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Guide To Making A Full-Time Income On Upwork

Guide To Making A Full-Time Income On Upwork
Victoria Heckstall Jun 2, 2017
Want to Earn Some Extra Money?


Upwork is one of the leading platforms for freelancers and people looking to hire freelancers. It was formed via a merger between Elance and oDesk. Since the merger, the Upwork platform has grown to become one of the main players in the industry.

Freelancers can easily make a full-time income from Upwork, and here’s how to do it.

Building Your Upwork Platform

Step 1 – Create an Account

To begin creating an account with Upwork you can go to the homepage and make one from there. It’s completely free to create a freelancer account. You will be asked to provide some basic information, including your name, email address, and address.

Later on, you will be asked to provide full payment information, via PayPal or direct deposit via your bank account. Upwork occasionally requests new users to follow an identity verification process. During this process, you will be asked to submit evidence of a government-approved ID.

This identity verification process is designed to avoid linked and duplicate accounts. Take note there are no guidelines for when this may happen. You might work on Upwork for three months before they make a request for identification.

Step 2 – Complete Your Profile

This is the first hurdle so many newcomers to Upwork fall at. They only fill out part of their profile because they want to start applying for work immediately. A 100% completed profile is one of the best marketing strategies you have at your disposal. Take advantage of all the tools Upwork has to offer because clients do check individual profiles.

Use Multiple Content Types

Marketers advertising a brand have become used to utilizing a variety of content types. You should do the same with your Upwork profile. To begin with, you should have a clean and professional profile picture in HD. Dress nicely and smile as if you’re taking a picture for a corporate website.

The next piece of content is to upload a video that features you. This doesn’t need to be a Hollywood-quality production. A simple video camera and a brief 30 seconds explaining who you are and what you do will get you noticed. You might not think it adds much, but this is the part people skip so you’ll stand out from the crowd.

Writing Your Professional Overview

Your professional overview should be just like a resume. Only include the skills and experiences relevant to the jobs you will be applying to. Don’t get tempted to include your life story. Try to format your professional overview in a way that enables clients to skim read.

Together with your professional overview you should include up to 10 skills. Try to include as many as possible.

Include a Portfolio

Upwork has a portfolio section for showcasing your work. You can include a link to an external portfolio, which you should already have as a freelancer. Limit the number of portfolio pieces to less than five. You should also ensure you have permission from any previous clients before you take credit for the work publicly. This goes especially for freelance writers and artists.

Step 3 – Polish Your Profile

At this point your profile should have everything it needs to market your brand. Take another look over it and ensure the information is accurate. Perform a grammar check and, preferably, bring in someone else to help with this. A second pair of eyes can spot flaws that you can’t.

Applying for (And Winning) Projects on Upwork

Step 4 – Keep it Relevant

Some newbies will create a profile filled with broad skills. They will see this as a mandate to apply for jobs and projects that are only slightly relevant to what they do. Newbies often do this because they’re so desperate to win their first clients. The moment you have positive reviews it gets easier to pick up work.

The problem with this is that clients on Upwork are searching for niche freelancers. Unless you fit into that niche don’t waste your time applying.

Step 5 – Should You Bid Low to Win Reviews for Later?

Once you have found the project for you it’s time to submit a proposal. One of the first things a client will look at is your price. Each project posting has an estimated budget, so unless you’re willing to work within this budget don’t apply in the first place.

Freelancers are sometimes made to believe that bidding low on the first few projects is a good move. Yes, you may get more reviews, but it will hurt you later. Your profile tracks how much you work for and roughly how much you’ve made on the platform.

If clients see it took you six months to earn $500 that’s not a good advert. It states you’re cheap and low-quality or you’re not in high-demand. Submit an acceptable amount that you would actually want to work for.

On a side note, make sure you take into account bidding fees. For the first $500 earned with your client you’ll pay 20%. This goes down to 5% as you exceed $10,000. Factor these into your bids so you’re working for a fair amount.

Step 6 – Create a Winning Proposal

Making a full-time income on Upwork requires you to master the proposal. The best freelancers have regular clients, but they need to supplement a potential stillness in work through constantly applying for new projects. A winning proposal includes a number of key characters.

You should make it specific to the project, so avoid copying and pasting a standard proposal. Include why you are qualified for the job. Have you completed work in this niche before? Add in something about your qualifications. It’s okay to repeat something on your profile. And, above all, make sure you keep the tone professional and friendly.

Creating a winning proposal is ultimately about making sure you’re demonstrating to clients that you’ve given their project serious consideration. Nothing makes an employer click away faster than a proposal that has clearly been recycled many times over.

Doing a Good Job and Claiming Your Reward

Step 7 – Conduct Yourself for Success in the Long-Term

The way you conduct yourself after the project has begun is the key to getting good feedback and securing long-term clients. Upwork is no different from other platforms in that you should reply to client enquiries promptly, complete your work on-time, and don’t be afraid to ask for clarification about work.

When dealing with clients on Upwork you should ensure that all communications are conducted through the platform. It’s against the terms and conditions to try to take communication off-site. You could get your account terminated and you’ll have to forfeit any money owed to you.

Step 8 – Ask Clients for a Review

In the early days, reviews are the biggest reward of all. It’s why so many freelancers attempt to get started by undercutting the competition and working for nothing. Every time a project ends you should encourage clients to leave feedback. Many clients won’t unless you specifically ask them to because they’re under no obligation to do it.

Freelancers can also leave reviews for employers, so you should offer to leave a review for them. Try to make the review as detailed as possible.

Keep in mind that clients, when hiring, look at the reviews freelancers have. They initially view the overall rating, but Upwork employers tend to drill down into the reviews themselves. Long, detailed reviews will serve you far more than a single sentence and a top rating.

Step 9 – Request Clients to Close Jobs

One of the unfortunate downsides of Upwork is that a job won’t automatically close just because you submitted the work. Even if the client claims everything’s okay they’ll often forget to officially close the job, which can also lead to a delay in payment and you’ll need to go through the arbitration system to have the job closed.

This can impact your ability to get work later. Earlier we mentioned that Upwork tracks your total earnings and how long you’ve been active on the website. If it takes a few months to close the project and get paid it will look like you’ve taken months to earn a small amount of money.

Politely remind clients that when they’re satisfied they should manually close the job. This will keep your stats high and allow you to get paid faster.

Get More Reviews Through Repeat Work

We can’t underline the importance of reviews enough. You can get more reviews through repeat work by requesting that clients create new listings each time they want to begin a new project. With every completed project you’ll have the opportunity to review your client and for the client to review you all over again.

If you’re lucky enough to pull in a regular client early in your career, you can use this to increase your number of reviews. Instead of one review you could have five or more.

How to Become an Established Presence on Upwork

After you have completed your first few projects and mastered the website the next step is to become an established presence on the platform. This will help to gain regular clients and elevate your income to something that’s both worthwhile and regular.

Step 10 – Keep Your Availability Updated

Upwork allows you to report on your availability so clients know when to contact you. This little-known feature is easy to forget about if you only disappear for a few days or weeks every year. It takes only seconds to fill out and ensures that someone doesn’t leave you a message and think that you’re ignoring them. Think about it as the email auto responder for Upwork.

We recommend that you also change your availability even if you only happen to be disappearing for a day or two. It’s good manners and you will avoid disappointing prospective clients.

Step 11 – Reply Fast

There are two good reasons why you should attempt to reply within a few hours. The first reason is that it leaves a good impression. Upwork has thousands of active freelancers from all over the world. If your client doesn’t get a response they’ll forget about you and move on to someone else.

The second reason is that Upwork uses response rate in your profile. At a glance, a client can look at your profile and find out how long you take to reply, and whether you reply at all. Many employers say they won’t consider someone with a poor response rate, regardless of how well they stack up in other areas.

Luckily, you don’t have to sit on the computer every hour of the day. Upwork has produced iPhone and Android apps for freelancers.

Download these apps and you’ll receive alerts and notifications whenever you receive a message or a job offer. You can even search for work and update your profile from your smartphone or tablet. This will allow you to stay connected and keep those response rates high even when you’re not in the office.

Step 12 – Promote Your Profile on Social Media

What separates the long-term freelancers on Upwork from those just getting started is that long-termers actively promote themselves away from Upwork. You’re not going to pull in enough work, particularly high-paying work, by manually applying for projects all the time. It’s too time-consuming.

Promoting your profile via social media, in the same way as a LinkedIn profile, is a great way to attract clients to you. The direct link to your profile can be viewed by anyone, including those without an Upwork profile.

Why is this so effective?

You’ll actually have employers coming to you for work. This will give you a lot more time to concentrate on working for clients, rather than hunting for new projects.

Another benefit is that someone could see your Upwork profile and contact you directly through social media. The downside of working exclusively on Upwork is that you’re always going to have to pay money to Upwork from your earnings. If someone contacts you via social media because they saw your Upwork profile they might offer to work for you off the platform.

There’s nothing against the terms and conditions about doing this because you didn’t take the client off the platform. They were never on the platform to begin with, so there’s no risk of having your account terminated.

What’s the Best Way to Promote Your Profile on Social Media?

Posting your profile every so often isn’t a good way to promote your brand. You should seek out niche groups. Facebook and LinkedIn, for example, are filled with freelance groups completely unrelated to Upwork. Becoming a regular fixture in these groups through helping people out and participating in discussions will get you noticed.

Interacting on a forum and having your Upwork profile in your signature can bring in a surprising amount of work both on Upwork and off Upwork.

Step 13 – Make an Effort to Ask for Client Referrals

Client referrals are the secret that all full-time freelancers use to succeed. Did you know the best freelancers spend a tiny amount of time marketing themselves?

The key to breaking through the barrier is to have a constant cycle of clients that come to you. After every project you should enquire about anyone else they know who requires work. Most freelancers are too shy or embarrassed to ask if a client knows anyone else who may want some work.

The majority of employers are happy to do some digging on behalf of freelancers they’re happy with.

Turning Your Upwork Career into a Full-Time Income

Step 14 – Expand Your Skills

Upwork has a number of ‘certifications’ you can earn on the website. These simple tests will give you a badge on your profile, but they’re a demonstration of the skills you have and what you can offer clients. You’re proving that you have the capacity to complete the work.

You should try to expand the number of skills you have to offer. Always be learning new skills in your niche. For example, if you specialize in freelance blog writing you might want to consider learning about how to write press releases or content for websites.

When you think you’ve learned enough take the relevant test. Adding skills to your profile over time will increase the range of projects you can apply for.

Step 15 – Increase Your Rates on a Regular Basis

It’s easy to get into the habit of offering the same rates every time. Freelancers in general are often scared to up their rates for fear of scaring clients away. Studies have shown that the exact opposite is true.

Offering low rates is a turn off too many clients because they’re thinking that you’re not good enough to charge more. Ask for more, even if it means off-loading some of your lower-paying clients. It’s the only way you’re going to climb up the ladder.

There’s a financial incentive to increase your rates and bring in higher-paying clients. Earn over $10,000 from a regular client and the fee you pay to Upwork drops from the 20% starter rate to 5%. With larger sums this can mean the difference between thousands of dollars paid to the platform and thousands of dollars in your pocket.

Charge what you’re really worth.

Step 16 – Take Advantage of the Trends in Your Industry

Upwork is like any other marketplace in that there are always highs and lows for certain skills. Above we mentioned that you should always be learning in order to expand your skills. But there’s another reason to constantly learn. You need to supply the skills that clients in your industry are demanding right now.

Read the news coming out of your industry and study the needs of clients. For example, freelance advertisers are discovering that pay-per-click advertising is starting to gain a greater share of the market. With the redesign of AdWords and expanded text ads freelancers who learn about these quickly will get their pick of the higher-paying clients.

Make an effort to adapt to the changing landscape and you’ll have less competition and you’ll be more likely to get referrals on Upwork.

Step 17 – Reach Out to Old Clients

Upwork doesn’t restrict communication to projects only. Even after the project has ended you can send messages to clients. Follow the strategy of traditional businesses by getting in touch with customers a few months later.

Send them a polite message reminding them who you are and the project you worked on together. Ask them whether the work satisfied them and whether their business has flourished since then. Communicating with clients on Upwork helps to form professional relationships that can get you repeat work.

Don’t consider it a disappointment if they don’t have any work available for you at that moment. The fact you’ve stayed in contact will ensure you’re at the top of their list when they do require more work.

Conclusion – Building Up a Full-Time Income on Upwork

A complete profile and a professional job are the two characteristics that will get you started on Upwork. After that you can start to promote yourself and form relationships with clients. Do it right and you’ll soon have a full-time income on Upwork.

Victoria Heckstall

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