We recently covered eight of the best job websites for freelancers and gig economists and weighed their individual strengths and weaknesses. Now we’re diving a little deeper and providing an express tutorial for getting jobs on one of the biggest freelance marketplaces available online. This guidance will not only help you get jobs on Upwork, but also on many comparable job indexes like Freelancer and Guru.
It can feel like an uphill battle getting that first gig. But with some strategic self-promotion and smart planning you can cut through the noise and make it happen!
Research your market and pitch your niche
One of the most universal pieces of advice you will find for the nascent Upworker is the need to specialize. It’s great if you can “do it all” but making this claim isn’t necessarily the best way to market yourself. Web design expert and online educator John Morris does an excellent job making this point in a blog on his personal site. He uses this example:
The sales page for computer 1 reads like this:
‘High powered computer that can handle the most resource-intensive tasks with ease.’
And, the sales page for computer 2 reads like this:
‘A 3.2GHz Quad-Core Intel I-7 process with 16MB RAM designed specifically for editing massive HD videos with ease.’
Almost universally,” Morris says, “people will instinctively choose the second computer because its messaging is aimed right at what they’re after.”
Branding yourself as an expert in a specific field is the difference between a spam email and exactly what you’re looking for. Fortunately for you, many of the other Upworkers market themselves as “high-powered computers.”
Isolate a few specific areas of your field that interest you and explore their demand on Upwork — you could be exactly what great clients are looking for. Expert status will also win you better paying jobs.
Make a snazzy profile
While not everyone is an SEO expert by trade, you need to be when crafting your profile. With your niche in hand, give yourself a snappy and descriptive title that tells potential clients exactly what you do. Instead of dubbing yourself a “design guru” — call yourself a “microsoft paint expert.” If you write, make it clear what you’re darn good at writing and also include these specific terms in your bio copy so you show up when clients search those keywords.
Having a presentable photo with you looking head-on into the camera is a given, but Upwork offers a lot of additional space for solos to make their qualifications undeniable.
You can and should include links to past work you feel conveys your abilities. You can also take their free skills tests (there are tons) and include a video in your profile. This might seem a little overkill but videos are a great way to show the real person behind the profile and inspire potential clients’ trust in you. Plus, these days, videos just aren’t all that difficult to make.
Be strategic about your pricing
You will find a number of strong and differing opinions on this topic but generally you should think of your first few assignments as stepping stones — making competitive bids is typically the best way to go when you are starting out. (Note this does not mean competing with the $1 and $2 bids you’ll inevitably see.)
More on this topic: Getting the Freelance Rate You Deserve
These initial jobs will give you the chances you need to score the all-important five-star reviews which will give you the clout to begin charging the big bucks (more on this below).
It’s also important to note you do not need to bid at the indicated rate on your profile — you are free to bid as you choose on each project. You might even want to express to clients that you are charging a lower price as a special perk because you’re new to the site.
Give potential clients a taste
As you are probably beginning to see, in order to get jobs on Upwork, you need to make yourself stand out. A great profile, a cool video and a sparkling portfolio are all great and can work wonders for you.
But if you still need a little something more to get yourself over the newbie hump with potential clients: consider offering them a sample of what you can do.
Brendan of the Bren on the Road blog relays the merits of this strategy in the entertaining and interesting story of how he landed his first freelance writing job on Upwork — without any direct writing experience.
“If I just wrote my typical ‘I work really hard’ proposal I would just look like another amateur writer with no experience,” Brendan writes, “probably even a homeless one bidding from a stolen laptop. Therefore I decided to actually write a blog post for one of the requested topics as my proposal instead. That way he would know that I could write a blog post in good English and also would not be left wondering whether I really knew anything about accounting.”
Giving a little demo in your outreach message as a writer is a great idea and a strategy I’ve used myself with great success. But you can also apply this to other freelance fields — offer to build a client a free specialized widget on their website or create an outline of how you would handle their marketing campaign.
Get that star rating up
So you got the job and aced it — now make sure you put those good results to work for you! At the conclusion of each project politely ask your client if they were completely satisfied with your work, and if so, to leave a 5-star review for you. This is essential to establishing yourself on Upwork and getting higher paying jobs in the future.
If your client has feedback or revisions, it is best to work with them on these issues until they feel comfortable giving you a gushing review.
Just start Upworking
As with most things in the freelance realm, the most difficult part is getting started. However, when the steps are straightforward, a big task can feel far more manageable. Start thinking about your niche and what makes you unique. If you have that, the rest is gravy — and more learning!