Do you crave more success on Upwork, or the other freelance platforms? If so, you’re not alone. Readers ask me for Upwork tips all the time, so in this article I share some of the secrets I’ve learned in many years of pitching for online freelance work.
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How Good Upwork CAN be
I’m not saying this to blow my own trumpet, but when I need more freelance work and head to Upwork to find it, I generally land myself a new gig after just three or four applications. My wife uses Upwork regularly (more often than me), and reports a similar hit-rate.
This is clearly at odds with what a lot of people say online. I once saw an article that estimated new freelancers on the platform need to apply for an average of 40 jobs before landing one. I don’t know how much truth there is in that, but on a recent forum, somebody gave the view that “it can take weeks or months to gain traction.”
It’s certainly not easy, but it’s far from impossible to make a good living on Upwork and turn it into a place you can grab work when you need it. Despite this, I constantly hear of people applying for dozens of jobs and getting nothing at all. If you’re struggling with this, then these Upwork tips (which are equally valid for other job boards) will help you experience more success.
Paying your Dues
As discussed in detail in my freelancing for beginners article, everyone has to “pay their dues” on the freelance job boards. I won’t repeat myself too much here, but it does take time to get those first jobs while you build up positive feedback. Until you are proven, a lot of clients will dismiss your application without giving it any thought at all – so it’s not unrealistic to expect to have to fire off a number of well-crafted applications at the start.
I do strongly suspect that a good proportion of the people who say it’s “impossible to get decent work on Upwork / Freelancer / PeoplePerHour” are those simply unwilling to go through those rather gruelling first weeks of doing low-paid work to build up their reputations.
Once you’re established, it’s not as hard as many people say to keep a stream of work coming in.
As I’m keen to ensure I’m always giving out up to date advice, I go onto Upwork personally each time I update this article. I applied for four writing gigs about 12 hours before updating this article, and at the time of writing I’ve won two of them at rates I’m happy with. If I get the other two as well I’m going to be having some late nights!
So, with my credibility (hopefully) proved you, here are my tips for Upwork and other freelance job boards. These are all things that have worked well over many years of using Upwork (and oDesk and eLance before that!)
(If you don’t yet know how the freelance job boards work, you may want to read the freelancing for beginners article first).
Quick Tips for Upwork
There are lots of detailed Upwork tips below, but let’s begin with some quick-fire tips that cover the basics, then move onto the more in-depth stuff.
- Make sure your profile is perfect: This means up-to-date, accurate, and with perfect spelling and grammar. If in doubt you can always look at the profiles of existing successful freelancers.
- Choose your jobs wisely: Don’t just take a scattergun approach and hope you land something.
- Complete the verifications: Becoming ID verified and proving where you’re located shows you as trustworthy and opens more jobs to you.
- Build a good portfolio: Customers WILL want to see past work. If you don’t have much to show off, there are ways around that, as we discuss here.
- Concentrate on your applications: Too much hurry to put an application in can mean you leave out a crucial detail that could have won you the job.
- Use the Upwork app: Using the Upwork mobile app will help you ensure you don’t miss any notifications when you’re out, and that you communicate with clients quickly. Clients find this VERY important!
- Keep your first clients happy: If you start your Upwork career off with negative feedback, you might as well give up. Your initial few clients are the very foundation of your Upwork career, so bend over backwards to keep them happy.
Detailed Upwork Tips
8. Master the search facilities
With typically over 100,000 freelance roles available at any one time on Upwork alone, finding the perfect match for your skills is always going to be a bit of a “needle in haystack” scenario – which is why gaining mastery of all the search features is essential.
Before even looking at the general listings of jobs in your preferred categories, it’s worth doing individual searches for words that are specific to your specialist knowledge. For example, if you are a cryptocurrency writer, or know all about Hong Kong, it’s well worth searching for those words and phrases specifically, before casting your net wider.
You can also use all the search options available to massively reduce the total number of jobs you need to flick through to find suitable options. It’s inevitable that you’re going to spend hours flicking through jobs on these platforms, so make sure you’re flicking through jobs you at least stand a chance of applying for and winning.
9. Only apply for jobs you are a good fit for
It’s undeniable that there is an element of “throw lots of s%&t at the wall and see what sticks” when it comes to applying for jobs on freelance job boards, but one of the most useful tips for Upwork is to be really discerning in the jobs you apply for. This is especially important now that it costs you money to apply for jobs on Upwork.
There’s little point in applying to write about artificial intelligence, for example, if you’ve never written about it before. And this applies even if you’re an accomplished technical writer with tons of experience.
Why? Because you only need to search the freelancers on Upwork to find pages upon pages of people who have specific experience of artificial intelligence. And the same applies for pretty much anything you can think of. Those people will be ahead of you in the queue for related jobs, however good your application is.
Of course there are jobs that require far more general experience, especially at “entry level,” but this point does emphasise how useful it is to specialise in certain freelance niches.
Though it may seem so on the surface, being a “jack of all trades” won’t bring you big time success on freelance job boards.
There’s another side to this too; First off, it wastes “connects” or credits if you apply for jobs you’re never going to get. On Upwork specifically, there are also widespread reports of Upwork closing accounts down when people continually apply for jobs they don’t get.
10. Consider only applying for higher level jobs
Most freelance job boards have “experience levels” clients can request for jobs. In the case of Upwork, they’re described as “entry level,” “intermediate,” and “expert.”
Unless you are a complete beginner, I would strongly recommend only looking at intermediate and expert-level jobs.
The reason for this is that it’s quite mind-blowing how little many Upwork clients are willing to pay the “experts” they hire online! Even when you solely browse “expert level” jobs, there are still people looking to pay a couple of bucks per hour to a virtual assistant, or $5 for a 1000 word article.
If these are the potential levels of pay at the top level, the levels below are typically going to pay even less. That said, I’ve tweaked my advice on intermediate-level jobs since the last update of this article. Recently, I’ve found some decent “diamonds in the rough” marked as “intermediate.” Typically these are listed by clients who are new to Upwork and have just chosen the middle option.
11. Write a proper application
In an environment where people are competing for freelance jobs against literally millions of other skilled and experienced individuals, you’d think nobody would be stupid enough to fire off crappy applications to jobs on Upwork.
I can tell you from first hand experience that this is not the case. I personally use Upwork to hire freelancers, and every time I do, at least half of the applications I receive include typos and spelling mistakes. They also often clearly demonstrate that the applicants haven’t properly read the job ad. Frequently it’s clear that all I’m seeing is a copy and pasted “boiler plate” application that the freelancer has fired off for dozens of different jobs.
It’s daft, it’s pointless, and it won’t get you any decent work.
It’s far better to spend half an hour crafting a perfect application for a single job than it is to send twenty rubbish ones. Upwork may be a “numbers game,” but not to that degree!
12. Read the advertisement and your response through before sending
Before submitting an application, it’s well worth reading the job ad again, and ensuring you’ve covered everything the client has requested. It’s also important to do a final proof read, as mistakes can and do creep in, especially if you’re doing a lot of applications in a short time and you’re getting tired.
Losing out on a great job because you’ve made a simple typo is an awful shame – but it’s easily done. So invest that extra five minutes on getting everything perfect.
13. Consider a Freelancer Plus Plan
In May 2019, Upwork controversially made changes to the “connects” system that freelancers use to bid for jobs. You can read all about that here, but the TL;DR is that you now have to pay for “connects” to apply for jobs, and it works out to between 30 and 90 cents to apply for each. (This isn’t the place to debate Upwork’s business model – you’ll find plenty of forums for that!)
An alternative to buying Upwork Connects on a pay as you go basis is to go on a Freelancer Plus plan, which costs $14.99 per month and includes 70 connects. You can also roll up to 140 connects over from month to month. You end up paying a few more Dollars per month on top of the price of the connects, but you also get various other features. These include the ability to see the range of bids other people have put in for a specific job, and a customised profile URL that makes your account look that much more professional.
It’s a shame Upwork put the price of this up as part of their update, but if you’re very active on Upwork, it might make sense to sign up to this plan.
14. Learn to cope with rejection
One really depressing part of working on freelance job boards like Upwork is hearing absolutely nothing back from a perfectly crafted application – the one for that job that appeared to “have your name all over it.”
But it happens, and it happens a LOT.
Failing to hear back about a job doesn’t mean you’ve done something wrong. Someone may have just jumped in in front of you and got hired before the client saw your application. Or, someone equal to you may have put in a far lower bid.
The important part is not to get downhearted. Even if you reach a point where you’re hearing back from one in four clients, that still means 75% of your applications are for jobs you’ll never hear of ever again once you’ve clicked “apply.” It’s all part of the game, so you MUST get used to it!
15. One of the most important Upwork Tips: Don’t accept bad money for the sake of getting something!
All freelancers have been there; That moment when the existential crisis kicks in after tons of job applications and nothing but “radio silence.”
Unless the bills are in danger of going unpaid, it’s best not to enter into a contract paying far less than the kind of rates you expect and deserve. It CAN be tempting, but it rarely ends well. You’ll probably end up with a client you’ll want rid of as soon as things pick up.
If the temptation gets too much, a possible compromise is to offer a client a special deal on a strictly one-off basis, with an agreement to renegotiate if they love your work. Try to limit any “barrel scraping” to agreements of this nature.
16. Keep up your marketing momentum
Of all the Upwork tips here, this is the one I’m personally most guilty of disobeying.
It’s all too easy to abandon all marketing efforts during the times when there’s plenty of work. But what then happens is that when the work dries up, it does so harshly and suddenly.
Unless you’re fully committed for months ahead, it’s worth constantly working to keep that pipeline flowing – this means maintaining a steady stream of applications for new work.
17. Make full use of your profile and portfolio
Your profile section on Upwork or any other job board is – quite literally – your shop front for all potential new clients. As such it should be kept shiny, tidy, and up to date.
Of all the Upwork tips we have here, this is one of the easiest to ignore; Setting up your profile and building your portfolio is a laborious task, but it’s not a one-off job. Your profile should constantly evolve along with your skills and experience, and always display your best work. (See this article for more on building a great portfolio).
If you follow all of these tips for Upwork (and other freelance boards), you should increase your chance of success. If you have any Upwork tips of your own to share, please use the comments below!
A Final Word!
These tips really do work! A month after publishing this article, I was delighted to receive this comment on the HomeWorkingClub private advice group (click to join).
I’m very glad to have helped this reader turn things around, and hope that the article does the same for many others.