As a freelance storyteller, I totally get the struggle behind finding and getting clients. If you’ve been in the game long enough, you’ve likely heard of Upwork. If you haven’t, then let this be your official introduction.
Upwork is essentially a freelancer platform where clients can post tasks they need to be completed. Nine times out 10, the tasks are rather menial. However, if you know how to market yourself correctly, as well as search the right keywords, you can land yourself some jobs on Upwork that can afford to give you a pretty penny.
In this post, we are going to go through some of the tricks I have learned over the years to boost my minimum hourly pay from $5 to $67 and still get clients. That’s a 1,240% INCREASE in revenue! Whether you are a writer and storyteller like me or just a freelancer, in general, these techniques will help you get put on Upwork’s map as established, “Rising Talent”.
Table of Contents
- Developing a Profile That Makes Clients Stay
- How to Price Yourself and Your Services
- The Keys to a Successful Query
- The Versatile Freelancer Can Make It
Developing a Profile That Makes Clients Stay
Everyone these days has a short attention span. We are very much a, “I want it in one click,” society. Your potential clients are no different. They want to land on your profile and have everything they need to know, right then and there.
That makes it incredibly important for you to have your best foot forward in every aspect of your Upwork profile. You cannot simply rely just on your resume and cover letter to win over your clients. Not on Upwork, where your clients also have access to what’s meant to be a robust, insightful profile.
Step 1: Use a generalize form of your cover letter as your bio.
On a lot of social networks, it’s said that the shorter and simpler your bio is, the better. That’s not the case on Upwork. Your bio is the first thing (outside of your name) that your clients will read. It is crucial to develop a cover letter that is specific to your “niche” client.
Think about who your prospective client may be. As a writer, I know most clients who hire me lack the creativity and/or technical and grammatical skills to craft their own content – whether that be on their website, within their novel or eBook, or even on their personal blog.
Here are some examples of things to include in your letter:
- Address the client as a “Prospective Client”
- List out three to four common complications clients in your niche struggle with. Follow each with a single, descriptive sentence of how you would delegate and resolve those issues.
- Give a description/list of your top and most sufficient capabilities
- Provide a detailed description of your “extreme interests” – meaning the niche (or genre) of work you absolutely love and are passionate about
- Highlight your overall availability and list an email address they can reach you at 24/7
- Really showcase your most recent accomplishments (as well as a testimonial that supports your work, if you have one)
Each of these bullet points is essential for crafting a generalized cover letter that addresses everything your client will care about. Your bio – unlike other bios you may have written – is not a spot to talk about how much you love dogs or that cake you baked last Friday. It will quite literally be your first impression; so, make it worthwhile!
Step 2: Upload a video
Upwork allows you to upload one video to your profile. To make the best use out of Upwork’s capabilities, I highly recommend you create a video to fill in this gap.
Let’s say you’re a film editor. This spot is perfect for showcasing one of your pieces. In your cover letter, you can always add in something like, “See an example attached below”.
If you’re not working in a very visual industry, then maybe you do what I did.
I created a Keynote presentation that went through my skills, desires, and passion. Then, I recorded myself talking through each slide, making sure to not get too wordy or off-point. After that, I uploaded the presentation to my profile, and at the beginning of my bio I put, “Please see the attached video for an easy-to-follow guide on my skills and abilities!”
In the last two years of working through Upwork, I have had multiple clients tell me they never even read my bio or my resume. They went straight to the video. Why? Because it’s easier! Plus, by recording myself over each slide, they really got to put a voice and personality behind the person they were hiring.
With your video, it’s a good idea to repeat some of the key bullet points from your cover letter but try not to make it exactly the same. Your video could be a great place to expand on some of your favorite projects you’ve worked on. It could also be the perfect place to do a slideshow of photos if you’re a photographer.
Whatever your niche may be, it doesn’t matter. There is a way to use the video feature to help you shine, no matter what. So, don’t be lazy. Use your brainpower to come up with something really creative, because it will make your clients pay more attention to you in the long run.
Step 3: Highlight the best of your best in your portfolio
The biggest mistake I made starting out on Upwork was uploading everything I’d ever worked on into my portfolio.
Don’t do this.
Much like your bio and your video, your portfolio is part of your first impression. Think about it like this: If you were to go for a job interview in person, then would you take everything you’ve ever done, or would you take the projects you’re are most proud of? It would be the latter.
You want your portfolio to hold the projects that (a) will make you look freaking awesome and (b) are available to preview. If a client clicks on one of your items but can’t actually view the finished product, then you’re missing an opportunity to convert their interaction into genuine interest.
For me, I have had several short stories published online, but I do a lot more than fiction writing. So, I didn’t want my whole portfolio to be all fiction. I went through all my stories, where they were published, and thought about which publications were higher received/more recognizable and which stories received the best feedback from readers and editors. Then, I chose that top one, and I only put that story into my portfolio.
Remember that your portfolio is just to showcase some examples of what you can do. You can easily mention in your cover letter/bio or video that you have several more publications. Don’t feel like you’re cutting yourself short by only picking a few of your best items to feature.
It’s better to have one really awesome thing to showcase than eight kind of crappy, ill-received pieces. You are selling yourself and your services. Again, you want to put your best foot forward.
Step 4: Choosing the best skills
Part of your profile is a list of your skills, and while this may be a smaller less seen portion of your profile, it is actually one of the most powerful.
For example, if I’m a client looking for a writer that specializes in blog writing and knows how to use WordPress, then I may search for “WordPress Blog Writer” in my Upwork search bar. Then, my search would bring up any freelancer who has listed those skills on their profile.
Granted, only freelancers with great job scores (we will get to that later) and great profiles will be ranked at the top. However, this is still very powerful, even for a newbie!
You want to treat your “Skills” as keywords, because of this. So, tap into your SEO best practices and think of the keywords that rank well for your niche. Include maybe five or six generic skills but really research and narrow down at least ten niche-specific skills you excel at and can leverage.
If you’re unfamiliar with SEO and keywords, I personally love this article from Neil Patel. I’ve been following Neil’s blog for a little over a month, and I am just shocked by the valuable content he posts. He has certainly helped me boost my blogging game. Oh, and this isn’t a paid promotion or anything. His blog is simply helpful!
Step 5: Taking the Upwork tests
I know; I know – ew, tests. The thought may take you back to your ninth grade English exam and the horror of having to write an essay on personification, BUT Upwork’s tests are far less grueling. In fact, I finished all of mine at under 30-minutes each.
And, yes. You should try to at least take two or three. Simply search for tests that are related to your niche and relate back to your skills. The higher you score on the tests the better and more knowledgeable you’ll look to your clients.
Don’t worry if you struggle with a test and get a bad score. You can omit any test scores you want from your profile, and you can always retake the test.
There’s really not much to tests but taking one will definitely help your profile stand out more, in Upwork’s eyes. Just like any networking platform, their algorithm loves it when you use of every feature they offer to you!
Step 6: Filling out your Certification, Education, and Employment History
This is the most standard portion of your Upwork profile, and you can pretty much just copy over whatever you have on your LinkedIn Profile.
What you don’t want to do is list Upwork employment in this section. This is because Upwork automatically generates a section for your Upwork employment, and you don’t want to duplicate it.
Instead, think about other freelance jobs you’ve worked on, or maybe list a part-time job you excelled it. It’s a great place to showcase any longer-term projects you’ve worked on, because it will show the client that you’re willing to help them – no matter how long it may take.
If you don’t have anything to put in these three sections, don’t sweat it. There are plenty of freelancers out there that haven’t worked on any big projects or haven’t gotten their college education, yet. Just know that clients will have to rely more heavily on what you feed them in your cover letter and your bio.
How to Price Yourself and Your Services
The types of employers that generally use Upwork are the ones that are looking for the most inexpensive talent. That’s not to say there aren’t any lucrative opportunities, but you do have to establish yourself before you can request the amount you deserve – as unfair as that may be.
That’s simply just how the game works.
When I started on Upwork, my starting rate was $5 an hour. Plus, Upwork takes a commission for letting you use their platform for free. You can see those rates here, or you can view them in the graphic below.
Upwork charges freelancers a fee of:
- 20% for the first $500 billed with the client
- 10% for lifetime billings with the client between $500.01 and $10,000
- 5% for lifetime billings with the client that exceed $10,000
When a freelancer bills $500 or $10,000 with a client, the freelancer automatically earns a lower fee going forward with that client. The freelancer will, therefore, see an increase in take-home earnings.
Upwork essentially rewards you for having consistent, reliable relationships with clients by taking less commission over the course of a freelancer-client relationship. Starting off, 20% can be a lot, but on Upwork, that’s part of the grind.
Much like any freelance service, you must be willing to sacrifice a little bit in the beginning for a lifetime of rewards. If you put in the work, create fantastic client relationships, and produce the best quality content possible – then you will gain a higher job success score.
What Is Your “Job Success Score”, and How Do You Increase It?
Your Job Success Score on Upwork is basically like being graded on how you are, overall, as a freelancer. There are a few areas that Upwork combines to produce your Job Success Score:
- All feedback received on freelance projects
- Any long-term relationships/repeat contracts (the more, the better)
- Any contracts without activity
- A lack of feedback from clients
As you can see, there are two positives and two negatives Upwork considers when deciphering your Job Success Score.
Why should you care?
When a client posts a job opportunity onto Upwork, they have the ability to set a Job Success Score rate for the project. Most clients set it to “at least a 90 Job Success Score”. This means, if your Job Success Score is lower than 90, then the client will not work with you. You can still apply for the job, but it is highly unlikely they’ll actually view your application.
To increase your Job Success Score, you will – first – have to get your foot in the door with some clients who are okay with either lower scores or newbies. As long as you have the rest of your profile set-up to the standards I’ve previously described, you will be able to easily bag five to six clients without a score in place.
The Better the Feedback, the Higher the Rate
A freelancer is nothing without their testimonials. One good review from the right client can put you on the map, and this is no different on Upwork.
Sometimes, yes, there will be those stubborn clients that hardly ever respond and definitely won’t take the time to leave you a review. But here’s the thing – for every one of that type of client are 50 of a great client and decent person, who wants to see you succeed because they believe in your work.
I said this before, but I’ll say it again: you’re selling yourself to this person. You want them to believe in you. At the end of the day, that’s the real reward – knowing that you helped another person achieve their goals.
The key, I’ve found, is to follow-up with your client, even after they’ve accepted your work and closed the contract. I love to simply send them a quick message thanking them for the opportunity and letting them know that if they need any revisions, I’ll do it – no questions (or fees) asked.
Clients respect freelancers that only want to deliver their best. I never want a client to leave with my work and be unhappy. I definitely don’t want them to pay me, but then have to turn around and pay another freelancer to fix my work.
When you’re communicating with your client, put yourself in their shoes. Let them know that their desire is your priority. The better the relationship you build with them, the better the feedback they will give you.
Raising Your Wages
Once you have compiled great reviews and worked on getting your Job Success Score above 90, then you are at a place where you can reevaluate your hourly wage.
After I built some great relationships and received some great feedback, I was able to raise my hourly fee from $5 to $67. Now, I priced myself this way also because I’d built up my portfolio by 30%. I took on multiple jobs at once and stressed myself out to no end in sight, but it paid off.
Not only could I expand my niche, but I developed skills that other freelancers simply don’t have. I can offer services other freelancers can’t – and that makes my expertise more valuable.
This was not an overnight change. I slowly increased my rate over time. It wasn’t until about a year later that I was able to raise it to $67. However, it mostly took me that long because all the tips I’ve provided you within this post, I didn’t have when I started on Upwork.
Truly, you’re getting a bargain. Knowing all of this, I would say you could easily cut that timeline in half and be making the wage you deserve within 6 to 8 months.
You just have to keep at it, as well as analyze yourself and your abilities.
When trying to determine your value, sit down and make a list of what you know, what you don’t know, and what your competitors know that you don’t know. If you can’t beat your competitor, then you should be pricing yourself lower than them, not higher.
Taking a look at who your competitors are and how they price themselves is a great way to measure where you stand.
The Keys to a Successful Query
Last is your job query. It’s rare that your clients will just come to you, especially when you’re not very established. You will have to dig for the right jobs in your niche, and you will have to expertly query those clients to get those jobs.
Step 1: Finding the jobs you want
There are a plethora of jobs available on Upwork. It can be difficult to navigate which jobs are actually the right jobs for you. With Upwork’s free membership, you only get 60 Connects a month. Every job you apply for typically costs 2 Connects, meaning you can only apply for about 30 jobs a month.
You don’t want to waste your Connects on jobs that are (a) unreliable and (b) won’t hire you because you aren’t a good fit. Instead, you need to learn how to successfully use Upwork’s handy filtering tool.
After navigating to the “Find Work” tab on Upwork’s site, you will see a search bar. Below it is a green link titled “Advanced Search”. Clicking on it should bring up the following:
Though it may look simple, Upwork’s Advanced Search tool is actually incredibly powerful. By using it correctly, you can find the exact jobs you want and have a higher success rate at gaining clients.
For this, I’m going to explain using myself as an example. So, pretend you are a creative writer searching for a job in web content. If you were, then you might type in the following:
All of these words
Any of these words
Creative, writer, blog, article
The exact phrase
(I typically leave this one blank unless I’m trying to get SUPER specific results)
Exclude these words
For Title search and Skills search, I will usually leave these blank, as well. I usually don’t want to limit myself too, too much. Of course, if you are looking within a very specific niche (or maybe you know an employer who regularly posts jobs), then these features may be more useful.
When I press “Search”, these are some examples of the results I was given:
As you can see, Upwork pulled only search results that fit my criteria. You can also see that the top listed jobs are both higher rated clients that have verified payments. Both of these are very important to look at when looking for jobs. Upwork does a good job at showing you who is reliable and who may not be.
If you thought that was the only filtering you could do – you’d be wrong. To get even more detailed results, you can tap the “Filters” button next to your search and open up the following device:
I personally tend to go for hourly projects at an Intermediate or Expert level. This is another spot where understanding where you stand in your freelance niche against your competitors will come in handy.
You also want to think about your availability, and you want to try and go for jobs that don’t have many proposals to boost your chance of getting the job.
After you have selected your filters, simply click “Close Filters” and your search results will regenerate to be more specific. At that point – if it’s something I know I’ll search regularly – I like to save the search by hitting “Save Search” up next to the “Filters” button.
The search will save to my job dashboard and be accessible for anytime I need it. This eliminates the hassle of having to go through the advanced search every time you want to find a job.
Step 2: Submitting a winning proposal
When you find a job you want to apply for, be sure you click on it and read through all of the job’s requirements. This is another great way to check a client’s credibility. If you are applying to a job that’s to edit and proofread a piece of fiction, and you client misspells every other word in their job description section, then you can get a good idea at how much work is in store for you.
Also, before you submit a proposal, look at the side panel where the average hourly rate is. You want to take that rate into account when you set your hourly rate in your proposal. If the average rate is $30, and you put $80, then it’s likely the client can’t afford you. Be reasonable and adjust your pricing to fit the client’s budget.
The actual proposal process is simple, clean and meant to be efficient. The last thing you want is to ramble on. Instead, devise a cover letter that addresses the client’s specific needs, and then point your client toward your profile for further information, if they’re interested.
The client has the ability to ask their own questions, too. I advise scrolling down and looking at the questions they may ask, so you’re not wasting your time in your Cover Letter, repeating things you can just list down below.
Upwork does give you the option to upload “project files” to your proposal. I have found a clean resume goes a long way. You can easily make a free, attractive resume using Canva in minutes.
Your proposal will be a snippet of who you are as a freelancer. You’ll want to make every word count, and I advise on staying away from repeating yourself. You want to make yourself look diverse and pliable. Your client will want to know that you are an expert at what you do, but that you are adaptable to what they need.
The Versatile Freelancer Can Make It
There is a heavy emphasis on having a niche in today’s freelance community. Some people take it as meaning they need to do one thing and one thing only. My advice? Don’t take it so literally. Though my niche may be “Writer”, I write all across the board – from fiction to healthcare. Choose a specificity and then go broad with it. Train yourself to be really awesome at multiple things within your “niche”.
Being versatile with different platforms will also increase your opportunity of meeting new clients. There is really no harm in signing up for a free Upwork account. I’ve been using Upwork for a while, and it’s landed me some great jobs.
If you have any questions regarding any of the information in this article, please leave them in a comment below this post. I will get back to you as soon as possible! I would also love to hear from you on your experience with Upwork (if you’ve used it before) and whether this article was helpful.
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