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The Newbie’s Guide: Starting on Upwork

As a freelancer, Upwork is a great stepping stone into the world of finding clients and gaining experience. I started on Upwork, and a lot of freelancers that I chat with did too.  They have over 1.5 million clients in the system, and the range of jobs is quite impressive. You can find a long-term engagement or jobs that will only take a few hours. There are also jobs ranging from entry level to expert, which is cool for newbies looking to gain experience.

There are obvious ups and downs, but before we dive headfirst into that let’s chat about setting up a profile good enough to land you those jobs! I’m here to offer the viewpoint as someone who has worked Upwork as a freelancer, and who has hired freelancers as a client. That experience has given me a unique insight that helped me, and it wouldn’t be fair if I just kept it to myself!

Profile must-haves

Picture: Having your photo makes you seem more, well, real. I’m not talking about that cute selfie you took at the beach this summer, but a nice professional looking picture. Think about it, when you head to a job interview you dress to impress, professional attire and well groomed. In this instance, the client won’t have that first impression, so your picture is what you have.

You want to show that you take this as serious as you would any other job. It’s an extremely personal thing to allow another person to help you build your business, and although we always say don’t judge a book by its cover, in a virtual world that holds appearance of EVERYTHING so high, the same rules just don’t apply. Don’t risk valuable time and lose out on jobs just because of a picture or lack of.

Overview: Your overview is your place to shine. This is where you sell yourself, and all that you can offer to a client. You don’t want to rush through this. Be careful to make sure it defines what you can do for the client clearly. Make it specific enough that there is no question as to what your niche is, or what services you offer. Make sure it is error free, and the grammar/spelling is on point. A silly grammar mix-up is a terrible first impression! I use Grammarly religiously, it’s changed my life and in turn, helped me feel more confident in my writing!

Use Keywords! Consider it SEO for your profile. You want clients to seek you out, and not just the other way around. Anything that makes it easier for them to find you is a major win. 

Don’t be generic. When hiring, I could tell in an instant those who did a quick write up of some template they found online, and who REALLY put themselves into their overview. Most of us are creatives. I am a writer, looking to prove I am worth paying for a writing job. I can’t expect to write a boring old overview and make an impression. Maybe not everyone will appreciate the fact that you are original, but I can promise more people will than won’t. Those are your people!

Skills: Be hyper-specific when picking your skills and make sure you are choosing ones that relate to your niche of choice. Upwork allows you to list a maximum of 10 skills, and you should use them all. Don’t just put any skills, or skills that you have that are not relevant to the jobs you are trying to win. I know it’s tempting to show that you are capable of everything, but you don’t want your relevant qualifications getting lost in the shuffle!

Portfolio: This is your money maker! Clients want to see examples of the work you have done so that they know what to expect from you, as far as quality, tone, expertise, etc. Previous work you have been complete should be showcased here. 

If you don’t have any previous work,  make some! Ask family or friends if you can do a small project for them, create your own website showcasing your skills, make graphics for a potential business, or open a Medium account to show your writing. Clients on Upwork are looking for a freelancer who can show them what they can do, but it doesn’t always matter how much ACTUAL experience you have. A lot of clients are willing to give a newbie a chance. Don’t leave it blank, that’s the most detrimental thing you can do!

Tests: Upwork offers a huge variety of tests you can take to show the client your competency. A lot of people skip over them thinking it’s not necessary, but I’ve had clients tell me that my scores on tests have been a deciding factor between me and another freelancer. They take about 20 minutes each, and if you don’t do well, it won’t be shown to the public. Is it make or break? Probably not, but it is a way to help you stand out, so why skip it?

There is also now a video component to Upwork, where you can post a quick snippet of yourself. I haven’t utilized mine yet, but video is seemingly taking over the world, and I would suggest taking a few extra minutes to do this as well.

Now that you have this bad ass profile, that showcases how incredibly talented you are, let’s talk proposals! 

Nailing The Proposal

When you find a job you want to bid for, you will need to write a proposal to the client. Each proposal costs connects, (you receive 60 connects a month on the free plan, which I have found to be enough) so you want to make sure you’re not just wasting your time. The proposal is what your cover letter would be when you submit a resume. Your overview details your experience, let your proposal be your selling point. 

DO:

  • Make sure you really understand the job. Don’t waste your time applying for jobs that you only understand SOME of. It’s a waste of your time and the clients as well.
  • Ask questions. If something is unclear, clarify it before accepting any job. 
  • Make it personal. If their profile shows them by name, address them by it. Personalization is HUGE.
  • Introduce yourself and write naturally. Your overview details the depth of your experience, so there is no need to repeat it all in the proposal. A personal touch is part of a perfect proposal.
  • Share one or two pieces of work that relate directly to the job, if you have them.
  • Answer any questions they have in detail. Clients are allowed to put screen questions on their jobs, that need to be completed with your proposal. DO NOT skimp on these. The client went out of their way to put down these questions, so they are important to them. If you skip the questions or give lackluster responses, the client will most likely put your proposal at the bottom of the barrel.

Don’t:

  • Copy and paste your proposal. PLEASE, read this and remember it. Trust me, clients know when you are giving them just another generic proposal.  Using a template is fine, as long as you are customizing it enough to be specific to the job you are bidding for.
  • Underbid yourself. Know what you are worth and ask for it, this will weed out the clients who are just looking for cheap work. Unless you are aching for clients, it’s not worth it.
  • Bid just to bid. If you don’t really want the job, don’t waste the clients time. It reflects badly on you and your services for the future. 
  • Blow off a message or invitation, even if you have accepted another job. You never know when that contact may come back for work and you want to be in good standing. Send an email explaining that you have started another job, but give your information or ask for theirs so that you can approach them in the future. The connection is everything.

Finally, my friends, don’t overthink too much. You are talented, you are motivated, and even if you feel like your lack of on paper experience is spotty, there are clients out there who don’t care. A lot of them started out similar to where you are and want to give you a chance to prove yourself. You are ready to send in a proposal, and TVC is rooting for you!

When you have completed the job, make sure you leave feedback on the client’s page. If you don’t it doesn’t allow them to leave it on yours, and you want that praise! 

As I mentioned before, there are obviously some pros and cons to using a site like Upwork to find jobs. I wanted to note a couple things you should know before diving in head first! 

  • Upwork takes a fee out of your rate. It sucks to see happen, and it will make you rethink about using this venue for work. My suggestion, use it for the experience, or when work is really low. Take a few clients, get some great contacts and after the initial job, contact them outside of Upwork. The pro to this is that they pay through Upwork, and this ensures that you won’t be getting scammed. For that reason, I like to think of that fee as insurance, just in case. 
  • Don’t let anyone convince you to connect outside of Upwork for interviews. Guys, there are dirtbags out there and they prey on those of us who are over-eager about finding work. If it seems too good to be true, it usually is. 
  • Be mindful of time zones! There are people from all over the world on Upwork, and if their time zone is the opposite of yours, it may make scheduling or deadlines difficult. 
  • Be realistic in your bidding, and don’t just accept the first thing that comes your way. Value yourself, value your craft, and make sure you are taking jobs for the right reason!

So are you ready to dive in? Share your Upwork stories with others, or ask some questions in the comments below! I’m always here to help! Go get those jobs! Make sure you come back and share your success!

 

 

 

 

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