The Hitchhiker’s guide to the Upwork Galaxy

Stupid ugly pigeon head

© The Shortlisted

So you eventually got sick of your crappy workplace, and you decided to quit and start working as a freelancer.
Yay! No more 9-to-5, no more Christmas Parties, no more ugly and boring colleagues and no more bosses checking you in and out every single day.

However, as you are aware that you won’t be working for a monthly salary anymore and you’ll be the genuine master of your destiny instead, I can perfectly see you wondering how to get your first clients as a freelancer.

The good news is that there are tons of ways to attract potential customers; a good personal brand, a nice website, an email marketing launch, your friends’ words of mouth, a nice PPC campaign are just some of them.

Freelancing marketplaces such as Freelancer, People Per Hour and Upwork are all options worth considering, but the competition there is fierce. Plus, most of the freelancing websites are tricky to work out without previous knowledge. Just like in a group job interview, chances are that you’ll get terrified at first, but at the end of the day, you will be gaining self-confidence as you’ll find out how to beat the other candidates.

As I got started by testing Upwork myself as a freelancer, the recommendations I am going to offer here are specifically meant to work in this particular marketplace; nevertheless, most of my tips will also be working on any other freelancing platform in the market, since they all work in pretty much the same way.

Freelancing marketplaces do offer a lot of opportunities as new jobs are being posted about every second, but on the other hand, this means that most companies are looking for cheap workers, so you’ll be competing against people based in India, Pakistan and the Middle East who are likely to be offering their services ten-time cheaper than you.

However, as the quality provided by such workers is often low, not to say poor, stats prove that the largest part of jobs is not awarded to the lowest bids. This means that there is still room for everyone, and that offering your clients a constant flow of high-quality work will actually make the difference. My advice is to focus on competing for the top 10% of all the jobs posted, and just forget the rest.

Upwork 101: 4 tips on how to build a compelling profile

1: Register and focus

  • Once you have registered with your email and full name, you’re in. As for me, I got started by studying Top Rated freelancers’ profiles who had successfully achieved a significant number of jobs, to find out how they had built their profiles.
  • The first thing to do is positioning yourself as an expert in one or two specific fields, and then looking for the best jobs available within these fields.

2: Getting started

  • Your job history is public, and while hiding your previous earnings is an existing option, it is not the best thing to advise, as it is seen as suspicious by potential employers. So, since initially, you won’t have any public feedback, you’ll need to secure at least a couple of jobs to be at the party.
  • Your personal profile should contain clear, searchable keywords and key skills, a full summary of your experience in the relevant field, and also a very personal “purple factor” to convince clients to choose you among many other people with similar expertise.

3: The Video-CV

  • This is why I uploaded a one-minute video CV into my profile; I had never done anything similar, but I wanted to showcase my experience and motivation properly. Also, I believe that showing your face helps build trust with potential clients.
  • I wouldn’t clearly invest big money into a Hollywood-style production, but a short, concise video CV recorded with a decent webcam will be perfectly sufficient. Someone once said that “done is better than perfect”, and they were right ;).

4: Create your work portfolio

  • Your work portfolio is crucial, too. If you can bring data, sample, charts or anything else to the table to prove that you are good at something, this will definitely make the difference. If you don’t have any professional work to showcase, you might well use something you have created on a pro-bono basis or even for your personal blog or website.
  • A thing that always surprises me about freelancing platforms is that nobody cares whether you graduated from an Ivy League University or you just attended an online course on Udemy; hiring managers are just looking for someone who can perform the job well and quickly for a reasonable price… they don’t have time to waste. Once you got this, it’ll be easy to take a few key tips on board to get yourself noticed. Curious?

4 Tips to apply for your first Upwork job: welcome to the jungle

Now that your Upwork profile is up & running, you can start browsing jobs.

A ton of offers are available all the time, from 5-minute fixes to long-term contracts, but since you just arrived and you have no feedback, it would be hard to be considered for the best opportunities.
As for me, I started by offering my services at a relatively cheap price in terms of market value, so I quickly got my first job and my first 5-star feedback right after.

Of course, you don’t want to get stuck into a lifetime contract requiring you to be working for peanuts, but applying for short contracts for a few quid won’t hurt you, and rather, it will definitely help you open other doors.
These are my 4 top recommendations:

1: Be relevant

  • Apply for jobs for which you qualify as a real expert. Being the marketplace offer so overwhelming, you might be tempted to apply for diverse things – but just don’t. Hiring managers are looking for proper experts, so only once you’ll have built your “street credibility” in one or two fields you can feel free to look for other opportunities.

2: Be bold

  • There is no room for shyness here in the jungle. It’s a bit like a speed date: you only have 30 seconds to make a good impression. Your data, case studies, and portfolio will help you get noticed.

3: Don’t compete on price

  • Once again, focus on quality. Show that you are willing to go the extra mile, offer a little extra for free and you’ll be appreciated.

4: Learn from other people’s mistakes

  • Before applying for a job, you should always read the offer carefully and answer providing clear and concise information on how you can solve that specific problem.
  • I’ve been on the other side of the fence as I was looking for SEO copywriters for a non-Upwork client of mine. Well, on that occasion I received plenty of copy-pasted and irrelevant proposals. So, make sure you learn from other people’s mistakes.

Stairways to Heaven: 4 tips to build a strong reputation on Upwork

There are no shortcuts to real success: you’ll need to work hard for your reputation. Here are a couple of lessons I learned along the way.

1: Go “the extra mile”

  • People love freebies, even if they are worth nothing. When you are about to complete the job, offer a little extra for free. This will definitely impress your client.

2: Get it done as soon as possible

  • Here is a pretty common scenario: you start working for a client for a couple of hours, then they suddenly ask you for more availability, and more and more, so you end up working a lot more than expected.
  • In this case, you should ask your client to close the initial job, to leave feedback and to re-hire you again. This will be the perfect moment to score some solid 5-star feedback that will secure you more jobs in the future.

3: Negotiate

  • If you know that you did a great job, then feel free to say that you are expecting 5-star feedback.
  • None of my clients has ever refused to leave 5-star feedback for me, and luckily, no one I have worked with has ever taken advantage of the feedback mechanism so far.

4: Be nice to people…

  • …and they’ll be nice to you!

★ If you disagree with the author of this post and think Upwork is bleah instead, you may enjoy our article on why freelancing platforms are crap 

★ For more resources about freelancing, try also the impact of Brexit on UK freelancers,  how to survive as a freelance translator and our survival guide for freelancers

About The Author

Google partner & marketing specialist

Valerio Celletti is a Google partner and Google AdWord & Analytics certified web marketing specialist with over 7 years of professional experience. He has helped B2B and B2C companies from 11 countries improving their PPC ROI, building and optimising high-converting landing pages.