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How to Make Money on Upwork as a Freelancer: Zero to $90,000 Part-Time

by | Last updated Mar 11, 2020

“I would love to start out as a freelancer but it is impossible to make money on Upwork!”

I can’t even remember how often I have read posts like that in Facebook groups or received desperate messages similar to this. And I get it. It really is getting harder and harder to score jobs with that much competition out there.

BUT that does not mean that it is impossible. I have managed to make almost USD 90,000  working part-time on Upwork. And I didn’t have much experience either.

How did I do this?

In the following blog post, I share my story and the most important Upwork tips.

Since today I also hire remote freelancers for my own business on Upwork, I can give you some very helpful insights from the client’s point of view, too.

My Way to USD 90,000 on Upwork

It started a couple of years ago when I was looking for a job I could do online. I was googling around and eventually landed on Upwork. I was wondering: How does Upwork work? Can you really use Upwork to become a freelancer? Until then I have never heard of it but I thought I might give it a try.

So I created a profile and decided that I wanted to go for content writing, translation, and proofreading jobs.

I was working as a project manager the years before that so I didn’t have much professional experience in those areas. But since that is what I enjoy doing, I thought I should go for it.

With not a single review on my profile, I knew I had to start small. I applied for all the tiny jobs and finally got one job assigned – a proofreading job for USD 8. It was just one or two pages but the translation was so bad that it took me more than 3 hours to finish it.

For 8 USD! Minus the Upwork fee, of course. In short: The payment was absolutely not worth it.

Upwork Work History

However, I did my best with the job and also made some suggestions to improve the content. My client was very happy with my work and gave me a great 5-star review. That helped a lot with scoring further jobs.

I did a few other small jobs for little money to build up my reputation.

Upwork Screenshot Work History

After that, I stopped applying for small gigs. In the long run, they don’t pay the bills. I only applied for job offerings that needed ongoing freelancers and had better payments.

One client gave me a couple of small content writing jobs to see if my skills matched his requirements – and they did. I wrote for him part-time for the next couple of months – super awesome!

Upwork Work History

Since the content writing job was only a couple of hours every week, I wanted to get a second client. Preferably another long-term client. I also spread my portfolio a bit and also went for virtual assistant jobs.

After a while, I found an entrepreneur who was looking for someone with German skills. I applied and ended up in a group of 5 applicants. We all got the same tasks to do and in the end, he wanted to hire the person who did best.

Needless to say that I went above and beyond and luckily was the one who got the job. I worked for him regularly for about a year.

Make money on Upwork as a freelancer

After my work was done with them, I left Upwork for a while to work on different projects. However, I still received invitations from clients on Upwork who saw my profile and were interested in my services. That means I don’t even have to apply for jobs anymore.

Occasionally, if a job sounds fun or profitable (not going to lie here), I accept the offer. As you can see, I currently have two ongoing projects on Upwork again.

 

Until today, I’ve almost made almost USD 90,000 working part-time on Upwork – without any formal education in the services I offer.

 

Upwork Tips: How to Make Money on Upwork

Now you are probably wondering what EXACTLY I did to get those clients. Here are my strategies and my tips on how you can find clients on Upwork or any other freelancing platform for that matter.

1. Focus on One Skill

I know, I know. I applied for different kinds of jobs and was successful with it. But all of my jobs, translation, content writing, proofreading and virtual assistance, had one thing in common: They required English and German language skills.

If I could do it again, I would probably focus even more on the content niche and skip the other jobs. It is so much easier to find well-paying online jobs when you are an expert in something and have reviews to prove that. Yes, there might be fewer job offerings but on the long-run, you will profit from being specialized.

2. Set up a Professional Profile

Your profile has to be on point. Make sure you use a common yet specific job title that can easily be found when a client is searching for freelancers.

The description is where most people fail. Your profile text shouldn’t only be about you and your skills and your experiences. It also needs to be about how you can help potential clients or employers solving their problems. How can potential clients benefit from your expertise?

This gives them a good feeling, knowing that this is about them and that I do my best to help them solve their issues.

Also, Upwork now offers the function to create different profiles based on your different skills. This is a great new feature! If you want to offer different services, make sure to set up a profile for each.

You also get to upload a video where you can talk about your skills or show work samples. If you think you can put together a professional and convincing video, go ahead! It can be a great benefit.

However, not everyone is a natural in front of the camera. If you don’t think you can come up with a clip that makes everyone want to work with you straight away, you should refrain from it.

I never uploaded a video of me simply because Upwork didn’t have the option when I first started out and I didn’t need it later on to get clients.

Also make sure to show your employment history outside of Upwork, your education and certifications. And yes, you can surely pimp your resume a little bit. But do yourself a favor and don’t lie when it comes to your experience and skills.

It is a pain for every client and it can cause you lots of trouble when the truth comes out.

3. Start small

We all want to get big jobs and can’t afford working for peanuts. However, on freelance platforms like Upwork, it is absolutely essential that you get good reviews first. Nobody is going to assign you a huge deal if you can’t prove you’re legit.

Before you can scale your business, you need to start small. Go for short and low-paying jobs where you are sure you can do a great job and get a good review. Just suck it up and do it. It will definitely help you in the long run.

You can find more info on how to calculate your freelance rate in the linked post.

4. Individual proposals

This is the most important thing you have to do: Write individual proposals! Yes, you will send out a whole lot of applications. But never ever use copy/paste standard texts!

Speaking from a client’s point of view, this is an absolute nightmare. I delete those proposals straight away. If you don’t take the time to sit down and write a personalized message, then I’m convinced you are not interested enough in the job.

Instead, do this:

  1. If the client gives his name in the job offer, use it! “Dear Tim”, “Hello Anna” – something like that sounds so much better than “Hi there”.
  2. Start by repeating (not literally) what kind of job the client needs to be done. That shows that you have read and understood the task. You wouldn’t believe how many people simply apply to anything without even knowing what the job is about.
  3. Go straight into how you can help with completing the task. What former experience do you have that matches the job? What skills can you use to make the result great? Make sure that the proposal is about how you can help the client, not about your skills and experience in general. It should revolve around the job, not around you!
  4. If you have, you can attach files or links that show your portfolio. If you attach examples, make sure they are similar to what the client is asking for – not something random.
  5. If you have done similar jobs like this one on Upwork before, ask the client to check out your profile to see the good review you got for that job.
  6. If you have any questions about the task, ask! That shows that you are truly interested and have spent a bit of time thinking about the job. If possible, don’t ask about the payment straight away.
  7. Depending on the job, you could also mention how you would approach the task.

I know this sounds like a lot to include but keep it short. No client wants to spend 20 minutes reading through your proposal.

Your goal of this proposal is to get the client to contact you. That’s the biggest step. Things like payment and deadlines can be discussed later when the client is convinced that you are worth the money and wait.

5. Be Quick

There are thousands of (desperate) freelancers on Upwork who only wait for a new job offering to pop up so that they can apply immediately. When I post a job, I usually have around 20 new proposals within the first 2-3 hours.

That means you should be fairly quick when it comes to sending out proposals. Since you only have a limited number of proposals you can send out per month, you shouldn’t waste your time with jobs that have been posted weeks ago.

It’s always a great idea to check out how many proposals a job got, how many people are interviewing and how many are hired.

But don’t be discouraged if you see that someone else is already hired. You never know. Maybe the client is not happy with the result or your proposal is that great that the client might consider you for another job. If you think this could work for you, you should go for it anyway.

Make money on Upwork as a freelancer

6. Follow up

If you send your proposal, have contact with a client but suddenly don’t hear back anymore, you could write a follow-up, asking if there is anything unclear or if you could help with anything else. If you don’t come across too pushy, it will show that you are truly interested in the job.

You could also send follow-ups to clients that you have already worked with. Maybe they have a new job that needs to be done. But don’t send out more than one follow up. Again, keep it friendly and professional.

7. Go beyond Your Tasks

You have scored a job? Congrats! Now give 100% to deliver a fantastic result. A happy client might give you more work in the future and, almost as important, leave a great review. And that’s what you need.

If you get a few bad reviews, you might as well close down your account. No client would want to work with someone who has a bad reputation.

Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely some clients out there that will never be happy. No matter what you do they will always find something they don’t like. Try to spot those moaners before you accept the deal and if you have a bad gut feeling, decline the offer. It’s not worth risking your reviews.

8. Communicate

To avoid the just mentioned disputes between you and your client, talk about everything. Make sure you got the task entirely. Repeat what you understood you need to do and get confirmation.

If anything is unclear, either at the beginning or during your job, ask! No client will be mad at you for asking important questions during the process. But they will be annoyed when you are finished and it’s not what they have expected.

If something is too complicated to explain via text, call them. Upwork lets you make voice calls and video calls, too. Sometimes all it takes is a 5-minute phone call and it will save you hours of unnecessary work.

9. Go for Bigger Projects

I’m pretty sure you don’t want to do the USD 10 jobs forever. As soon as you have a few good reviews, you can start raising your rates and go for bigger jobs.

If you want, you can filter explicitly for jobs that require a higher level of experience and that are ongoing. You always have to keep the Upwork fees in mind. The more short-term jobs you do, the more fees you have to pay. As soon as you have earned USD  500 for one client, fees go down. That’s your aim!

Don’t waste your entire time applying and doing tiny one-time projects if you are at a stage where you can get the bigger ones.

Make money on Upwork as a freelancer

Things to Avoid on Upwork

There are also a few things you shouldn’t do when working on Upwork.

1. Work for Free

I have had so many clients asking me for free trial work on Upwork. Unfortunately, they are part of the game. Please don’t go there!

I know the payments of your first jobs will probably be super low, too. But working for free is a whole different story.

First of all, it’s against Upwork’s rules, so you should report those clients.

Second, clients who are asking for free work will most likely not hire you, even if you did a great job.

Take translation jobs as an example. The client will ask 10 freelancers to translate 200 words each as a trial, saying that he will give the job to the best one. Do you know what happens? He simply gives everyone a different part of a text to translate and – what a surprise – has now a complete 2,000-word text translated – for free!

Don’t fall for that.

2. Bad Clients

And that brings us to the next thing you need to avoid on Upwork: Bad clients.

I always get suspicious when a client is new to Upwork, has no history and no verified payment method. I wouldn’t even waste my time applying.

Another thing to look at is reviews. Freelancers can rate clients, too, and you should always check that rating before you accept an offer. If he or she has a bad review, that could mean this client is very hard to satisfy and other freelancers had a hard time with him.

Especially when you are looking for higher-paid jobs, look at what the client has spent before. If the average hourly rate he paid so far was something like USD 3,40, chances are he might not be willing to pay you USD 40 an hour. You can save your time and don’t apply.

Make money on Upwork as a freelancer

3. Wait too Long to Scale

That is one of the mistakes that I did in the beginning. Looking back, I’m pretty sure new clients would’ve paid more without a doubt. But well, I was too shy to ask. My bad.

Don’t be like me! Start looking for bigger projects as soon as you have a few good reviews. Set your hourly rates or fixed prices higher after a while. After all, you have gained more experiences and maybe even skills. That means you can deliver better quality and that should be rewarded.

If you want to be seen as an expert in your area, don’t charge beginner rates.

Become a Freelancer on Upwork!

I really hope these tips on how to make money on Upwork have helped you a little bit. Bear in mind that Upwork is only one platform where you can find clients as a freelancer. There are several more which are great to get started as a beginner.

Check out this list with the best freelancer platforms out there. Or use one of the many other ways to find clients online.

I know it isn’t easy, no matter what platform you pick. But if you are persistent and manage to get your first few clients and good reviews, it will definitely get easier.

Make money on Upwork as a freelancer

About the Author

Denise Mai

Denise Mai

Founder of Digital Nomad Soul

Hi, I’m Denise – a travel addict and remote work enthusiast. I have been traveling the world since 2008 and explored, worked, and lived in more than 80 countries. To me, there is nothing better than the freedom and flexibility that comes with a location-independent lifestyle.

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14 Comments

  1. Thanks, Matt! That is very true. The competition can be tough. It takes a while to get a good reputation and with that, you are able to ask for much higher rates.

  2. Useful article Denise and interesting take; I’ve found the competition for landing jobs on UpWork very intense, and incredibly difficult to compete with the rates of workers from countries with lower costs of living.

  3. Great content..Thank you for shearing this post.

  4. I’ve been on Upwork for 3+ years and it has seriously changed my freelancing career in the most amazing ways. It’s definitely not the easiest platform since there is a lot of competition but once you get started on it, you can connect with some amazing clients!

    Please go and have a look to this link which I have shared my own experience and also there is a link to my profile of being a Top Rated Freelancer.

  5. Hi Jann, I’ve heard that Upwork now trys to restrict the number of freelancers to make it easier finding a job, which doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. Randomly suspending accounts can’t be the answer though. Let’s hope they find a better way to improve their client-freelancer-ratio!

  6. Upwork id suspending account for no cause now a days.

  7. Thanks a lot, Janelle! :)

  8. Great post. Thank’s for sharing.

  9. Great thank you

  10. Thank you, Julius! :)

  11. Thanks for sharing. You are the best.

  12. Thanks a lot! :)

  13. Great Job

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