Are you a new or wannabe freelancer looking to get started on Upwork? Then, you’re far from alone. More and more people are hopping on the freelancing wagon — and thriving too! I’m a prime example.
Who Am I to Give Advice About Getting Started on Upwork?
I’ve been freelancing on Upwork for a living since September last year (you can view my profile here). While I feel uncomfortable sharing my specific earnings, I’ve supported myself entirely until now by working just four days a week on Upwork projects. Yes, I live by myself, pay rent, bills, buy food, clothes, and splurge on the occasional trip or two.
In recent times, I have added a couple of outside clients to my roster, but Upwork is still a major source of income for me.
So what about you? Granted, not every freelancer wants to work on a platform like Upwork. But it can be a great jump-off point and many freelancers have built their own businesses from an Upwork start.
*These tips are also transferable to other freelancing websites (perhaps not exactly) such as Freelancer and Fiverr.
7 Tips for Getting Started on Upwork
What’s Your Skill?
Upwork is an online marketplace. To be valuable to this market, you need to bring a skill or two to the table. You don’t have to be a Jack of all trades — it’s actually better to be an expert in one or two fields. So, what’s it going to be? Writing? Graphic design? Illustration?
Now that you’ve figured it out, niche down even further. On Upwork, it helps to be extra specific about your skills. Writing is a popular Upwork skill, so you’re more valuable if you’re focused on a particular niche. Right now, for example, B2B and B2C copywriters are having a massive moment. The same applies for any other fields you may care for.
Create a Winning Profile
You know what your skill is, but now it’s time to help potential clients recognize that skill. Getting started on Upwork depends a lot on a solid profile.
Something that helped me was reading a bunch of top-rated freelancer profiles. After reading these profiles, I literally wanted to work with them. That’s what your profile should do for whoever reads it. But what should you include in your profile?
- A one-line summary: Competent Virtual Assistant/Professional Copywriter/B2B Content Strategist, etc.
- An engaging profile: I’ve seen varying lengths; some short and punchy, others lengthy, warm, and engaging. It depends on you. But the key is letting your personality and experience shine through. Tell your potential client what you do, what experience you have in the field, what results you’ve accomplished for clients, and anything else that would make you the one to choose in your field.
- Include your educational background: Upwork actually recognizes your educational background, especially if it’s connected to the service you offer. You could easily be marked as “Rising Talent” if you have/are in training for a degree — relevant or not.
- Add your work experience: This is so important for clients. If you don’t have a website, start one! Getting started on Upwork without experience is easier when you have a body of work. So, link your website or online portfolio. Even if all you have is a Medium account or articles you’ve contributed to on other people’s blogs. Link everything. That way, clients know (i) you’re a real person (ii) your English is decent if you’re from/living in a third-world country (iii) you’re worth the investment.
I know, I know, you want to make your first $1k in your first month — it’s possible! But does it happen for everyone? Not really. By the end of my first month, I’d earned $700.
I did a mix of jobs, from ghostwriting ebooks on medical conditions to writing copy on erectile dysfunction medication. Yep, I did that. I wasn’t sure what my niche would be, but I got sick of writing about things I didn’t care about very quickly.
Eventually, I found my first long-term job editing content for a website which has grown into a media agency! I also went from charging $12/h to $30/h (still meager to many freelancers!)
The idea is to start small and then force yourself to grow. Take courses, read books, reach out for jobs that scare you — even if you feel under-qualified! Remember, though, that small is different for everyone. If you’re experienced in your field/have a higher degree, for instance, there’s no reason to start at $12/h.
Identify High-Quality Clients
Okay, this is where many new freelancers getting started on Upwork or other sites lose their way. Upwork, Freelancer, Fiverr, and all other gig websites are currently overrun with more low-quality clients than clients you actually want.
Who’s a low-quality client? That client who wants to pay you one dollar per thousand word — yes, they exist! Or those content mills always searching for 20 freelancers in one job post. Those clients who have no niche and want you to write like a zombie about everything under the sun. Yes, them.
When I started on Upwork, I could smell a great client from the first sentence of their job posting. Great grammar, check. Precise needs, check. Specific budget — whether hourly or per project, CHECK.
A high-quality client is one who knows what they need, how they need it, who respects your knowledge/skill and is willing and ABLE to PAY YOU WELL. Anything less is a shabby client.
When you’re getting started on Upwork, you will work with bad, bad clients. Sometimes, because you’re new, sometimes you’re just desperate for income. But I quickly realized they weren’t worth the struggle. Every time you read a job posting, look for the following:
- “Payment verified.” See how much they’ve already spent on Upwork.
- Good grammar.
- A website, if available.
- Specific instructions and demands.
- A respectful tone. I never apply to jobs where the client says I MUST be willing to work for a stipulated incredulous rate, for example.
Write Killer Proposals
Now you’ve found your dream client, it’s time to craft a winning proposal! Especially now when Upwork connects cost money, it’s so important to give each proposal your best shot. I could write an entire post on this, but for now, I’ll share these tips:
- Read the job description thoroughly. Include any keywords the client requests.
- Be confident, but not arrogant. Tell the client exactly why you’d be a good fit for the role.
- Mention your relevant experience and explain how you made a difference to your previous clients.
- LINK your previous experience, especially if related to the current job posting.
- Confirm that you’re willing to work under their terms!
- Check for TYPOS! How awful would it be if you were applying to be a proofreader and had even ONE typo in your application? Yikes.
It will take time before you land that first gig. For me, it took the longest week ever and ALL my connects — and then some. But it will happen if you persist.
So, you landed your first client! Congratulations. Now what? Correspond as professionally as possible. With some clients, there will be a less formal vibe, but never be more casual than your client. Don’t use “lol” before they do.
Be firm, but respectful about your rates and be honest about what you can deliver and when. I overestimated my abilities and delivery schedules A LOT in the beginning. That resulted in many nights and early mornings working to meet ridiculous deadlines I set for myself. Give yourself room as much as possible.
Finally, ALWAYS DELIVER. Especially in your first five or so jobs, ensure that your client is impressed. And ask for reviews! Never be ashamed to say, “I’m glad you’re happy with my work. Could you please leave me a 5-star review?” Most clients who are pleased with your work will do so — even if all they say, like my first client is “Great job, thanks!” Hey, better than “no feedback,” eh?
Connect with Other Freelancers
The best thing I’ve done since I started is connect with other freelancers. Most fellow freelancers are warm, eager to find others on this crazy journey. A few have even sent clients my way (hey, Joy!) while others have generously agreed to my interviews.
For example, I met Kay while working with my first long-term client. I randomly reached out to Kat after reading her blog. Ayodeji (who’s no longer a freelancer) responded to my call on Twitter. Rayo’s interview came from working together on The Book Banque and she’s been SO HELPFUL. She sent me her contract templates for ghostwriting/editing.
Community trumps competition. You can’t take ALL the clients, trust me. So you need a community of people you can trust to send others to. Connect, connect, connect! Other freelancers have either hired me or left me permanently open offers for whenever I’m without work.
Build your network when you’re getting started on Upwork or not. It’s the best part — besides paying your bills, of course.Interested in learning more about getting started on Upwork on any other freelancing website? Check out this detailed guide to setting up a profile, identifying shady clients, and writing killer proposals! spread the word
I’ve addressed seven tips for getting started on Upwork, even with no experience. I’ll be sharing more Upwork and freelancing tips — from step by step proposal writing guides to identifying bad clients, finding a niche, and more!
Do you have any questions or thoughts on freelancing? I’m happy to help!