I Made $90,000+ Writing on Upwork – Here’s How I Started

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I never dreamed of becoming a writer. After all, doctors, engineers, and lawyers are the go-to professions for Asian families. 

Being a Malaysian, I graduated as an electronics engineer and spent 10 years in the industry. 

I loved what I did, except that the pay for electronics engineers is, at best – average. I don’t blame my employers because that’s the reality of the local tech industry. 

At 28, I quit my job and started an electronics design business, hoping it would lead to better earning opportunities.

But it didn’t.

Without any business experience, I lacked a direction and was fighting a futile battle. My business failed 5 years later, and I had to make some hard calls. 

Quitting a decade-long profession

Switching my career was not easy, but it was necessary. Back then, I was a single parent raising my 2-year-old son, who was often unwell and required care.

Sticking to a profession requiring long office hours and traveling isn’t feasible. Unlike today, WFH was still an unfamiliar practice.  

So, I vowed to start afresh in a venture that let me:

  • Make more money.
  • Spend less time working.
  • Be location-free.

In other words, I want to be available if my son requires immediate medical attention.

The internet seems like a great option, particularly when living in a country with a favorable foreign exchange rate. (For context, USD/MYR was around 4.40 in 2015.)

Hence, I was convinced that my future lies on the internet. The only problem is – I didn’t know where to start.

So, I googled ‘how to make money online’ and hoped to figure out the best way forward.

Stepping into affiliate marketing

I took my first step into the ‘make money online’ space with affiliate marketing. Affiliate marketing is a business model where marketers get paid a commission when customers they refer to vendors make a purchase. 

For example, if you sign up for courses on Gumroad with this link, I may receive a commission because I’m affiliated with Gumroad. 

My search for ways to build online income streams led me to Wealthy Affiliate.

Wealthy Affiliate is a self-paced learning platform that trains newbie affiliate marketers to build websites that generate residual income. There, I learned:

  • How to set up WordPress websites.
  • Blogging and copywriting
  • Basic SEO and keyword research.
  • Digital marketing. 
  • Social media engagement 
  • And more.

I put what I learned into practice and built several websites that bring me enough money to pay bills. 

Today, I’m still a member of Wealthy Affiliate, and I use the platform to host several websites I own, including this one.

More importantly, Wealthy Affiliate helped me discover my passion for writing, which I later turned into a sustainable freelance career. 

Discovering my passion for writing. 

The training that I went through at Wealthy Affiliate was intense, consistent, and actionable. There’s a strong focus on writing blogs, ranking them on search engines, and helping users to solve their problems.

A month into the training, I was already writing 1,000+ word articles almost daily. 

I was not yet a professional writer, but I enjoyed bringing ideas together and turning them into words. 

When building affiliate websites, I learned to write different types of articles that draw search traffic and convert them into sales. 

The idea was to find low-competition keywords and write articles that best answered the user’s queries. 

For example. 

  • Informational (“What is freelancing”)
  • Navigational (“How to sign up for Upwork”) 
  • Transactional (“Freelancing course review”)

Besides writing for my websites, I write and share motivational thoughts on social media. Encouraged by feedback from friends, I decided to turn my passion into a career. 

Signing up to Upwork

I signed up for Upwork in late 2015, along with Fiver, People Per Hour, Guru, and Freelancer.com.

I landed jobs from 4 of them within weeks but decided to focus my attention on Upwork. 

Back then, Upwork was already the largest global freelancing platform, BUT it was still beginner-friendly. 

You can apply for jobs by spending 2 credits, which they replenish generously every month.

Today, you need to be more strategic when freelancing on Upwork because credits are hard to come by. Download my eBook about writing job-winning proposals and get other freelancing tips.

Upwork is a different ball game than freelancing in a brick-and-mortar business environment. For example, you can’t nurture professional relationships in meet-and-greet business events. Or take prospective clients to dinner. 

Despite spending 5 years as a freelancer/business owner locally, I realized there are new skills I need to master to survive the competition. 

To complicate that, I was a newbie writer with no portfolio. Time was ticking because I had bills and a son to feed.

Overcoming self-doubts

Switching from engineering to writing means taking a pay cut unless I ply my service to clients in developed economies.

That means writing for businesses in the US, UK, Europe, Australia, and so on.

As a newbie writer, I doubted I would be good enough for the global market.

On Upwork, many clients prefer English-native writers, which I am not. Growing up in Malaysia, the way I write was influenced by the local culture.

We tend to be less economical with words and write in styles we use in daily conversations.

Hence, I was committed to changing how I write. I turned to publications like HuffPost, MindBodyGreen, and CNN to reinvent my writing style.

Gradually, I began to land jobs with clients from better-paying countries. Jobs that were once out of reach became likely possibilities. 

Early years on Upwork

Many freelancers hop onto Upwork and expect to land their major gigs overnight. Often, they quit after failing to get any job after a handful of attempts. 

I signed up to Upwork expecting nothing but a tough journey ahead. I was competing with possibly hundreds of thousands of writers. And many of them can write better or sell their service cheaper than me. 

My game plan is to survive the first few years because Upwork favors freelancers with a strong portfolio.

Like many online marketplaces, Upwork uses algorithms to decide which freelancer has a higher visibility when a client searches for one.

So, I spent the first 2-years working on low-paying jobs that few want to take. I intend to gain as many favorable reviews on Upwork as possible. 

Also, I use these jobs to test and improve my writing skills. 

Growing my writing career

By 2017, I’d survived Upwork and sought ways to thrive as a freelance writer. This is when I started to scale my rate and see more consistency in my earnings. 

Remember I mentioned that Upwork is a long-term game? And to win that game, you need long-term clients.

Here’s my secret. Almost all of my long-term clients came from job invitations. 

As I strengthened my Upwork profile, I started getting job invites. Applying for these jobs doesn’t cost credits, and they have a higher success rate.

The reason is simple.

Job invites are sent by clients who have gone through your Upwork profile and think you’re a good choice. These clients are also less likely to negotiate your asking rate.

With enough jobs to keep the lights on, I gradually increased my rate. From $12 per hour, I gradually worked up to $20, $35 and more. 

Niching down

Yet, it wasn’t until the Covid hit that my writing career soared.

Until then, I marketed myself as an SEO copywriter and took writing gigs from clients in various niches.

Besides technologies, I have written about mental health, relationships, manufacturing, entertainment, and more.

During the lockdown, I realized that writing jobs that require specialized knowledge often pays better. 

For example, I came across a 6-figure writer on Upwork who only writes photography-related blogs.

So, I decided to focus on subjects where I could leverage my engineering experience. Specifically, I narrowed my scope to cloud, AI, cybersecurity, and engineering because they are in demand.

Where I am today

If you’ve made it to this point, it means that I’ve grown as a writer.

In one way or another, I managed to keep you engaged – in ways I did for others.  

Over the years, I’ve written for clients in 20+ countries. I’ve banished doubts that I can never be good enough to write for top global clients.

I also proved you can make money on Upwork with the right mindset and strategy.

Today, I’m no longer a newbie writer, but my journey is far from over.

I ventured online as an affiliate marketer, and now I’m retracing my steps to be a better one.

This time, I’m equipped with writing skills and experience working with top content teams worldwide.  

Final thoughts

Making money online is not easy. There is no shortcut to succeeding in freelancing, writing, affiliate marketing, or other business models. 

If there’s anything that helped me sustain my growth in the past several years, it’s learning.

With the online landscape shifting so fast, equipping yourself with relevant and up-to-date knowledge is your best bet for success. 

What else can I share with you? Let me know in the comments below. 


  • Kenny Lee

    I'm an engineer-turned-writer who helps tech businesses increase online visibility with SEO-optimized content.

    View all posts

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