Whether you’ve been feeling the need for a career change and just got into freelancing, or you’re a seasoned freelancer with many hours of work under your belt, you’ve probably heard of Upwork and wondered whether it’s worth joining up.
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Can you make enough money on Upwork to support a sustainable lifestyle, or is it a pit of cheapskate gigs and lowball offers?
Below I talk about my experience on the platform so far, and give some insider tips on how you can start making money on Upwork.
There are many reasons why people turn to freelancing as a career path instead of sticking to the 9 – 5 full-time setup.
Personally, I’ve never been able to see myself as someone’s full-time employee, and the few short months I spent doing just that after finishing my degree made it painfully clear that the boss/employee dynamic will never work for me.
So on the advice of a friend, I took a chance on Upwork as a stepping stone to achieving personal and financial freedom.
Starting out on Upwork felt like a safer way to approach freelancing than trying to find clients on my own.
Like many others who are new to the workforce, I wanted to kick-start my career but had serious doubts about my abilities and didn’t want to take too big of a leap into the unknown.
Upwork felt like a better option than trying to get things set up myself, and this gamble worked out in the end.
Sure, there are other freelance marketplaces like PeoplePerHour and Freelancer, but I couldn’t get the same sense of security and support from them that I did get from Upwork at the time.
That said, getting used to the bidding system – with plenty of other people clamoring to get at the same jobs – was daunting at first and I didn’t make a lot of money off Upwork for the first couple of months.
1. Avoid Getting Drowned Out by an Endless Sea of Voices
Despite recent changes to its bidding system, Upwork is still the largest online talent marketplace in the world, with millions of freelancers looking for the financial stability a platform like that can offer.
But with thousands or even millions of other people to contend with for job opportunities – how do you single yourself out above the noise that so many voices inevitably create?
Here’s what I learned:
Don’t climb into the shallow, shark-infested waters with the rest of them.
I don’t want to get paid $5 for a full day’s work and neither should you. No matter the industry you’re in, whether it’s design, bookkeeping, writing, programming, or any one of the host of career paths listed on Upwork, you deserve to be paid a livable wage.
It’s easy to get frustrated and discouraged when looking for jobs on a bidding platform like Upwork, because there are thousands of listings that expect perfection for literal peanuts and yet there are still dozens of applicants going for them.
Don’t fall into that same trap.
Even if you’re just starting out as a freelancer, you have something valuable to offer.
Whether it’s your education in a specific field or niche knowledge you’ve built up through experience. A client will value what you have to bring to the table, but you need to sell it effectively.
This is why it’s so important to specialize right from the beginning.
You might feel pressured into applying for anything just so you can start making money on Upwork, but that isn’t going to help further your career or help you land high-paying gigs.
Your profile will be your greatest asset in this regard, and you have to make sure to set it up in a way that attracts the type of clients you’re aiming for.
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Upwork has a great job filtering system as well, and you need to use that to your advantage too. Make your searches as niche as you can, and ignore any job posts that have poor/unclear descriptions or don’t pay what the job is worth.
2. Create a Specialized Profile
Setting up your profile is the first thing you’ll do on Upwork and it’s very important to get this right.
Your profile and your cover letter are the only things clients will have to base their decision off of, which means they need to be professional, coherent, and present the assets you bring to the table in a favorable way (without lying of course).
Upwork now also provides the ability to create multiple specialized profiles that you can apply with, depending on the type of job.
I haven’t tested this new feature enough to be able to comment on its merits, but I know enough about the importance of specializing as a freelancer to know that you should definitely utilize this system to its full potential.
That said, it is possible to make money on Upwork without backing yourself into the “expert” corner.
You can apply to a wide variety of jobs within your field and get contracts that way – I’ve done that too and earned enough to scrape by.
But if you’re looking to earn more then you need to specialize and find quality, long-term clients.
3. Bid Correctly on Upwork
I mentioned changes to Upwork’s bidding system earlier, so let’s get into that as it will have an impact on how you approach applying for jobs on the platform.
The company recently went public and, without getting into all of the details of what that means, let’s just say that Upwork is working really hard to make more money right now.
Which has (unofficially) led to a couple of changes to the way they charge clients and freelancers.
What that means for you, is that you will now have to pay for connects to apply to jobs, with each job requiring a different amount of connects.
This is on top of the percentages that Upwork charges you per job.
Here’s my advice:
Take the amount you’ll be paying for connects into account when bidding on jobs.
If the probability of you getting that job doesn’t seem high enough to warrant the connect payment then don’t do it. Unfortunately, this system is pretty skewed in that it benefits established freelancers on the platform while keeping new ones down.
The best advice I can give you is to take your time when applying (even though it’s frustrating) and to only apply to high-paying jobs. That way, the finances kind of balance themselves out and Upwork takes less of your hard-earned money overall.
4. Know When to Quit Working With Difficult Clients
Upwork might be a great way to attract new clients, but that doesn’t mean those clients are always great.
Every now and then you might come into contact with a client who’s demanding and even unreasonable at times.
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When this happens, you have one of two choices:
- End the contract
- Do your best to keep them happy
Ending the contract might seem counterproductive, but on Upwork, a poor job success score equals career death on the platform, and a difficult client often leads to a subpar score – even if you did your best to do everything right.
On Upwork, a client cannot rate you if they haven’t paid you.
So sometimes, even if the money is good, it’s better to end the contract and refund them early on than waste your time on a client who’s going to give you a poor rating no matter what you do.
5. Get Better at Managing Your Time
As a freelancer, time is your biggest commodity and it’s important to think about how you spend it because even though Upwork saves you a lot of trouble in terms of finding clients and handling payments, it still takes up a lot of time.
After you’ve landed your first gig and more start rolling in, it can feel like one grand old adventure as you traverse the field and work with people from many different places and backgrounds.
It’s easy to get swept up in that sense of accomplishment when landing another client, but then the dreaded deadline steps in and you realize that you’ve made a grave mistake.
Suddenly there’s pressure from all sides and you find yourself scrambling; working around the clock just to keep all of the promises you’ve made – a freelancer is only as good as their reputation after all and you can’t afford to burn any bridges.
Time management is a valuable skill in every freelancer’s pocket and it’s a hard beast to master.
So don’t apply indiscriminately to every Upwork job that teases your fancy (because that takes up a lot of time too) and don’t accept every client invitation.
It’s extremely tempting, but you have to prioritize.
Otherwise, you’ll end up burning yourself out on lowball jobs that take up more time than they’re worth, while you could have been spending that time finding and building up relationships with quality clients.
The Funny Thing About Eggs and Baskets
While I’ve been using Upwork for a few years now, there’s no denying that the platform has its faults and I’ve been tempted to seek greener pastures plenty of times.
Certainly, there has been no shortage of people echoing that whole eggs and basket analogy – which shouldn’t be ignored.
But the funny thing is, I probably wouldn’t have found the same success on the site had I not put as much time and effort into building myself up on Upwork.
At the end of the day, you need to do what’s right for you.
Maybe Upwork will just be one source of income for you as a freelancer and that’s completely fine too.