9 Upwork Tips To Become Successful [FREE GUIDE]

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What do high–earners on Upwork have in common? A good businessplan, professional look, and abundance of knowledge. So if you want to become successful as well, read this article to learn everything you need to know.
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The freelance dream has been occupying people’s minds for a while now. The possibility of working on your own terms, whenever and however you want, preferably on tropical islands, is tempting. What more to want?

The rising popularity of freelancing has been reflected in statistics, especially since job security has been shaken by the pandemic. So people are searching for the best venues to start their own businesses, and the market has risen to the occasion, creating platforms like Fiverr, Toptal, or Upwork.

If you also want to change your lifestyle and to work for your own merit, read this article to find out whether it’s suitable for you. We’ve gathered all the most crucial Upwork tips to make your success all the more probable, but before we get into that, let’s take a closer look at the platform itself.

All About Upwork

What is Upwork?

Upwork is an American freelance platform of a bidding type, that serves as a bridge between individuals and businesses. Its mission is to promote a freelance lifestyle with a potential of high income as well as freedom. To cite straight from the source: “Upwork’s vision (is) to create economic opportunities so people have better lives.

Upwork’s roots go back to 1998 with founding of the Elance, which was merged later on with oDesk and ultimately has been rebranded as Upwork in 2015. Today its revenue is estimated at 374 million dollars, which is a 24.31% raise from the year before, and is considered to be one of the most popular freelance sites. Among its clients are Microsoft, Glassdoor and Nasdaq, which make up the 30% of Fortune 500 that used Upwork to find freelancers for their businesses.

Is Upwork free?

While signing up, there are two memberships you can choose from — basic (free) and plus ($14.99 a month). It’s possible to upgrade and downgrade any time you want. The main benefits to upgrading are: larger amount of Connects (website tokens used to submit proposals to potential clients), bigger visibility, and customized profile URL, among others. 

Upwork's membership Basic and Plus table comparison

If you choose the basic membership, does it mean you don’t have to pay for anything? Not exactly. Like any freelance platform, Upwork charges you with a fee, no matter the membership or the chosen payment method (although it might add additional charges). The fee rates differ depending on the price threshold, encouraging freelancers to form long–term business relationships with their clients, since the higher the bill, the lesser the fee. So if you have already earned $2,000 from one client and they hire you again for a $400 gig, the fee will be lowered, because the total amount earned will be $2,400. 

Upwork's rated fees and pricing infographic.

Another thing that might add up to additional costs is the VAT tax in Europe, that is collected by Upwork Escrow, a third party that holds funds before transferring them from one person to another. Also, if you decide to withdraw your money directly to your local bank, you will have to pay $0.99 (not counting any other fees that might be relevant to your bank).

Is Upwork safe?

Upwork is a legitimate website that has their own Global Data Processing Agreement, which complies with the General Data Protection Regulation (“GDPR”). It ensures that you’re informed about any data being collected to which you can choose to agree to and that any of your personally identifiable information is fully or partially anonymized.

Moreover, any sensitive information is encrypted using Secure Socket Layer (SSL) technology, while access to the platform itself is encrypted by Transport Layer Security (TLS).

To make sure no fraud can take place, users are periodically asked to go through identity checks, which may include showing government ID or joining a video call with the staff.

All of your payment is protected by Upwork Payment Protection & Upwork Fixed–Price Protection. The former requires the freelancers to invoice their time spent on a job through Upwork Desktop App as a proof of their work, making sure that they’ll get paid for their time. The latter ensures that the client pays the specified amount of money before the start of the project, which is safely deposited into escrow for the duration of the contract. The funds will be automatically released 14 days after order submission.

Illustration showing Upwork's security: Escrow, SSL, TSL, GDPR.

Unfortunately, one of the risks comes with account suspensions. Upwork wants to maintain a reputation of a platform full of professional, trustworthy freelancers. If you infringe upon any of their regulations — like lying about your identity, receiving payment outside of Upwork, or having multiple accounts — you’ll be immediately suspended. It sounds good in theory, but in practice, it can happen even when you have good intentions. 

For example, sending the same proposals to different potential clients may be perceived as spam. In the same vein, sharing any of your personal information is prohibited as well. And the most painful point — if you send many proposals but don’t get hired, Upwork will deem you unsuitable for the platform due to failure in earning money, which also means a loss for them. 

And when your profile gets suspended, so does your money

How does Upwork work?

Upwork is a bidding site. Clients, who are private individuals, as well as Enterprise Clients who represent companies, post jobs that freelancers can search for through a filtered search bar. Some are fixed–price gigs, some are hourly rates type of contract. If freelancers are interested, they can submit a proposal, which requires a number of available connects (from one to six). Proposal is basically a cover letter with the offered rate included.

The number of bids is visible to anyone, while people who have the plus membership can see the highest, lowest and average bid, thus giving them a better insight into the competition.

If a client likes any of the proposals, they will invite chosen professionals for an interview. They might also ask for a paid test project (doing anything for free is forbidden). After that, they will choose the candidate that seems like the best fit and offer them a job. 

Clients also have the ability to invite freelancers and agencies to apply to their offers, some of which might be set to private.

In case a freelancer doesn’t want to bid, they can also decide to post a project instead. Project is a clearly defined service with set details, schedule and pricing. It must also pass Upwork quality approval. Clients can browse through a catalog and decide upon one.

Freelancers can also join forces by creating agencies. To do that, one freelancer account is needed, but Upwork promised to change that in the future. If you have trouble getting your profile application approved, joining an agency is a good alternative.

To gain more visibility, you can get two badges: Rising Talent and Top Rated. The most important benefit of them both, beside the visibility itself, is the reduced fee (starting at 10%) and support from specialized teams. Rising Talent is an invitation–only badge, while Top Rated is awarded (and taken back) automatically. 

Table comparison of Top Rated and Rising Star badges on Upwork.

Who can sign up on Upwork?

Anyone who has an email can make a profile — the tricky part is to get approved.

Upwork, but also many other freelancing sites — like Fiverr, Guru or Freelancer — are overflowing with users. Many of them are starting out as freelancers with no experience, trying out their luck in a new place. Unfortunately, this lowers the overall quality of offered services. Especially Fiverr is considered to be a hub for novices willing to do anything for low prices, thus being a stellar example of a typical “race to the bottom”. There is also the matter of cutting all the possible, sometimes even fundamental, corners in the development process for quick cash as well as copyright infringement. This results in unsatisfied clients that take their business elsewhere.

With Upwork’s aim to attract Fortune 500 companies, they must have true professionals that deliver high–quality work. That’s how the application comes into play: Upwork wants to make sure its users are up to the challenge

First stage is automatic. Every day there are more than 10,000 new registrations, so to deal with all of that, an algorithm system has been employed that rejects those who haven’t filled their profiles correctly or whose skills are deemed to be not in demand. Upwork has revealed what skills they are after — in their Upwork 100 press release in 2019 and The 30 Most In-Demand Jobs and Skills [2019 – 2021]. It comes as no surprise that technical talent is the most sought after, considering the IT talent gap that is estimated to be close to 10 million

Next step is the evaluation process by Upwork’s staff. Although there is no revealed system, they probably measure your experience and the level of professionalism.

All in all, Upwork promises to get back to applicants in 24 hours. If you get rejected, you can update your profile and keep trying again — there is no limit, so you can submit your application as many times as you need. Although adhering to the Upwork tips described below should speed up the process.

Is Upwork for you?

Upwork is a highly competitive platform that’s already oversaturated with experienced professionals. It’s hard to get approved and then it’s even harder to land a job. Scrolling through the site, you can stumble upon many high–earning profiles, but it’s not possible to get any real numbers or statistics. It’s hard to measure the overall success rate. If you’re looking for an easier alternative, check out the guide on how to make money on Fiverr.

Of course, there are famous people who found success on Upwork and made big fortunes — like Danny Margulies or Morgan Overholt — who currently sell books and courses on how to do the same. 

Unfortunately, they might lead people to think that freelancing sites like Upwork are a shortcut to a smooth and easy career. 

It’s not.

It might make some things easier — it gives you insight into competition and the freelance market, offers a big client base to start with, presents job opportunities inaccessible elsewhere — but still, it’s a business like any other. It requires general knowledge on business, finances, sales and negotiation, as well as promotion and marketing. And a plan.

And even if you make it on Upwork, don’t let it be your only revenue stream.

Remember how all of a sudden the youtube creators were cut off from their income? This can happen to any other site for a number of reasons — from cyberattacks to change of policy — so it’s good to keep in mind that these platforms might not be with us forever in the same, unchanged form.

If you’re ready to put in some hard work and you’re in the abundance of patience and perseverance, check out all the Upwork tips below to get the best start possible on Upwork.

Upwork Tips

Learn All About Upwork

If you’re ready to commit, do some serious research.

First of all, check what kind of talents are most in demand to even have a chance of making it through the approval process. Currently, all the hype lies in technology, programming, data science jobs and analytics. This doesn’t mean that people with other abilities don’t stand a chance — it’ll be harder, but not necessarily impossible.

Then, look for other people’s stories and experiences, of those that have succeeded and those that have failed. In each story there’s a valuable lesson, especially when it comes to mistakes — you can’t really afford to make one, so learn from those that are not your own. 

Browse through existing profiles and analyze them, especially the ones of your direct competition. Each Upwork profile comes with statistics: total amount earned, number of jobs completed and hours spent. This will give you a realistic picture of what you can expect from the platform in terms of traffic and revenue. 

They will also give you ideas on how to present yourself and your skills. Notice what kind of language they use and what they emphasise. 

It’s also a good idea to look at job postings. This way you can see what clients look for, what their requirements are and how many people tend to bid on them. Maybe there’s a certain set of harder to master skills there’s a market for that attracts a smaller number of professionals, thus making it easier to compete for.

Keep in mind though that you don’t see everything that’s happening on Upwork: there are invite–only jobs as well as those restricted to the US only.

Last but not least, check Upwork’s community. There are many questions asked there every day, often on similar topics, and will further help you understand common problems that all the users face and how the site works. They will also keep you updated in recent Upwork news and changes.

Infographic showing which questions to ask while researching Upwork's market.

Get Your Profile Ready For Approval

A good profile isn’t just a key to attract clients, it’s necessary to get approved to the site.

This means that you have to achieve a 100% profile completion with the combination of required and optional information. The required fields are: profile picture, profile title, profile overview, employment history and at least one skill tag. With all this information set in place, you get 60%. The other 40% can be gained by adding information on your education, certifications, uploading a video, and so on.

Moreover, a 100% complete profile is required to gain the Rising Talent and Top Seller badge. 

Another important thing to do is to choose a number of categories and skills. How many? Go wild and pick as many as you can (as long as they apply to you, of course). Thankfully, there’s a lot of vague categories and skills that overlap each other, so getting a maximum number of them should be easy. On the other hand, don’t pick too many contradictory skills, since it might be suspicious.

If you get rejected, this is the field you should change in the first place.

You will also be asked to choose your experience level: entry, intermediate or expert. Do not choose the entry level — it’s a trap. Upwork doesn’t want to have too many novices onboard, so it’s a sure way to get rejected. Pick intermediate instead, and if you don’t feel comfortable with that, rethink whether Upwork is a space for you.

Last but not least, a tiny little thing that surprises many: you need a business email address. Sad to say, gmail won’t cut it — if you try signing up with it, you’ll get a message saying “We noticed you’re using a address. Would you like to use your work email instead?”. That’s why it’s good to use an email address with your own domain, but it might entail additional costs.

If you do all that, your chances will rise significantly. The last thing to do will be to convince the Upwork staff that you’re worthy. 

Infographic showing necessary steps to get approved profile on Upwork.

Show Yourself In The Best Light

You need to look professional, even if your imposter syndrome tries to tell you otherwise. 

For your profile picture, select a high–quality photo with simple background and good light. Don’t worry about whether you look attractive — that’s not the point. If you’re not sure what will get the job done, look at existing profiles of Top Rated freelancers or check out Upwork’s official guide on profile pictures. If none of your photos resemble the shown examples, consider hiring a professional photographer to do the job right.

Paint Yourself As A Professional Should

Since there’s plenty of competition, you can’t describe yourself in a vague way. If you’re a writer, you need to say a little bit more than that to stand out (even if you do work primarily as a generalist). You need to be specific about what you do — are you a SEO copywriter, technical writer or an ebook writer? If you do write ebooks, what do you specialize in — medical texts, healthstyle advice, travel guides? Being concrete makes sure the right people will find you. Being too specific, on the other hand (like restricting your travel guides to Asia), might make potential clients reject you on that basis.

Next thing to include is your education and experience. If you lack the conventional, don’t worry. We can work around that.

Education doesn’t have to mean a degree. It can be courses (either paid for or free), programs and mentorships. If you’re entirely self–taught, describing your journey is also a good practice (as well as being a proof of your incentive, time–management skills and discipline). If you want to go a step ahead, you can briefly describe what you have specifically learned from each. This will show that the knowledge you have gained has really settled in. 

When it comes to experience, don’t undervalue the work you’ve done so far. Big contracts might make you look irresistible, but if you don’t have them, remember that all kinds of experience matter. Don’t undervalue volunteer work, scholarships, internships or any scholar achievements. What’s more important, don’t only list them — show results. For example, as a social media manager you can show conversion rates or other metrics as proof of your great work. As a UX designer, describing how your redesign brought in more sales with relevant numbers might also make a good impression.

Along a similar vein, using testimonials boosts your credibility. Make sure they’re not hidden at the bottom of your page, but proudly displayed at the front. 

Showcase Your Talent

Each profile has a portfolio section that shouldn’t be neglected. It’s a real proof of your experience and a verification of what you have stated in the written part of your profile. If you’re afraid you don’t have enough good projects, we have some good news.

More doesn’t mean better. You don’t need ten different portfolio pieces to look good: just show those that truly represent your best work. Don’t display those you aren’t sure of or which are simply average.

Treat them as case studies. Show what problems or issues your client had and how you’ve managed to resolve them. Support it with data if you can and don’t forget to share testimonials of your past employer or your collaborators.

Show your process. Maybe the result wasn’t that great — perhaps due to a low budget or your collaborators’ efforts — but your unorthodox way of thinking made you stand out. Don’t be afraid to show your research notes, drafts or sketches. 

Present them in an aesthetically pleasing way. That means no bad quality screenshots, unreadable fonts, stock images or experimental forms. Keep it simple, legible and understandable. Look up professional portfolios for inspiration. 

Indulge Your Client’s Short Attention Span

We can guarantee that your potential clients won’t read your profile from top to bottom. Since our attention span is constantly narrowing and we’re looking for quick results, we no longer have time to calmly consider each candidate, especially when there’s thousands of them. Therefore it’s crucial to grab clients’ attention and hold onto it tight. 

To do that, pay attention to your title and overview. This is what people will see first things first. It’ll be also responsible for attracting a specific type of clients — so make sure you speak the same language. Don’t know how to do that? Check job postings or sites where your clientele lurks and apply their words to your own profile. 

The first 200 characters of your overview are visible in the search results. Make them count! They have to be catchy enough to convince people to click on your profile.

Do not put a wall of text. Make your profile easy to skim through instead, highlighting the most important bits.

Avoid general descriptions. Every freelancer is passionate about what they do and they all would love to work for the same client. Just as well delete all the trivial things that are not related to your business — focus on your core skills, experiences, solutions. Emphasise the benefits that your potential employers may gain by hiring you. Adding numbers or percentages never fails to make a good impression. 

Write A Killer Proposal To Secure Jobs On Upwork

While some clients will be searching specifically for you, some will be posting jobs instead. And it will be in your interest to answer as many of them as you can, using connects available to you. If you run out of the free ones, you can buy bundles of 10, 20, 40, 60, and 80. Each connect costs $0.15.

To bid on a job, you need to rate your services and send a proposal. While the budget can be negotiable, and so, it won’t necessarily destroy your chances, writing a good proposal is what will be directly responsible for your success.

Each proposal should be customized to some extent. Remember that sending the same proposal to many clients can result in a ban. And even if that wasn’t the case, one template that fits them all is too vague and generic — which won’t help you at all to get invited into an interview. You need to convince your potential employer that you’re the best person for the job. How to manage that?

Show that you understand what your client is asking for. If they’re struggling with a specific website plugin that you have worked with before, don’t forget to include that tibid of information. If the solution they’re looking for is not the best to solve their problem, point that (gently) out. Describe your approach and show that you genuinely care — that requires careful reading of the job description, since some clients might even include hints as to what should be written in the proposal. 

Make your proposal client–centric. You don’t have to write that you’re the best professional that never fails to deliver high–quality products (everyone says that), but rather describe how your experience is relevant to that client’s problem, these are the answers that make you unique. Ask questions to show you’re invested and start a conversation — call to action is one of the sharpest tools in a copywriting, so why not use it yourself?

Does this mean you have to write each proposal anew? Not necessarily. Write a few templates that can be used as a model, and then alter them when needed. 

This approach promotes careful picking of jobs on Upwork. There are many clients on Upwork, but not all of them might turn out to be good, especially since everyone can make a buyer profile. While there’s a guarantee that you’ll get paid for your work done, the collaboration might be rather painful at times. Carefully study each job posting for any red flags, note the client’s budget, check their history on the site. Also, remember that during interviews you can also ask questions to determine the client’s credibility.

Cultivate Your Reputation

When you start landing those clients in a more or less regular stream, you have to pay attention to your Job Success Score, which is an average rate of your star rating. It’s one of the most important metrics that’s displayed everywhere, so people will judge you by it. Additionally, maintaining a high Job Success Score is crucial to gain and to preserve your badges.

So if you want to keep those clients coming, focus on providing the greatest customer service possible to get the highest rates and glowing reviews. Stay humble, ask many questions to ensure that both sides know what’s happening at all times, avoid misunderstandings. 

Unfortunately, sometimes it might not be enough. Some clients don’t understand the platform and have no idea that leaving a four star rating might actually harm your Job Success Score. 

Build A Personal Brand

If your freelancing business will be wholly dependent on Upwork and Upwork only, you might be in for some surprises. 

You never know what kind of changes will be employed in the future or how the freelancing market itself will change. Upwork can even be shut down at any moment, like any other internet platform. That’s why it’s better to find several revenue sources with passive streams included, that will keep you afloat when one of them closes.

Use Upwork as a way to gain traction as a freelancer. Learn how the market works, how to work with clients up to everyone’s satisfaction, build your processes. If you’re more experienced, use it to tap into a new client base, which might be bursting with potential long term clients that will follow you offsite (just a quick reminder, never propose on Upwork to move off the platform or to change payment methods — all that infringes upon Upwork’s Terms of Service).

In the meantime, build your own brand by creating your own website, managing your presence in the spaces relevant to your field, setting up a network that will surpass any platform. Ironically, that’s what freelancers promoted by Upwork do — once they’ve become popular there, they move their business offsite to monetize upon it. They usually grow their business by outsourcing their services as well, and so they become the platform’s clients.

And so it comes full–circle.

Infographic showing the user's journey on Upwork: from freelancer to client.

Key Takeaways

Overwhelmed? Don’t be! Here’s the summary of all those Upwork tips:

  • Educate yourself on general business principles and negotiating techniques, 
  • Research Upwork and the market to understand how it works and what are they looking for in their users — in particular, which skills are in demand and in which niche,
  • Get your Upwork profile ready for approval by ensuring that you meet all of the requirements set by Upwork, 
  • Create an overall professional impression of you by choosing a high–quality profile picture and showcasing your experience, knowledge and past clients’ testimonials,
  • Use SEO to make yourself easier to find and write attention–grabbing titles,
  • Write good proposals to convince clients to hire you: make them client–centric and show through them that you understand their problem,
  • Build your own personal brand that won’t be dependent on only one revenue stream that can get closed at any time.

The Conclusion

Even though nowadays it’s easier than ever to start a freelance business, it’s also more difficult, since you have to compete with many professionals, whose expertise has been already acknowledged on a global scale. And it doesn’t start at competing over clients: it starts at getting approved to freelancing platforms.

Upwork, with their marketing campaigns promising the finest client experience possible, wants to attract the crème de la crème of the freelance world. If you’re already a part of that, you shouldn’t have much of a problem to get approved or to find jobs on Upwork. But if you’re still green around the ears, your best option is to target a niche that hasn’t been filled yet, preferably in the emerging fields. And hopefully, with the rest of the Upwork tips, you’ll be able to kick off your freelance career. 

Frequently Asked Questions: Upwork Tips

Is it easy to get accepted on Upwork?

Because Upwork is overflowing with freelancers it’s harder than ever to get your profile approved, unless you’re working in a niche or have unique skills. At the moment, the most coveted skills are technical ones like programming, machine learning, data analysis, and so on.

Is Upwork better than Fiverr?

Since both marketplaces are dependent on luck up to a certain point, it’s best to try out both and see which one fares better for you. It’s worth noting though that Fiverr’s admission process is easy and it has many users, while Upwork has lesser, but more qualified competition. Also, Upwork is more of a bidding platform while on Fiverr people offer productized services for a set price.

What’s the most important Upwork tip?

Research is the key. Learn about all the people that found success on Upwork and those that failed at it. Look up the most popular profiles and see what makes them special. Talk to people about their experiences and most importantly, read Upwork’s Terms of Service as to not get banned before your career can even start.

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Paulina Gajewska

Word Designer and Article Developer, devoted to breaking down complex ideas to make Information Technology look simple.
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