How to 'Make It' on UpWork


Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Not too long ago I published an article telling you all about how I found my success on Fiverr.

Today we’re focusing on Fiverr’s biggest competitor, a rival online platform that also connects entrepreneurs with clients and businesses that need their services.

The Upwork Model

Upwork has a number of major differences to Fiverr, differences that make the platform feel arguably more professional in tone than that of Fiverr.

While Fiverr has a lot of goofy gigs and markets equally to casual customers as it does to businesses, Upwork focuses on serious work for professional companies.

Sellers on Upwork have more options than those selling on Fiverr, including being paid by the hour, and paying a smaller percentage of their gig income to Upwork when they pass certain earning thresholds.

These conveniences are there to attract more professionals that are proficient in their industry and not just those who are casually interested.

A seller with a new interest in their discipline is probably going to have an easier time getting started on Fiverr, but a seller with experience and training will find Upwork more gratifying.

Please welcome to the stage, Matt

For today’s article, I talked with Matt, a filmmaker who got started in Upwork originally just to pick up a few gigs on the side to supplement his freelance income.

Now he relies on Upwork for the majority of his clients and makes a decent income from the site.

Firstly, I asked Matt about his experience getting started on Upwork. He said that he was interested in the site right out of film school, back when Upwork was called Elance-oDesk, but he didn’t take advantage.
He was intimidated by the site back then because he didn’t consider pitching clients to be his strength.

He was also worried that sending and receiving video files over the version of the internet that existed at the time would be too much of a headache to deal with on a daily basis.

Instead, Matt got started in the industry the regular way. He found representation with an agency that books film crews and worked on commercials and TV shows for the next several years.

As time went by, he started to notice the industry changing. Social media marketing was on the rise, and more and more companies were turning to freelance filmmakers to produce simpler web-based content marketing.

Matt checked Upwork and saw that a lot of these companies were finding their freelancers there, so he finally decided to join up. He only anticipated that he’d be given scraps of work here and there, he never predicted that it would become his largest source of new clients.

The Advantages of the Platform

What Matt likes most about Upwork is the billing system.

Working as a freelance filmmaker, editor, and camera operator can be really tough. There’s a lot of anxiety around not knowing when a client will pay the invoice, or even if they’ll pay at all.

A freelancer can do a whole week of work for a client while stressing the entire time about whether or not that week will ever pay off.
Upwork took that fear away, giving him the security that he’ll be paid promptly and in full.

Unlike with Fiverr, on Upwork, he can keep a gig open with his best clients after the original project has been completed.
The client can just keep sending work, and he can keep their tab open indefinitely. There’s no need to constantly create and end gigs for clients who need constant work.

For Those Getting Started

For new sellers, Matt’s advice is to keep working at it.

Matt’s first gig was a $20 job to do some light photoshopping. He couldn’t believe that he was being paid to stay home in his pyjamas and photoshop some images.

After that, gigs came in slowly and infrequently. But after each gig he’d complete, he’d add the finished result to his portfolio; building up his library of work slowly over time.
Eventually, his portfolio became so impressive that gigs were coming in constantly.

Up until now, Matt has always charged the hourly rate that seems fair to him. Some sellers prefer to charge a flat rate, which for editors can be really risky. You can charge one flat price, then spend more hours than you ever predicted on the job, lowering the value of each hour.

Charging hourly has always been better for the seller, but it’s a turnoff for clients.
Clients want to know exactly how much money they need to spend on the job up front and can feel worried that hours might pile up.

But recently, Upwork has taken a page out of Fiverr’s book and has introduced a package pricing model. Clients can buy packages that ensure the job gets done within budget, and ensures Matt gets paid enough.

He can predict the hours he thinks the package will take to complete, then work extra fast to potentially make every hour even more valuable.

Packages give clients the ability to see what the gig will cost up-front, and will give the seller the ability to up-sell the client with add-ons and bonus options.

Right now Matt says that he’s not incentivised to work at his fastest pace because he’s paid hourly, but by adding the package system he can challenge himself to see what he can fit into every hour.

Matt still has a lot of trouble pitching new clients and often relies on short and sweet pitches that get right to the point.
Something like “Hey, I’m really familiar with the job you need doing and will do a great job with it. Take a look at my showreel and my portfolio. Have a great day!”

Short pitches appeal to a lot of his clients, but he knows he has to improve his strategy and formulate better pitches. He especially needs to improve his pitches so that he can land an enterprise client.

Enterprise cleints are large and often recognisable companies that rely on a pool of regular freelancers to build their content needs. Landing an enterprise client would mean lots of high value work that could be rely upon into the future.

Making yourself seem more appealing to both regular and enterprise clients is important, and Matt has found that featuring your showreel on your portfolio is critical for catching the client’s eye.

While his showreel thumbnail link featured on his portfolio has had hundreds of clicks, the standard showreel link has seen almost no attention at all.
So it pays to be creative with your portfolio when trying to stand out in a packed crowd.

Photo by Cookie the Pom on Unsplash

Top Tips on getting started on Upwork

  1. On this platform, it’s more important than on other platforms to be qualified and have some experience. Do you best to showcase your qualifications, experience, and abilities on your portfolio.
  2. As you start to book work, showcase the work you’ve done for previous clients on your portfolio to attract the attention of others.
  3. Apply for the gigs that are posted to the site, and work hard to improve your pitch. If you’re someone that isn’t very good at pitching, consider collaborating with an actor or writer on finding a pitch that suits your line of work and personality.
  4. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you’re worth. Some freelancers get gigs by charging rock bottom prices, but then find themselves slaving away for dozens of hours earning peanuts per hour.
    Working for peanuts will ensure that you’ll grow to resent the platform and your own profession. It’s far better to get fewer gigs that each pay more, while at the same time getting higher quality clients who see your value.
  5. Trust in the Upwork arbitration system. Sometimes the client may try to claim that you didn’t deliver on your promise, perhaps trying to game you out of the money that’s rightfully yours. Don’t roll over; take the matter to Upwork arbitration and be patient and honest. It may take several weeks, but Upwork will sort out the problem.
  6. Try to keep a strong and healthy relationship with good clients. Patient and goodnatured clients who pay freelancers what they’re worth can be diamonds in the rough.
    It’s in your best interest to treat good clients well and keep them coming back to you. Reply to their messages quickly and politely, listen to their concerns and feedback, and make necissary changes to the project to ensure their repeat business.
    This is a networking business, and your ongoing relationship with clients is what’s going to build your income.
  7. Keep working on improving yourself, your skills, and how you present yourself. Re-work your portfolio so that keeps gets better looking and more appealing every month.
    In the beginning, you’ll write your biography yourself, but once you can afford it, pay a talented writer to improve your text so that it pops for potential clients. (Or bribe one you’re related to with wine).
    If you feel open to it, you should also ask friends and family to check out your portfolio and give brutally honest feedback about whether they like it, and whether or not they’d hire you based on what they’re seeing.
  8. Lastly, once you secure a gig, complete the work quickly and to the highest possible standard. Every gig you complete could be landing you a potential long-term client, so give every gig the attention it deserves.

This brings us to the end of today’s tips.
I encourage you to spend the next ten or twenty minutes on Upwork to see whether it’s right for you.
Who knows? You might see a freelancer on the site who’s offering something you could be offering better.

I really hope this article encouraged you to begin your freelancing journey, and gave you some tips that will lead to your eventual success.

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I’m a well travelled writer who loves nothing more than a well polished video game, an expertly crafted sandwich, and a hot mug of Milo.


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