If you hear the word ‘Upwork’ in freelance circles, 9 times out of 10 it’s because somebody says they’ve had a bad experience on the platform. And it’s certainly true. As with any working relationship, there’s always going to be the potential for a bad experience or for you to come across someone who just isn’t a fit with you and the way you work.
Having said that, I have had more than 400 clients on Upwork and have only had to file a dispute a handful of times. In fact, I really believe that a lot of the problems that people have on the platform are related to poor client selection and not taking the right steps to protect themselves.
But let’s get back to the point of why Upwork is still the number one platform for new and experienced freelancers to land work.
A lot of people think that landing clients is much easier for me and other established freelancers because we’ve already built connections and have the benefit of client referrals, testimonials and a track record. But it is important to remember that everybody starts at the zero mark. I had to get my first couple of clients some way or another as well and it was hard and it took time. But I’ve used that experience to find a winning formula that works over and over again to land clients.
There are a lot of ways that you can earn clients as a freelancer – social media, LinkedIn, cold emailing, in-person networking events, attending conferences, being a speaker, or interacting with people there. Those are all great ways to land potential clients. However, I love Upwork especially for new freelancers because it’s so much easier to land clients there.
Shorter pitch-to-paid timeframe
The window of time that it takes to pitch a client and to potentially be hired, finished and get paid is often much shorter than a traditional route. As a brand new freelancer, for example, you might decide to pitch to a magazine. It could take several months for your pitch to be accepted; you’d turn in the work for it to be edited; to get paid by the accounting department.
The end to end process could take forever and while there’s nothing wrong with that, you want to build on what I call quick wins as a new freelancer. You need to show yourself that you can do this, you need to show potential clients that you can do this and be successful with it.
Also, consistency counts and a lot of new freelancers spread themselves way too thin trying to work on numerous marketing methods. So they’ll say, “Well I’m pitching people on Twitter, I’m sending direct mails and I’m attending my local chamber of commerce meetings.” In this instance, you’re going to end up doing a lot of things, but not particularly well. In contract, if you were to focus solely on Upwork or any one strategy, you inevitably become a master at that.
ready to hire Clients
Upwork is a great platform to be a member of as a new freelancer because the clients already want to hire someone. Where else in your freelance career can you have almost a guarantee that at least somebody is interested in hiring you to complete some work?
Plus, let me walk you through the time it typically takes to land a client outside of Upwork.
So I had one client that I’m working with now. It took well over a year to go from the initial meet and greet to a signed proposal to actually working on the project. Granted, it’s a great project but it took a year which for most, is a very long time. I almost gave up on the client because of it.
And let’s say that I meet one of my ideal clients at the grocery store. Say, we get to talking about what I do. I explain that I help attorneys get found on Google. Then, if they’re interested at all, the potential client might shop around to see if they can do the work themselves or if they can do it cheaply. Then I’m going to have to follow up with them and there may have to be some education about why it makes sense for them to outsource or what they could expect from working with me and things like that. It takes a lot of back and forth to land a client that way.
On Upwork however, your potential clients are already sharing that they’re interested in hiring someone. They’ve gone to the trouble of signing up for an account on Upwork, putting together a sample job description, asking for very specific information from you. So they’ve already done some of the thinking around what they need. They already know they want to hire someone. And while that’s not a guarantee that they’re going to hire somebody right now (they could be shopping around to get quotes to hire someone in a few weeks or months), there’s a much higher chance that they’re ready to hire — you’re actually talking to hot leads on Upwork because they are ready to take action.
When you’re going through a dry spell or when you’ve sped up your processes so much that you have room for an extra client, you may need work and want to land it quickly. You could be, as an example, going on vacation in two months and want to lock down one or two more clients before then. It is so much easier to land those clients on Upwork and there’s a greater chance that you’ll get paid promptly.
If you work with a client on Upwork, the client actually funds money into an account once you and the client agree to work together, and then when you finish and the client has approved the work, the money is released into your Upwork account. It is 6 to 10 days from the time that you finish the project that you would actually get paid. In contrast, I have had other non-Upwork projects where I’ve had to wait 30-90 days to get paid because that’s just how the client’s accounting process works.
Even for experienced freelancers, Upwork makes sense because it’s fast money, it’s hot leads, it’s clients who are just looking for the right fit.
World’s largest online job site
Another reason Upwork is something you should consider as your number one or at least one of your primary marketing methods is the fact that it is still the biggest job board site in the world.
When clients go online to find someone to hire, before they go to LinkedIn, before they go to Facebook, before they go anywhere else, they are going to Upwork. It’s so well known, everybody knows that Upwork is a major place to find freelancers. I’ve known six and seven figure entrepreneurs, myself included, who will go to Upwork first to hire somebody because they know that they have the best selection of freelancers there.
Where else can you go in as a client and say “Hey, I would like to view the top 20 proposals from virtual assistants all over the world and I’d like to do it today and then make my choice.” Clients love Upwork because they know that it has a pool of designers and copywriters and virtual assistants and web developers and they could outsource 10 different tasks today if they wanted to. So as the first place that clients think of, Upwork should be the first place that freelancers think of too.
Landing that first gig is tough, but it’s a snowball effect from there
Getting that first job is the hardest part of your process, but when you have a good experience with those first few clients and they leave you five star feedback, you would have automatically increased your conversion capability. Now, every future client who looks at your proposal on other jobs will see all the positive comments from past clients and it just becomes easier to get your foot in the door.
I have found that most of my potential clients start off by running a Google search of me. At this stage, they come across my Upwork profile and see that I have a 99% success rate with hundreds of positive comments about my work. This is usually more than enough to push somebody who’s already interested over the edge.
Upwork enables this process and that’s amazing.
An establish payment system that works
So, here you are, you’re working on the biggest platform in the world, with clients who are hot because they are ready to hire somebody – so they are hot leads – you’re going to get paid more quickly than traditional approaches, you’re going to have the clients fund the money into escrow so you have some peace of mind that they’re actually going to pay you on the project, and you’re going to be able to turnaround work and get feedback. As a new freelancer, all of those things are solid gold.
You could spend months going down the rabbit hole trying to build credibility, trying to get paid. I cannot tell you the administrative headache that follows if you don’t have a great payment system in place when you’re trying to follow up with a client, the fact that – let’s say today I hop on Upwork. I land a job worth $500. Before I’m doing any work, that client has to put the $500 in an escrow account. That’s my confidence that, “Hey this client is serious. They’re actually going to pay and I know that when I finish the job, that money is going to be released to me.” So there’s no excuses of “I lost my credit card” or “we need a 90-day turnaround”.
It’s very simple and clear in the terms of Upwork that if you are working on a fixed price project, the client has to fund the money first. And nearly every payment – chasing somebody down for payment situation I’ve ever had as a freelancer, all but one have been off of Upwork and I’ve had hundreds of clients on Upwork. So the time it takes with private clients to figure out why a payment is late or to chase something down or to enforce terms of a contract, it’s a real headache.
And like I said earlier, as a new freelancer, you have got to be stacking wins. You have got to be building your confidence. Because I don’t care who you are, you could have left college with a degree in journalism or office administration and you’re starting out as a writer or a virtual assistant and you have all this confidence to get started. It is terrifying to pitch to clients, it is terrifying to negotiate money and you’re going to have a lot of obstacles to overcome mentally to win there. However, when you’ve got a client who’s interested on Upwork because they’re already a hot lead, and then they fund the money into escrow, for you as a new freelancer, those are confidence boosters that help push you to the next level and say, hey maybe I really can do this.
Great for Creating a Pipeline of Leads
Even experienced freelancers need to have a pipeline of leads they can turn to when things are slow. There are seasons in the year when there’s just not that many people hiring. December-January are great examples of dead months in the freelance world because everyone’s on vacation. You can still hop on sites like Upwork where people who are trying to get a head start on the New Year or finish up those last minute projects are hiring people. And remember, no matter what you’ve heard, there are great clients on Upwork, they are still there today and you can work with them whether it’s for a one-time project or on a retainer basis. You just need to know how to find and land them. You need a proven system and you need to be consistent with how you present yourself and how often you show up.
If you’ve tried Upwork in the past and it didn’t work, I want you to be reflective about perhaps what you could do differently in the future. Was it your pitch? Was it the samples that you sent? Was your profile not up to par? Be open to being critical of your own materials on Upwork. When I first started on Elance, I looked up all of my competitors. I googled them and landed on their profiles and said, “Okay what are they saying on their profile? What do their work samples look like? Do they have a website? If so, what’s on it? Do they have a video on their profile?” I wanted to learn the magic formula for what my competition was doing so that I could stand out.
In going through this process, I realized that I wasn’t going to beat these freelancers on price. But what I could beat them on was things like turnaround time or my background in this particular field.
So do your homework before you get on Upwork and see who else is out there. Want to be a virtual assistant? Go look at the top ten virtual assistants on Upwork. What are they doing? What are they saying about themselves? How are they presenting a positive image to the client before they are even bidding on a job? That starts with a profile, that starts with the feedback from other clients if they have it, that starts with the work samples that they have.
This is also a great way for you to avoid reinventing the wheel. You don’t need to create success from the zero point. You can find other people who are already successful on Upwork and figure out what they’re doing in their specific niche. Go look at my profile, go look at it even if you’re not a legal copywriter.
See how I’m positioning myself to clients, what I’ve chosen to include, maybe things you thought would be there that aren’t – take a look at what people’s pictures look like, all these little elements matter even when you’re on a job board like Upwork, people want to hire other humans. So you don’t need to start from scratch and spend six days writing your Upwork profile. Go look at the top few people in your intended category. See what they’re doing, how they’re talking about themselves, how they present themselves and then start thinking about what makes you different. Could you do something better than them? Do you have a different offering than those type of people? That’s really the way to build your first win.
Try to figure out if there are common profile pieces with all the people you see being successful on Upwork. And even in the feedback that they have from clients. How many jobs have they had? You can be a leading freelancer on Upwork and have only had 10 jobs. You can be a leading freelancer on Upwork and have had hundreds. It’s all about that positive feedback and again, stacking those wins. Stack them.
Aim for five-star reviews from every client and watch that job success score and your credibility increase on the site.
I’ve been using Upwork and its predecessor Elance since 2012 and I when started, I had no clue what I was doing. I was throwing spaghetti at the wall. I bid on more than 36 jobs before I landed my first gig. Do some research, do that homework, figure out what makes you different and consider how Upwork could be used as a consistent strategy for you to land business, as a new freelancer or as an experienced freelancer.
I still believe that Upwork is an amazing source of leads and pipelines. Even today as an established freelancer, there are people who I meet them at a conference and they hire me privately but when they Google me, my Upwork profile comes up and all of that feedback. So even when it’s not jobs on Upwork, that Upwork profile is still working for me and it can work for you too.
Low risk way of figuring out what you enjoy doing
On Upwork, you can take on small jobs with different clients to identify the types of tasks and clients you enjoy working on/with. And then as you finish each job successfully and decide to move on to something different, no harm’s been done. Ideally, you’ve added to your five-star reviews from the gig, you acquired some more experience to learn what you liked and didn’t and you can apply that in the future.
Upwork is such a valuable source of leads. I encourage you to think about how you could use Upwork and let me know if there are questions that you have about using Upwork, about the process of bidding and landing clients or whether there’s anything else specifically that I can answer about marketing as a new freelancer.
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