Editor’s Note: So what if we just… kept doing our old job, on a contract basis? How might that work? Surprisingly well, if you have the right skills and the right clients. This article is from an experienced upwork freelancer who shares some tips on how to find and win higher paying gigs on this platform.
We have a companion piece about How to Find & Approach Consulting Clients on LinkedIn
How To Get Clients on Upwork
You’ve probably heard of Upwork, but if you haven’t, Upwork is a website that connects clients to freelance workers. The job management system allows clients to find freelancers for specific projects, and allows freelancers to see project listings and send a job proposal to bid on them. It’s a freelance marketplace, basically.
They’ve packaged up the experience pretty nicely. You complete an Upwork profile and a potential client can search by skills offered or post a Upwork job on the job board. The platform includes a two-way rating system which boils down to a job success score, along with showing verbatim comments for social proof. You pay an Upwork fee for the platform, which is worth it. It’s an efficient way to find freelance clients – and you don’t have to chase them for payment (there is an escrow option).
Some people think Upwork only has clients that are looking for the cheapest possible workers and that, as a freelancer, you’d need to work at or below minimum wage just to be competitive. Are there some clients like that? Yes. There are plenty of low paying jobs in areas like freelance writing (content writing or copywriter gigs).
However, you might be surprised to find that there are tons of clients eager to hire high quality workers. Their priority is getting great results, not on getting a cheap price. These are an ideal client for people who want long term clients .
Surprisingly, the typical high quality client has a really hard time on Upwork. I regularly hear from clients looking to hire someone that they just get spammed generic proposals from dozens of freelancers that don’t seem to understand the project and are all just competing on price in an epic race to the bottom. They really want to hire someone amazing for the job and are willing to pay good money for it. They just don’t get enough quality proposals.
This is an amazing opportunity to make $50-$100 per hour doing work for a great client if you know how to position yourself as a high quality freelancer and genuinely care about getting great results for clients. You don’t need to compete on price, and in most cases, competing on price actually hurts your chances of landing high quality clients.
The goal here isn’t to get as many clients as possible for low paid work. It’s to get a handful of clients you like to work with, that pay you what you know you’re worth. You don’t want to be working 60 hours a week making $15 an hour. You want to work 30-40 hours a week making $50-$100. Including the time you spend applying for jobs and managing clients.
High Paying Skills
There are tons of high paying skills that can land you high quality clients on Upwork. The obvious skills are the ones you might already have from previous work experience and education. If you’ve already developed a high paying skill with a previous job, search on Upwork and see if that is something people are hiring workers for.
Programming, marketing, accounting, and several others are all high-paying gigs. You can even search other freelancers for that type of skill. If a lot of them have an hourly rate listed at or above $50 per hour, you can be sure there is a lot of high paying work available on Upwork.
If your past work experience and skills aren’t something that is popular on Upwork, there is still hope. There are great entry-level opportunities where you can actually make a good amount per hour and then improve while working. Once you’ve improved a little and have a few completed gigs, you can and should start charging more.
The skills that I think people have the best shot at higher pay with no experience, is anything that directly helps a client make more money with their business. Digital marketing is one of the best examples of this. This can be social media management, running paid advertising campaigns, SEO services, content writing, copywriter gigs, sales funnel building, and many other specialties.
Because these skills are directly helping clients make money, the client can measure how much they make from your efforts and easily justify the higher costs to themselves. For many of these jobs, you can learn the basics in a few days of studying. The resources are readily available online that teach all of these skills. Many of the resources are free like blogs and YouTube videos. After you have learned the basics, you can start bidding at a slightly lower rate for clients with smaller budgets. However, never go below $25 per hour.
Once you’ve started helping some clients, completing jobs and improving your skill, you can then start raising your rates and focusing on clients with larger budgets. Try to make this shift as quickly as you can. You don’t want to be stuck doing low paid work for a long time. If you’re good at what you are doing, and genuinely care about helping your clients, you should be charging more for your work.
Proposals and Bidding Strategies
Here is where 80% of the freelancers on Upwork completely fail, and this is the big opportunity for you to succeed. Before you even start bidding, there a couple of important things to keep in mind.
First, you need to make sure you are getting the highest rating possible from your past clients as this is proof to future clients that you do good work. Always strive for that 5.0 rating.
Second, you should be bidding as a flat rate per project . While you are basing your flat rate on the high hourly rate you have listed and the estimated time to complete their project, you should not be trying to get actual hourly work. You are a freelancer/consultant, you are not an employee. Upwork has a system where clients can track the actual work time of freelancers with regular screenshots sent to the clients.
High quality clients don’t use this system. High quality clients are paying for the result you bring them, not the time it actually took you. If you finished something slightly faster than you anticipated, great! Your client still got the result they paid for, and you made slightly more per hour than you were expecting. Move away from hourly projects as quickly as you can, assuming your skills are a good fit with fixed price deals.
Remember that having a high hourly rate helps position you as a high quality expert. This will attract high quality clients that expect to pay more for good work. The worst thing you can do is have a low hourly rate listed and then propose a high bid for a project. This is confusing to clients because the hourly rate doesn’t match the bid based on the estimated time to complete the project.
Be selective on the jobs that you bid on. Look for projects that have higher budgets and seem like the client will be good to work with. Also, make sure it is something you know you can actually help the client with. In the end, you want a happy client that will give you a high rating and possibly offer you more work. You won’t get either of these if you are going after jobs where you aren’t sure if you can actually help the client.
When you send an Upwork proposal, make sure to write them uniquely for each client. Don’t copy and paste the same message with slight variations. Read their project listing and try to understand it thoroughly. Your proposal should repeat back to them what they are looking for, but in your own words. This demonstrates your understanding of what they want, and shows that you will be easy to work with.
Always ask good questions in your proposals. Good questions about the project shows your interest and separates you from the masses. Questions also help prompt a response. The goal here is to get a dialogue going with a client and build trust while you prove that you’re good with communicating. Remain professional with your language. You can be friendly if they are friendly, but remember that in the end this is a business discussion. You don’t want to be seen as someone who doesn’t take the work seriously by being too casual.
A good tactic is to sometimes bid a little higher than a client’s budget. High quality clients might have a specific budget listed but can often pay a little extra. The reason why you might want to bid a little higher, is that it again separates you from the bulk of
If a client is negotiating on price, there are some simple tactics I follow. First, learn to spot the difference in the language used between a hard rejecting and a soft rejection.
A hard rejection is when a client flat out says something like “there is no way we can afford that price. We can only pay this amount.” A soft rejection is “We really want to work with you, but we’re not quite sure that we can make that budget work. Is there any way you can come down a little?”
If it’s a hard rejection, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to change their mind. Then you can decide if you are willing to work for a little less or not. However, if it is a soft rejection, always stay firm on your price. Remind them that your price is what it is because of the good work you do. Say something like “If I lowered my price, it’s because I don’t value getting results for clients, so why should my clients value me?” This is usually enough to close the deal. Clients with soft rejections have usually already decided to hire you and is just testing to see if they can get it a little cheaper.
The Crystal Ball Technique
When sending proposals to clients, you’re always going to want to attach samples of previous, relevant work. If you really want separate yourself and be seen as the perfect person for a client to hire, use the crystal ball technique.
I learned this technique years ago and it works wonders. Basically, if a client needs something specific for a project, quickly make something similar, but not exact, for a client and show it in your samples. If they need a sales funnel landing page built for a roofing company, quickly throw together a landing page for a fictitious kitchen remodeling company and send a screenshot to the prospective client. If they need Facebook ads for a dentist. Make some quick ads for a made-up chiropractor and send the screenshots. You don’t want it to be exactly the same because it can be copied. However, making it similar shows you know exactly how to do what they want you to do.
Once you have enough samples from years of work, you can just swap out real samples, but this technique works great at the beginning when your portfolio of past work is sparse. You don’t need to mention if these crystal ball samples were for a real client or not, they are just samples to show you can do what they need. However, if asked if it was for a real job, just be honest. Tell them you haven’t done that specific thing before but that you wanted to show them that you could, kind of like an audition.
Maximizing Your Earnings
The easiest way to maximize your income with each client is to simply ask for more work. If the client is happy with your results and they have a need for more work, they’ll be happy to keep using the same proven freelancer. You can even propose new projects that you can help them with. High quality clients understand you are helping them by proposing new projects that will lead to their business growing.
Many clients love having their go-to person they can count on. It’s hard for them to always look for new freelancers. Using you as their go-to freelancer is a win-win scenario. They have someone who does reliable work so they don’t risk their money with unproven freelancers. You don’t need to spend as much unpaid time seeking and bidding on new projects.
When to “Fire” Bad Clients
Don’t be afraid to drop your low quality clients. Red flags are when a client wants to micromanage everything or insists on time-tracking. While revisions are sometimes needed, look out for excessive revision requests that don’t actually improve the quality of the work. Fire any clients that treat you with disrespect.
There are more than enough high quality clients out there, focus on them. Feel free to pass the bad ones off to a new freelancer who actually needs to put up with their run around.
Incidentally, you can use your success on Upwork and the other Freelancing platforms as social proof of your expertise when you’re going after similar clients on LinkedIn. Use Upwork to put some “points on the board” when you’re first getting started, keep the good clients and start hunting for similar work on LinkedIn and specialized Facebook groups. There are few things in life quite as fun as firing a “bad client” account when you’ve already got their “good client” replacement lined up and ready to go, especially if they’ve been a condescending pain in the tail for a few months. Not saying, just saying. In any event, Check out our free guide to finding consulting clients on LinkedIn.
Done Correctly, The Process Works
Editor’s Note: As part our editorial review process for this blog post, we looked around for folks who could provide some perspective on this advice. We came across this video, from a top SQL DBA, who shared how he built his freelance business on Upwork into a solid six figure business. If you’re interested in this opportunity, his video testimonial is worth watching. He does provide documentation and screenshots to back up his claims. He started at a lower hourly rate and built it up.
To be fair, there are also many videos out there blasting the Upwork platform. At the risk of completely dismissing their feedback, I did notice that many of these videos (and bloggers) had three common elements:
- Went after low-paying / general jobs
- Very Limited Time on the Platform
- Burned-out on freelancing in general
The harsh reality of entry level / general labor gigs is you’re competing with a really big pool of remote workers who are willing to take low paying jobs. And you’re basically a cost-center for the hiring employer. So expect to get beaten up on price. A Lot. Because the buyer has alternatives. This sucks, by the way, which tends to make people rather salty about the experience. Burnout happens quickly when you’re not having fun and not getting paid too much for your troubles.
Compare that with the higher levels of consulting, where your contributions have able major impact on how much money your client makes. Especially if your fee is a rounding error in relation to the value of the project. Working on a merger? Creating someone’s growth strategy? Setting up their pricing program? These are worth millions to a qualified buyer. You rarely get jerked around in that world. That’s the upside of being an experienced freelancer working with high value or long term clients.
Reputation (past client ratings) and paying your dues matters as well here. Heed the advice about building up a strong profile. It takes time to build up your reputation, connections, and expertise on a freelance platform . If you’re going to play, be ready to invest the time and patience required to win.
I suspect part of the formula for success here is knowing how to play the right game, focusing your efforts on skills that are critical to the buyer’s success rather than a lowest cost task to be outsourced. Being willing to invest the time required to level up on the platform. And using this to command higher rates and respect.