Upwork has the unenviable reputation of a freelancing platform teeming with low-paying jobs.
While the stereotypical assumption has an ounce of truth, it’s possible to land clients who pay reasonable rates. Or, in some cases, lucrative jobs that more than pay the bills.
If you live in countries with favorable exchange rates, Upwork is a potential source of a steady and decent income.
Since signing up for Upwork in 2016, it has become one of my major income streams. In this article, I’ll share how you can launch a profitable freelancing career on Upwork.
What is Upwork, and how does it work?
Upwork is arguably the largest freelance marketplace on the internet. It was the rebranded merger of Elance and Odesk in 2015.
Upwork serves as an intermediary gateway that connects freelancers with clients. It allows freelancers to bid and work on jobs remotely with ease.
Whether you’re a software developer, graphic designer, or language translator, you will likely find suitable opportunities on Upwork.
Today, Upwork has more than 12 million freelancers and 145 thousand key clients. It attracts freelancers seeking access to a pool of international clients.
To protect both parties, Upwork allows clients to deposit funds in an escrow, which it releases to freelancers upon completing the job.
Upwork also serves as a mediator in disputes. Besides, it offers perks for top-rated freelancers, such as access to talent clouds and on-call support.
Can you make money on Upwork?
But the question is, how much money can you possibly make on Upwork. And is it worth your time and effort?
Understandably, different professions command their own rate, opportunities, and competitions. For example, top graphic designers charge $150 per hour or more on Upwork. But a virtual assistant might hit a lower rate ceiling.
Also, there’s the supply vs. demand equation for each profession. Skilled, experienced professionals like data engineers might have the upper hand when negotiating fees. Meanwhile, general positions such as typists face stiffer competition and hence, a rather discouraging rate.
Still, it’s possible to grow your earnings by increasing your rate as you strengthen your Upwork profile.
For example, I made $21,000 in the past 12 months as a content writer. It’s more than what I made in the first 3 years on Upwork. Back then, I was a newbie content writer struggling to land jobs in a highly-competitive marketplace.
My earnings grew as I increased my rate to match the skills and experience I brought to the table.
You can also check out how much Upwork freelancers have earned by visiting their profile. Most of them made their earnings public like this.
To get a good estimate of how much you can earn on Upwork, do a quick search on Google.
- Search ‘Upwork hourly rate for [your profession]. For example, “Upwork hourly rate for graphic designer’
- Look out for the results from Upwork.
Note that the chart merely indicates what most graphic designers are charing on Upwork, not the limits that you must confine to.
Remember that top graphic designers like Morgan Overholt, charge $150 per hour or more on Upwork.
How to get started on Upwork?
To kickstart your Upwork journey, you’ll need an Upwork account. Signing up is pretty easy and free.
Hit the Sign Up button, and create a freelancer account.
Upwork takes you through the steps of filling up your educational background, expertise, employment histories, profile photo, and other details for your profile.
Before you can bid on jobs, Upwork requires you to verify your identity. As a fraud prevention measure, you’ll need to upload ID documents that Upwork specifies.
Note: It’s crucial to use your own ID documents, or you risk getting your account suspended.
Upwork – Short vs. long game.
Intuitively, you’ll want to start bidding and winning high-paying jobs from the go. While it’s possible to do so, you’re likely to use up the 20 Connects that new Upworkers start with.
Connects are credits that Upworkers use to bid on jobs. High-paying jobs often cost 6 connects per bid.
Instead of playing the short game, I see Upwork as a platform for long-term opportunities. Rather than joining the fray and getting outmuscled by veteran Upworkers, it’s better to build a strong foundation on the platform.
This means focusing on metrics that make you more ‘visible’ on Upwork – job success score and work history.
Both play an important role in propping up your proposal when you bid on jobs. Or increasing your visibility when clients search for freelancers.
Job Success Score.
On Upwork, you find your job success score (JSS) on the profile page. You start without a JSS, but it’s visible after completing a specific number of jobs.
While Upwork doesn’t specify the exact algorithm for calculating the JSS, it does mention what’s important.
Specifically, Upwork looks at your completed projects, reviews, refunds, and cancellations. They also weigh short-term and long-term/ongoing projects differently. Contracts that bear higher earnings will be more influential to the JSS.
Ideally, you’ll want to maintain a JSS of 90% and above. It helps you to maintain a good impression and also enables Upwork’s algorithm to work in your favor.
Hence, it’s crucial to deliver excellent work, particularly for new Upworkers.
Work history is a collection of reviews and ratings on Upwork. Besides lending confidence to new clients, they contribute to the JSS.
Therefore, unfavorable reviews will greatly affect a new Upworker’s JSS. Hence, it’s important to get a series of good reviews from the start.
Reviews are given after completing and ending a contract. As such, make it a habit to ask your client to leave a review, particularly if you’ve done an excellent job.
As you gain more good ratings, your JSS is less likely to suffer a huge drop if a job doesn’t end successfully.
How to win jobs as a beginner on Upwork
As a new Upworker, landing your first contract might be tough. Besides the stiff competition, the lack of reviews and JSS score don’t help.
Working on these 3 areas will give you the edge over fellow Upworkers.
Your profile description should be brief and concise. It gives clients a clear picture of what you do and how they will benefit when they hire you.
Avoid going into the details of every skill and qualification you possess. Clients appreciate straight-to-the-point, skimmable descriptions.
Here’s my latest profile description.
Also, it’s best to avoid assigning several designations to a single profile.
For example, some freelancers state that they are a ‘social media marketer | copywriter | SEO strategist | PPC specialist”
While an Upworker may be adept in several skills, bearing several designations gives the impression that they lack focus.
Rather, be specific about what you do in your Upwork profile. If you’re keen to explore opportunities in different fields, create multiple profiles for reach.
For example, I use my main profile for content writing jobs and a second profile for SEO.
Writing a good cover letter greatly increases your chance of winning jobs. It’s an underrated skill that helps clients respond to your proposals amongst dozens of others.
These are 2 winning factors for a cover letter.
Avoid using or modifying from a template. You’ll only create a typical and boring cover letter that fails to impress the client.
Neither should you include redundant details, like how you’re aware that the client is seeking a graphic designer. Or how long you’ve been in the industry.
Save that for later.
Instead, make the cover letter about the client and personalize it. Find interesting points in the job description, website, or job-specific issues. Then, use them in a conversational way to engage the client.
The goal is to get the client to respond to your proposal and pave the way for further discussions. Think of how you can write it differently from your competitors.
Here’s how I wrote the cover letter by using interesting points on the client’s website.
2. Show past results
Clients are more likely to work with you if you’ve done something similar in the past.
Therefore, always list some of your past works, preferably related ones, when submitting proposals.
If you’re a graphic designer, attach some of your best works. Meanwhile, SEO experts can display search traffic, keyword rankings, and other metrics.
For me, I include links to my published works.
Now, I mentioned playing the long game on Upwork. This means you’ll need to be creative with your bidding strategies.
If you bid on every job that captures your interest, you’ll use up all Connects quickly.
Instead, use the filter to narrow down jobs that new Upworkers have a higher chance of winning. Specifically, I applied to jobs that fit these criteria when I was new on Upwork.
- Entry/Intermediate jobs
- Jobs with less than 5 proposals.
- Jobs specific to my country.
- Jobs that require secondary skills. (e.g. content writer for an electrical engineering company)
Back then, Upwork has yet to introduce the Connects system. If they did, I would focus on
- Jobs that cost 1-2 Connects.
Understandably, this strategy might not get land you the jobs you desire. But it allows you complete projects, get good ratings, and improve the JSS quickly.
Doing so paves a solid foundation that prepares you for better opportunities on Upwork.
Upwork is the gateway to an abundance of freelancing opportunities but also stiff competition. It takes persistence, strategy, and being the best in what you do to build a profitable career on Upwork.
Share this around if you feel my thoughts help in charting your path on Upwork.