How To Use UpWork & Make Money Online

UpWork is taking the 21st century of freelance writing, freelance graphic design, freelance just-about-anything by a storm. Offering a base of over 4 million clients and 9 million freelance workers, UpWork is the largest freelance community around. With an incredibly easy-to-use system and a simple layout, UpWork is everything a freelancer needs to transform their skills into a career.

This article will guide you from your first baby steps as a freelancer to becoming a successful, work-magnet of a skillsman that is able to travel the world whilst working from a computer.

In this article we will cover:

  • What freelancing is
  • What UpWork is
  • How to create a killer UpWork profile
  • How to apply for jobs
  • How to submit successful job applications
  • How to avoid worthless jobs
  • The UpWork ‘Underground’
  • How to get experience as a freelancer
  • Selecting the best jobs
  • Some valuable resources to assist your freelancing journey

What is Freelancing?

First and foremost, we should probably cover what ‘freelancing’ actually means and how it can be used.

A freelancer is simply somebody that does not have a fixed job position but instead searches freely for work themselves. The opposite of this would be a full-time employee that sits on a stable, fixed position in the world of work.

While the typical 9-5’er would spend their days at a day job, relying on a singular source of financial income from a particular business, a freelancer instead drifts between differing projects and controls their own income.

Say you had a particular skill in creative writing. As a freelancer, you would likely complete different projects as and when you could/pleased. Perhaps one week you’d spend your working hours writing a winter-themed poem for a client for £100, the next you may spend a month working on a children’s eBook for another client for £2000, you may even spend a couple of months writing a full-length novel that returns you 20% of all royalties made and thus setting up a passive source of income for the future.
See Also: Here’s a guide on how to create a goodbye client letter 

However you go about your work-week, freelancing leaves the ball entirely in your court. Although, yes, you’ll still need to actually apply and qualify to get jobs on Upwork before making money you won’t be fixed on a single career for years at a time but instead pick and choose projects that fit your skillset.

Actually finding work is where our trusty friend comes in – UpWork.

What is UpWork?

Formerly known as eLance, UpWork is a huge online marketplace, perhaps the largest in the world. It allows anybody to sign up and apply for job opportunities based on the skills and experiences they have. UpWork is completely free to use (aside from 20% fees on your payments, but still, you’re not paying any money upfront) and offers an enormous base of clients.

On UpWork you’ll be able to browse jobs available in different categories and apply for those that suit you best using ‘connects’. You’ll be given 60 connects each month and jobs will cost you around 2 connects each – in effect, you can apply for up to 30 jobs a month which equates to 1 a day.

How to Get Started With UpWork

Sounds great, doesn’t it?

Well then let’s get started!

First of all, head on over to UpWork and hit ‘sign up’. Select that you’re looking for work and then punch in your information. You may here choose whether to go with a completely free UpWork membership or to pay monthly for extra features.

Paying monthly will give you 70 monthly connects and also allow you to build up connects overtime with unused connects from one month rolling into the next month. If you’re a beginner, I’d recommend going with UpWork’s free service for now. You likely won’t be applying for more than 30 jobs per month anyway and wouldn’t be making the most of a paid membership right off the bat.

Building Your Profile

Remember here that you’re one of many people applying for jobs on UpWork. You therefore need to make it your aim to stand out amongst the competition, otherwise you simply won’t be hired for jobs. Include everything about yourself that is interesting, exciting and may relate to your skills. Highlight your good qualities, talents, skills and professional experiences here.

Verify your email address and then sign into UpWork using the account you’ve just created. Put in your VAT if necessary otherwise you’ll be charged tax by default.

I’d highly recommend following the steps UpWork tells you to from here: describe the skills you offer, input any experiences you have in your field, give examples of work and write a statement all about yourself and your career.

Now, don’t panic. Many newbie freelancers will be pretty stumped when it comes to putting in information that actually makes you sound like a valuable client rather than a total rookie. Don’t worry. Put in what you can – whether it be a 1,000 article about a subject you’re passionate in that you’ve literally just written or examples of essays you wrote at high school or university. Just have something in there for now so that your profile doesn’t look incomplete.

Some pointers for writing your professional overview:

  • Make it simple but professional. Don’t overshare here – this isn’t an opportunity to tell people about every little detail about yourself, it’s a way to quickly describe what you have to offer as a freelancer and why you deserve to be employed. List all of the professional skills you have and how you have acquired them. Perhaps you speak of how a summer job at a news agency led you into writing articles for the local newspaper, or of the many essays you’ve written during your English Language A level/degree. Whatever it is, if it’s relevant then you should include it here.
  • Don’t go overboard with sample works. Around 5 is a good number to go for when you’re inputting examples of your work – choose your absolute best pieces that highlight your skills and really show clients what you’re made of. If you don’t have any work to display, don’t worry. You can always use old university pieces or works from high school that you’ve kept. Failing that, you can still go ahead and spend a couple of hours creating a sample piece of work and use that.
  • Consider creating a blog/website. You can always link clients to an external site that better displays your work. Perhaps you’re a graphic designer and publish your works to another website. Maybe you’re a creative writer and run a blog to which you regularly post content. Whatever it is, there’s nothing stopping you from showing off your work somewhere else and linking clients to view it.

Once you’ve finished signing up and setting your profile, you’re good to go!

Now you’re ready to move onto the next step – actually finding work.

How to Find Work on UpWork

This section will fill the bulk of this article. I’d recommend taking notes here, perhaps on a Google Document in another tab, to condense this information down into smaller chunks that are easier to digest when you revisit them in future.

Getting Experience (for Beginners)

As a completely new freelancer (or at least a completely new UpWork-er), your main aim to begin with will be getting as much experience as you can in your field you allow you to build a killer profile.

First off, conduct a quick search on the UpWork marketplace in your skill field. I’d recommend at first only applying for jobs that have verified payment methods. Filter your search depending on your preferences (start out at entry level if you’re entirely new to this) – perhaps you only want a 10 hour a week job or jobs that offer fixed, one time prices rather than pay-per-hour contracts.

Have a browse through the results that come up and save any you see that you’d be capable and willing to do. Even if the payments are measly or even non-existent (yes, some beginner jobs may be non-paid but a great way to get experience), don’t let this put you off. Your goal to begin with is simply getting experience and building up that profile so you can access better paid jobs in the future and not sit at ‘entry level’ for your entire UpWork career.

Applying for Jobs

When you hit submit proposal, you’ll be presented with a screen with all the jobs info. Read this very carefully. Countless times clients will add things in their product description such as ‘Start your proposal with the word ‘yoga’’, or ‘Answer in your cover letter why you think running is good for health before writing anything else’. These tasks are here to catch you out and filter out any workers that can’t follow simple instructions. Get this wrong and you’ll have missed an opportunity before even getting past the proposal stage.

In your proposal you’ll be asked to input your pay rate etc. I’d recommend sticking to the rates already set out by the client – messing around with these will likely result in rejection as people generally don’t want to pay any more than they’ve already decided, not unless you’re the next J K Rowling of the writing world of the Bill Gates of web design. Stick to what the client has asked for to maximise your success.

You’re also going to need to submit a cover letter with your proposal. This is the most important aspect and acts somewhat as a CV in your job-hunting application on UpWork. If you already have a CV written then I’d recommend using this as guidance when writing a cover letter. Before you begin submitting proposals, open up a G Doc and begin drafting your cover letter. Below are some tips to crafting a killer cover letter:

  • Don’t set your pay rate as excessively high if you’re not an experienced worker. Have a browse around at what other freelancers are charging in your field and set your rates around this. You’re not going to need to try to undercut these freelancers in the hopes of getting better opportunities, just try not to place your rate at way higher than everybody else otherwise they’ll be hired instead of you.
  • Tailor your cover letter to the job you’re applying for. I’d highly recommend having the skeleton of your cover letter saved and ready to paste to a job but don’t simply paste it and apply right away. It’s always a good idea to edit your cover letter so that it’s specifically suited to the job you’re applying for. That way, your client will see that you’ve made the effort to add to your cover letter and haven’t simply pasted it all from a pre-written draft.

Avoiding Bad Jobs

Unfortunately, despite a number of great quality, high-paid jobs, a lot of UpWork jobs are fairly poor and offer very low pay. Sadly, many writers are willing to pay as little as $10 for writing a thousand words when they could be earning much more. The main difficulty in earning decent money through UpWork is sorting through these rubbish jobs to find ones that suit you and that pay well.

There are some real golden opportunities available in all fields of UpWork, you just need to know how to find them. Many freelancers land contracts for £2,000, £4,000, even £10,000 a month but these aren’t easy to find. This section will talk you through how to find the best clients that’ll pay you what you deserve.

Ask any freelance expert and they’ll likely tell you that UpWork sucks. Despite its huge base of clients and freelancers, many that view UpWork from an outside perspective criticise it as being the lowest of the low in the world of freelancing. The fees they deduct, the lack of good-quality to work and the overall application process may, to some, be considered a last resort when trying to find work as a freelancer.

And they’re not wrong. Yes, a large proportion of UpWork’s marketplace is pretty rubbish. People are willing to pay terribly low prices for work that deserves far more. The worst part – so many people are actually willing to work for these awful rates.

So why on earth would you stick with UpWork?

Because, in spite of the majority of job opportunities not being valuable, a smaller niche area of the site offers incredible work that pays high and is given by real, decent people. We’ll be referring to this area as the ‘Underground’ of UpWork.

The Underground of UpWork

Unfortunately, many freelancers have no idea that this exists. They slave away at jobs that return little and leave them living out of their car and eating from dustbins. The Underground of UpWork is where real work can be found that actually pays well and will actually support your lifestyle without you needing to sell your soul to a lone shark and resort to eating extra value baked beans for the rest of your life.

The Underground can be broken into three main sections, all of which will be explored in this article

The first: premium clients

  1. Finding Premium Clients

A premium client is a client that, although they don’t have a killer UpWork profile with a history of spending millions of pounds on freelancers, turns out to be a high-paying, easy-to-work-for client. These are rare considering the vast sea of UpWork clients available, but they certainly can be found if you look hard enough.

Many freelancers instantly discount clients that haven’t spent much money on UpWork yet. This is a fatal flaw that will result in missing out on a tonne of great opportunities.

While many clients won’t jump onto UpWork and start forking out sums of £100,000 for projects straight away, there are a number of clients that will pay highly despite having little experience on the site. Many clients just need to find their feet before paying the prices they inevitably will for work.

Don’t rule out clients that haven’t spent much money on UpWork yet. If there’s a job opportunity that sounds right for you, contact the client and explore their budget. It may well be that these are the premium clients we’ve spoken about just waiting to be discovered.

2.  Repeated Work

When browsing UpWork you may see all of the contracts completed by freelancers and feel disheartened at their low pay-rates. What you won’t see, however, are all of the contracts landed by freelancers without even applying for jobs.

These are jobs given by clients to freelancers they’ve already worked with. Many premium clients are attained through simply private messaging outside of UpWork’s public marketplace. This is where the real money is.

Freelancers receive offers from previous clients all of the time however these are totally invisible to the public eye. Repeated work not only means you’ll likely receive better rates from clients but you’ll also be constantly asked to complete jobs for people, allowing you to pick and choose those that suit you best or those that pay most highly.

3. Invite-Only Opportunities

As well as the public marketplace, clients can also send private, personal invites to clients they like the sound of. Often these will only be sent to you meaning you have immediate access to these jobs with little to no competition.

These sorts of opportunities can also explain why those looking at UpWork from a far see little worth in it – because all of the good stuff is happening behind the scenes.

Many experienced UpWork clients avoid posting listings to the marketplace asking freelancers to apple but instead search out for freelancers that fit the bill and message them personally.

How to Select the Best Work

Despite the UpWork Underground, you’ll need to apply to a fair few public jobs to actually get some experiences in your field and to build a bank of contacts to work with. It is therefore important that you know how to pick out the best job opportunities and avoid being paid peanuts to build the next colosseum.

Some pointers for avoiding bad jobs and finding the best opportunities:

  • Firstly, you want to avoid clients that state any of the following in their listing: ‘looking for the lowest rates possible’, ‘other freelancers have been hired but nobody is doing this correctly’ or ‘needs to be available 24 hours to Skype’ – yes, there really are people like this. These sorts of clients are likely to be difficult and very demanding. Those that are looking for the lowest rates really aren’t worth your time, especially when there are bound to be other clients out there offering hire rates for the same style of work. If ‘nobody else can do the job right’ then you’re likely dealing with a perfectionist that’ll make your work much more arduous and time consuming, requiring you to put in hours that you probably won’t be paid for. Finally, you don’t want to be up at 4am Skyping some businessman from New York telling you all about his ideas for your next project. Sacrificing your sleep and well-being isn’t worth it, especially when the person you’re working for is likely paying you an incredibly small percentage of their earnings.
  • Consistency is absolutely key to UpWork success. It’s no good just sending off one proposal a day and hoping to land a £40,000 contract straight away. Firing off multiple proposals daily and checking regularly for new job opportunities is the only way you’re going to land a successful job opportunity on UpWork. You should plan to commit to at least a couple of hours weekly to spend sending off proposals for jobs. This time should include actually searching for suitable jobs, filtering out rubbish ones, improving your UpWork profile by updating it with any recent works/accomplishments and keeping on top of things.
  • It may take a little while to actually land your first successful contract, however it’s only uphill from here. Once you do, you can leverage your successes with previous accomplishments by utilising positive feedback from past clients to woo future ones.
  • Don’t be afraid to pay for connects. In the beginning you’ll be sending off a tonne of applications and will likely run out of connects fairly soon. This isn’t something to be afraid of. Paying for connects could potentially earn you thousands in contracts you get accepted for in doing so which is certainly worth the relatively small fee they cost. Once you land a few initial contracts you’ll open the doors to start receiving those golden invite-only jobs. Invite only jobs don’t require any connects to complete – as if they weren’t good enough already!
  • Make sure your work samples are high quality and really show off your skills. Don’t bother applying to jobs if your profile looks incomplete and though it was thrown together in two minutes – you simply won’t make the cut or land any jobs. You need to make sure that the work you’re using as an example is representative of your skills and doesn’t have any errors – no spelling mistakes, incorrect grammar or anything non-standard. If you don’t already have high-quality samples then create some! If you’re a writer you don’t necessarily need to write an entire book – just an opening chapter that shows off your skills would do just fine. If you’re flexible in your field and are happy to, say, write any form of text whether it be blog posts, ebooks or news articles then it may be a good idea to have a range of samples in different areas to show off your skills in all of them.
  • Building onto this point, don’t make the mistake of submitting an overwhelming amount of articles in the hope of persuading your client to hire you. No client has the time to read through 10 articles before making a choice of whether or not they’ll hire a client. Additionally, your clients should be easy to download without any hassle. You really need to focus on making the hiring process as easy and pain-free as possible for you clients to ensure they don’t gloss over your proposal simply because they don’t have time.
  • Use your past experiences to attain future successes. Whether you’re a newbie in the world of UpWork or you’ve been using it for years, try to use your previous jobs and experiences as a way to get new ones. See every completed contract as a way to get future contracts. Each time you complete a job you’ll have more experiences to put on your portfolio, thus increasing your chances of getting jobs in future. Feedback from other clients is a great way to show clients how your work has been received in the past, giving them an employer’s opinion rather than just your own.

Useful Resources to Help you Succeed

Thankfully there are several handy resources available for the aspiring freelancer to use. These can all be applied directly to UpWork and some are tailored specifically for it.

  1. ‘My So-Called Freelance Life: How to Survive and Thrive as a Creative Professional’: ‘My So-Called Freelance Life’ is an excellent book written by a freelancer who humorously explains the difficulties behind the profession and how to overcome these. The book runs through all of the ways a solo freelancer can become a successful professional, whether a newly graduated 20-something stuck in a dead-end day job or a full-time mum in need of a flexible job. Having a tonne of experience in the field, Michelle Goodman explains how to get started, maintain a budget and schedule, filter out clients to choose the best ones and cover yourselves from any potential legal issues. Goodman provides a load of helpful links, contacts, organizations, and advice on everything from haggling your hourly rates to when it’s the right time to quit your day job. Although still a fully informative guide and walkthrough, Goodman paints the field of freelancer in a humorous light and doesn’t fail to entertain. This is a book you’ll want to take with you everywhere on your freelancing journey, guiding you along the way.
  2. The Freelancer’s Bible: Everything You Need to Know to Have the Career of Your Dreams―On Your Terms’: One third of the entire American workforce are freelancers, so the book claims. Sara Horowitz’s book, ‘The Freelancer Bible’, teaches the newbie freelancer all they need to know about the field and how to succeed. This is a great book for someone new to freelancing hoping to break into the industry and hit the ground running, or a college graduate struggling to find regular, proper employment. The book is not aimed specifically at artists, designers, and illustrators but instead to a wider range of people of all skillsets. Sara encourages readers to think more broadly about what they have to offer in addition to artwork. She also covers other areas such as insurance, taxes, and a number of other legal issues the freelancer may encounter on their journey, as well as how to overcome. I would highly recommend this book to anyone thinking about self-employment.
  3. ‘Six-Figure Freelancing: The Writer’s Guide to Making More Money, Second Edition’: Full-time freelancer Kelly James-Egnar gives her best tips and tricks for succeeding in the world of freelancing, showing readers how to: approach freelancing from a business-like mindset, work more effectively and maintain long-term relationships with clients and colleagues. Egnar gave up her career as a lawyer to focus on writing as a full time freelancer. It is clear that Egnar has brought with her the rigour and self-discipline needed to succeed as a lawyer into her writing. Many lack this self-discipline. Egnar shows the reader how to succeed as a freelancer by having pure grit and determination, self-discipline and motivation to succeed. Her book even offers templates for query letters for potential jobs.

  4. ‘The Wealthy Freelancer’: The Wealthy Freelancer, perhaps the best of the listed freelancing books, offers twelve of its three author’s best tips and tricks for becoming a successful and self-supporting freelancer. Most freelancers make the assumption that they need to decide between a high income and the the sheer freedom of being a, well freelancer. Thus, many believe that they simply need to make do with an income but just about covers their expenses. The Wealthy Freelancer shows you how to live the free lifestyle of a freelancer without living off minimum income. The topics covered in this book include marketing, building client relationships, work-life balance, and income streams.

The book is written by three freelancing authors dispense page after page of practical advice for web designers, graphic designers, copywriters, and other freelancers. I liked the many efficiency and productivity tips, and especially liked the chapters on pricing, focus, work-life balance, and the appendix on opportunities and obstacles.

The three authors of the book don’t limit the meaning of ‘wealthy’  to just financial success. They claim that a wealthy freelancer not only meets their financial needs but also the need for a life they desire. As they put it, wealthy freelancers don’t just earn money, ‘they design a fulfilling and meaningful life.”

Below I have summarised a number of the best secrets included in the book to give you an idea of what is included.

Creating A Killer ‘Buzz Piece’

This section teaches you how to create a great ‘buzz piece’ – a piece of writing that you can use as an example of your work and land more contracts as a freelancer. This could be:

  • Sent to contacts (current clients, past clients, failed proposals)
  • Added to your website
  • Included in contract proposals

Cultivate Repeat and Referral Business

This section includes making sure that clients always give you referrals, as often they will assume you do not need them if you already appear successful.

  • Be sure to always ask each client for referrals when you submit your project to them
  • Try to share items that may be of interest in a non-profit fashion

Pricing Your Services to Maximise Success

The authors suggest that you always price your projects for the following reasons:

  • Clients prefer it as uncertainty is eliminated. Hourly rates may not be ideal as they cannot be certain how many hours you’ll be working for.
  • You’ll need to give a project price anyway in order to estimate how many hours it’ll take you.
  • You can control your income more so than if you leave the pricing open.
  • Fixed prices eliminate chances of you being limited by the hours you work, as with hourly rates.
  • Timesheets are not necessary with fixed prices.

Construct Your Own Work-Life Reality

  • This section teaches you how to pay other people to do the things you hate doing and thus free up your time to earn money as a freelancer.
  • It’ll also teach you how to get clients to respect your time and not contact you outside of business hours.

How to Create Multiple Streams of Income

  • Convert free things into service packages and charge a professional fee.
  • Focus on the parts of the project you actually like doing and pay somebody else to do the rest.
  • Sell informative products such as eBooks, podcasts and sources as well as freelancing.
  • Join affiliate programs for products and services you can advertise on your sites.
  • Sell courses and teaching gigs.

5. ‘Creative, Inc.: The Ultimate Guide to Running a Successful Freelance Business’: Authors Joy Deangdeelart Cho and Meg Mateo Ilasco talk though the ways in which freelance designers can earn a living. Creative Inc. covers all the areas you need to know about as a freelancer and points you in the right direction. The authors interview a number of successful freelancers that offer many interesting and helpful tips. Although determining your hourly rate may on the outside seem painfully straight forward, there is in fact a lot more to it than many think. The book provides gross income/hourly rate equation that is invaluable when calculating your rates effectively. The authors’ emphasis on contracts and licensing may at first scare the reader, however the advice they offer on how to overcome legal obstacles as a freelancer is incredibly useful and important to know. All in all, this is an excellent book on freelancing – focussed primarily in the graphic design business.

The book is very well laid out and the formatting is very attractive, making it overall a much nicer read than other basic how-to books. The book has a tonne of small drawings and there is follows an orange and blue colour theme with text and supporting infographics, adding a quirky and fun feel.

The has a total of 8 chapters, leading you through from deciding whether or not freelancing is for you to your first steps, marketing, working with clients, finance, and developing your business. In each chapter there are interviews with different people from different areas of freelancing giving their tips & advice to newbie freelancers.

The book is packed with great advice perfect for any wannabe freelancer and is not restricted only to graphic design. Despite having an American twang to it, most of the much of the book’s advice is applicable for the UK world of freelancing, with the exception of a few of the tax details.

The book also offers a great, easy-to-navigate index section to help you find the areas you need as well as a good resource section too. An absolute must for any freelancer just starting out.

And there you have it! A fully comprehensive guide giving you all of my best advice on how to startup as a freelancer, as well as some invaluable resources to use along your journey.