How to succeed on Upwork

My Upwork agency is extremely successful. In fact, it’s as successful as any Upwork agency could possibly be. Our job success score is 100%, which means every single client has been totally, 100% satisfied with our work. Over the past year, I’ve made as much using Upwork as I did the previous year working at a top market research firm in Washington, D.C.

I mentioned my success on Upwork to a fellow freelancer the other day. He was surprised I found any clients at all. He said he’s been on the platform for a year, applying here and there, but never found a single client.

That’s when I realized just how much I’ve learned about Upwork over the past year, and how much knowledge I have to impart to others. So here’s some tips on how to use Upwork successfully, whether full-time or on the side.

  1. Undersell yourself (at first). An inherent feature of online freelancing is that your client really doesn’t know you. He sees your picture and profile and maybe some nice testimonials from other people he or she doesn’t know, but at the end of the day, you’re a total stranger. That said, you absolutely must discount your hourly rate to account for the risk your client is assuming. At the beginning, you won’t have any testimonials, which increases your potential clients’ risk. Start by working for half of what you’d normally work for, then slowly raise your rate as you gain more testimonials, hours worked, and a higher Upwork score.
  2. Always ask clients if they have more work for you. It can’t hurt to ask, and I’ve found the answer is usually yes. But be sure to keep this work on Upwork—it’s against their rules to work around their platform, and I promise you that Upwork’s fees are worth paying for the exposure they give you for doing good work. I get unsolicited invitations to interview for Upwork jobs almost every day.
  3. Respond to all invitations to interview as soon as possible. Upwork considers this when scoring your profile. I’m frankly not sure why it matters, but Upwork has its reasons. That said, leaving a request to interview hanging hurts you in many ways. If you’re going on vacation and don’t want to deal with unsolicited interviews, change your profile’s availability setting accordingly—then you won’t get invitations during your vacation.
  4. Explain your thinking to your clients. They should know your progress at all times, and should have a good sense of what’s going through your mind as you work on their stuff. And before you’re even hired, be open about your thoughts on how this job might be challenging, how you’re super busy, and how you are going to make time for this project if you do accept the offer. Again, this all has to do with the risk your client is taking on by hiring you. The more they can see into your mind, the more comfortable they will be hiring you.
  5. Partner with others. Don’t pass on a job opportunity on Upwork just because you can’t do all the work needed. If you need to use a friend or colleague’s help for parts of a job, say so. Be honest and upfront with your client about this. Of course, don’t skirt the rules* and misrepresent yourself, or pass off work entirely while pretending like you did it all yourself (not only is this against the rules, but it will come back to haunt you when the client has questions and you know little about how the work was done). But it’s fine to have a friend take a look at some code or trouble-shoot an error or give a second opinion and make tweaks to your design. Or better yet, engage another Upwork freelancer for help with particularly tough issues. Clients will appreciate the fact that you are taking their work seriously enough to engage another professional. Just be sure to handle any revenue-sharing on your end—don’t burden the client with paying little fees to others who help you here and there.

These might seem like simple rules, but simple rules are, after all, the hardest ones to follow.

One final rule is to use a good profile picture! This is something you should do on all your social profiles. I’ve hired on Upwork several times, and the picture is the first thing I see at when evaluating a proposal—both by nature and by Upwork’s design. So smile genuinely, clean background, camera at eye-level, and be sure your face fills most of, but not the entire, photo.

*Here’s Upwork’s rules. That’s a lot of text, but control+F to search for specific keywords and issues that interest you.

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