The internet has been a huge boon for the modernization of the freelance economy. No longer do we have to saddle up our horses, pack our talents and knickers into a haversack, and ride off into the sunset to…
You get the idea.
But as romantic as galloping out to chase our dreams can sound, few of us have a financial nest egg to fall back on, and fewer still have the know-how to be successful.
Personally, I am a writer by passion. I have always wanted to share my gift with the world and be rewarded in turn with the means to make a living, but until recently, I’ve had neither the guts nor the gumption to attempt it, largely due to the difficulties in getting hired in my chosen profession with no degree and no professional experience. So, like many other freelancers, I turned to Upwork to bridge the gap between desire and experience.
Upwork is an online marketplace where clients advertise projects they need to be completed in a variety of technology-based fields, and freelancers who specialize in those fields bid on advertised jobs to win contracts. This allows freelancers to build a portfolio from scratch on a reputable website, and many end up shoring up lasting business relationships with employers they connect with as well. Upwork is a great place for new freelancers to forge a name for themselves, persons who hate the process of marketing blindly for new clients, and those who want to make a little extra cash outside their 9-5.
Some advantages of starting your career on Upwork include:
There are a few notable downsides of contracting with Upwork; while I personally don’t find these to be deterrents, they should be taken into consideration when building a profile and structuring your pricing system. These include:
All that being said…
Upwork can be an excellent way to jumpstart your career, or can even be your career, if you know what you’re doing (or are willing to learn) and have a legitimate talent to sell. But for those among us who have never done this before, taking this first leap of faith – and doing it well – can be an overwhelming task. So, rather than all of you doe-eyed dreamers leaping out blindly as I did, I have put together a framework, based on my own experience and the research I should have done before joining, to properly utilize Upwork and get that money rolling in.
First off: pimp that profiles.
How you build your profile is important, as it acts as your resume and liaison for prospective clients. Honesty in your skill set and experience is important, as is your ability to sell yourself to your target market. The more effort you put into the initial stages of your application, the less you’ll have to correct later (no comment…).
As with any website, the basics come first. These include things like:
*Please note that while it may be tempting to bump yourself up a notch and embellish upon your skills, you can have your account suspended or shut down for failure to deliver upon contracts. If you are willing to take the risk, your work had better be up to par.
Assuming everything here checks out, Upwork will approve your profile within 48 hours and possibly send you through a second round of identity verification. This just involves uploading a picture of a government-issued ID and hopping on a quick chat with an Upwork rep. Upon completion, Upwork will add a little checkmark to your profile – this makes you more desirable to clients, as it lets them know they’re really hiring you.
That may seem like a lot to do, and it is – but we aren’t done yet. Dedicated freelancers can expect to invest 1-3 hours into fully fleshing out their profile. This can be done in several stages, so don’t fret about blitzing it out in one sitting, but do recognize that the faster (and more of) these upcoming sections are completed, the faster you improve your marketability.
Secondly: put yourself out there.
Putting in proposals on Upwork is pretty straightforward, but there should be thought put into each one. You’re not applying for a corporate position (usually); you’re applying for independent contracts and individual clients. Treat them as such.
You find jobs by searching job tags or scrolling through a feed comprised of jobs algorithmically related to your profile. When you find an intriguing job, you can heart it to save it (if you like to batch apply as I do), or you can apply now if you’re ready.
Every proposal costs Connect, the tokens by which the platform functions. A basic (free) account can purchase Connects for $0.15 apiece; a Tier 2 (paid) account gets 70 per month, with the option to purchase more. Proposals cost between 1-6 Connects per.
Each proposal has several components to consider:
After you’ve submitted a proposal that resonates with a client, they will message you with questions or further information. Some may request an interview or samples of your work; others may start you immediately. Either way, the key here is quick, positive communication. Freelancers who respond quickly are more likely to get higher reviews and repeat clients. Keep communication (and payment) inside Upwork for at least a year. This is both part of the terms and conditions and a way to discourage scams. Remember: anything done on Upwork is protected by Upwork; anything taken off Upwork is not.
Finally: kick that butt into gear.
Almost everyone new to the site has to start small. Expect to bid low and get paid lower for your first few projects. The market rate for my chosen profession is $.01 per word. You read that right. A penny per word. Literally, Charles Dickens was paid for writing Great Expectations. I was ecstatic when, early on, I had a “high-paying” contract offer of $.04 per word. I was less excited when I was offered $.004 per word – and took it, too. Successful freelancers know that reviews are the real currency here.
When a freelancer is hired, a contract is opened. Clients deposit money for a project into an escrow account held by Upwork, and when the work is submitted to satisfaction, the client approves the payment. Upwork holds the cash for a few days in case of dispute, and then the money – minus their cut – is deposited to the freelancer.
Upwork’s cut is where many freelancers initially balk away from the site, but it is also where Upwork is able to provide guaranteed payment and a staffed office to address freelance and client concerns. The fee structure works like this:
This may seem like a steep price, and if you’re not pulling in a lot of contracts or never bill above $500 to a single client, it is. However, for those freelancers who can bill higher rates, put in the needed hours, or just have a high work output, the benefits offered by Upwork can easily be worth it. The alternative reality is often endless haggling with shifty, so-called clients on Craigslist for a $500 payment on a $3000 contract four months after they have profited from your work because you can’t agree on a font.
At the end of every contract, after all, work is submitted and payments released, both parties rate each other on a 5-star scale and leave feedback on the other’s profile (the opposing review isn’t visible until you’ve submitted your own, so get those in quick!). These reviews are visible to the general public, so it is important, to be honest, but kind and remember that good work begets good reviews, and good reviews beget good contracts.
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