As part of your freelance business, you will spend a great deal of time in what I like to call client marketing – aka finding high-paying clients – and a place to find them is on the Upwork platform. Kaili was generous enough to provide a guest post with these 15 tips to get high-paying clients on Upwork based on her freelance experience with the platform.
Upwork, and many other job boards, seem to attract the lowest paying clients and the most tedious jobs. But there are some great opportunities on this freelance platform if you know how to find them.
So, how do you weed through the garbage and find solid clients?
Over the last several months, I’ve been able to consistently make $1-2k per month with Upwork. Yes, I realize that’s not a ton, and it’s not my sole source of income. But it does make a dent, and it’s only growing.
In this guide, I’ll walk you through my experience with Upwork and how I’ve gotten some of the better-paying gigs I’ve had, some best practices to uphold, and some additional ideas for finding freelance clients.
What is Upwork?
Upwork is a freelancing platform that connects businesses and independent contractors. It provides a place for businesses and individuals to post the type of freelance work they need done, and freelancers and agencies can then bid for those jobs.
How does Upwork work?
Upwork is unique in its job-bidding platform, and it has a few different purposes:
- Businesses can use it to post jobs (writing, development, virtual assistant, translation, etc.).
- Independent contractors (aka freelancers) can find new job opportunities and clients through the listings on this platform.
- Similar to independent contractors, agencies can set up a profile to bid on jobs that businesses post.
So, how does it work?
First, a business will post a job that they need done. This could be a myriad of different types of work, from content writing to software development and everything in between.
Then, a freelancer will find that listing, and they’ll have the opportunity to send a proposal for the job. When a freelancer sends a proposal in through Upwork, a couple of things need to happen:
- You need to write a cover letter
- You need to set the bid for the rates that you desire (this may be an hourly or fixed rate price for the project)
- You need to answer any questions the business has on their job listing
- You need to spend credits to submit your proposal
I won’t dive too deep into the credit spending game, but basically, you start with 40 credits (plus an additional 40 if you complete the “readiness” test) and then get 10 credits each month for free. You have to use those to submit a proposal on any given job. The cost ranges between 1-6 credits per proposal. You can also bid more credits to get your proposal at the top of the client’s list.
You can purchase additional credits at $1.50 for 10 credits.
One more important aspect of Upwork’s business model that you should be aware of (if you haven’t started using it yet) is that they take a percentage of every payment you receive.
That looks something like this:
- $0-$500 in earnings from a client: 20% service fee applied to earnings
- $500.01-$10,000 in earnings from a client: 10% service fee
- $10,000.01 or more in earnings from a client: 5% service fee
This system applies to each client, so if you earn $500 from one client, you still have a 20% service fee on any new clients until you’ve earned $500 from them.
How can I get high-paying clients on Upwork?
With all of the low-paying, garbage jobs that businesses post on Upwork, how do you find the good ones?
It can be super discouraging to apply for a gig after gig after gig and barely have anything to show for it.
That’s why you need a strategy to get better clients.
Let’s get into it.
1. Fill out your profile
First, you want to optimize and update your profile as fully as possible.
Make sure your profile is 100% complete.
Things to include:
- A professional profile photo
- A professional bio
- Your hourly rate
- Your location
- Languages you are proficient in
- How many hours a week are you available?
- Your education
- Employment history (keep it relevant to the kind of jobs you want to apply for)
- List your skills (again, keep these relevant)
- Link to your portfolio or professional samples (my “portfolio” link goes to my LinkedIn profile)
- Client testimonials
- Other experiences (here you can include things like a blog or website that you manage or relevant volunteer work)
Beyond completing your profile, optimize it well for searches. Clients can search for freelancers and invite them to apply for their jobs.
Make sure your profile reflects the kind of jobs you want. Include specific niches and industries that you work with and specific keywords for the types of work that you can do.
If you are knowledgeable in “SEO” or “Finance,” include those in your bio.
2. Submit proposals often
Sending out proposals on Upwork can be a numbers game, which can be discouraging (to say the least). But this will also give you the practice to determine what works and what doesn’t.
Try spending 30-60 minutes a day browsing through job listings and submitting proposals. Something will stick eventually.
The worst part here is that you only get 10 free connects per month, so you may need to purchase some credits to get started so you can submit enough proposals. However, if your profile is well-optimized and you get invitations from clients, you don’t have to use connects to apply for those jobs. And you can also get connects when a client chooses to “interview” you from your proposal.
But don’t just submit proposals to anything and everything under the sun. There’s a method to the madness.
Follow the next tips to determine how and which proposals to submit.
3. Bid on jobs with fewer proposals
You can see how many proposals a job has before you bid on it. And you can filter your search by the number of proposals, too.
The majority of jobs you come across will probably show 20-50 or 50+ proposals, and those are not the prime opportunities that you want.
Now, I’m not saying don’t ever apply for a job with that many proposals. Because if something is highly relevant to your skills and experience and offers the pay you want, you should apply and get your name in the ring.
But the chances of getting a job with fewer proposals are much greater.
I like to look for opportunities that have 15 or fewer proposals.
When I’m searching through jobs each day, I’ll filter by less than 5 and 5-10 proposals for the best and freshest opportunities.
4. Bid on recently posted jobs
When you search for jobs on Upwork, you can sort them so the newest jobs show up first.
Most clients want to make a quick hire. So, the sooner you can get your proposal in on a new job, the better.
Try applying for jobs that are less than a few hours old.
To find newer jobs, check back regularly.
Schedule time for yourself to browse Upwork for new opportunities three or four times throughout the day.
5. Bid on jobs close to your desired rate
Find the opportunities that show an hourly or fixed-rate budget that you would be happy with. Only bid on those (or those close enough to it).
If you want to make $250 writing an article, you won’t get that from the client with a $10 budget.
Now, if the client’s budget is $200, you have a much better chance of bidding higher and getting the rate you want.
On that note, don’t be afraid to bid a little over the client’s budget in order to reach your desired rate. If you are qualified for the work and have the experience and a proposal to back it up, a lot of clients are willing to pay higher rates for the right person.
Be selective in what you bid on and stick to your rates. You deserve it!
6. Personalize each proposal
Don’t just use a cookie-cutter template to paste into every cover letter, and don’t use the same work samples for every proposal (unless they’re relevant).
You can write yourself a generalized template to send in with your proposals. For example, if you’re stating your experience as a writer or marketer in every single cover letter you send, have a general template that you can copy that already includes this.
But then change it up for each job posting.
You need to show that you read and understand what the client needs and wants from each project.
In your cover letter, share reasons that you are the right person for this particular client’s needs. What relevant experience do you have?
Share samples of your work that relate to each individual job. If you’re a writer and have written on tons of different topics, share your samples that relate the most to this particular job.
7. Keep important information at the top of your proposal
Clients can only see a line or two of your proposal before they have to click to “see more.” Make those two lines of text count.
Keep important information in the very first sentence of your proposal. Why would a client hire you for that particular job? What makes you qualified? What will make them want to learn more?
Let’s say you’re bidding on a writing job that requires SEO experience and knowledge of the healthcare industry. In that first sentence, state what makes you qualified.
You might say something like:
Hello! I’m an experienced SEO specialist with over 5 years of writing for medical practices and healthcare products.
Then go into more specifics about your qualifications for the job.
8. Ask questions in your proposal
Use your proposal to show potential clients that you’re the real deal and that you know what you’re talking about.
Ask clarifying questions about their job listing so you can gain a better understanding of their needs and demonstrate your expertise.
This can also help you stand out from the crowd. A lot of applicants on Upwork use the quick copy/paste to get in as many proposals as possible and don’t take a lot of time to understand the client’s project.
Asking questions shows that you read their job listing and that you’re invested in doing a good job for them.
9. Apply for jobs with specific requirements
One way to sort the jobs with good potential from the rest is to find jobs that have specific requirements.
Don’t apply for jobs that are super vague, like “I need a freelancer to help write content.” That tells you nothing about the job and shows that the client doesn’t really understand what they want, and thus, likely won’t understand the value you can provide.
That’s not to say that all vague job descriptions are going to be poor-paying or iffy clients. Some clients may really not know what they want or need and will need a little guidance and education along the way.
Just be cautious of these vague listings and keep these other points in mind when applying.
10. Apply for jobs where you don’t meet every requirement
We hear this advice when we’re applying for full-time jobs all the time, but it also applies to freelance gigs on Upwork.
Don’t skip out on an opportunity because you don’t hit every checkbox the business outlines.
I don’t have a 90% success rate but have still been able to get interviews and jobs from clients that required that on their job postings.
I’ve also applied for jobs that I didn’t have the exact type of work sample that they wanted, but something else I did was similar enough to get me an interview. And the interview can get you the job.
11. Bid on hourly and fixed-rate projects
Let’s say you’re really only interested in fixed-rate projects (raising my hand here).
You should still be looking at hourly gigs and applying for those too. The same thing applies if you’re only interested in hourly jobs.
Just because a client posts an hourly or fixed-rate budget doesn’t mean that is set in stone.
I’ve applied for several hourly jobs and have been able to negotiate a fixed-rate price instead of an hourly rate for the job.
Just state that you’re interested in doing so in your cover letter.
Something I like to say is:
“Would you be willing to do a per-word or per-project rate? I find it’s easier to determine the overall budget this way, since it can be difficult to estimate hours for *enter project type here*.”
Of course, this applies more to my website content clients and may not be the case for your work. Figure out what works for you.
The main thing is, don’t discount an opportunity because it’s not the type of pay that you are looking for.
12. Look at all experience levels
Don’t limit yourself to “entry level” jobs because you feel like that’s all you are qualified for. And don’t only look at “expert level” jobs because you think that’s where all the high-paying gigs are.
Check all experience levels to open yourself up to all opportunities. Not every client knows exactly what experience level of freelancer they need.
13. Check with previous clients
Networking is HUGE. You can get some great jobs by fostering good relationships with past clients.
Do you have previous clients on Upwork that you enjoyed working with? Was the feeling mutual?
You can filter by “my previous clients” when looking for jobs to see if your clients have any new job postings. You can also send them a message directly to ask if they have any new upcoming projects.
I’ve managed to have a few recurring jobs from high-paying clients this way.
Don’t be afraid to ask for more work.
14. Get reviews on your profile
I don’t have many reviews on my profile, so I’m not totally speaking from experience here, but I do know that reviews work.
I’ve managed SEO for local businesses, and one of the best ways to get new customers for them was to make sure they had good reviews on Google.
You can use this same principle for your Upwork profile.
If you have previous client projects that ended on good terms, rate them and ask them to rate you in turn.
Clients can see the reviews on your profile. Use that to give you an edge over others who have applied for the same job.
Consistently do good work for your clients and bring in positive reviews.
You can also ask clients outside of Upwork to leave a testimonial on your profile. Just go to your profile and scroll down to “Testimonials.” Click the green plus icon in the top right corner of that box, and send a request to a client for a testimonial.
These reviews and testimonials just add another layer of trust for the client. Just as much as we’re putting our trust in someone to pay us, they’re putting their trust in someone to provide the work they need (not to mention their money).
15. Don’t get too caught up in the bidding system
Upwork allows freelancers to bid connects on their proposals to get them in the top three on the list of applicants.
Not all clients care about or even utilize this system. Just because it’s in the top three doesn’t mean they will look at it if it’s a bad proposal.
Clients, especially those that pay well, want to make sure they get someone qualified for the job. So they will look beyond more than just the top three applications to find the right person.
Don’t rely solely on Upwork
Don’t quit your day job because you think freelancing on Upwork will replace your full-time income. Even if you have a couple of good gigs, things can change at the drop of a hat.
I’m not saying you can’t make a full-time income from Upwork; plenty of people do.
But, especially in the beginning, don’t put all of your eggs into the Upwork basket.
Diversify your lead-generating ideas–try other job boards, check out LinkedIn jobs, look through Facebook groups, and (this is still on my list) try cold-pitching to local businesses that need your services.
You can do this.
Freelancing is an awesome and–at the risk of sounding corny–free-ing career path.
Upwork provides some great opportunities when you know how to find them.
And remember, every freelancer is different. Some of the things on this list may work great for you while others might not.
Don’t be afraid to put new techniques to the test.
Go get ‘em!
About the Author
Kaili Killpack is a freelance writer with a background in SEO and Journalism. She has been writing professionally since 2015. Kaili also loves writing in her free time. She aspires to become a published novelist and also hosts her own health, wellness, and travel blog: happyhealthythings.com. Outside of her passion for writing, Kaili is a wife and cat mom who loves to cook, eat, read, travel, and binge sitcoms.
Find her on LinkedIn!