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Beginner's Guide to Upwork Success

Updated on February 15, 2019
Mahmood Anwar profile image

Mahmood is a freelance writer with 5 years of relevant experience. He is also a published author with Oxford University Press (OUP).


Upwork is consistently rated as one of the top freelancing platforms. However, achieving success requires a defined strategy and I am glad to share a 10-point blueprint for success.

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There may be two reasons why people don't persist with freelancing; the first one is having a stable job and the second is lack of response(s). The former reason is prone to continuous change, especially when economic depression sets in. The second reason is probably due to a lack of planned strategy.

According to Payoneer, the average freelancer works 36 hours/week @ $21/hr. This means an annual income in excess of $39,000 and I personally know Asian freelancers who earn $70,000/annum from freelancing.

In today's lucrative work environment, the key to earning big bucks lies in skills development and adopting the right strategy. In this article, I'm going to share a self-developed approach for earning from Upwork

The 10-Step Freelancing Formula

1) Start with a clear objective
2) Being accepted by Upwork is a challenge
3) Creating a strong profile
4) Preparing a good portfolio
5) Start bidding on projects
6) Spend limited connects wisely
7) Ingredients of a successful bid
8) How to spend the first week
9) The first step towards success
10) The Learning curve

1) Start with a clear objective

When I started freelancing in 2008, the first objective was skills development and I knew that money would follow. Today, most new freelancers enter the field because they heard about top freelancers making $5000-10,000/month and want to get rich quick. You have to understand that overnight success is a delusion, therefore start with reasonable expectations and plan actions accordingly. Setting small milestones and achieving them is the best way forward as it instills confidence in you.

2) Being accepted by Upwork is a challenge

I'll be frank with you, it took me 3 attempts and five days to get accepted to Upwork. The reason is that unlike other platforms, getting accepted by Upwork is not easy. Recognizing this fact means that you approach it accordingly. Remember that this is a conscious marketplace, which only features the best global talent.

My personal recommendation is that if you want to get accepted on the first attempt, just google articles on ‘How to get accepted to Upwork.' You can also check top 3-5 YouTube videos on the same subject and save a lot of time and effort.


3) Creating a strong profile

The first thing clients view is your profile and that's why the profile preparation process is integral to your success. I spent 10 days with a basic profile and did not get any response. As soon as I developed a proper profile, I received the first order in 5 days. Unfortunately, the natural tendency of newcomers is to prepare a bare-bones profile and start bidding immediately on suitable projects.

Your profile should support your freelancing strengths and it's always better to have a look at good profiles and see how you can adapt content. Remember to stay original and highlight your USP.

According to a new study, 56.7 million Americans i.e. 35% of the U.S. workforce are freelancing and this statistic is expected to reach 50.9% of the U.S. labor market by 2027.

4) Developing a good portfolio

An integral part of a good profile is the portfolio you upload. Look, if you are searching for article writing jobs and have uploaded work on transcription services then you just won't feature on Clients' radar. The tip is to select 5-6 relevant services e.g. Photography, from 12 domains present on Upwork. Let's say you picked Graphics&Design, Photography, Animation, Video production, and Motion graphics.

If you don't have a relevant portfolio then review some jobs and read client requirements. Then select 5 basic projects and complete the work requirements. This personal investment means your portfolio is ready and you have something to show the client. This crucial action allows you to stand out from generic bidders and at least doubles the chances of success.

5) Start bidding on projects

A good profile and portfolio mean that you are ready to start bidding on relevant projects. Go to ‘Find Work' and ‘My Job Feed' will be automatically generated. This page presents relevant projects based on the services you selected at the time of the profile setup. The important thing to remember is that you get 60 connects per month and normally jobs require 2 connects. Bid quickly and available connects may be depleted in 2-3 days, at least that's what happened to me.

6) Spend limited connects wisely

The key to spending connects wisely is by adhering to the following points:

i) Understand suitability for job post i.e. have you done relevant work and is the compensation acceptable considering the quantum of work and deadline. A personal example is that I started applying for e-book writing projects although I had never done such work. Needless to say, I wasn't selected.

ii) Carefully read the questions (if any) mentioned in the job posting. These questions show what the Client is really looking for and you can quickly judge if you are a good fit or not. Initially, the best responses I received were from clients, to whom I gave good answers during bid preparation.

iii) If you fulfill the client's requirements and can answer given questions then you have a higher probability of success.

Success and freedom
Success and freedom | Source

7) Ingredients of a successful bid

Writing a successful bid is maybe the trickiest part of the whole freelancing experience. This can result in make or break and hence it's essential to quickly get it right. Based on extensive research, I crafted this three-part winning strategy that tripled my client response(s) within 10 days:

a) Establish credibility

This should be done at the start of the bid. The Client should know why you are applying and you can illustrate that by showing relevant projects, as attachments.

b) Demonstrate reliability

The second point should demonstrate reliability, by presenting that you read the requirements. Use the keywords mentioned by the Client like ‘Developing website on Health&Fitness' or whatever he is asking for and share how you can do it. Insert part of his requirement/question into your answering bid.

c) Justify your bid

At the end of the day, you need to justify your bid. Hence, you need to give a reference to the fact that the Client may be getting low bids, but that quality might be compromised. The average client wants quality work at an affordable price and you have to demonstrate both facts in your bid.

8) How to spend the first week

The first week spent freelancing should ideally comprise of 2 quality bids/day. More time should be dedicated to developing the portfolio and getting the first gig, even if it's slightly lower than expected. As mentioned earlier, I spent all of the first month's bids in 3 days and I certainly don't want you to make the same mistake.

Carefully reading the contents of job posts will help to identify client expectations and respond accordingly. Categorizing job posts will help to identify areas where you can specialize in e.g. academic writing on Finance subjects etc.

Global Gig Economy

The global freelance industry is worth approximately $1.5 trillion and 50% of freelancing workforce resides in the US.

9) The first step towards success

After getting the first gig and hopefully obtaining a good review; the combination of good bids and supporting profile will help to land consistent work. For beginners, the advice is to focus on job posts, which require 2 or more freelancers as this increases your chance of getting hired. The first objective is to achieve the ‘Rising status' badge as it highlights you as a standout performer and clients will start approaching you directly.

10) The Learning curve

The learning process never ends and that's highly true for freelancers. No matter what services you provide, remember to improve yourself by looking for mentors and enrolling in relevant courses. Upwork also allows you to take free tests to prove your skills and the scores obtained are displayed on your profile. These actions might prove to be the difference between $10/hr and $20/hr in earnings within 4-6 months.


During the short time I've been on Upwork, it's proven highly responsive to both clients and freelancers. The platform takes quality very seriously and compared to other freelancing websites you can observe detailed projects and relevant bids. Hence, if you follow the given strategy, there's a higher probability that you will get a positive response and generate business.


© 2019 Mahmood Anwar


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