Although I often go with your suggestion to give into unreasonable clients, which a lot of other freelancers seem to do as well, this practice has led to plenty of abuse and blackmailing by clients who simply want to get away with great work for pennies.


- Ignoring newbies with great proposals and whose profiles seems legit means you could be missing out, but that’s your prerogative. I’m just glad that not all clients do the same thing, because then no one would have gotten their first contract on the site!


I do agree that sometimes newbies have to start out with lower-paid work (I did, unfortunately), but I’ve seen plenty of exceptions to this, especially when clients take the time to review their off-site profiles and consequently pay more for their non-Upwork experience.


- I strongly disagree with your budget proposal advice. I’ve bid up to triple times the budget and been hired, and I’ve also bid significantly lower and been hired. And I’m not the only one.


Often, neither client nor the freelancer can estimate the budget accurately until they’re in the interview stages and discussing the full scope of the project.


Also, in the above post you say “I immediately DELETE any proposal that is either 20% higher than my budget,” but in another of your posts (, you say:


“...if you demonstrate that you fully grasp my needs and you provide one or two ideas on how you will specifically help my achieve my project goals then, everything else being equal, I am going to consider your 20% higher price as equal value to a cheaper freelancer who simply provided good examples of recent work.”


So unless your views have changed regarding this, I’m sure you can agree that paying more than the listed budget can end up being a wise decision.


- Your cover letter advice seems spot on to me, but keep in mind that I’ve bid on at least 10 jobs where I wrote only a one-sentence cover letter, and was hired. I guess it also depends on the type of job one’s applying for.


- I don’t know any other freelancer who offers pickles equivalent to 3 months of support. I truly hope that’s not the norm. Extras are great if you can get them from a freelancer, but good freelancers also know where to draw the line to prevent being taken advantage of.


I’m glad your tactics seem to work for you, but I personally wouldn’t want clients reading this to take them as rules to hire by, and I hope freelancers realize that your views are by no means representative of those of the majority of clients.


And judging from your paying average of fairly low rates in your client history, you would not be the type client I’d be looking to work with Smiley Sad


Though this post is clearly not for those who share my opinions, I’m sure that it’s valuable for many others. I hope that more clients take the time as you have to share their thoughts in the forums.