How to Make Money Writing: 16 Tips for Finding Gigs Through Upwork

How to Make Money Writing: 16 Tips for Finding Gigs Through Upwork

Many writers new to the freelancing game have checked out Upwork (formerly Elance-oDesk) in the hopes of securing those elusive first clients.

Plenty of seasoned writers, too, have visited the site thinking it could be a good way to add to their existing client base.

And many of you, as we at The Write Life know from your questions, have been frustrated by how hard it seems to successfully land gigs on Upwork that are worth decent money.

I get it. I gave the platform a try when I was first starting out and was severely disappointed by what seemed to be a glut of bottom-line gigs and overseas competition ready to undercut me at at every turn.

But you can use Upwork to find quality projects and build a successful freelance writing career; you just have to know how.

We interviewed six freelancers who’ve done just that to learn their tips for making the most of the site. Here are their biggest do’s and don’ts:

DO specify your niche

Be an expert, not a catch-all,” advises Tyshia Ingram, who says Upwork enabled her to build a steady project stream, loyal clientele and a portfolio she’s used to land gigs on and off the site.

You’ll definitely find a bunch of random content mills that don’t care about your experience or expertise;they just want your words. Needless to say, these clients don’t offer much. When you’re an expert, and your profile reflects as such, the good clients will find you.”

Meg Dowell agrees. “At first I would grab any job I could get, but none of them related to health or nutrition, which was what I actually wanted to/was qualified to write about. With the right keywords, you’ll find them.”

Meg has used Upwork for a little less than a year and has already managed to build up a full-time project load with clients from the site.

DO have a portfolio to show

“Try and have one regular gig going when you apply for your first gig. It helps the client see that someone else has already trusted you with work, and it gives you a chance to show off your ability,” says J.R. Duren, a freelance writer for Highya.com who says Upwork “is directly responsible” for the writing income that now supports his family of three.

If you’re brand new to freelancing, don’t despair; there are other ways to build a portfolio.

I had been writing/editing for an online magazine for three years before getting started on Upwork,” says Dowell.

“For about six months before I started, I spent all my time writing completely for free to build up my portfolio/resume. I had also already finished undergrad and was about six months into grad school, so those things combined helped showcase that I had the skills necessary to complete jobs successfully.”

DON’T undervalue yourself

When you’re just starting out, it can be tempting to want to price your services low in the hopes of luring more clients.

But the advice we heard the most often from the freelancers we interviewed was, as Duren puts it, Never be afraid to ask for what you’re worth.”

“A good client knows exactly what they want and what they are paying for,” says Rich Storm, a photographer and writer who’s found many gigs on Upwork that converted into regular clients.

A good client who sees quality work will pay you what you ask.”

Dowell learned this lesson the hard way. “I was so excited to be offered a job in [my] first month that I agreed to do what ended up being HOURS of work for very little money and an overall terrible experience.

Don’t demand unreasonable rates at the start, but don’t undervalue yourself, either. Better opportunities — and clients willing to pay for good work and who will value you — will come along pretty quickly.”

DON’T forget you speak English

This may seem like a silly bit of advice, but hear us out: it can mean more than you might think.

“It can be tough for writers on Upwork [because] their rates get undercut by folks who are working from overseas,” Stom says. “A major thing that I have found when submitting bids to gigs is to make it clear that I am a native English speaker.”

Decent clients who are looking for more than just filler content will recognize the value this adds and be willing to pay more for it.

DO set specific searches

Clarifying your expertise in your profile isn’t enough; to find the best gigs for you, you also need to make sure your searches are laser-focused.

“It’s not enough to say ‘blogger’ or ‘editor,’” Ingram says. “You’ll find plenty of those jobs pop up. If you really want to find work, you have get very specific. For me, that looks like: ‘expert beauty writer,’ ‘SEO content for ‘beauty brands,” “managing editor for lifestyle platform.’

“Think about the work you want to do and search those exact phrases.”

DON’T overlook filters

Once you’ve generated a list of search results, hone it even further with filters to pinpoint just the right projects.

“At this point in my freelance career,” Ingram says, “I know what I’m worth, the value my work brings, and what I want from my freelance lifestyle.”

“For that reason, I use the filters to filter out work I don’t even want to waste space on my job feed. I always set to ‘expert experience $$$,’ the lowest budget I’m willing to accept, and project length. You can even filter out by how much experience the client has on Upwork, payment types, and more. Use all the filters.

DO customize your proposals

Stephanie Caudle recently found herself in major debt and used Upwork to make $8,000 in eight weeks (and pay off all of that debt).

“The key to successfully winning projects on Upwork,” she says, “is to take the time and create custom proposals for every single job you apply for on the site.

Custom creation wins because it shows the job creator that you care less about copying and pasting proposals and more about being the fit they need.

DON’T be afraid to follow up

No answer doesn’t necessarily mean “no.”

It might simply mean a client is busy or still wading through proposals. Checking in with them can bump you back up in their attention.

“If I apply for a contract and days pass by and I don’t hear anything at all,” Caudle says, “I reach out and ask if they decided to pursue other candidates. In most cases, it has led to the client asking to learn more about my work.”

DON’T hesitate to clarify

You owe it to both the client and yourself to make sure you know exactly what you’re getting into before accepting a gig.

If a project’s details aren’t well spelled out or you don’t “fully understand the vision for the project,” make sure to ask questions and clarify, Caudle advises.

Accepting a job you aren’t clear about won’t do anyone any favors.

DO vet potential clients

You’re not the only one being considered for each gig; to avoid being burned by bad clients, do some due diligence on them just like you know they’re doing on you.

“I first look at how detailed [a client’s] job description is,” Dowell says. “If they can clearly communicate exactly what they would need from me if hired, I usually feel pretty good about submitting a proposal. Also look at how long they have been on Upwork, their ratings/feedback, how much money they have spent. I generally avoid clients who have too little experience using Upwork.”

DON’T ignore your instincts

As you communicate with a potential client, watch for warning signs that working with them might be trouble.

“I read people well through their writing, so I can often tell if it’s going to work well or not,” says Samantha Strazanac, who uses Upwork frequently to find new clients for her marketing firm. “I have turned down businesses because I didn’t feel it was the right fit even though they wanted to work with me.”

If you feel like a potential client could be a pain in the ass, you’re probably right,” Duren says.

Five or six months ago I took a fixed-price job with a Turkish telecom company. During our preliminary conversation, I noticed their English wasn’t that great. It was a red flag, but I ignored it. Sure enough, after the work was complete, they weren’t happy with the work and threatened not to pay. The miscommunication went back to a few sentences of poorly translated English. Lesson learned.”

Dowell agrees: “If you feel any hesitation at all about accepting a job, go with your gut and move on to something else. The more proposals you submit, the better you’ll get at knowing whether or not you should work with someone.”

DO bring your A Game to every project

Most of the freelancers we interviewed credited their success to leveraging one-time projects into long-term client relationships — and the best way to do this is to treat every project like it’s an interview for a bigger job.

“I could go on and on about tips and advice,” Duren says, “[but] if I could reduce it to a quick sentence, it’s this: Honor the craft of writing by submitting excellent work on time at rates that match your talent.”

DON’T let a “fail” get you down

Bringing your A-game doesn’t always equate to a home run, and that’s OK; a big part of freelance writing is learning how to stay confident in spite of ups and downs.

Don’t take it personally if you do a paid trial article or two for a client and they decide not to continue working with you,” says Dowell.

“That’s why you do trial work at the beginning — to make sure your skills are compatible with what they feel they need. Some clients aren’t great at communicating exactly what they want upfront, so if it doesn’t work out, it’s usually not because you didn’t do what they asked.”

DO give client feedback

Your freelancer rating on Upwork can go down if a client fails to give you feedback once you’ve completed a project for them, Dowell notes.

Give them a gentle reminder to rate you, and build up some positive karma, by giving your clients an honest rating at the end of each job.

DON’T be afraid to ask for more

Sometimes a gig blossoms into a long-term client relationship organically, but if it doesn’t, don’t be afraid to take matters into your own hands.

“If you complete one project successfully and [a client doesn’t] offer more work for you,” Dowell says, “it doesn’t hurt to offer your services to them and continue that line of communication.”

DON’T give up

The key to making a real living on Upwork? Caudle boils it down to two things: Persistence and time.”

“Finding my first clients was not super easy,” she says. “I remember logging onto Upwork and being committing to using all of my connects in order to apply for as many proposals as I could. I set a record one day for 25 submitted proposals, and that was the day I began to see results from my invested time on the site.”

Upwork can be overwhelming, but the right job awaits those who are willing to not stop pursuing new opportunities.

Kelly Gurnett is a freelance blogger, writer and editor who runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits, where she documents her attempts to rid her life of the things that don’t matter and focus more on the things that do. Follow her on Twitter @CordeliaCallsIt.

Filed Under: Freelancing

Featured resource

Your Freelance Business Blueprint

A plug-and-play framework that automates the marketing, accounting, and administrative systems of your business, so you can focus on the writing.

17 comments

  • Mark Burdon says:

    You’re kidding, right? Upwork is a cesspool for freelance writers and a race to the bottom. Their unrealistic margins on contracts under 10K are completely ridiculous.

    You harm the credibility of your website if you suggest that freelancers pursue work on Upwork. Been there, done with that.

    • Wendy Getchell says:

      I do agree on one hand Mark; I also find work (occasionally) on Upwork. Their fees have gotten out of hand. I suppose like any business they are trying to get rich of the little guy (that would be you and me, and every other writer). But Kelly did mention that there were a great deal of other writers from other countries who are willing to work for peanuts. They get the lower paying jobs and the clients get poor quality results. I have landed a few jobs where I had to fix those pieces. Though hard to find, there are good clients looking for good writers, and they are willing to pay a better price. Persevere; if you really want to make it as a published writer Upwork at the very least can supply you with a glut of ideas for creating your own books and articles (and there are other sites where you can publish these under your own name).

    • J.R. Duren says:

      Mark, I don’t think it’s fair to say a suggestion to use Upwork undercuts Kelly’s or this website’s credibility.

      As one of the sources for this article, I can tell you that Upwork essentially functions like any platform — you have to build up your credibility in order to get good work.

      The site is a “cesspool” in some sense because it draws bad writers who will work for peanuts. However, that works to the advantage of good writers because companies will swear off cheap hires and search for quality.

      Also, the margins aren’t quite as ridiculous as you make them out to be. They take 20% off the first $500 earned from a client, but once you hit the $500 mark, that fee goes down to 10%. Once you hit $10K in earnings with one client, the fee drops to 5%.

      I am well aware that Upwork gets roasted on a regular basis, but true professional writers can thrive on that site if they put the work in. Trouble comes when you overprice your services or don’t perform due diligence on the client.

    • Meg Dowell says:

      I also agree that service fees can be frustrating – for those who aren’t interested in working with long-term clients, that is.

      Freelance writing is not just about the money (though that matters, I know). The value really is in the experience and the relationships you form with clients. Those who are willing to put in the effort will find the work and clients that will allow them to earn a decent income over time. Freelance writing may be a more independent career, but you still have to build up the communication and interpersonal skills to truly succeed.

      Like any other career, you have to start from the bottom and work your way up. There’s no way around that. No one is going to make decent money working their first professional writing job. Stick with it, whether you stay with Upwork for the long term or not, and your effort will be rewarded – financially; interpersonally; in real-world experience as a writer; whatever your end goals might be.

      If you choose to go a different route with how you build your presence as a freelance writer, there’s more than one way to do so. This is just one suggested way – one that many, evidenced by the sources presented in this article (myself included), have found beneficial for them. Just because it doesn’t work out for one person doesn’t mean others reading this article won’t find success.

  • jordan T says:

    Awesome, really enjoyed the party about not giving up. This seems to be where lots of writers fail.

  • Hi Kelly,

    This is awesome. So well detailed. UpWork is such a great platform for freelancers. I’m impressed with the advice you dished out here. It’s really gonna be helpful to me and my students.

    Emenike

  • Jackie Atwood says:

    Upwork and other bid for work sites are bloody awful and time wasters. I have tried many of them over many years. Not one cent.

    With regard to Upwork, it has so many rules for writing stuff. They really turned me off. So I don’t respond to writing gigs anymore. I do sometimes respond just to PR work.

    Many of the service buyers don’t seem to really know how much work is involved in what they want and they, not surprisingly, want to pay as little as possible. I don’t work that way. I have been a professional business writer/PR Pro for more than 20 years.

    Also UW doesn’t provide much info about many of their service buyers. If I can’t get such information from UW or Google, I don’t consider bidding.

    About a year ago, I was able to directly contact a guy who according to his UW profile had made a rather tidy sum on UW. He told me that most of that total was on one project a while ago, and he hasn’t gotten much since, and it was all low paying. I believe he added that he was giving up on UW.

    I may give UW one last shot. If nothing happens, I will delete my account.

  • Jasmin says:

    Hi

    I had been working with Elance since 2009 and had loads of work. Unfortunately, Upwork hasn’t got me much work till now and I am frustrated. I am at a WAHM and need work right now. Don’t know where else to look!

  • Damilare says:

    Great article. Upwork is a great platform. Like you’ve pointed out, starting from the bottom is usually the fastest way to build up your upwork portfolio. I’ve used the platform for a few months and I’ve made thousands of dollars. All these tips are great but the most important thing is to believe in God.

Speak Your Mind

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *