We recently covered 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 on Upwork. But with some strategic self-promotion and smart planning you can cut through the noise and make it happen!
15 random tips for getting jobs on Upwork
- Build trust by having a professional presence outside of Upwork. Assume the prospective client will Google your name. What will they find? Hopefully a professional business page.
- Customize every proposal.
- Make your photo professional.
- Explain why you are interested in this job.
- Provide specific samples.
- Describe the problems you solve. Don’t describe the years of experience. Clients don’t care about butt-in-the-seat metrics.
- Let people know how to reach you. When clients get their questions answered, they get comfortable and they make the hire.
- Have a comprehensive portfolio, but send specific examples for each proposal. Don’t just refer prospective clients to your portfolio.
- Engage in a dialog. Ask thoughtful questions of the person who is hiring.
- Remember that rates can be unrealistically low as well as unrealistically high. Bidding too low can scare off prospective clients.
- See it from their point of view. Find a reason to hire someone on Upwork and note what that experience is like.
- Keep that profile up-to-date.
- Use your profile to talk about your working process. That’s often what clients are most hesitant about, apart from your skills and experience.
- Treat every job on Upwork as a mission to get a five-star rating. That’s what gets you the next job.
- Don’t get discouraged. The typical job has dozens of bidders. So, even if you are average, it will take you dozens of proposals to get one job. With time, you are going to improve your success rate.
Research your market and establish your niche
Many freelancers worry that if they are too specific in their profiles or in their resumes that they will be missing job opportunities and “leave money on the table.” They take a posture that says, “Tell me what to do, and I’ll do it.”
This is counterproductive. You are likely to get no work at all. Ask any freelancer who has successfully made the transition from surviving to thriving, and they will tell you that committing to a specialization creates more opportunity — not less.
Therefore, one of the most universal pieces of advice you will find for getting jobs on Upwork is the need to specialize.
It’s great if you can “do it all” but making this claim isn’t 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 shows that you can solve the specific problem that employers on Upwork are struggling with.
As we find in our roundup of the size of the gig economy, you have tens of millions of competitors when you are looking for freelance jobs. You need to stand out. 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 there is on Upwork for those jobs. You could be exactly what great clients are looking for. Expert status will also win you better paying jobs.
Make an effective Upwork profile
While not everyone is an SEO expert by trade, you need to be when crafting your profile for freelance websites.
With your niche in hand, give yourself a descriptive title that tells potential clients exactly what you do and what problems you are going to solve for them.
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 link to past work that you feel conveys your abilities. You can also take their free skills tests (there are tons) and include a video in your profile.
Don’t forget the video profile feature on Upwork
This might seem like overkill, but Upwork 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.
Think of it this way. The number one reason that prospective clients end up not hiring a freelancer is the sense of risk. From their perspective, hiring you is risky. Anything you can do to de-risk their decision will help. Videos are one great way to do that.
Be strategic about your pricing
You will find a number of strong and differing opinions on how to set your freelance rates on Upwork, but generally you should think of your first few assignments as stepping stones. 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 first jobs you get on Upwork will give you the chance to score the all-important five-star reviews which will give you the clout to begin charging the big bucks. (More on this below).
Keep in mind that you do not need to bid at the rate you indicated 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 hump, consider offering prospective clients a sample of what you can do.
Brendan of the Bren on the Road blog explains 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.
“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. I’ve used this strategy 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.
To get jobs on Upwork, get that star rating up
You need to think of Upwork as like a search engine. And just like with Google, you need to optimize your chances for showing up in this search engine. People can’t hire you on Upwork if they never see you.
A lot of that comes down to ratings. At the end of each project politely ask your client if they were completely satisfied with your work. If they were, ask them to leave a five-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 if they ask for 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!
Ben Shanbrom is a freelance writer, musician and copy editor who works with artists and clients within his native New Haven scene and well beyond.