How To Become a Successful Freelancer on Upwork | 11 Simple Steps

Updated: Jun 11, 2019

I have read many articles focusing on the negative aspects of Upwork, whilst I agree there are some negative factors about the platform, there are also many positive ones too. Below are my earnings since January which is sustaining my travels around the world currently.

What is Upwork?

Now, for those of you that didn’t know Upwork is the world’s largest freelancing website. This is what made me curious when I read other articles from people saying they were unsuccessful. Perhaps it is about how they are applying themselves and not a failure of the website.

Screenshot from Upwork website.

You can create a profile, search and apply for jobs, and obviously earn money on Upwork. It works for both skilled and non-skilled professionals. If anything Upwork is extremely diverse in terms of what roles you can find on the site, this makes it useful to any freelancer.

How Does It Work

You start by creating a profile, click here to see mine.

Proceed through the general steps that anyone would go through to create accounts and profiles. You will have to verify your profile via a video call and provide a valid I.D. This is a recent feature that has been introduced to eliminate scammers and people using multiple profiles. Once everything has been set up, you should enter your tax information, which will be different depending on which country you reside in.

You can now start applying for jobs. When applying for jobs, Upwork uses something called “Connects” which are basically digital tokens that are used to submit a proposal for a job you wish you to apply for.

It used to cost 2 connects to make a proposal and you would receive 60 connects per month on the basic plan (free). The Plus account gives you 70 connects but enables 40 per month to roll over, although it costs $10 per month.

As of May (supposedly), Upwork has changed their policies and it will no longer be free to receive connects. See the table below for the changes.

The new pricing structure for connects.

Whilst I don’t agree with this, at the same time I understand that it will eliminate time-wasters and scams. So, I also support it at the same time, it is still a relatively low price to pay.

Once you find a job to apply for, you write your “cover letter”, choose your rate, answer any questions from the posting and click submit. You will then either hear nothing or the hiring individual will contact you to discuss, interview you or just hire you. It’s as simple as that. You can filter jobs by location, skill set, and keyword.

Once you start working on a project, you will either be paid by a completed project or milestone, which is generally for one-off gigs. Or, you will have to use the desktop tracker. The desktop tracker records time when you press “on” and from that point you are officially working. A general tip for you, this timer also records screenshots, between 4–9 per hour, and continuously logs the activity on your keys. So if you think you can log on then watch Netflix, you will be caught.

Make sure you understand that Upwork does take fees & VAT on the amount you earn. See the fees below. In terms of the VAT rate, that is dependant on different factors and you would have to consult with Upwork on that.

How to successfully land a job on work

Now to the important part. I read articles where too many people complain about scams and never being contacted when they apply for jobs. I believe that’s down to the individual, not the platform.

In life, you can blame a lot of people and you can wallow in self-pity, or you can pick yourself up and say, ‘Listen, I have to be responsible for myself.’ Howard Schultz

Step 1 | Your Profile Matters

Let me put it this way, you wouldn’t go on a dating site and message someone without a picture, even if they stated they were Chris Hemsworth or Margot Robbie, would you? If you answered yes to that, then that’s worrying.

Your profile is basically your resume/CV and that’s exactly how you should treat it. Take a professional headshot to use as your profile image. I’ve seen profile pictures that have a plant or a cat in them, that’s a no-no.

You also have the option to add items to your portfolio, this obviously isn't necessary unless you are creating logos, or need to showcase your skills in any way.

Step 2 | SEO It Up!

On Upwork clients can also invite you to apply for a job. When they do this, they will search on Upwork for the desired skill, therefore you need to maximise your profile so it shows up in the search.

Check my profile out and take a look at the list of skills I have in my bio. In the beginning, my profile bio only had 2 or 3 lines and I only received one invitation every month which was generally a scam. After updating it to how it is currently, I would get between 5–10 invitations a month.

Just because it’s not a search engine, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t optimise the text for the platform, this applies to any website you use. Don’t waste your time listing skills you don’t have or you will get invitations for jobs you can't do.

Step 3 | A Few Tests Won't Hurt

On Upwork you can take tests to demonstrate to employers or clients that you are competent in what you state you are competent in. I think I have only taken 3 or 4 tests that are displayed on my profile. I would recommend taking some of the basic ones such as English, spelling, grammar, etc. Just to prove that you have basic skills.

Step 4 | Don’t Waste Time With Anything After Page 2

When you come to searching for a job unless you stand out with an extensive skill set, you should never go past the second page of results. Instead, go back to page one and refresh. Let me explain why.

There are hundreds of applicants from various countries that will apply for the roles that do not really require many skills, even if they can’t do it. So after around 15–30 minutes, jobs will have so many applicants it can be overwhelming for the hirer.

Once someone has posted a job, they will usually stick around for 10–15 minutes to check everything is working or if they want it done quickly, they will hire quickly. Therefore it’s vital to be one of the first to apply.

I did a test where for a month I only replied to jobs that were older than 1 hour, I received 0 responses. I then did a month of applying on the first 2 pages and received 5 or 6 responses. Just remember, you will not receive a high amount of responses on this platform, don’t let that discourage you.

Step 5 | Write a Killer Cover Letter

If you think that because you have a profile, the hiring person will want a 2 sentence cover letter, you are wrong. This is where many people let themselves down. The cover letter is your chance to prove that you are better than the competition.

Whilst this may sound contradictory, you should also be to the point, avoiding fluff. This is especially applicable for short-term projects or one-offs. Employers don’t want to read about your history and why you would be a good addition to the team. They want to know that you can get the job done.

Structure your cover letter in this way:

· Intro: One or two sentences explaining your current position and how long you have been doing.

· What you are good at: This is your chance to show off, write two to three sentences about successful projects, employment, or anything relevant to the job you are applying for.

· Tell them that you can do the job: The person hiring wants to know you are confident that you can complete the task they want. Write one or two sentences with confidence and explain how you will do it.

· End with a call to action: Write something like “Contact me to discuss my skills further.” This encourages the hiring person to find out more about you.

Step 6/Rule 1 | What happens On Upwork Stays On Upwork

This is also about common sense. Upwork takes care of the contracts and has protective measures in place but only when everything is done through the site. The moment you take it outside of Upwork, you risk being scammed. So if you receive a response to a job application asking for your Skype, mobile, bank details, do not give them. You should respond and inform the person that you will not have any communication outside of Upwork.

However, if you have already been offered a contract and accepted it, you can feel safe taking things outside of Upwork. If the contract ends or is completed, be sure to agree on another one before continuing outside of Upwork.

Step 7 | Don’t Do Free Trials

There are people that will message you before offering a contract asking you to complete a quick trial and they will hire you if your work is better than the rest.

Just don’t.

Unless you are getting paid for the trial, don’t do any work for free. Think about it, if the person hiring has 100 applicants and gets 70 of them to do free trials, they could pretty much get the job done without hiring anyone. No matter how legit the person seems, do not do anything for free, trust me.

Step 8 | Communication Is Key

Before being hired for a contract, you may need to have a conversation with the client whether it is through messages on Upwork or a video interview. You should treat this in a professional way and keep a business tone throughout. I have had employers call me “mate” and “buddy” I will still reply in a business manner to maintain a professional image.

Try to respond to messages in a timely manner. Employers on Upwork are looking to hire quickly and if you take a day to reply, that job will probably be gone.

You should also discuss with the employer the requirements and what they expect to be done. Especially if there is anything you are not sure on in the contract. Don’t be afraid to ask, it’s better than getting it wrong.

Step 9 | Double Check The Contract

The contract can be changed from when you apply and when you are sent the offer. As with any contract in life, read through the offer thoroughly and make sure the rate you agreed on is the same. This one is a no brainer really.

Step 10 | Don’t Give Up

You might apply for 10 jobs before you hear back from 1. But the one you do hear back from could mean you are employed for the next year. This applies to anything in life and not just Upwork, never give up.

Permanence, perseverance and persistence in spite of all obstacles, discouragements, and impossibilities: It is this, that in all things distinguishes the strong soul from the weak. Thomas Carlyle

Step 11 | Hard Work Pays Off

You might think that because you are working from home you can take it easy and do things in your own time. Get that thought out of your mind. If you agree on a project completion date with a client, you get that project done a day early and send it to them. A successful project can always lead to more projects from that employer or a 5-star review which will look good when you apply for your next job.

Work hard at every task you do because you never know what opportunities it will lead to, this one isn’t a quote, I just made it up.

I started writing for a company and within 2 months they were happy with my work they increased my hourly rate and I was managing a team of 4 freelancers myself. Following that, the company is helping me develop in other areas and pays me to complete other tasks.

I know people may have had bad experiences on sites like Upwork but there are positives to take. I think with any bad experience there is 95% misunderstanding or lack of knowledge.

Feel free to ask any questions.

Chad W.

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