What I have learned after working for a year as a freelancer on Upwork

Author’s Note: I created my oDesk account back in 2012 and only worked once at the time. I got a 5 stars rating, but the client didn’t leave a review at the time.

Before starting my mat leave last year, I knew I wanted to work. I didn’t want to stay home and just take care of my baby. Nope, that’s just not me. And since my baby would probably be sleeping most of the day, I would have time to freelance.

Choosing the right platform

I created an account on Upwork back in 2012 when I started freelancing. At the time, I was doing social media management only, and it didn’t take me long to figure out that I won’t be making a ton of money with this specialty. But back in 2012, SMM was still huge, and I had my very first client.
I don’t remember exactly what I did for him, but I remember how much I charged him: $400. It doesn’t sound like much, but when you are working full time and freelance on the side, it’s a bonus!

Between 2012 and 2016, I didn’t do a lot of freelancing gigs. I knew that I could, but I guess that I was too busy doing other things. (Getting certified, watching courses online, etc.)
At the end of 2015, knowing that I would be on mat leave for 5 months (in Canada, you can take up to one year, but the pay is meh), I looked for some new freelancing platforms. After digging stuff out for quite some time, I came back to oDesk (now Upwork).

Let me get things straight; I absolutely love Upwork in general. Never had any issues with them and even chatted with some of their reps at some point last year. They are cool guys, I know a lot of people absolutely hate them, but besides their ridiculous Job Success score, I think they are doing a great job out there.

Starting small

So how do you get clients on Upwork when you have little to no experience on the platform?

You start small with a lower rate than your usual one.

I didn’t know if my small freelancing business would be successful on Upwork, so I had to start small. My hourly rate was $35. It sounds extremely low, I know, but when you want to build a good reputation, you can’t charge $200 an hour on Upwork, let’s be honest.

Most people look at your previous jobs and want to see what you have done and if you have been successful. I am pretty sure that most of the clients read some of the comments you have on your page and also kinda look at your Job Success score. (This score is so opaque that it’s absolutely impossible to know how it works exactly)

Building your profile

I had to almost start from scratch. I was not doing social media management anymore, and I had new certifications that I wanted to include on my profile page.
I knew that I wanted to do SEM campaigns since it was a growing business, so I built my profile to reflect that.

When working on your profile, you really need to sell yourself and tell potential clients what they need to know. In my case, they are looking to get more customers, so I need to tell them how I can help them achieve that.

Working with your very first client

There are two ways of finding clients on Upwork, you can either apply to jobs or clients can contact you directly.

In my case, I applied to different jobs and got my first gig not too long after.

But first, a lot of clients wanted to Skype with me. Sometimes it was taking up to half an hour (unpaid work of course), and I never landed a job that way. Clients basically just wanted my input on something and ended up never hiring anyone. That was really frustrating.
I decided to never Skype, a person before he/she would tell me a bit more about what he/she was looking for.

My very first client (after my 4 years gap) was a real prick. He was probably way younger than I was but clearly treated freelancers like s***.
Since I was so new on Upwork, I didn’t know how to make the app to work. The guy told me to Google the thing and was extremely impatient.
I managed to finish the job in one hour as promised.

The next day, I am not sure what he did, but he came back to me after completely messed up my work and literally asked me if I would take $5 to fix it.
5 dollars. I am not even sure how he got the balls to ask me that, but he did. I politely declined to tell him that for 5 dollars I would work for less than 10 min since my hourly rate was $35. He declined but still left me a good rating using the pronoun “he” instead of “she.” Prick.

Anyway, now I had two 5-stars rating and got more and more clients after that.

Raising your hourly rate

Not long after that, I raised my rate to $40 and then $50 until I reached $80 at the end of 2016.

I was receiving a lot of invitations for interviews and since I was happy with it, I almost never applied to any job postings after that.

The reason why is that most of the clients posting jobs on Upwork are looking for really cheap freelancers and once you start chatting with them and telling them what they need to do, they basically run away. I got tons of potential clients wanting to do something that would have taken me hours to achieve. I was straight about it and told them I could not do it within an hour frame.

At first, most of the invitations I got were for jobs I declined right away. I find that a lot of users are contacting freelancers just because they saw a keyword in their title. They don’t even take the time to look at their profiles.

I also modified my profile description, clearly stating what I was doing and for how much. That way, I was able to avoid receiving silly invitations for job interviews.

Can you get high paying clients on Upwork?

Yes and no.

I would say that most users are looking for cheap freelancers on Upwork. I had a lot of clients paying $15 an hour for poorly done work and then asking me to fix the mess.
These freelancers are usually charging the client for 20 hours when the work could be done in 2 for $80 an hour. They then end up losing a lot of money.
I remember seeing the work of 2 or 3 freelancers working on a landing page and it was terrible. The client ended up never using the landing page and I had to rebuild it for him.

I was able to find gigs that were paying between $350 and $500 each. I think that’s not bad on Upwork but these clients were obviously reaching out to me versus me contacting them. These clients have a bit of budget and exactly know what they need.

Now, I guess, depending on your area and level of expertise, you can certainly make more money than others. However, knowing that Upwork can potentially suspend your account at any time if you do something wrong, I would probably try to find other sources of work as well. Relying on just one platform is the worst idea ever.

What’s next?

I’ll continue working on Upwork, tuning up my profile and making sure to get high paying clients. I have already learned a lot of things but there is more to come and I’ll write an article to tell you more about it.


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