Sites like Upwork (formerly oDesk) have a terrible reputation in the freelance world. And rightfully so, with some caveats.
Yes, many clients on Upwork are looking for the cheapest work possible and want to pay as little as possible. Yes, Upwork takes a significant chunk of your earnings off the top. Yes, the competition is fierce.
It is a way to instantly have access to real, paid freelance jobs.
And it is possible to find jobs that pay decently well, especially if you’re just getting started.
Who this is for
If you’re already earning more than $5-6k per month as a freelancer, then Upwork probably isn’t worth your time. However, if you haven’t hit that revenue yet and you’re trying to get there, Upwork can be a gold mine.
There are tons of job positions on Upwork, but the ones that I’m most familiar with and recommend are graphic / web design, web development, software development, PPC ad campaign management, and copywriting. Other skill types may be able to achieve similar income levels, but these are the main ones I suggest.
With any of these skills you can position yourself as an expert consultant who will actually help your client’s business earn more money — not just a glorified Photoshop expert or an extra pair of hands who simply does exactly what the client tells you to do.
How I got started
When I first started freelancing in 2012, I got my very first paid job through oDesk, which later changed its name to Upwork.
To get the job, I followed these exact steps:
- I created a profile with a description of my skills and uploaded several portfolio samples.
- I found a few postings that looked like they were a good fit for my skill set.
- I carefully read the job description.
- I wrote a detailed cover letter applying for the job. Each cover letter proved to the client that I had excellent written communication skills and that I had carefully read the job description. I explained that while I was new to oDesk, I had experience with the required skills and was eager to build up a solid reputation on oDesk.
Within a few days of setting up my oDesk profile, I had my first paid gig and earned $10/hr. I wasn’t earning a lot, but it was better than nothing and I took it to start building my positive feedback. Within a few weeks I raised my hourly rate to $12, then $15. Before long I was billing $25, then $30, then $50. Within 5 months, I was earning an average of $200 per day (after oDesk fees).
Around this time I started building up my sources of leads outside of oDesk. This is an important step that I want to stress: Make sure that you don’t just rely on sites like oDesk/Upwork and other online job boards for leads. They’re a great way to get your feet wet and build up your experience, but there is so much potential outside of sites like this. I haven’t gotten a new client through Upwork now in probably two years or so, as I’ve been too busy with projects from other sources, but it was a great way to start and build up that early income.
The goal of this article is to get you from $0 to around $60k per year, but to get to $100k and beyond you’ll need to find jobs from other sources.
What about the competition?
One of the big, legitimate objections to sites like Upwork is that there’s so much competition, much of it overseas where people are willing to work for lower rates.
However, I can say confidently that there are plenty of clients on Upwork who are willing to pay a premium price for expert freelancers.
What qualities are clients looking for?
- Fluency in English
- Excellent communication skills, especially written
- Reliability (someone who won’t suddenly stop responding to messages and who delivers work on time)
- Expertise not just in technical skill but in business acumen
- Initiative to make suggestions above and beyond what the client requests
In addition to the qualities described above, make sure that your Upwork profile specifically describes you as an expert in a narrow niche. Don’t just be a designer, developer, writer, or marketer — find a specific industry or platform that you can position yourself within as a high-level expert.
If you can show a client that you have the qualities above during the job application process, you’ll be able to land jobs through Upwork that command hourly rates of $50, $75, $100, and more.
You can find better paying jobs through other sources as well, but until you’ve built up a lead stream through your network and elsewhere, Upwork can be a great place to start.