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How to write Cover Letter on Upwork

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A lot of freelancers create a template Cover Letter and copy-paste it without changes for all proposals but it is a big mistake. Cover Letter for each job and client should be personal as much as possible to achieve high response rate from clients.

I don’t have a template for a cover letter, but I’ve created a certain structure for myself, which I use in each cover letter:

  1. How will I do a job (with technical details);
  2. My experience with similar projects or technologies;
  3. Estimated deadline and time duration in hours divided into milestones;
  4. A budget based on the number of hours;
  5. Questions about the project;
  6. Proposals and ideas;
  7. Project pipeline.

How will I do a job (with technical details)

First of all, I tell the client about how I will do his job, what technologies I will use and why. Client will see that I spent time to figure out how to solve his task and I show my skills as a specialist.

I think the first paragraph is the most important and the best option to interest client is to give him information about how to solve his current problems.

Relevant experience

Then I tell about my experience with similar projects. It is very important for clients to know that you have already implemented similar solutions before and have experience with technologies that will be used in the project.

There is one ethical problem. On the one hand, clients want to hear from you that you’ve already had a similar experience. On the other hand, it is always impossible to have such experience, and often it is not possible to speak about the past experience (for example signing non-disclosure agreements, NDA). It is not good to tell clients the wrong thing, in fact, to cheat them.
Personally, I do not see anything wrong in changing some information about my experience. It is very important for client that you have already dealt with similar tasks. If you do not have such experience, you need to spend time studying such projects. It is necessary if you want to convince the client. I usually refer to the fact that I signed the NDA and I cannot give references to past similar projects. And I prove my competence by the fact that for this purpose I’ve studied similar projects and can tell the details of work on such projects.

The ideal option is to give references to the project in portfolio on Upwork, which is attached to the past project on the platform and is similar to the client’s project.

Estimation

Any client always wants to know the approximate terms and budget of the project in advance. Usually, it is very difficult to estimate the task, especially with limited information about the project. But I always write terms and budget in a cover letter. If after reading project description it is not fully clear what should you do, I assume the possible similar tasks and make estimation to them. This is necessary to show the client that you really know his project. And even if I guess the problem incorrectly, I give him an opportunity to know how much my services cost.

Dividing the project into milestones

Before estimating the term for the whole project, I divide task into several subtasks. No matter how big or small the original task is, I usually divide it into several stages. Then separately estimate the time in hours for each of the subtasks.

Dividing the project into parts makes it possible to use the milestone system for fixed-price projects. Additional, milestones simplify the work on the project. It is easier for the client to understand what you want to do by reading estimation for project subtasks individually, and not for the entire project at once. Client will see that a certain functional/task takes too much time and may refuse it before the start of the project. Thus, you will be able to help the client even before the start of the project, which means that the client will see you as a professional. So you can ask for a higher hourly rate.

After estimating the time in hours I give an estimate in daysI usually expect to be able to spend 30 hours a week on the project. I choose 30 hours instead of default 40 hours for two reasons. First, I want to have an additional of 10 hours a week, so I will have time to achieve best results if I was wrong in estimating terms. Second, I don’t want to work 40 hours a week. Usually, I work more than 30 hours only if I am very interested in the project.

After this, I tell to client the deadlines for each subtask. In the end, I write the deadline date for the whole project.

Budget

The next Cover Letter paragraph is the budget. Here I estimate budget for each milestone defined before. The formula is very simple: multiply the hourly rate by the number of hours defined in the last paragraph. So it will be clear for client how I estimate budget. If you just tell that your work will cost $1000 and take a month, client will have much less confidence in you because he doesn’t know why you estimate $1000 instead of $900 or $1100. In the end, I tell the client the final price for the entire project.

There is a little trick. Usually, the estimated budget is much bigger than the budget client initially put in the description of the project and it is certainly not very good. I always make a discount (usually 20-30%) for the client. Often as a reason, I use the following phrase: “I have a little work now and thus I am ready to do the job cheaper.”

Reasons to give discounts:

  • Bring the budget closer to the number client expects;
  • To give the client a feeling that he is in the winning situation;
  • Be able to increase your earnings with this client in the future.

I often try to fit the project’s budget estimate (change the hourly estimate and then apply the discount) to the original evaluation of the budget by client, but exceeding it by about 10%.

I do this in order to stand out among other freelancers, as the vast majority of freelancers put a budget less/equal to the client’s assessment. I prefer not to exceed the project’s budget estimation by more than 10%, as it can scare client. The exception is when the budget specified by the client seems too small. But I rarely apply for such projects, Even if the project is interesting for me by primarily its functional, not money, as often it is very difficult to work with such clients.

Also, this trick is the client’s check for adequacy. A good sign is if the client is willing to discuss the budget. 10% is not a big difference and the fact that I didn’t just say the amount, but explained it, gives my words more weight. And If client insists on the original budget it’s a great reason to think. The matter is mostly not in the money, but in checking whether it is possible to conduct a dialogue with client or not. If client is not ready to accept my arguments, it will be very difficult to work on the project with him, which means I’m likely to refuse to work with such a client.

Discounts

Discount is a good way to give a client a feeling of a winning situation. I think that the perfect result of freelancer’s and client’s teamwork is when both sides believe that they have deceived each other. In this regard, both sides will be pleased and willing to continue their cooperation. If you tell the client that you have a certain situation and are ready to significantly reduce your salary, but you are a good specialist and client will think that he is lucky.

The last reason why I give discounts is the opportunity to increase earnings in the foreseeable future. The point is that it is not very easy to increase your hourly rate in the process of work on a project. The client wonders: “Why should I pay more if a freelancer does the same job as before”. Persuading a client to pay a lot to an unfamiliar freelancer at the start of the project is also not easy. In this case, you can go for a trick – say that your hourly rate is, for example, $30 per hour, but since you don’t have a work right now and you urgently need a job, you are ready to work for $20 per hour. As a result, we make the initial arrangements for a smaller hourly rate. After that, you can say that you have other jobs and you are basically ready to refuse them, for the sake of the current project. But it is not possible to work for a reduced hourly rate. It is worth noting- in all my projects I continued to work with the client after completing the initial task described in the starting job description.

Usually, the client doesn’t want to refuse your services if you have fulfilled your original obligations very well and on time. At the first stages of the project I earn much less, but when the client gets used to the quality of my work, then he agrees with increasing in payment. And hiring another freelancer is risky for the client. In this situation, I do not deceive the client. I say in advance that I am a good specialist. I am ready to work cheaper for now, but in the future, this situation may change.

But in no case give a discount on the pretext that you need a review on Upwork. It is forbidden by rules and with a high probability, you will be banned.

Project questions

The next paragraph in a cover letter I devote to questions about the project. This is done in order to make a special document in the near future, which will clearly spell out all the details of the project tasks that I will need to perform. You need to ask the most important questions to find out if this project is appropriate for you. If you ask a lot cover letter will be too big. If you do not ask any questions, the client will think that you have not spent enough time to study the information about the project. That’s not good.

This part of a cover letter is not mandatory, but in my opinion is very important. If I have any ideas of how to improve client’s project, or I believe that he chose the wrong decision about the functionality, then I necessarily have to tell him about it. Clients like when a freelancer is not a simple performer, but a partner who really wants to make a good project. Partner makes every effort to do this, including providing his expert opinion. But do not advise anything just to put dust in the eyes of the client. It is important that you believe that your ideas will be useful to the client.

Work process

The last paragraph in a cover letter I usually devote to the process of work. I am talking about how in my opinion it is effective to build communication and interaction of a freelancer and a client. I write that I am ready to communicate verbally and in text format, not against working with hourly payment or fixed-price, familiar with modern development methodologies (Agile, Scrum) and services/technologies (Jira, Redmine, etc). I am ready to report every day for client to be aware of the project. I offer time, convenient for me and client (based on timezone) in order to be able to chat in live mode. In my opinion, it is important to show the client that you understand how the process of work on the project is going. Especially with new clients on the platform.

Examples

I decided to show two of my cover letter which help me to get a job as an example. As you will see below, I do not follow all 100% of the structure and recommendations from this chapter. I could spend only 10-15 minutes when I wrote this cover letters, so their length is not very big.

You can also note that my English is far from perfect, but it does not matter much to clients.

Cover Letter for Android UI project

Hello, my name is Yevhenii and I am android developer from Ukraine (UTC +3).
I want take your project, because I have a lot of experience in creating android xml layout. I understand how to make layout resizable and really fast. The main idea is use small amount of simple elements. So if i can use always LinearLayout instead RelativeLayout, this is very important for performance. Unfortunately i can’t share this projects, because i signed NDA. But i can do test job for you, which should be payed after you accept me as freelancer for whole project.
You want simple white label, so i will not use any libraries. But in the future, if you want material design I know how to implement it even on old android phones.
I think each screen take 2-4 hours to me. Let’s take 3 hours as average.
10 screens * 3 = 30 hours
Price: 30 hours * 50$ (my rate) = 1500$.
But I want take project for long term partnership, so i will do this part for 1000$ for you.
30 hours it is approximate 1-2 weeks of my job (because i need time for communicating, testing and feedback from you)
I think we can divide project in next milestones:
1. 5 first screens – 400$
2. 5 second screens – 400$
3. Bug fix, feedback , testing – 100$.
Last part is guarantee for you , that i will finish whole project.
Of course this estimating can be changed, after you give more info and answer my questions.
I know and understand how to work with agile, scrum, cvs, bug-tracking systems, slack, and other team systems. I can make report each day about current progress. less

Please describe your latest major Android UI challenge/obstacle – in details. Also describe the solution(s) you have implemented for it and why this is the chosen solution.
My latest major challenge with Android UI is problem with animations when fragment changes on Android 2.3+. In this case we should use android support library and it have some broken behaviour: when you press back on phone, old fragment don’t disappear after animation. I added additional hack anim, which move fragment out of phone view and then destroy it. I choose it, because i have found similar solution on stackoverflow, but it is not suit for me and i upgrade it by adding code for delete old fragment.

Cover Letter for Android photo project

Hello, my name is Yevhenii and I am mobile developer from Ukraine (UTC+3). I have huge experience with photo app in android. You can see big photo app in my portfolio, where i take and upload photos from devices to web servers. The big issue it is differences between android os versions and camera hardware. Sometimes camera works not as excepted and i know how to fix that. Also previously i made desktop java se app, where i used Dropbox API, so i familiar with it too. Rough estimate for your project is 1000$ and 3 weeks. I need so much time, because i already estimated time for iteration, testing and bug fixing. This is important for make good app. less

Do you have any questions about the job description?

1. Do you have mockups for app screens? Especially for screen where user will see taken photos and them count. 2. Should app store information about upload online (for example user name). It will be useful if you want, that app can restore data after reinstall (not upgrade) or move to another device. 3. GPS (and other locations service like cell network) can be unavailable sometimes, for example when user take photo underground. So not all photos will have geotag. What i should do in this case? 4. How app will take photo? It should be default android photo module, which will be called from app or you want create custom view inside your app which will use camera directly? 5. Which settings app will have? Can users specify upload only through wi-fi network? 6. Do you have defined format for filename? Or i can make any format that contains user geo and time info? 7. Do you want support only Google Drive and Dropbox in this phase? less

Why did you apply to this particular job?

Because i have experience with camera in android and know how tow work with storage services API like Dropbox and Google Drive.

FAQ

There are a lot of questions about making proposal and writing cover letter:

  • Cover Letter length. Short or detailed?
  • How to write Cover Letter for a job with a small description?
  • How to make a proposal for a short-term project?
  • Why is it important to discuss everything before accepting an offer?
  • Why is using a template for a Cover Letter not a good idea?
  • How much time does it take to write a Cover Letter?
  • Why should Cover Letter contain only important things?
  • What is more important: Cover Letter or Additional Questions?
  • Is it allow to put external links in Cover Letter?

Short or detailed?

A lot of freelancers doesn’t spend a lot of time to write a cover letter on Upwork. Usually, they send template cover letter with minimum changes. There is no point in arguing that the template cover letter and one-line applications may work but I prefer to write a detailed proposal.

I usually write a detailed and unique cover letter that takes from 15 minutes to an hour for each proposal. I carefully read all information about the project and propose a detailed solution, deadline and budget in a cover letter. Of course, this is time-consuming, but I usually send 1-2 applications a day when I am actively searching for a job.

The average length of my cover letters is about 2000-3000 characters.

How to write Cover Letter for a job with a small description?

Some projects don’t have a lot of information in a job description. In this case, it is not possible to write a detailed cover letter. It only possible to write something like “Hi, I’m ready to do the job, waiting for further instructions.”

In this case, your reputation on the platform and a well-filled profile play a big role. I would not advise spending connects to such projects if you have a poorly filled profile or problems with JSS. There are great chances to don’t receive answers to proposal and risk of being banned due to low response rate.

How to make a proposal for a short-term project?

Most of all recommendations are related to long-term projects but there are a lot of short-term projects (for example, one-day tasks for system administrators).

It is desirable to fill the profile as much as possible because clients need to read more about you, especially if you can’t make a detailed cover letter. I suggest writing the price and terms in any case. If you can’t read what clients need than try to predict it and estimate.

You can find long-term partnership in any profession on Upwork. For example, for system administrators there are lot of jobs related to web server configuration(short one-time job), but if you do this job for hosting provider instead of small website owner you can receive more jobs from this client in the future and that is a long-term partnership. The same goes for translators, personal assistants, copywriters, illustrators and other professions, who often say that there are only short-term projects in their niche.

Of course, the number of potential projects is significantly reduced if you focus only on long and medium-term projects. But you have to spend much less time searching for projects. And it is easier to increase your earnings when you work with old clients. You need to show your competence to achieve high earnings, and if clients change frequently, there is not enough time to understand each other. As for me, the first 2-3 work weeks bring little money. Clients pay more after they see the real benefit that I bring to their business.

Discuss everything before accepting an offer

It is very important to define all the details of the project before its start, regardless of the type of project: fixed-price or hourly.

It is not necessary to annoy client with details in a cover letter and the first messages, but before you accept the offer it is necessary to discuss all requirement and even exception moments with a possible penalty.

One of the most popular causes of bad reviews on Upwork is a misunderstanding. It is very important that freelancer and client understand their responsibilities and agreements were made on Upwork. This will help in case of dispute with a client, but much more important is a psychological influence on the client. It is very difficult for people to step through the agreements with which they have agreed.

It is very difficult for most clients to tell clearly what they want. So freelancer should help them (of course I ask for payments for this job too). It is important to interview the client, propose your ideas about the project and create a document that will clearly describe all aspects of your cooperation.

Template for a Cover Letter is not a good idea

I suggest using a minimum of copy-paste in Cover Letters on Upwork.

There is even an opinion among freelancers that Upwork has a special algorithm that tracks the similarity of all freelancer’s cover letters.  And Upwork may decrease you search and proposal ranking if your Cover Letters are too similar. You should not make your cover letters completely unique, but their main parts (70-80%) should be original.

I don’t even always copy the welcome word. My name, skills, work experience client can see in profile. I propose my ideas of how to solve client’s problem from the first words in a Cover Letter.

How much time does it take to write a Cover Letter?

On average it takes me about 20 minutes to write a cover letter, but earlier I spent for it much more time. My record is 1 hour and 20 minutes and I didn’t get a job that time.
I start spending less time for a cover letter after I’ve earned next skills:

  • English;
  • Communication.

Previously I had to spend a lot of time for spellchecking, convert my thoughts in good-looking English phrases, find the best way to present my skills. Over time, I had a cover letter structure in my head that I started to stick to.

Now I write about 2000-3000 characters in 20 minutes. At the same time, in these 20 minutes, I not only write a cover letter but also estimate client history and job description, research things I do not understand. I recommend you spend exactly that much time (15-25 minutes) on each cover letter.  If you have bad English, at first you will not be able to write a large amount of text during this time and some thoughts will be missed. I would not advise writing a cover letter for longer than 30 minutes, because a client may already hire someone.

In 30 minutes you can always write the most important thoughts about the project (questions, budget, deadline, variant of realization, relevant experience) and thus the application will not grow up to such size which the ordinary client would be difficult to read fast and understand main things.

Write only about important things

Client always have not enough time, they did not come to Upwork to just chat with freelancers. Client has a problem that he need to be solved and he wants to spent as less time on it as possible.

Of course, it makes sense to relax and chat with the client on abstract topics, when you have a good relationship, for example after several months of working together. But in cover letter it is unacceptable.

People try to tell a lot of unimportant information in a cover letter, for example, write abstract “I have 5-year experience”, clients are not interested in it. Your experience and knowledge that are similar to the client’s current task are much more important for the client and you should write how your previous experience should help to solve client’s task.

Additional questions

Questions that the client adds to the project description are very important!

A client sees an application in the next order:

  • Answers to the questions;
  • Cover Letter.

The first thing the client sees in your application is answers to the questions. We should use this to the maximum. You need to show to the client that you have spent time, studied the project and make detailed answers to the question (which looks unique and not copied from another cover letter or template).

External links

The rules of Upwork do not forbid to add links and contacts to cover letter, but the behavior of Upwork’s support is difficult to predict. In order not to get any extra problems from nothing, I prefer to give my contacts only after client ask them during communication after Cover Letter.

Afterwords

You can found more information about freelance on Upwork without special skills. Also, check big list of professions categories and skills list on Upwork

You can start from:

More information about freelance on Upwork you can find in free eBook “Upwork Tips & Tricks“. For example:

  • How to fill a profile?
  • How to write Cover Letter?
  • How to achieve Top Rated?
  • Much more.

If you have questions you can join our freelancers Facebook community.

If you like the article, you can support the author:

Mobile developer from Ukraine. Work on Upwork from 2013. Share experience about freelance from 2014 (jff.name blog in Russian). Wrote book about remote work "How to freelance on Upwork" and free eBook "Upwork Tips & Tricks"

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