As someone who started his freelance career on Upwork, I would always be thankful for the opportunities and connections I found there. The ride was amazing (and so were the earnings).
But I would never say it was a smooth sailing ride.
In fact, I really had a hard time in the beginning. I was stuck with finding jobs that even a twelve-year-old kid can do and wasted time and connects applying to dozens of jobs. That was before I discovered my talent in writing.
That’s why I compiled these tips for those of you who are yet to start your Upwork journey. I know how hard it can get. But rest assured, after you read this article, you will have a better understanding of the platform and how to make it work for you.
Let’s get started.
Table of contents:
- Tip #1: Always start with the good things
- Tip #2: Don’t be fooled by the budget
- Tip #3: Don’t force it if you don’t want it
- Tip #4: Always personalize your cover letter
- Tip #5: Save all your working cover letters
- Tip #6: Find more ways to help
- Tip #7: Save your search
- Tip #8: Reply to a message as soon as possible
- Tip #9: Upgrade to freelancer plus if you can
- Tip #10: Use Upwork RSS feed
- Focus on What Matters
Tip #1: Always start with the good things
Since the first time I created my profile, I must’ve changed the title and the overview more than twenty times. I couldn’t figure out how to make it better and stand out.
People kept telling me to change my title, which I did, but I’m still not satisfied.
After I put myself in the shoes of someone who’s looking for help, it hit me that my description is quite a turnoff. There’s nothing good with it, just the usual “hire me because I’m this and that”.
What I did was I examined the profiles of top and popular Upwork freelancers. I made a note of how different their profiles were to mine.
It was so obvious from my profile that I was an amateur — that I was probably someone who doesn’t have any experience.
Here’s what I figured out:
- Make your title simple and searchable (for Upwork SEO)
- Then, on the description portion, enter any testimonials you have in your arsenal
Don’t Think Too Much About Your Title
Yes, it’s quite tempting to be clever with your title. I’ve read so many profiles with titles like “Let’s work together to create something awesome” or “Let’s make your next project a success”.
(There was even a profile I saw with the title “The only freelancer you need”.)
Just so you know I’m not kidding, here’s a proof:
Unless you’re already a popular Upwork freelancer, nobody will ever see your profile unless you submit a proposal. You will not receive any invites from clients looking for work.
After all, I have yet to know of someone who searches for freelancers on Upwork with the keywords…
“Create something awesome”
So how should you do your Upwork title?
Easy — make it clear and simple. Don’t think too much about it. Don’t try to be clever or funny. Ask yourself what your prospective clients will search for if they want to hire someone with your skills.
Here’s a good example from Danny Margulies’s Upwork profile:
Place Testimonials First
If you want to be creative, the overview section of your profile is the perfect place for it. You can go wild in here. Make it seem like you’re the most capable freelancer in the world. Sell your soul if you want to.
But always place the testimonials first.
Make sure the prospective clients will read first what others think about your services before whatever it is you want to write on your overview. Write at least three testimonials in this section.
Here’s an example:
The usual problem here is that you may not have had any clients before. Therefore, you have no client testimonials to write.
The solution to that is easy! Find a client first, whether on Upwork or in real life, provide them with the best service possible, whether paid or not, ask for their feedback, and post the best feedback on the overview section.
Tip #2: Don’t be fooled by the budget
In Upwork, you will see many low-ballers who will want to milk you of your energy and time without paying what you’re worth.
Since you couldn’t see before how much budget a client has for a specific project, it’s easy not to get distracted.
But since Upwork rolled out a feature where clients could enter their supposed budget for a project, low-ballers have been using it to lure freelancers into a trap…
Even though they would only pay $5 for a service, they would write $1,000 on the job post.
Something like this…
How did I confirm this?
Yesterday (when I wrote this article), while browsing some Upwork jobs I could take on, I read a post with a big budget (though it was normal for the projects I’m taking). Upon reading the description, the client himself said…
“Don’t mind the budget. I only placed it there to attract freelancers into submitting a proposal.”
Next time I see a post like that one, I’ll be sure to take a screenshot.
Be a Detective
If you see a post like the one above, there’s a 50-50 chance that the client is a low-baller. If you base it alone on his job post and description, you may not know which is which.
That’s why you got to suit up and examine carefully the client’s profile.
Fortunately, this detective work is simpler than it sounds. All you have to do is check the client’s recent history.
The client hired someone to write 101 articles at a little more than $5 each (based on the job post earlier, the word count per article is probably at 2k).
If you’re not familiar with how much writers should be paid for that word count, the client is paying peanuts.
When checking a client’s recent history, check…
- How much the client pay for similar services
- The rate of those freelances who did the services
- What previous freelancers say about the client
Further reading: I actually wrote more about this on my Upwork review guide on the part where I discussed whether or not finding and applying for jobs in Upwork is easy. Make sure to check it out!
Tip #3: Don’t force it if you don’t want it
It’s tempting to settle for less when you feel like you got no choice.
I know since I took a few contracts with tasks that I didn’t like doing and those instances were the worst experiences I had in freelancing. I almost hated freelancing because of those rare moments.
That’s why one of my tips to you who are new to Upwork is to not force it when you don’t want it. No matter how big the compensation is — if you don’t like the job, don’t take it.
Sometimes, it would also come in other forms like doing unpaid work because they want you to “prove yourself” or negotiating with someone who wants you to go through so many time-wasting hoops just to prove your interest in the job.
Here’s one example of when I declined a client because I don’t like what he was requesting from me…
Sometimes, you wouldn’t know you hated doing a certain task until you have to do it. If that’s the case, you have two options — either you continue the work and learn from it or take it with the client in a kind way.
The bottom line is, don’t take a job that you don’t like. Doing so could hurt your reputation since the results you’ll be producing might only be average (since obviously, it’s hard to give your best at something you hated doing).
Tip #4: Always personalize your cover letter
One of the greatest mistakes I did when I first started out was sending the same proposals to job posts.
I was a general virtual assistant who would submit a proposal to any job post that has a “virtual assistant” in the description.
Although I landed a few small gigs, I wasted so many connects from it (probably more than 100). I thought it was efficient since all I had to do was copy and paste my proposal from one job post to another.
It was only later on that I learned that personalized cover letters do 10x better than canned proposals, even if it takes a bit of time on my part. It was super effective especially when I got into freelance writing.
Further reading: I wrote an Upwork proposal cover letter guide that discusses this subject in more depth. Check it to learn more about writing proposals that will get you the job.
But in summary, you have to:
- Answer the additional questions first
- Address the client by name
- Show interest
- Mention your experience
- Include a call to action
You may not get it right away the first few times. But the more you practice personalizing your cover letters, the more it gets natural to you.
Of course, to save time, you would also need to create an outline or a template (there’s one on the cover letter guide) and fill out the necessary information.
Tip #5: Save all your working cover letters
Aside from creating an outline or a template, saving all your working cover letters could spark some creativity in you when you feel stuck.
When I started doing this, I was able to improve my cover letter twice as much since I could easily access and analyze each one.
To start, you could copy and paste on a Google document or a word file all the cover letters you sent that won you a contract. Keep updating the file every time you win a contract. You could also start collecting other public cover letters that you like.
Here’s an example of all the awesome cover letters I sent and found online which I saved on a Google document:
Even if I’ve got my own template, I regularly turn to this document and find inspiration to make my cover letters more personal and interesting to the client. I was also able to find a few patterns that worked for me which I applied right away to my new cover letters.
Here’s another tip:
If you’ve got samples of your work (portfolio or links of past projects), save them here too so you can easily retrieve them.
Different cover letters may require different sets of samples so it would be easier for you to find them all in one place.
Tip #6: Find more ways to help
Sometimes, you don’t have to find new job posts to get additional work and earn more money. All you need to do is think about the current contracts you have and find more ways to help your client with his or her business goals.
One personal example of it is when I went over and beyond just to help my former client with organizing the content on her website. Initially, my contract was only about general tasks like data entry.
Here’s a snippet of some of our conversation:
That simple act turned into more opportunities with that client…
Over time, I became her content manager and supervised more than five writers and translators. She also raised my hourly rate by about 30% which was already pretty awesome to me.
Another example of it was when I earned a few hundred dollars from a premium client by suggesting a few design ideas. I was working as a technical writer for him so I was really surprised when he told me to start realizing those design ideas.
Tip #7: Save your search
As part of creating an account and having your Upwork profile approved, you have to enter the maximum categories and skills. This will heavily influence the job posts you will be seeing on your feed.
To save time sifting out all the bad job posts, you will have to use the job search feature and use keywords to find the jobs suitable to your services and skills.
With it, you will also be able to filter out the jobs depending on the job type, experience level, location, category, and others.
Did you know that you can save your search so you don’t have to use the search function the next time?
This feature is a time saver for me since I discovered this. In the past, I kept on using job search every day to weed out the job posts I didn’t want to see.
To do that, all you have to do is click the “Save search” button after using the search feature. Make sure to activate all the filters before saving the search since the filters also get saved.
After doing so, you will then see all your saved searches on the left side of your job feed.
Yes, there’s a “Recent Searches” section. But you can only see the past five searches you did. That’s why saving your favorite searches would definitely save you a lot of time searching for suitable jobs.
Tip #8: Reply to a message as soon as possible
The other day, I received a message from a prospective client. I can’t remember exactly what I was doing at that time…
But I remember that I chose not to reply right away to this client because I wanted to finish whatever it was that I was doing and I almost forgot to actually reply!
I realized that it’s been a good few hours. I checked the job profile and saw that the client already interviewed another candidate. Although there’s a high chance I would be working with this client, I almost missed it because I didn’t reply fast enough.
What you got to remember is that you’re not the only candidate for the job and there’s probably someone out there as capable as you.
If you miss the beat, the other candidate might snatch the opportunity from you especially if the client is in a hurry.
Of course, it’s not always the case. There are many clients I know who don’t message any other freelancers once they find someone who fits the bill…
But it’s not unusual for them to find another if the freelancer seems unresponsive.
Tip #9: Upgrade to freelancer plus if you can
Freelance Plus is an upgraded Upwork membership plan with a few perks inaccessible to the basic plan.
My favorites are the additional 70 connects per month (which rolls over if unused), the “always active” profile, and the customized profile URL.
(I’m not here to sell you this plan and I won’t receive a commission if you do. Personally, I find this upgraded plan to be really ideal, especially for those who just started out. Upwork only gives 20 free connects per month.)
Of course, you can buy more connects at $10.5 per 70 connects.
However, freelance plus only costs $14.99 per month with additional perks. So if you’re planning to just buy connects every month, I highly suggest you upgrade instead. It’s worth it.
By the way, the upgraded plan will also allow you to see how much the other freelancers are bidding on the project.
As someone who’s still starting out, you may want to match your bid and make sure you’re not bidding too high or too low (as long as it’s acceptable). So this perk definitely helps.
Tip #10: Use Upwork RSS feed
I’ve seen someone ask how it was possible for a job post that’s only been published for a few minutes and got more than 20 proposals already…
Well, it could be that there were just so many freelancers online at that moment who saw the job post.
But probably, most of them were using the Upwork RSS feed to automatically receive job alerts on their phones and submit proposals right away to any job post that fits their taste.
Personally, I didn’t even realize it’s possible until only recently.
If you would like to use it, simply use the Upwork job search function with a preferred keyword. Then, use all the filters you would like on the results to really specify the jobs you wanted to receive.
After that, click on the RSS logo below the search form.
With this method, you will be able to receive job alerts right away once a job that fits your skills and preference is published.
Focus on What Matters
Even though some would say sites like Upwork are a “race to the bottom”, you could actually earn a lot from Upwork if you have the know-how.
I started from the bottom and now I learned that I really didn’t have to if I only knew how Upwork works.
If I could summarize all the tips listed here and all the learnings I gained about Upwork through the years, it’s that you should focus on what matters and not sweat on the little things. If you think a technique isn’t worth the returns, don’t use it.
That’s one reason why I didn’t include here having an “introduction video” on your profile. I don’t really think it’s worth it unless your service includes something related to animation, filming, or video editing.
As you continue to grow with Upwork and as the platform continues to grow, you will also learn a lot yourself and discover things not listed here…
Even after a few years with Upwork, I still continue to learn many things that help me land premium contracts.
Now it’s your turn…
- Which of the tips listed here do you think is the most valuable to you?
- Try applying all these tips and see which one worked for you and which one didn’t.
Share your thoughts and learnings below so others would learn from you too.