How To Become the #1 Freelancer in Your Industry on Upwork

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If you want to become a top-rated freelancer on Upwork who consistently finds the best clients, this training will give you what you need. There are many online freelancing platforms today. You have Upwork, Freelancer.com, Toptal, Guru, Fiverr, and more. In this article, I’m focusing on Upwork because that’s where I spent most of my time as a freelancer. Most of the tips I share with you can be applied on any platform but I’ll reference Upwork as the model.

I’m not an affiliate with Upwork and do not receive compensation for this blog post. This is just my opinion and I’m sharing what worked for me.

I’m going to walk you through my top 7 strategies, step-by-step on how I found success on Upwork. When I say success, I mean, earning a full-time income to support my family and grow my business. I’m the #1 freelancer in Upwork search for my industry. That means I get invites to jobs daily. So the time I have to spend finding new clients is far less than it used to be. My hope is for you to get where I am now, but faster.

If you haven’t already heard my story, I attempted freelancing years ago after losing a full-time salary job, but a year into it I quit because I was failing miserably and getting into too much debt. A year after that I attempted freelancing again but with the right strategy and training. Within 3 months I became a top-ranking freelancer for my niche, which is video marketing.

Rank #1 Video Marketing Strategist copy

As you can see, I’m in the number 1 spot for the search term “Video Marketing Strategist”.

And here, I’m ranking #1 for YouTube growth:

Rank #1 for YouTube Growth copy

And here, #4 for YouTube optimization.

Rank #4 YouTube Optimization copy

You get the point. I know how to find clients and build a real business on Upwork. I am a top-rated freelancer with 100% job success and I'll give you my formula for achieving the same status.

My “title” is something I experimented with for a while. I asked clients how they found me and what search terms they used. I also did my own SEO research to figure out what words businesses are using to find a video marketer and I used that as my title, which helped, but ranking in the #1 spot takes much more than having the right title.

I’m going to teach you a 7-step strategy to earning consistent income on Upwork while only working with your ideal clients. But before I dive into the steps, I want to explain a little bit about the importance of using platforms like Upwork as part of your business growth strategy and why it helped me stabilize my business.

Chasing down clients to pay invoices is a pain. You may already be well aware of this. Obviously we can have contracts to protect us, but it still costs a lot of time to keep following up with clients and ensure that we get paid on time, so we can pay our bills. Using an escrow service like Upwork to process the payments, gets rid of that hassle. Your client connects their bank account to Upwork. Then you log hours. Then automatically every week, Upwork deducts money from the client’s bank account to pay you for your work.

The client has an opportunity to dispute your hours, but they don’t have to do anything to get you paid. I’ve never had clients dispute hours before. As long as you deliver what you say you will, then that should never be a problem.

I used to think I was above Upwork…even though I wasn’t earning any money. I used to think Upwork was just for freelancers that aren’t serious about building a business and just want side income. I used to think Upwork was beneath me. The only thing beneath me was mounds of debt and poverty.

When I hit rock bottom in my business and could barely afford rent a week before Christmas, I changed my thinking. I realized that the only way to stabilize my income was to use an escrow service to not only help market my services to potential clients, but process payments so I am guaranteed to get paid every week on the same day.

I still use Upwork for a portion of my income. It’s a great marketing platform. And as long as you’re seeking longer term clients, you’ll never have to deal with the 20% cut that Upwork takes when the project is below $500. A 10% cut is worth it to have consistent income and automated marketing.

That’s why I use Upwork as part my business strategy. Now I’ll cover how I create success there.

Strategy 1: Your Rate

I started out on Upwork as a video editor. And I used Upwork sporadically to support some of my income. But when I first started, my hourly rate was $17/hour, which leads me to the first strategy to succeeding on Upwork. DO NOT HAVE A LOW HOURLY RATE. Low rate communicates low value. Low rates do not make you competitive. 

Some people might think of $17 as a decent rate, it’s above minimum wage right? No it’s not. When you’re a freelancer, your hourly rate cannot be compared to an hourly wage. Why? Because you’re a business, you have overhead expenses to account for and you aren’t going to be billing 40 hours per week to clients if you want a half-decent lifestyle. I now charge $65/hour for video marketing services. My adjusted hourly take home pay compared to an hourly wage for a full-time job is about $35/hour. So, when I was charging under $20, you can imagine why I was suffering.

Let’s take 17/hour, multiply that by 25 hours per week, which is how many hours I bill total on average to clients. The other 15 hours is spent networking, finding new clients, growing my business and doing administrative tasks. So, I’m still working 40 hours/week, but only billing clients 25 hours, so my rate has to pay for the other time I’m spending.

17 x 25 = $425/week.
Subtract $900 business expenses/month. This includes private health insurance.

= About $225/week.

Take 225/week and divide it by a normal full-time job of 40 hours per week
= $5.60/hour.

So, you think you’re getting the equivalent of $17/hour because that’s your rate but actually it’s as if you have a full-time job getting $5/hour. No wonder I sank into so much debt and gave up on freelancing in my first attempt. I had a family to support too.

So as long as you have the technical or creative skill that you’re saying you have on your Upwork profile, start with $50/hour. Upwork even defines an “Expert” as $35-$79/hour. I’m at $65 now and I intend to keep raising that past $100 as I create bigger and bigger results for my clients that justify raising it, but I started at $50 when I got back onto Upwork. I jumped from $30 to $50. I was slowly moving up from $17-$30 over the course of a year back when I was struggling.

There are always clients on Upwork willing to pay the higher rates because they expect better results and they expect to be working with a true professional, with a business owner. Now for you to keep that rate, you need to deliver obviously.

Just having the high rate isn’t enough. You have to know how to sell yourself to potential clients. You have to know how to show them that the investment they put into you is less than the return they’ll get in their business because of your services. And that means you do need a bit of experience to be able to have the history to be able to project to clients, “This is the ROI you can expect from my services.”

Strategy 2: What Do You Call Yourself?

Just because you’re on Upwork does not mean you’re just a freelancer. You’re a business owner that is using an online tool to promote your business and to have an escrow service to process payments.

So instead of even thinking of yourself as a “freelancer” you need to start calling yourself a business owner. When people ask what you do, say “I own a business helping companies with their video marketing strategies.” Don’t say “I’m a freelance video marketer.” Because the word “freelancer” to most people means, “side gig, you don’t have a real career, you’re just doing this on the side on weekends.” They don’t respect you the same way and clients aren’t willing to pay a freelancer, who calls themselves a freelancer, higher rates. You take yourself seriously and your clients will pay your higher rates.

When you’re on calls with prospects and you’re discussing your experience, don’t say things like, “I’ve been doing freelance videography for 5 years and now I…” Instead talk about your business. Talk about owning a business and the results you’ve achieved for clients while running a business.

Upwork isn’t a platform to make some extra money online. It’s a marketing tool to grow your business. I know they don’t always pitch it like that and unfortunately too many freelancers get taken advantage of on platforms like Upwork, but with the right skillset and mindset you can use it as a real profit-generating asset to your business.

Strategy 3: Writing Proposals

Writing proposals becomes a standard activity when you’re using Upwork. When you’re just getting started, you’ll be writing a lot more of them. The faster you can master how to write them, the less of them you'll have to write and the sooner you’ll be able to spend more time earning money by billing hours rather than trying to find clients.

First, address only the needs of the job you’re applying to. Do not copy and paste a template. DO NOT COPY AND PASTE A TEMPLATE. Clients can see right through a copied proposal. They know you didn’t take the time to look into their specific needs.

Second, don’t word vomit all of your job experiences. Only highlight RELEVANT skills and results you’ve achieved that are related to the results that client wants. Don’t give a full job history. Finding clients as a freelancer (correction…business owner) is very different than applying to a corporate job. Instead of the typical resume that shows what jobs you had when, just list results you’ve achieved with past clients that line up with the results they want. Then include some relevant links to your work.

Third, ask questions. You are forming a business partnership. They aren’t hiring you as an employee which means when they are “interviewing” you, you are also interviewing them. You’re both seeing if collaborating together is a good fit. So ask a couple of questions from the get-go right in the proposal. That shows you’re engaged and you want to know why they are looking for someone like you.

Example questions could be, “What business goal do you hope to achieve by the end of the year that you believe my services as a video marketer could help you achieve?” Or, “What have you tried so far to solve this problem of having stagnant growth on YouTube?”, "What ROI do you want that would make paying me worth it?"

Lastly, give a quick overview of your process, a roadmap for how you can achieve the results you say you can. I usually give potential clients a quick 3-5 step overview of my typical process, my formula for getting them the result they want. For someone wanting me to grow their YouTube channel, this is how I would outline my process:

  1. I’ll audit your channel and give you a report on what you’re doing well and what needs to be improved based on the user perspective and based on the behind-the-scenes data.
  2. I’ll do keyword research to figure out the best way to position your channel and optimize your videos.
  3. I’ll develop a marketing plan for promoting your channel within YouTube organically, and outside YouTube to your email list and other social media audiences.

Strategy 4: What Types of Jobs to Go After

Only go after jobs where the client is looking for an “Expert”. Upwork labels in the job posting whether they are looking for Entry Level, Intermediate or Expert. I’ve found that the only clients that didn’t try to negotiate my rate were the ones that originally were seeking an Expert. So, I stopped applying to jobs where they were only seeking intermediate or entry level because it was always a waste of time and never ended up being a good fit. Those types of clients also had the hardest time seeing me as a business owner. They would talk to me and treat me as if I was cheap labor, or a disgruntled employee.

Clients who post their job for “Experts” understand the concept of, “you get what you pay for.” They are willing to pay more to get better and faster results and they have the budget for it.

And with the right communication skills you can easily pitch your rate as being worth it because they will get proposals from people with half the rate as yours. I’ve still had potential clients ask me, “So why is your rate double of most of the people that applied to this job?” This is my usual response. Feel free to use the same response: “One, I can get the job done twice as fast. Two, I can get twice as big of results. Three, this is my full-time business. I’m not doing this as some side gig to earn extra money, which means I stay up to date on best practices. This is my whole business and area of expertise.” 

I took that as an opportunity to remind them that I’m a business owner, not a freelancer, which means I am 100% focused on the task they are hiring me to do, daily, which means I’m an expert in the field, not just a kid looking to earn extra money. That means, their investment in me will actually save them money and time in the long-run.

Strategy 5: Your Core Expertise and Passion

Only go after jobs that fall within your specific focus and passion. Don't dilute your expertise by doing too many different things. When you have a few successful jobs on your profile that have the same keywords as your title, you rank much higher in Upwork search results. You see below in my ranking in Upwork search results, right below it says “Suggested because they worked on 13 jobs that match your search.”

Rank #1 Video Marketing Strategist copy 2

Too many freelancers long for the day when they can be more picky with clients. I say, because you’re not picky enough now, you won’t find success. It’s difficult when you have bills to pay and something is better than nothing. But hear me out, in my early days, I took way too many jobs that were way outside my vision of an ideal client and they were horrible experiences.

I was underpaid, they didn’t value my work. When they didn’t get the results they wanted, they blamed me even though what I was doing required a team effort. And even though those jobs allowed me to pay my bill that week, in the long-run it kept me in poverty much longer and I couldn’t grow my business because I couldn’t become an expert at any one thing.

Upwork ranks your profile based on relevancy of past jobs that are similar to the job the potential client has posted.

Strategy 6: End Jobs The Right Way

When a job is complete, make sure the client is satisfied and be willing to do whatever is needed for them to give you a 5-star review and feedback. If you vetted your client before signing on with them, you should never have to deal with a client taking advantage of you by using the rating/feedback system as a way to blackmail you to do more work for them that's essentially free. Give them a great rating and give them feedback and they are more likely to return the favor. Just ask, “If you’re satisfied with my work, I would appreciate you leaving a rating and feedback on my profile so I can find more people like you that need my help.”

Businesses make money through testimonials faster than anything else. Social proof is huge. You combine results you’ve achieved with testimonials and that’s all you need to find quality clients. So never end a relationship without getting a testimonial. Even if you’re not using an online platform like Upwork, ask for a testimonial that you can add to your portfolio.

Strategy 7: Optimizing Your Profile

Your profile is your portfolio and your resume. It's what clients see when they are searching for freelancers to invite to their job. I've very rarely had a potential client ask for contact information for a previous client as a reference because my profile has ratings and testimonials from previous clients right there. People don't want to spend the time calling references just to get an answering machine. 

The key parts of your profile that you need to optimize are your picture, title, overview description, skills, and portfolio. Secondary to that is your employment history and any tests you've taken. You want to fill in everything though so Upwork considers your profile as complete, which will rank you higher in search results.

Other things you want to make sure you do is verify your profile to get the blue checkmark badge next to your name and profile image. That shows potential clients that you are a real person and not a scammer. In order to do that you just contact customer support and get on a call with an Upwork specialist. 

So how do you optimize those things?

Profile Image: Make sure you take a professional photo. All you need is a friend who can point a camera, nice lighting, and a professional outfit. I just had my wife use my work camera to take mine. Nowadays you can just your phone and get a decent picture. But make sure the lighting is evenly distributed across your face. I took my picture out on the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah near where I live. I did it on a cloudy day to make sure I didn't have weird shadows on my face. I wore a suit. The majority of profile images on Upwork look like the typical selfie used on Facebook. That's not going to win you jobs. Your profile image is the first impression a client has of you. So impress them by looking like a real business owner.

To become top-rated, keep doing work every month, give your client good feedback and ask for feedback and a rating in return. Whenever you get negative or no feedback it can hurt your success score. Keep finding similar jobs. Deliver actual results to your clients.

Profile Title: Your title is something you'll have to experiment with. I played with variations of mine such as, Video marketer, video marketing expert, youtube optimization specialist. I ended up settling with Video Marketing Strategist and YouTube Growth because those were the search terms the majority of my clients were typing in the search bar. And I found that "Expert" actually turns people off because it makes it seem like you're trying too hard to overcompensate for not actually being an expert. Your portfolio and proposal should paint a clear picture that you're an expert so you shouldn't have to say it in your title. 

Do your research, survey your past clients. When you get invites to jobs, ask them how they found you and that'll give you ideas for how to structure your title to be optimized for search. Upwork will rank partly based on relevancy of your job title to what the person typed in the search bar.

Description: In your main description for your profile, make sure to start with addressing who your target audience is and what they want most. The first sentence of my description is this, "If you are an online business with a passion for education, I can help you grow your online community through video." I addressed who I target. If they fit the label, they will click. Then I tell them what result I can get them and how. That first sentence is what shows up in search so it's the most important. Then for the rest of my description, I go into further detail on what results I can achieve for them, and my philosophy and approach.

For this section also include the same target keywords that are in your job title. That helps with search rankings. For me I would include "video marketing and youtube growth" somewhere in the description. 

Skills Section: Highlight relevant skills that match the same target keywords in your job title and description. Sometimes it will be a slightly different variation because you can only include skills that Upwork has in their system. So for me a few of my skills include, youtube marketing, internet marketing, video strategy, and youtube development." They didn't have "video marketing" as a skill so I had to go with a combination of "internet marketing" and "video strategy."

Portfolio: Only include portfolio items that are relevant to the jobs you are trying to get now. Don't include everything you've ever done. I used to only do video editing on Upwork so I had videos in my portfolio. Now, I have deleted those vide examples and I added in proof of the results I've achieved for clients from video marketing and YouTube instead, since those are the jobs I'm targeting. 

Some people will scroll all the way down to see your employment history and education but it's not as common. Still fill those sections out so your profile is complete. I've actually had a few people that never even looked at my profile, they only saw my preview in the search results and invited me to a job. I knew they didn't look at my profile in depth because they kept asking questions that my profile answers. But you still want an optimized profile because it helps Upwork promote you to potential clients. 

That's it. You follow the steps in this guide and you will climb to success on Upwork and become a top-rated freelancer that wins the best clients. Let me know in the comments if you have any questions and feel free to share what's working for you! 

 

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