Your Upwork proposal is your opportunity to make a great first impression on a potential new client and showcase your expertise. What can you do to help make sure you get noticed for all the right reasons?
In a webinar called “Power Proposal Tips from a Six-Figure Upworker,” Danny Margulies, a freelance copywriter and client on Upwork, shared some of the most common, and easy-to-fix, mistakes he’s found after submitting and reviewing thousands of proposals as he’s expanded his business over the past few years.
Margulies has found that the same thought process applies equally, whatever the size of the project you want to win. “Once you understand how clients think, you can apply that today wherever you are in your business—if you’re brand new, that’s fine, and as you get more experience, you can continue to apply these tips and tactics.”
The secret, he says, is the old adage: Work smarter, not harder. If you focus intently on the quality of the proposals you send—rather than the number of proposals you send out—your success rate will likely be much higher. Here’s tips from Margulies on how to get your proposals to the next level—and land more contracts.
When posting a job on Upwork, clients are prompted to specify their budget. Margulies says that creates more of an obstacle in a freelancer’s mind than how much they should charge.
“Most of the time, the client doesn’t really know what their budget should be,” he said. “And of course, they’re going to be afraid to put in a high budget because they don’t want to get taken advantage of.”
Instead, he suggests focusing on being the expert: Let them know how much the work will cost for you to do it well. “When I have a plumbing problem in my house and I call the plumber, I don’t say ‘I want you to get this done for $100,’” Margulies said.
Instead, he expects the expert to explain what needs to be done and what his budget should be—and as a freelancer, that’s part of your role.
But that isn’t the only reason Margulies says freelancers charge too little. Often, he says, freelancers base their rate on what they would make as an employee, which is a big oversight. “You are responsible for your own taxes, your own expenses, your own retirement,” he explained. “If you want to take a vacation—and I hope you do—you have to pay for that.”
When setting your rates, Margulies suggests charging two to five times what you would make as an employee. If you set your rate too low, you may provide amazing work, but the perception may be different.
Margulies estimates that a quarter of jobs on Upwork ask freelancers to respond to additional questions as part of their application, but there’s an important point many freelancers don’t realize: While you’re prompted to write a cover letter before responding to additional questions, clients see your responses to the additional questions at the top of your submission.
Why? Clients use these questions to efficiently screen proposals.
Instead of putting everything you have into a stellar cover letter, then getting to the additional questions as an afterthought, Margulies suggests you do them in reverse. “Answer the additional questions [first], put a lot of good, juicy nuggets in there, demonstrate your knowledge, demonstrate your caring to clients in those additional questions, and then move on to your cover letter.”
This doesn’t mean you should neglect your cover letter—you still want the client to get excited—but Margulies recommends making it more of a closing summary that reiterates key points, includes samples or links to your work, offers a case study, or otherwise provides final polish to your application.
Too many freelancers don’t just overlook the importance of having a great profile photo, they don’t realize what a huge impact even small changes can make.
“One of the ways that clients make decisions—and this all happens at a subconscious level, so they’re not necessarily realizing it—they’re actually forming a first impression of you in a fraction of a second,” he said. “If your photo contains visual cues that are working against you, that client will actually make a snap judgement that it’s going to be very hard—or even impossible—to overcome.”
Using his own photos as an example, Margulies shared two profile photos and the feedback he received through photofeeler.com, a site where people can review your photo to assess whether you look competent, likable, and influential (the site has paid and free options).
The differences are subtle: The second image has better lighting, he’s smiling, and it’s cropped more closely in on him. But the perception of him as being “Competent” more than doubled.
So how do you take a great profile photo?
Here’s what Margulies suggests:
Why take your photo outside? “We’re actually wired to meet people outdoors,” Danny said. “People actually look their best, and their most charismatic, when there is real sunlight shining.”
Sending high-quality proposals is paramount, and Margulies explains that an easy pitfall for freelancers who focus too much on the number of proposals they send is to look for shortcuts—like using pre-written, or “canned,” proposals.
The risk of saving time with pre-written content is that your proposals won’t be nearly as well received. “[A client] can tell immediately that it’s a canned proposal because it doesn’t have anything to do with them,” he said.
Margulies says a canned proposal misses the context. A client expects to find a generic message on your website or Upwork profile. When they receive a proposal, however, they expect something more personal that addresses them and their specific needs.
Even if the client is looking for a logo redesign and you’ve done hundreds of great redesigns in the past, Margulies said clients don’t want to be “just another logo”—they will always see their project as being very unique, and you need to address that in your proposal.
“Forget about saving time. Save time on other things,” he said. “Looking for clients [is] the most important work you do, next to the actual work you do.”
Ready to revamp your proposals?
Check out Margulies’s website, freelancetowin.com/proposals, for examples of real winning proposals that you can analyze and learn from. Watch the full webinar, including the Q&A discussion with attendees, or join the discussion in the Upwork community.