“This Upwork job looks like a good fit for my skills,” you say to yourself.

Should you apply?

If so, how can you make your proposal stand out from dozens of other freelancers who are bound to apply?

If you’re asking these questions, you’ve come to the right place!

In this article, I’ll share tips that I’ve learned from the past decade working as an oDesk and Upwork freelancer. I’ll also provide an Upwork proposal sample that you can adapt to your needs.

What is an Upwork Proposal?

An Upwork proposal is your opportunity to propose contract terms and explain why you’re the right candidate for the job. Keep in mind that on Upwork, there are two basic ways to connect with potential clients:

  1. The client discovers your profile and sends you an invitation to interview.
  2. You discover the job posting and apply.

Note: This article focuses on how to submit an Upwork proposal in the latter scenario, but the former follows very similar steps. When a client discovers your profile, he or she already knows about your skills and hourly rate, which could give you the upper hand. If you’re just getting started on Upwork, however, it’s unlikely that clients will send unsolicited invitations to interview. That’s why it’s so important to understand how the proposal process works!

Before You Click the “Submit Proposal” Button

Not every client relationship is created equal. That’s my experience, anyway. So, before you go through a dozen or two job postings and apply for all of them, be sure to do your homework. Generally speaking, I look for clients with the following criteria. If they don’t meet this criteria, then there’s a low likelihood that I’m going to apply for their job.

My criteria include:

  • Payment method must be verified on Upwork.
  • Received at least several Upwork reviews.
  • Upwork rating of 5.0 stars (or very, very close to it).
  • Spent at least $1,000 on Upwork.
  • Average hourly rate paid seems reasonable (use prudence when considering this data point, as it’s somewhat subjective).

If the client seems legit, be sure to re-read the job posting and double check that there are no surprises. The last thing you want to do is waste your time applying for an opportunity that is not a good fit. Do you actually have the required skills? Does your availability align with the client’s needs? Reconfirm your assumptions before going any further. If it still looks good, it’s time to click that big green button!

Upwork Submit a Proposal Button copy
Figure 1. Upwork submit proposal button. Copyright owned by Upwork Global Inc. Retrieved November 22, 2019. Screenshot by Keener Marketing Solutions, LLC.

Proposal Settings

If you own or work for an agency on Upwork, you’ll likely see a screen that looks like this after clicking the green “Submit a Proposal” button. Note that my company’s name appears in the option for applying as an agency member. All work that I do on Upwork is done under my LLC / agency, but this is for you to decide on how you want to operate your business. Read more about how Upwork agencies work. (If you don’t see this option when applying for a job, it may be because you don’t have an agency.)

Upwork Proposal Settings
Figure 2. Upwork proposal settings. Copyright owned by Upwork Global Inc. Retrieved November 22, 2019. Screenshot by Keener Marketing Solutions, LLC.

“Terms” Section

Next, you’ll see the “Job Details” section, which seems to contain much of the same information that is on the public (or semi-public) job posting.

Scrolling past that section brings you to the place where you can enter an hourly rate (assuming this is an hourly contract and not a fixed-price job).

Terms Upwork Proposal
Figure 3. Upwork proposal terms. Copyright owned by Upwork Global Inc. Retrieved November 22, 2019. Screenshot by Keener Marketing Solutions, LLC.

Upwork shows the estimated service fee (which starts at 20% and decreases the longer you work for a particular client). Below that, you’ll see the net amount that you will receive after service fees are deducted by Upwork. If your estimated net rate is lower than expected, try adjusting the top-line hourly rate until your net rate is more desirable. (Keep in mind that the prospective client will consider your hourly rate when deciding whether or not to interview you. Be competitive!)

“Cover Letter” Section

Last, but certainly not least, you’ll come to the cover letter section of the Upwork proposal. If you’re looking for an Upwork proposal sample, this is probably what you’re looking for. Although not required (unless otherwise specified by the client), the cover letter is arguably the most important part of your proposal. Remember, for any Upwork job posting, a client may receive dozens of applications. Sifting through even a handful of applications can be time-consuming, especially when there are several highly qualified candidates. By creating a well-constructed and thoughtful cover letter, you give yourself every opportunity to impress the client, differentiate yourself, and increase your odds of landing an interview.

Upwork Proposal Sample Cover Letter
Figure 4. Upwork proposal sample cover letter. Copyright owned by Upwork Global Inc. Retrieved November 22, 2019. Screenshot and cover letter text by Keener Marketing Solutions, LLC.

Elements of an Effective Cover Letter

So, what should an effective cover letter include? As someone who has submitted and received dozens of Upwork proposals over the years, I believe your cover letter should exhibit these characteristics:

  • Brief, yet meaningful – 100 to 200 words maximum.
  • Casual, but professional – Spelling errors, typos, and grammatical errors are not advised.
  • Custom-tailored to the client’s actual needs – Don’t talk about why you’re great; rather, speak to how you can solve the client’s problem. Speak to one or more examples of how you’ve solved similar challenges for other clients.
  • Not a form template with a zillion bullet points and links – Mindlessly copying and pasting a form cover letter is lazy and doesn’t impress anyone.
  • Confident, yet humble – Your tone should assume a positive outcome without sounding overly confident. No one likes arrogance; on the other hand, being too cautious can create doubt with the client.
  • Focused on the next step – Share your availability and ask the client when they’re available for a brief discussion. Make it easy for them to engage with you.

Upwork Proposal Sample

Now, let’s boil all of this down into a real-world example. For the sake of discussion, let’s assume that I decided to apply for a business plan job posting. After reviewing the listing, doing some basic due diligence, preparing my thoughts, and defining my hourly rate, I would draft a cover letter that goes something like this:

Good afternoon,

Over the past decade, I’ve developed numerous successful business plans for Upwork clients. Your product sounds like it has a lot of potential based on my initial research, and I’m excited to learn more about your exact needs.

Let’s jump on a quick call so I can scope out the project. I have a few questions that I’d like to run by you.

I’m available this afternoon and tomorrow before 11 am Eastern.

What does your calendar look like?



Share Your Upwork Proposal Samples

Do you have an Upwork proposal strategy or message that resonates with potential clients? Comment below with your best practices.


Matt Keener is the original "Executive in Sweatpants," having built a successful online consulting business (from home). His best-selling book offers tips for capitalizing on outsourcing and freelancing. Matt holds an MBA and has been featured by many recognizable brands, including Upwork (formerly oDesk), Elance, Insightly, the Dave Ramsey Show, and Entrepreneur.com.

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