Get started freelancing in 2018

How to get clients on Upwork

Upwork is a great way for new freelancers to get experience and start building their portfolio.

However, the competition is fierce and it’s hopeless to try to compete on price alone.

So how do you set yourself apart from everyone else?

In this article I share my personal experiences landing high-paying long-term clients on Upwork.

First, some context…

I joined Upwork in the fall of 2017 to get more SEO and content editing work.

I didn’t have much experience working with clients, but I did have some examples of previous work as I run a number of niche sites.

Looking at the competition, I realized I was a small fish swimming in a big ocean — these guys all had hundreds of five-star reviews and thousands of hours logged on Upwork!

Conversely, I also noticed there was a lot of crap. Thousands of freelancers who barely speak English or have little to no experience in the field.

I knew I had to set myself apart somehow.

Do you need an amazing profile?

No! The main points of your profile should be the main paragraph at the top where you include a summary of what you do. I included a brackground story about my success building niche sites and how that experience can help clients. Then I made a broad list of topics that I can work on.

I would suggest filling out as much of the profile as possible to seperate you from the spammers. You don’t have to spend hours crafting it to perfection but you don’t want your profile to look completely barron.

You will need to verfiy your location with a US drivers liscence to work specifically on US based jobs. This is a new features that helps US based clients find US based freelancers. This is probably the most important step that will seperate you from spammers.

If you have a writing profile or personal website I would also include it in the first paragraph on your website. One nice thing about Upwork is that it allows clients to send “invites” to freelancers they feel might be qualified for the job. I’ve gotten several invites based on my location.

How do you find high-quality prospects?

It might sound counter-intuitive, but if you want to get clients form Upwork you need to be more selective about what jobs you apply for.

There is no use in applying for jobs that aren’t a good fit for you. You’re wasting your time and energy and setting yourself up for burn-out.

In my search criteria, I eliminate clients who don’t have their payment method verified. This weeds out people who might just be window-shopping or want to get free information out of you. This is how I see it: if someone is too lazy to verify their payment information, they’re probably also too lazy to pay you.

Another trick I use is to limit my searches to clients in the U.S. — they tend to have bigger purchasing power and can thus afford to pay more for quality work.

The old way:

  • Not recording a video
  • Mindlessly copy-pasting generic script or…
  • Spending hours researching each prospect
  • Not vetting prospective clients before applying

Conclusion: time-consuming, doesn’t excite or interest the prospect.

The new, improved way:

  • Developing a streamlined process
  • Utilizing video to stand out
  • Keeping proposals short but sweet (no one wants to read a wall of text!)

Conclusion: efficient, effective, and engaging.

The exact steps I took to land my first client on Upwork

Once you’ve set-up your profile, filtered the search results, and found a client you’d like to work with, it’s time to create your application. Here are the steps I took to get my first client on Upwork. They now pay me about $500 per month, which isn’t too shabby.

  1. Prepared a script
    • First I wrote a script. I used to write long customized proposals tailored to each client’s needs, but I don’t anymore:

      I haven’t found much difference in my results when I spend an hour auditing their business and suggesting a long list of changes I would make off the bat. Remember, you want to be thorough but also time efficient. This is in part a numbers’ game, so don’t get stuck on one listing for too long.

      For this proposal, I just wrote a very simple script. I did include things in my proposal to indicate that I’d done some research on their business, but it wasn’t much.
  2. Recorded a basic video
    • Creating a video is by far the best way to stand out from your competitors. Again, it doesn’t have to be fancy or have professional production quality. Just hold out your phone camera and start talking. I kept things short and sweet — and when I was done, I uploaded the video to YouTube (unlisted) and embedded it early on in the proposal.

      If you’re not used to making videos like these, you should probably jot down a few key points that you will talk about in the video. I can speak off the cuff in front of a camera without a script but if you have trouble you can always write out a script.

      Here’s the video that I recorded:
  3. Reviewed my proposal
    • After I recorded my video, I read through my proposal and watched the video to make sure I hit all the relevant points. There are usually questions or requirements stated in the application, so make sure to nail all of them. Don’t leave anything unanswered. I’ve heard from several people that often times freelancers won’t even bother to fill these out. By simply filling out the entire proposal you already set yourself apart from the group. Another thing to be aware of is they may have you start the proposal with a buzz word to make sure you read the entire thing job listing.
  4. Submitted my proposal
  5. I made sure to follow up quickly
    • If you recieve what Upwork calls an “interview” which is just a message from the client to you about the job, make sure you respond in a timely fashion. You want to convey that you’re on top of things and that you want it. That starts with being responsive.

      Sometimes clients will ask you a few follow-up questions. Don’t be afraid to answer them in detail, but remember one thing: ABC. Always Be Closing. Most of the time I deflect specific questions about what the best solution to their problem would be by suggesting a free Skype call to ask them a few more questions. Socrates had it right: People respond much better to your suggestions when they feel like you’ve listened to their problem properly. For example, a doctor wouldn’t make a diagnosis or a treatment without asking you a whole host of questions so they can properly and confidently identify the problem.

      You might feel like you’re showing off your skills by telling them what they need to do. In reality you’ll burn yourself out after a few proposals like this, especially if you don’t end up getting the jobs. Excerise restraint and get them to invest in the interaction by getting them on a call.
  6. Got the prospect on a Skype call
    • During our first Skype call, I had a few basic questions that I asked — questions like:
    • “Tell me more about yourself”
    • “Tell me more about your business”
    • “What is your end goal”
    • “If you could paint the ultimate scenario of things working out what would it be” These types of questions serve two purposes: creating rapport, and finding out more about the prospective client’s business.

      I will let the conversation evolve naturally, but I’m also congnizant of the end goal: to close them on a deal. If they ask me about what I do, I answer honestly and succinctly. I only make recommendations or tell them what I suggest or what I can do for them at the end. The client will usually ask about your rate. Throughout the call I’ll be adding up what I think it will cost to perform the job and state a range. If you’re not sure, you can always give a broad range and then say you need to look into a few things before you can narrow down the numbers. After the call, think about it for a while and send them a proposal. And again: always be responsive. If you say you’ll send them a proposal, the first thing you should do after getting off the call is to draft up a proposal and send it to them.
  7. Got the job
    • After the Skype call, I got the job. I got everything in writing (when you’re doing bigger projects, it’s good to create a contract to protect both you and the client).

In a nutshell, you should move fast. Don’t linger on a specific proposal for too long — you’ll get burned out and it’s really not worth it — and once you get a prospective client on the hook you need to make sure things move forward. Also, it’s important to establish a process: from the criteria you use to find clients to work with, to creating and submitting proposals, and then to closing the client. Consistency is the key to success and the way you achieve consistency is by having a process that you can follow.

Should you work for free?

A lot of us suffer from low self-confidence and imposter syndrome when it comes to the work that we do, and we don’t feel comfortable demanding that someone pay us for it. When I quit my day job and became a freelancer, some questions that I struggled with were:

  • Should you work for free to build out your portfolio?
  • How do you go from doing work for free to charging hundreds of dollars an hour just for a consultation?
  • Who determines whether you’re worth the price you ask for or not?

I thought that I couldn’t possibly charge someone a premium price for my services unless I’m Olympic gold medal tier at what I do.

I always looked at others who charged more money than I personally would pay them and thought they were ripping people off.

This is a horrible mentality to have.

It is toxic and self-crippling. You might not put much value in the kind of work that you do (yet), but others do. A lot of people are willing to pay money just for someone to explain the basics to them. Others would gladly pay for a service that they could do themselves in a few hours.

The truth is this: the market doesn’t give a fuck about your insecurities.

If you know even just slightly more about something than your average guy on the street, you can charge money for it. If you have any semblance of a clue about what you’re talking about, there is absolutely no reason to compromise on your rate or feel guilty about charging whatever it is you want to charge.

Hell, you shouldn’t even feel bad about charging money for work that you have no idea about how to do — you can always outsource it to someone who can, and just keep whatever the profit ends up being.

Everytime I’ve settled for less money than I initially asked for, I’ve regretted it. When you’re underpaid, it is very easy to grow resentful towards the client and the work that you’re doing. And if morale suffers, so does the quality of your work, which means the client gets unhappy.

Bottom line is this: make sure you charge enough to be excited to work with a client. It’s a win-win: you get paid a fair price, and they get access to the best version of you. Set your rate, don’t compromise, and deliver on your work.

Final thoughts…

Despite the tendency of sites like Upwork to degenerate into low-price, high-volume work it is still possible to find good clients. It doesn’t take that much to set yourself apart from your competition, and with a bit of consistency you should be able to make some money pretty soon.

Just remember:

  • Don’t get stuck on one application
  • Record a video
  • Follow up quickly and close deals fast
  • Don’t be afraid to charge money (even lots of it)

Written by Nick Brisson

I build and scale niche websites with a simple, no-BS approach. I help others do the same at Bigly Digital Media.

You can also keep up with me on Twitter.

PS. If you’re serious about making money online, you should also subscribe to the Marketing Idiots email list.