The ultimate guide to building a 6-figure freelance career on Upwork

  • Earning six figures as a freelancer isn’t any simple feat, however freelance graphic designer Morgan Overholt says focusing on recommendation from profitable professionals helped her domesticate a profitable enterprise on the platform Upwork.
  • Don’t let your lack of expertise preserve you from pursuing new kinds of work. Instead, put within the effort and time to study a helpful, marketable talent. 
  • Present your self as an skilled with a pristine and optimized Upwork profile, quick cowl letters, and efficient proposals.
  • While it is vital to be variety and accommodating when assembly with shoppers, it is also vital to put your foot down when discussing charges and noticing purple flags. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for extra tales.

Three and a half years in the past, I stop a job that I might grown to hate to pursue a career as a full-time freelancer and enterprise proprietor. 

It was my brother-in-law who initially launched me to freelancer market Upwork. But the street to building a profitable and profitable residing on the platform wasn’t precisely simple. In reality, once I was simply beginning out, I learn horror tales on-line from dejected freelancers about the way it was inconceivable to discover high quality jobs.

Fast ahead to at present, and I’ve remodeled $300,000 as a skilled graphic designer on Upwork.

One of the largest keys to my success was selecting to ignore those that advised me that it could not be accomplished and as an alternative focus on the recommendation of gifted Upwork professionals who have been already making a killing on the platform.

Now it is time for me to move the torch to different Upwork hopefuls and share a number of the greatest suggestions and tips that I, together with different six-figure Upwork freelancers, are utilizing on a every day foundation to discover high quality shoppers and obtain success in our freelance careers.

Don’t make excuses, simply get to work

Over the years, I’ve observed that many freelancing hopefuls cite a lack of expertise or skilled coaching as an excuse that stops them from getting began. 

But the reality is, there are a number of industries that require no skilled coaching or certifications — simply a willingness to study.

Zach Stevens, a Salesforce architect in Los Angeles, is maybe the most effective examples of a self-taught skilled now making a killing on the platform — to the tune of $450,000 in lifetime billings, at a median of $150,000 per yr.


Zach Stevens.

Zach Stevens

Four years in the past, Stevens was working as a driver for Postmates and Uber Eats. He was launched to the world of Salesforce and Upwork whereas listening to podcasts on his supply routes.

“A quick Google search showed an average of 600 Salesforce-related jobs posted on Upwork each month and only 20 to 50 proposal submissions on each,” Stevens mentioned. “I liked these odds, so I made a profile.” 

He mentioned that he did not have any expertise in Salesforce architecting earlier than beginning on Upwork. “Salesforce has a great online learning platform called Trailhead, which is where I’ve learned most things that I know. I’m 100% self-taught,” he added.

At the six-month mark, Stevens was incomes sufficient revenue on Upwork to make a residing for himself and stop driving for supply providers altogether.  

Select a area of curiosity and do your homework. Your capability to redefine your career and study a new commerce would possibly simply shock you.

Optimize your profile with key phrases and strong data

When shopping the profiles of top-ranked excessive earners on Upwork, you will discover all of them have one factor in frequent: Their profiles are full and strong. 

Your public profile is a fastidiously curated physique of labor. After all, it is usually the very first thing a consumer sees when deciding on a freelancer for rent, and your skill to make a nice first impression is essential to touchdown the job. 

Components of a nice Upwork profile typically embody: 

  • An expert headshot
  • A descriptive title
  • A short bio with a description of providers
  • Your most popular hourly price
  • Testimonials and evaluations 
  • A portfolio 
  • An inventory of expertise
  • An inventory of certifications 
  • An employment historical past

Freelancer Francisco Lora, a WordPress net designer, has earned over $140,000 on Upwork and mentioned a properly thought out profile has been one of many best keys to his success. Lora initially signed up for Upwork over 5 years in the past, however solely determined to pursue it actively in 2018. 

“I gain the client’s trust by focusing on the small details on my Upwork profile,” Lora mentioned. “That includes a video of myself and making sure my work is up to date and verifiable.”

Alyssa Goulet, a copywriter, content material strategist, and six-figure Upwork freelancer, urged going a step additional by optimizing your profile with focused key phrases.

Alyssa Goulet

Alyssa Goulet.

Alyssa Goulet

“Use keywords potential clients are searching for,” Goulet mentioned. “This will make it easier for them to discover and reach out to you.”

For occasion, Goulet lists her title as “Copywriter, Technology Writer, SEO Writer, and Content Marketing” — all phrases she is aware of shoppers in her area of interest would use when trying to find a freelancer of her abilities.  

Set a baseline revenue aim and keep in mind to scale it up as you achieve extra expertise

One of the largest challenges freelancers face isn’t understanding how a lot to cost. 

Personally, I targeted on what I wanted to earn to make freelancing a viable choice.

I knew I wanted to at the very least produce an revenue equal to my previous wage ($75,000 per yr, which roughly equates to $35 per hour when working 40-hour weeks) on the low finish simply to pay my payments. I additionally knew that quantity was properly inside the trade common vary for an skilled graphic designer. 

Sheri Baker, a content material author who’s earned almost $200,000 on Upwork, suggested freelancers to merely set a aim and work backward.


Sheri Baker.

Sheri Baker

Baker, like many different freelancers, initially signed up for Upwork six years in the past, however solely made it her major supply of revenue in 2020, largely due to the pandemic. Almost half of Baker’s $200,000 Upwork revenue has been earned in simply the final 12 months. 

“Whatever your goal is, set it and determine what you need to do to get there,” Baker mentioned. “For instance, if I want to make $100,000 a year writing blog posts, I need to charge $500 per blog post and write 17 blog posts per month (four to five per week). 17 blog posts x $500 x 12 months = $102,000. It’s that simple.” 

She added that when she first began on Upwork, on-line freelancing solely represented about 10% of her revenue, “with 90% coming from local, on-site opportunities.”

“This year especially, I’ve found that Upwork is the best place to find the flexibility I need as we face COVID-19 and school closures,” she mentioned. “Now it’s flipped — 90% of my work is coming from Upwork, with about 10% coming from clients off of the platform.”

And remember to constantly re-evaluate these charges and transfer the aim submit for your self. While many Upwork freelancers have a tendency to begin at a low-end price, the most effective professionals are ready to scale up shortly. 

Goulet, for example, began out on Upwork at lower than $10 an hour. Today, she earns $125 an hour. 

“Even if you start with no experience and a low rate, you don’t have to stay there … You deserve to charge more as you gain experience,” she mentioned. “If you aren’t doing this, you’re leaving cash on the table.”

Write concise and tailor-made proposals to shoppers

Part of being a profitable freelancer is studying how to current your self as a educated skilled who understands the wants of your consumer.

Even as an skilled graphic designer, I struggled with touchdown that first job on Upwork. I had to create 5 to 10 proposals each single day for 2 weeks earlier than I bought my first “nibble.”

Make your cowl letters quick and candy. Aim for about 200 phrases or much less and make certain to embody the next parts: 

  • Your skilled and associated expertise
  • Acknowledgement of the job necessities
  • A novel promoting level (or the way you’re uniquely certified for this particular job)
  • Related portfolio samples
  • A hyperlink to your web site and/or a hyperlink to your Upwork bio
  • A name to motion (i.e., “Reach out to me today and we can discuss details.”) 

For many, studying how to write an efficient Upwork proposal requires a little bit of trial and error. 

This was definitely the case for Stevens when he was simply getting began on the platform.

“It took about a month to get my first contract on Upwork,” Stevens mentioned. “After failing my first few interviews, I changed my approach. I started explaining to clients that I am so sure I can do the work they need that if I don’t deliver it by the deadline, then I won’t bill them for the project. That approach started to gain traction.” 

The secret is getting that first evaluate on the board. After that, every successive job turns into simpler to purchase. Today, I nearly by no means apply for jobs on Upwork — all of them come to me. 

Cultivate consumer relationships with kindness, transparency, and ‘concierge-level service’

One of the largest secrets and techniques to my success is how I deal with my shoppers. I see my shoppers like I see myself — as enterprise homeowners in want of a skilled to make their lives a little simpler. 

I supply a concierge-level service. I am not simply a graphic designer — I am a drawback solver, enterprise advisor, and good friend.

Two months in the past, a consumer whom I have been working with for nearly three years known as me and requested me to be the challenge supervisor for a new web site construct and a high-profile subcontract with an IBM affiliate. 

Why did they ask their freelance graphic designer to take on the function of challenge lead for such high-profile duties? Because they’ve realized over time that I am wonderful at getting issues accomplished. 

I’ve one other consumer that initially employed me on Upwork to make a $40 Mailchimp banner for his perfume firm. Three years later, I am now in control of nearly each on-line facet of his enterprise. 

Sure, this stuff are a bit exterior of my regular obligations, however that is what a concierge-level service seems like.

“I’m kind and approachable,” mentioned Lior Ronen, a monetary guide who’s earned over $150,000 on Upwork making $120 per hour on the platform. “At the end of the day, you’re doing business with people, and everyone wants to do business with the kind of person that they feel comfortable talking to.” Ronen has been on Upwork for 3 years. It presently represents about 30% of his annual revenue.

Lior Ronen

Lior Ronen.

Lior Ronen

Transparency can also be a key consider cultivating these relationships, in accordance to Baker, particularly for a working mother like herself. 

“If you’re a working parent, let your clients know just as your first call is starting (or even ahead of time) that part of the reason why you freelance is so you can be home with your children, and there is a good chance one will come running in to interrupt your meeting the second a scary Bubble Guppy pops up or someone steals someone’s sippy cup,” Baker mentioned. “In six years, I have never met a single client on Upwork who minded when a child came running into the room during a call. In fact, it has a tendency to lighten the conversation and foster a closer working relationship.”

Cultivating these skilled relationships additionally improves your odds of securing long-term contracts, which not solely reduces the necessity to apply for extra jobs but in addition creates a extra predictable income stream, and classes Upwork’s fee price from 20% to as little as 5% (extra on that later).

Trust your intestine to acknowledge a dangerous consumer or doomed challenge earlier than you begin

We all know the sensation. Something concerning the consumer or the challenge units off alarm bells behind your thoughts, and also you simply know that a profitable consequence is unlikely, at greatest.

Over the years, I’ve grown fairly choosy concerning the initiatives I take on. I’ve realized to search for purple flags in job posts, which embody however aren’t restricted to:

  1. Bad evaluations
  2. Poorly written job descriptions
  3. Jobs that embody the phrases “rush job” 
  4. Demands without spending a dime/low-cost/partially accomplished work
  5. Complaints about earlier hires

Take this job invitation I acquired simply final week for example. “A pamphlet and cards please. Need some one to make it look a whole lot better,” the total job description reads.

upwork job

A job posting on Upwork.

Morgan Overholt/Upwork

For me, this transient and poorly written invitation tells me that the consumer’s communication expertise aren’t robust sufficient for me to simply get a clear image of the job at hand, or that on the very least the challenge would require further time extrapolating particulars. 

At the tip of the day, I deal with my freelance career like a small enterprise. I count on each events to behave professionally — this expectation promotes a greater likelihood for a profitable consequence. 

Quit worrying about charges and begin fascinated with ROI

People love to complain about Upwork charges. But whereas they’re busy complaining, high freelancers like me are focusing on return on funding (ROI).

On common, Upwork prices freelancers wherever from $zero.15 to $zero.90 to apply for a job and takes a 20% fee on the primary $500 earned with every new consumer that you just work with on the platform. The fee drops to 10% after the primary $500, after which drops once more to simply 5% after the primary $10,000. 

That would possibly look like a lot of cash, however in contrast to the common 40% fee charged by conventional recruiting businesses, a share that does not historically tier over time, it is nothing.

The distinction being, when freelancers work for recruiting businesses, the price isn’t clear as a result of the freelancer and consumer are requested not to talk about charges with each other. The company will pay the freelancer simply $19 an hour whereas charging the consumer $34 an hour, and neither get together is the wiser.

To make issues worse, at the very least in my expertise, the company is not vetting the freelancers as promised.

Upwork affords not solely built-in vetting within the type of evaluations and id checks but in addition fee safety ought to battle come up.

Today, I’ve no want to apply for jobs, and my common price has dropped to about eight%. Essentially, I am getting a 92% ROI out of Upwork, and so they not solely present a large pool of potential jobs, additionally they deal with my contracts and invoicing. 

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