When I first started out as a freelancer, I had no freaking clue what I was doing.
This was in 2010, before the “digital nomad” and “work from anywhere” craze and courses hit. There were very few tips for finding location independent work, and oDesk (now UpWork) was my saving grace.
Through the platform, I was able to pay for living expenses in London to study fashion for a summer, hang at an all-inclusive resort in Playa del Carmen and stay away from a cubicle – or worse, an open office.
Transitioning Off // Leaving the UpWork Platform
Now that most of my clients come as referrals, I don’t utilize the platform nearly as much. But there are some real benefits to using it. I’m assuming you already know the benefits (more dependable payments, organizing your work, finding new clients, etc), so I’m going to launch into my top 5 tips for using the platform.
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Tip #1: How to Get Your First UpWork Client
It can be hard to land that first client (and get that much needed review). The more positive reviews you have, the better your chances of getting the gig!
But what do you do if you’re new to the platform and have no reviews? I’ve had coaching clients send dozens of proposals only to get nowhere, because they weren’t “vetted.”
So there are two ways to hack this:
Number 1: Bring a client *to* UpWork, one that you found elsewhere. Yes, you’ll be giving UpWork 20% of your fee – but you’re playing the long game here. We need that client review!
Number 2: Lower Your Rate for a Certain # of Hours: Some people under price themselves to get their first project, which is *almost* a good idea. This can bite you in the butt, because future clients will be able to see that rate. If your rate is $100ph, but you lower it to $40ph to get your first gig, a new client will balk at paying $100. You’ll have to incrementally increase your rate to get to your “real” hourly amount.
Price Break FTW
Instead, in your proposals offer your first project or set of hours (say, 10 hours) at a discounted rate. You can say something like, “I recognize I’m new to the platform, so to help you feel more excited about working with me I will lower my hourly rate by X% for the first 10 hours of this project.”
BOOM! Your client is mitigating risk, and you’ve set youreslf up to get paid your regular rate. They *may* ghost you after the initial period, but hey, that’s freelancing.
Tip #2: Customize Your Template Proposal
Y’all, I have used UpWork to hire sub-contractors and freelancers, and I immediately reject proposals that have been copy and pasted. They don’t mention the role or what they like about the product, and it’s clear they’re blasting through listings with the same copy.
Customize a Template Proposal
I noticed a big change in my earnings when I started to customize my template proposal, adding in a paragraph about the company or business. I use a few different templates, all dependent on the project and client.
Now, this proposal isn’t a cover letter to your dream job (most likely), so I would spend max 20 minutes on each of these.
Tip #3: Read the WHOLE DANG LISTING on UpWork
Speaking of jobs on UpWork, you’re going to want to watch out for a keyword in the listing. Many companies (including me!) will include a phrase in the middle of the listing like, “Put the word ‘banana’ at the top of your proposal so I know you’ve read the whole thing.”
Then anyone who doesn’t use the keyword is automatically rejected. This tactic makes it WAYYYYY easier to weed out those who aren’t detail oriented.
Tip #4: Prioritize TOP SKILLS on UpWork that Earn the Most $$$
Freelance rates are largely set by market demand. I first started as a Virtual Assistant on UpWork, then quickly moved to social media management.
Finding a ceiling on what folks will pay for a SMM on UpWork, I moved into sales funnel consulting and overall marketing strategy.
Make Money Moves
The book, Who Moved My Cheese, does a good job of explaining this, but TLDR: Freelancers teach themselves how to do things. It is in your best interest to figure out what skills you have (or can learn) that people will pay top dollar for.
Example: If you’re a social media manager wanting to break into a $200 an hour role, you could get REALLY good at social media ads. If you’re a graphic designer who makes a lot of logos, it’s time to level up in UI/UX.
Tip #5: Under Promise & Over Deliver
When it comes to UpWork, you are a small business owner! And the business is YOU!
It is YOUR job to make sure your client is happy, so I recommend two things:
- Under promise on deadlines. If you think something is going to take 14 days, make it 20 (or more!). Asking for extensions is no fun, and your client will be delighted if your original estimate of 14 days is correct.
- Over deliver on materials. Yes, you have been hired for a contract! But it’s always a good idea to add just a bit extra – something that will take you maybe an hour. This could be a few additional graphics, a spruced up feature you coded, etc. You want to be clear this is a gift by saying something like, “To thank you for being such a great client on this project, I’ve included a freebie of (Blank).”
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