Love it or hate it, the world’s largest freelancing platform Upwork has given millions around the world the opportunity to work from home. Or the beach. Or a train. Or a cafe. (whatever floats your boat, really.)
When I started my remote work journey, I just wanted to earn online. I was prepared to do anything it took, as long as it meant I didn’t have to spend my time commuting or sat at a desk for nine hours a day, with people I didn’t especially connect with.
Over the last three years, I’ve been with Upwork since it transitioned from its predecessor, Elance, and I have earned the ‘Top Rated’ badge on my profile, allowing me to benefit from lower fees, and gain many invitations to apply for jobs.
I now earn a decent rate as a Top Rated Freelancer, and whilst I may not be on the site forever, I am grateful to the platform for giving me a doorway to travel the world and earn online.
There’s no doubt about it, there’s certainly the good, the bad, and the ugly on this platform, but once you figure out how to use it best, you can certainly reap the rewards.
Here’s the lessons I’ve learned so far on my journey.
Start low, but aim high
If you really want to get your foot in the door, start applying for work that might be paying a bit less than where you want to be. Ultimately you’ll end up there, so keep applying. You want to build up a solid portfolio and get some good reviews; that’s your first aim.
2. Get into 'Beast Mode': use all of your credits
You can always earn on Upwork by going into what I like to call ‘Beast Mode’. You have 60 job credits in which to spend, why not use them all in one month? They won’t roll over, so spread them out by applying to a couple of jobs each day.
3. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is
I think the biggest reason why a lot of people get their fingers burnt on this platform is because there are unfortunately, a lot of unscrupulous people on this platform. My rule of thumb is ‘If it looks too good to be true, it probably is!’. I turn down about 80% of the jobs I am invited to interview for, because I do not have a good feeling about the client. I am extremely picky now who I work with, and so I check the following:
Are they payment verified?
How many jobs have they awarded before?
Do they have a good profile rating? (read their reviews)
Is the brief easy to understand? Do they use weird language or ask you to do a big task for free in your application? (If so, RUN.)
Do you get a feeling like you can trust this person? Try to do a bit of digging on their site and maybe exchange a few messages, especially before you are awarded the job.
4. Use the filtering system to weed out jobs
Upwork also gets a bad rap because there are lots of low paying jobs on the site, and indeed I'd say about 70% of the jobs posted aren't great. But they’re not low paying if you’re in India or the Philippines; this is a global platform and of course there are going to be clients that want to get the lowest possible rates. But you don’t want to be working with them. Create your own filter by using keywords, payment verified, and define your level (whether they want beginner, intermediate or expert). If you do an ‘Advanced Search’ you can create your filter and save as many as you want.
5. Create a niche
Obviously there’s loads of graphic designers, copywriters, and marketing experts on Upwork. So if you fall into one of those categories, it might be a good idea to create a niche for yourself in one of those areas that you can use as your header title.
So for example if you work in content marketing your title could be ‘Brand Storyteller’, if you’re a copywriter, you could be ‘Direct Response Copywriter’, and if you’re a Graphic Designer you could be ‘Expert Social Media Content Designer’. This just gives you a little edge and makes you stand out.
6. Be positive, responsive, and professional
When you’re working online, all people have to go on is your profile. They may try to see if they can find you on Linkedin or Twitter to have a nosy, so make sure you are professional.
If someone doesn’t know you, then they need to be able to trust you. Make sure you’re polite and you respond to things quickly. I try and respond to any query or message that comes through the platform within 24 hours, even if it’s a ‘sorry I’m away and I’ll get back to you later’. Upwork rewards you for being engaged on their platform, and offering a timely service.
7. Personalise your proposals
It’s easy to send out blanket proposals to prospective clients, but if you do that, you’re not going to get very far. It’s important to personalise - just one or two sentences will be sufficient. If you have a link to their website and you’re applying for a copywriting job, you could mention a blog you liked or just one thing you feel they could improve. It goes a long way. Also, be friendly! You’re not speaking to a robot, so don’t be afraid to show a bit of personality.
8. Offer an initial call, and always reiterate the brief to your client
It’s best to have a quick call before you agree to any work. This may or may not be paid (sometimes the client will set up a trial job), but if you don’t mind spending 30 minutes on a video chat, it will make all the difference. It’s essentially like an interview - you’re figuring each other out, and getting to know each other. It’s a time to set expectations, as to timescales, working relationship, and scope of work.
It’s absolutely vital to reiterate the brief to a client on Upwork, especially after a call. I always jump on the messenger immediately and say ‘It was great to chat to you just now. As discussed I will…’ and then outline any actions either side for each party.
You want to make sure you have understood the brief correctly, and in order to be paid through Upwork, you need to have proof that you have agreed on certain terms. As a side note, when you are applying for fixed price jobs, always state how much you are willing to do. If it’s a brochure for example, you might lose money if you end up doing eight rounds of amends. By being clear at the outset what the cost involves, there’s no nasty surprises for either you or the client.
9. Stick to the rules (for the most part)
If you’re using Upwork’s platform, the fact is you have to play by their rules. They are strict, and the way they operate is not always kind to the freelancer. Have a read through their terms and conditions. Communication is key to them, and you could get penalised for something as simple as not adding a description to your time tracker. (For hourly jobs, you download their tracker which screenshots your work). The time tracker is not liked by some people, but I actually like it, because I have a tendency to bounce between many tasks, tabs and ideas, and the tracker gets me into a focused, productive zone.
10. Be consistent
If you’re consistent, you will thrive on Upwork. You need to be earning something to maintain your public profile, or they will pause it. A shame for freelancers maybe, however it's important for them because they want only the most responsive people on the platform. A lot of people don't want to wait - they want to hire the same day or that week. So even if you get one small job a month whilst you’re scaling the freelance ladder, it will be lucrative for you. Be consistent with your feedback too, and even if it wasn’t the best contract in the world, be polite and focus on the facts in your review.
In summary, Upwork freelancing isn’t for everyone, but it could be that first rung on the ladder to freedom. If you put the work in, imagine where you could be in a few years time (working out of a hammock in Bali, anyone?)
Remote work here you come!