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 (and winning!) online freelance work.
WHILE YOU’RE HERE! Check out our Ultimate Upwork Review – it will open in a new tab so you don’t lose your place.
Why Should Listen To Me?
I was using Upwork before it was even called Upwork! I worked on both oDesk and eLance. The companies merged and then morphed into Upwork. These platforms have been part of my life for over ten years.
I also use Upwork not just as a freelancer, but also as a client. I’ve hired numerous freelancers on the platform, and therefore understand how it all works from both sides.
Nowadays, most of my work comes from long-term clients, so I personally use Upwork sporadically. However, I still reap the benefits of the work I put in at the start. Whenever I do have a burst of applying for jobs on Upwork, I have a very good hit rate, and tend to win around half the gigs I put in an application for (sorry if that sounds conceited, but it’s true!)
I also have a coveted 100% “Job Success Score.”
So, with my credibility (hopefully) proved to you, here are my tips for Upwork. These are all things that have worked well over many years of using Upwork (and oDesk and eLance before that!)
General Tips and Tricks – Start With These!
1. Do not follow outdated (or sketchy) advice
There are plenty of articles floating around the internet that promise to help you get accepted or succeed on Upwork. Many are hopelessly out-of-date.
For example, the last thing you want to do is to spend time reading up on how to use Upwork Skills Tests to help you stand out – only to discover that Upwork discontinued its skills tests some time ago!
Freelance platforms such as Upwork constantly make changes in order to better serve their user base. This is why WE periodically review and update all our articles. But many similar sites don’t, so make sure you check dates and credentials.
Similarly, proceed with caution around forums and Reddit threads. For example, there are lots of discussions around closing Upwork accounts and starting new ones – something that’s against the Upwork Terms of Service and could get you banned completely.
2. Use the Upwork app.
Not everyone is a fan of using mobile apps, but in the case of Upwork it is something that you should seriously consider doing. Using the Upwork mobile app will help you ensure you don’t miss any notifications when you’re out and about.
Communicating quickly with clients is VERY important to your success on Upwork. It can also make the difference between you grabbing a gig, and the client turning to somebody else instead.
Tips for Getting Accepted on Upwork
3. Take it seriously and prepare
Many people simply decide that they want to work on Upwork, go to the website and start plugging in whatever information they know off the top of their heads. This is the worst thing you could do!
Think of this as an application for your dream job, not merely a hurdle you have to jump in order to gain access to paid work.
You should gather all of the information that you think you will need and set aside some time to allow you to submit the best profile possible for review.
As I say in my Freelance Kickstarter course, this is something that you should be spending a day on, not an hour.
4. Decide exactly how you plan to position yourself
Upwork is an extremely popular and crowded freelance platform. Coming up with a plan of what services you will offer and what skills you can highlight before you even start is a crucial strategy.
If you produce an Upwork profile that’s too “generic,” you risk not getting approved. I often hear from generalist writers who fail to get accepted for the platform.
Similarly, a title of “Translator” is much less appealing to clients than something like “English-Chinese Translation and Transcription Expert.”
Many new freelancers are scared that they will be painting themselves into a corner by having a very specific niche. The reality is that specialists are almost always more highly valued. Furthermore, Upwork allows you to create multiple specialist profiles if you excel at more than one thing.
So get clear on what type of professional freelancer you want to be, prepare yourself to provide excellent service, and market yourself correctly.
5. Build a good portfolio
Having a good portfolio of prior work will not only help you get accepted for Upwork. It will also help you to get work.
Customers WILL want to see past work, even if you are new on the platform, so be prepared by putting together a portfolio ahead of time.
If you don’t have much to show off that reflects your skills and experience with the types of work that you are hoping to apply for, all is not lost. With a little ingenuity you can find plenty of ways to get work samples, as we discuss here.
6. Don’t give up
Thousands of people apply to Upwork as freelancers. From time to time the company closes the floodgates if the site is saturated with people with specific skillsets. This tends to happen most frequently with writers, even if they have significant experience and have selected a specific writing niche.
It is important to not let this affect you too much. It is often more the reflection of a glut in talent than a comment on the quality of your skills, experience, or even your application.
Should this happen to you, do not panic or give up!
The first thing you need to do is make sure you have submitted the best possible profile. If you are not convinced that you have, then make some changes and take another shot at it. It could be worth focussing in on a different set of skills the second time around.
If you believe that your application is as good as it can possibly be, the best thing is to wait for a short time before submitting it again in the hopes that Upwork will now need more people with your specific talents.
In the meantime, you can always look for work on some other freelance platforms.
We have an article specifically on How To Get Approved for Upwork if you would like more advice on this topic.
Upwork Profile Tips
Since you complete a significant proportion of your profile when applying, some of these tips will help you with being approved for Upwork and for finding freelance work.
7. Make sure your profile is polished and accurate
On the most basic level, this means up-to-date, precise, and with perfect spelling and grammar.
If in doubt as to how best to complete certain segments, you can always look at the profiles of existing successful freelancers.
8. Ensure your profile is “at least 100%” complete
It seems wrong to say “at least 100%” complete(!) but Upwork has a funny way of calculating this score. It is technically possible to achieve “100% complete” without even adding any of your work history or a portfolio.
You should strive to make your profile as complete and attractive as possible. As a bare minimum, you should ensure that Upwork considers it 100% complete, as this is a requirement to qualify for all of the badges that Upwork awards.
It is not hard to find your completion score as it is displayed on the “Find Work” tab. If you click on “View Profile” you will find Upwork even provides suggestions of other items you can add to further enhance your profile.
9. Create a video introduction
This tip may not be for everyone as some people are just too camera-shy. But I’d urge you to consider adding a video intro to your profile.
A short video will give potential clients a much better feel for you as a person and help them gauge whether they could work well with you. Believe it or not, having a video will make you seem more trustworthy and it will certainly make you more memorable (just make sure it’s for the right reasons!)
10. 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.
Upwork Tips for Beginners
11. Complete the verifications
This is not necessarily viewed as being part of the profile but it is essential!
Becoming ID verified and proving where you’re located shows you as trustworthy and opens more jobs to you. You need to remember that clients also worry about getting scammed and having their time wasted – so make sure that you give clients every possible reason to trust you.
12. Do “due diligence” on every client
Beginners often are so excited about the prospect of finding work that they forget to check out a client’s credentials. Never skip this step!
Upwork does try to keep both freelancers and clients safe when working on the platform but some scams will always get through on a platform of this size. It is therefore always a good idea to look at the information about a client. It isn’t hard to find:
13. Price your services competitively and fairly
Determining what to charge is one of the hardest tasks for new freelancers. It can be very tempting to price low in order to get clients. This strategy does have some validity when you’re taking your very first steps, but aiming for “bargain basement” shouldn’t be your long-term plan.
You can take a look at what others on the platform are charging, but you must remember that Upwork is a global platform and so rates will vary greatly. (Check out our article on cultural awareness for freelancers for more on this).
You need to base your rates on what you need and what your services are truly worth. This is really the only fair way to set your fees.
As your experience grows, so should your rates and your level of confidence in charging appropriately. If you need some help to get started, you should read this article about setting your freelance rates.
14. Start out with smaller jobs
On freelance platforms like Upwork, feedback from clients can matter just as much as your prior experience.
Taking smaller jobs will keep you from feeling overwhelmed and allow you to start building your reputation more rapidly. Some freelancers actually prefer to always work on smaller jobs, especially if they are only freelancing part-time.
When you come to start reaching for the larger, long-term gigs, a run of good feedback scores from smaller jobs will help you stand out to those clients.
15. The most important Upwork tip for beginners: 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.
The need to keep clients happy never goes away and it plays a fundamental role in your success on the platform – but it is never more important than when you are first starting out.
Would YOU hire a freelancer who’s done one job and been given bad feedback for it? No. Neither would I.
Upwork Proposal Tips
16. 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 have long been widespread reports of Upwork closing accounts down when people continually apply for jobs they don’t get.
If you’re wondering about finding your niche, you will find this episode of our podcast particularly interesting.
17. 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. As I’ve said, 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 “boilerplate” 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!
An Upwork pitch doesn’t need to be long, but it DOES need to be excellent.
18. Always answer additional questions
If the job posting includes additional questions, failure to answer them could cause your application to be discarded immediately.
The same is true if you fail to include words or phrases that are specifically requested in the job description. Clients, myself included, sometimes put something like this in to check people are paying attention. It’s not just about checking how detail-oriented you are – if you’re missing basics when applying for work, what are you going to miss when you’re actually doing it?
I have rejected otherwise decent applications due to people missing these details. It’s not as if there aren’t other freelancers to choose from.
19. Include photos and videos where appropriate
You may already have an introduction video on your profile (as above) but it can also sometimes be appropriate to include photos and video in your application.
Using carefully selected or created media is a great way to help you stand out from other candidates. It helps build a connection between you and your potential client and is a great trust signal.
Many Upwork freelancers report very positive results from putting together a quick introduction video as part of their pitch. There’s no debating that it will help you to stand out.
Just make sure to create a dedicated video for each application. It will be glaringly obvious if you create a generic video that you fire out for every job pitch.
20. Use keywords
The reality is that your applications and profile may only receive a quick glance. Appropriate use of keywords can help tilt the balance in your favour.
Freelancers are becoming savvier about marketing themselves, so failure to do this can be a barrier to bigger and more high-budget jobs.
If you can identify keywords that are of importance to your potential client and their brand, including them can really boost your chances.
21. 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 proofread, 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.
I’ve personally broken this rule plenty of times and regretted it. There’s nothing worse than noticing a big mistake in a pitch after you’ve sent it, knowing that you’ve just destroyed your chances.
Tips for Being Successful on Upwork
22. Master the search facilities
With up to 200,000 freelance roles available at any one time on Upwork, finding the perfect match for your skills is always going to be a bit of a “needle in a haystack” scenario. This 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 and filters available to massively reduce the total number of Upwork jobs you need to flick through to find suitable options.
It’s inevitable that you’re going to spend hours flicking through jobs on Upwork, so make sure you’re flicking through jobs you at least stand a chance of applying for and winning.
Mastering the search facilities is SO key to using freelance platforms, that I’ve created dedicated lessons on this as part of my freelancing course.
23. Consider only applying for “expert” level jobs
Most freelance job boards have “experience levels” that 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 mind-blowing how little some 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.
I’m not saying there are no good jobs at the lower levels, and I’ve certainly found some “diamonds in the rough” at “Intermediate” level. However, unless you’re a total beginner, I’d advise looking at the better-paid stuff first!
24. Consider Upwork’s Freelancer Plus plan
When you’re using Upwork as a freelancer, you have to pay for “connects” to apply for jobs. This works out to a spend of 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. This costs $14.99 per month and includes 70 connects, plus another 10 “free” from Upwork.
You can also roll up to 200 connects over from month to month.
You do 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.
If you’re very active on Upwork, it might make sense to sign up to this plan.
25. Learn to cope with rejection
One truly depressing part of working on freelance job boards like Upwork is hearing nothing back from a perfectly crafted application. And it always seems to be 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!
26. 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.
One notable exception to this is when you’re just starting out. It MAY be worth grabbing a few GOOD low-paid gigs to start building positive feedback. Just remember that a low paying client is one thing – a BAD low paying client is another!
27. Keep up your marketing momentum
Of all the Upwork tips here, this is the one I’ve personally been most guilty of disobeying.
It’s all too easy to abandon your marketing efforts during times when you have plenty of work. But it’s not unheard of for things to quickly dry up (listen to this podcast for some real-life experience of that!)
It’s a tricky balance, and sometimes you genuinely are “fully committed.” But unless you are for months ahead, it’s worth constantly working to keep that pipeline flowing – and that means maintaining a steady stream of applications for new work.
28. Be wary when clients try to get you to work with them outside of the platform
Moving work outside of Upwork is a controversial subject.
Many clients are keen to take the relationship “off platform.” It can save them AND YOU Upwork fees, albeit whilst taking you away from the protections and conveniences of working via Upwork.
I won’t deny that I’ve ended up working with plenty of clients outside of Upwork over the years, but the rules on this have grown steadily stricter with time. The basics at the time of writing are that you can only do this if you or the client pays a “conversion fee,” or if you’ve worked for a client for over two years.
Shifting to working for a client direct happens. It happens a lot. But Upwork is very precious about this, and if you are caught breaking their rules, you risk losing your account. Be careful.
29. Change your visibility if you are going to be absent from the platform for a while
Upwork monitors and reports your response times and activity on the platform. As such, it is a good idea to change the visibility on your account to “Private” if you will be taking a holiday or a leave of absence – or if you’re simply too busy with other work.
All you need to do is go to Visibility under Profile Settings and choose “Private” from the dropdown menu. This will hide your profile from view and will prevent you from being sent invitations.
Tips for Getting Upwork Badges
Upwork badges are a great way to stand out in the marketplace. Investing a little extra effort to obtain them is often well worth it.
30. Understand the requirements
Many freelancers want to receive a “Rising Talent,” “Top Rated,” or “Top Rated Plus” badge, but do little to learn how to obtain them.
Understanding that “Top Rated” is awarded to the top 10% of freelancers and simply hoping to be good enough is a short-cut to frustration!
Worse still, some experienced freelancers have admitted to deleting their Upwork accounts and opening new ones (against Upwork’s terms of service), in the hope of getting “Rising Talent” status! In actual fact, in my experience it’s possible to achieve this status on an older account that’s been previously dormant.
Upwork is very clear about its criteria for each badge so there is no excuse for not knowing. If you want some detailed information about the badges and the steps you need to take to qualify for them, check out these dedicated articles:
31. Make use of your “My Stats” page
Tracking the metrics that Upwork requires in order for you to qualify for badges may seem complicated. In reality it is very simple once you find the “My Stats” page hidden away behind the “Find Work” menu!
Once you know what is required, you can use your “My Stats” page to see how far off you are and which metrics you most need to focus on.
Even if you are not truly pursuing a Top Rated status yet, this page will provide you with useful information as to how your career as an Upwork freelancer is going.
If you follow all of these tips for Upwork (and other freelance boards), you should increase your chances 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 initially 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 Upwork tips in this article do the same for many others.
More for You
However, for the ultimate introduction to Upwork (and to freelancing in general), please check out my course, which guides you step-by-step through launching your own online freelancing career.
Still Need More?!
- Want to know what it feels like to work on Upwork? I have a case study on getting started with Upwork here.
- If you want more freelance tips, I have an enormous list of 50 freelancing tips here.
- For an alternative place to pick up freelance and remote jobs, take a look at Flexjobs.
- Discover other places to find clients both online and off.
Founder of HomeWorkingClub.com – Ben has worked freelance for nearly 20 years. As well as being a freelance writer and blogger, he is also a technical consultant with Microsoft and Apple certifications. He loves supporting new home workers but is prone to outbursts of bluntness and realism.