A Beginner’s Guide to Freelancing with Upwork
With the rapid expansion of the gig economy, freelance platforms have provided a much-needed framework to connect service providers with clients all over the world. One of the largest of these platforms is Upwork.
Upwork, the company born from the merger of oDesk and Elance, is a robust platform that enables freelancers to connect and collaborate remotely with clients across the globe. Boasting more than 12 million freelancers and 5 million clients, Upwork sees more than 3 million projects posted each year.
Are you ready to take a slice of the more than $1 billion in Upwork freelancer billings? Check out these tips to help you go from newbie to top-rated faster than you can say, “I want to work in my PJs.”
Step 1: Prove Your Worth
Freelancers on Upwork specialize in a wide range of skills. Are you a coding guru? A talented voiceover specialist? A creative marketer? A graphic design ninja? Whatever your talents, your best bet in succeeding as an Upwork freelancer is to prove you’ve got the skills to satisfy Upwork’s clients.
How do you prove you’re a worthy freelance candidate?
To start, learn a skill. Choose something that interests you and take a course. E-learning sites like Udemy, Lynda (now LinkedIn Learning), and Skillshare offer thousands of classes at low prices. Not sure what to choose? Check out the Top 20 Fastest Growing Skills on Upwork.
Once you’ve learned mastered a skill, create a portfolio. For example, if you want to be a web designer on Upwork, you need to show potential clients some sites you’ve developed. If you’re a writer, choose your best work and put it up for the world to see.
Take Upwork tests for the types of projects you want to take on. Upwork has more than 300 tests available. The best news is that you can take a test, and if you don’t score as well as you’d like, you don’t have to publish it on your profile. Potential clients can filter candidates based on these scores, so do your best. You can also re-take tests, so if you’re not in the top 20%, don’t advertise that on your profile and come back later when you feel more capable.
Step 2: Sign Up for Upwork
Signing up for Upwork is fast, easy, and best of all, *free. There is a paid option that can give you a leg up on your competition, but the free membership can get you started just fine. Now keep in mind, Upwork has to get its money somehow, and that will come when it’s time for you to get paid—that’s when they take a percentage of your earnings, typically 10-20%.
When you’re done signing up, Upwork will ask you some basic questions about your freelancer skills and the services you want to offer to clients. It will also ask you about your skill level.
Now here’s the thing—even if you are an expert in your field, the fastest, easiest way to move up on Upwork is to start as a beginner, working at a lower rate. While that $15 per hour may not be all that appealing, your goal is to knock three to five of these low-expectation, low-paying projects out of the park so they will give you 5-star ratings. Once you’ve gotten some outstanding feedback, you can raise your skill level and your rates.
Step 3: Create Your Freelancer Profile
OK, it’s time to set up your profile. This is not the time to slack off. The time you spend here can make or break you as an Upwork freelancer. Below are the three most critical elements of your profile—master these and you’ll be a rising star in no time.
- Professional headshot—Keep your selfies, well, to yourselfie. Spend the $50-100 to have a high-quality headshot done. Dress for the clients you want to attract. Look at the camera and smile. If you’re not comfortable smiling, avoid glaring at the camera. Professional and friendly—that’s your goal.
- Keyword-infused title—No, this isn’t the latest Starbucks designer-beverage. Clients will find you based on the keywords you place in your Title and Professional Overview. So, if you are a computer programmer that specializes in React Native Development, your title better be something like “React Native Developer.” Aim to be simple, concise, and accurate.
- Professional overview—This is where you really start selling yourself. Be engaging—let your personality come through. And, for the love of all things good in this world, proofread it! Get yourself a free Grammarly account and plop your text in there if spelling and grammar aren’t your thing. There’s no bigger turn-off to a client than a poorly written overview full of misspelled words. Highlight your skills, experience, and the services you offer. Keep these things in mind when writing your overview:
- What sets you apart from your competition?
- Why should they hire you and not Sasha D. from Nairobi or Sean G. from Nantucket?
- How can your clients benefit from your specific skills?
Other Profile Items To Consider
Link other online accounts—Within your professional overview, Upwork lets you connect other online accounts, like LinkedIn, Behance, Twitter, and others, so you can establish yourself legitimately.
Education and employment history—Like your paper resume, this section allows you to show off your value by describing how you got where you are now. Be specific, concise, and value-driven. You want to show your clients that you can help them achieve their business goals. Need some inspiration? Check out this Upwork article: Enhance Your Upwork Freelancer Profile for Greater Success.
Optional video profile—Upwork provides freelancers the ability to add a video profile. It is not necessary for you to get clients. But, if you are the creative type and want to add a short, professional video to introduce yourself, it may make a difference in getting hired. If it’s just you and your cat giving an unscripted talk in your backyard, your prospective clients are more likely to “swipe left” and move on.
Set your rates—The final step in setting up your profile is setting your rates. Again, starting out on the lower end of the freelance pay scale and moving up the freelancer ladder is the best method. Upwork provides a handy tool that automatically calculates what you’ll bring home after the platform takes its cut—typically 20% to start. Once a client has spent $500 on you, that rate drops to 10%.
Pro-tip: Do a little reconnaissance on the competition to see what the going rates are for your skillset by browsing Upwork freelancers by skill.
Once you’ve got your profile honed, proofed, and re-proofed, you’re ready to start taking on projects.
Step 4: Landing Your First Contracts on Upwork
You can land a contract on Upwork in one of two ways—proactively and reactively. If you want to land your first client, you need to be proactive. This means going to the job board and searching for contracts that match your skills. Head over to the “Find Work” tab on the platform and enter relevant keywords in the search field. For example, if you want to build websites, you might enter “web design” in the search box.
You can put certain filters on your search as well. For example, maybe you only want to take “Entry-Level” contracts where the bar is set low and you can really impress the client with your design skills. Now you can scroll through the results and see which projects you might want to bid on.
When bidding on a project on Upwork, you want to use those same principles we talked about earlier about your profile. Be clear, concise, and show the clients how you can help them meet their goals.
If the client likes what they see, they’ll either invite you to interview or hire you right then. Now it’s your turn to over-deliver. Ecstatic clients give quality feedback and 5-star reviews—your ticket to the Freelancer’s Kingdom. Get to Top Rated status, and Upwork will start recommending you directly to clients.
Step 5: Raising Your Rates
Once you’ve got three to five solid 5-star reviews on your profile, consider raising your rates by $10-15 an hour and changing your skill status to “Intermediate.” If your profile and portfolio warrant it, the clients will keep coming. You may even start getting clients inviting you to make a proposal based on your Upwork profile.
Keys to Upwork Freelancer Success
Now you know what it takes to be a successful Upwork freelancer. Go ahead and sign up, keeping in mind the freelancer trifecta:
- Create a professional, keyword-optimized profile that is error-free.
- Start at the Entry/Beginner level.
- Provide outstanding work to get those 5-star reviews.