How I Leveraged Upwork as a Full-time Freelancer
As a graphic designer, it is par for the course to work as a freelancer, even if you work a 9 to 5 job. I’m sure everyone is familiar with a friend or family member coming to you for assistance on a project, and it’s always nice to make some extra money on the side when the opportunity presents itself.
After spending all of my free time organizing, designing, and publishing four issues of a local art magazine, I found myself with extra time and nothing to fill it with. One night, with this extra time, I decided I would look into different freelancer-client platforms and through my research, I discovered Upwork.
If you search the internet for platform reviews on freelance platforms, you will find a smattering of opinions. Many people say Upwork is a race to the bottom of the barrel, and that you cannot compete with other designers who are charging much less than you. And to that I ask, are all clients looking for the cheapest work? If you are familiar with the industry in any way, you know that they are not. They’re looking for quality work that adds value to their business at a reasonable cost. Of course, there are many clients who are comfortable settling for the cheapest designers. In my experience, those are the most difficult clients to work with, but that topic would be another blog post entirely.
As of writing this (April 2021), I have connected with and signed long-term contracts with a handful of clients on Upwork, in addition to finding individuals or small companies that use me for ongoing work. Ironically enough, I was also found by a company that is less than 5 miles away from where I live as they were looking for someone local to use on that platform. I am no longer accepting new clients because the clients I’ve acquired are all now long-term and in need of an ongoing commitment.
In addition to using Upwork as a freelancer, I have occasionally used it to hire copywriters or web developers. Believe me when I say that I’ve had some interesting experiences. Here are a few tips that I recommend to anyone considering to use Upwork full-time:
Fill Out Your Entire Profile
Make sure you fill out every section of your profile, including your work history, personal bio, education, etc. Potential clients will read this and value having as much knowledge about you as possible. Although this may seem obvious, you’d be surprised how many bios I see that are a single sentence long. Tell me your strengths, what you prefer to do, and what you do in your free time. I want to know who I’m entering into an agreement with.
Understand The Algorithm
Upwork uses several algorithms when it comes to how they list freelancers in any given industry, so I suggest you complete your first few jobs at a discounted rate. These jobs are usually simpler and not as time-consuming, but help your profile get ranked sooner through receiving positive reviews. People will take you seriously if your profile is rated, and you will also show up higher in search results. Receiving a rating is almost like validating your commitment to the platform, something prospective clients are interested to see. If I’m hiring someone and they don’t have a Job Success Score, or rating, then I quickly move onto someone who has one of 100%. It’s a great way to filter out less qualified or committed applicants. That being said, some people who have 90% and above are worth looking into as well. Unfortunately, sometimes angry clients leave bad reviews and those freelancers deserve a second chance if they seem like the right fit. Many factors go into a Job Success Score and sometimes the algorithm can work against you, especially when you’re new and don’t have very many reviews.
Nail The Proposal
No one enjoys the process of having to submit a dreaded proposal for every job listing. Why would you waste your time applying to a job, you ask? From a client perspective, if I’m in a rush and I need a job done quickly, I don’t have time to parse through 100 portfolios and hope this person is who they say they are. They need to sell themselves to me in a concise but effective way. So, I urge you to be thoughtful with your proposals. It does not always need to be a full-length cover letter style of proposal, but be sure to pay attention to the job description to reference exact points and answer any questions listed.
One great tip is to look for reviews about the client to see if you can figure out their first name, then address the cover letter accordingly. When using Upwork to hire freelancers for jobs, 90% of the cover letters are copied and pasted for every job. While this can save time in some cases, clients want to know how you’re going to help them solve their problem through your relevant expertise. Be sure to avoid taking the generic route as it likely won’t get you very far.
When you apply for jobs, you use connects that are allotted to you by Upwork every month. Be aware of how many credits are required to apply for each job and make sure to budget them accordingly. I have never ran out of credits, especially now. Since I’ve built up a reputation for myself on the platform, I now receive daily job invites, which do not require connects to send in a proposal for.
Maintain Strong Communication
I wish I could tell you how many of my clients consistently praise me for my excellent communication skills. I always feel slightly confused when I get that compliment, because in my mind, I am just updating them about a job we are working on together. From the beginning, I set expectations accordingly, whether that is for a timeline, a budget, or the best times of day that I am available to respond. If something goes differently than planned, I tell the client immediately so they are aware and we can adjust our plan in how we move forward. The worst thing you can do is to ignore an issue or not address it. You cannot leave your client in the dark on anything.
While some of these tips may seem quite obvious, it’s incredibly important to address all aspects of freelancing before diving in, especially on Upwork. Even as a seasoned freelancer, I surprise myself with some of the things I forget to do when I’m focused on achieving a new goal. “When you’re up to your neck in alligators, it’s hard to remember that your initial objective was to drain the swamp.”
Communicate, be thorough, and plan, plan, plan. Good luck!