Budding writers are often told to stay away from Upwork. Coders? Maybe it’ll work. Marketers? Go for it. But writers who want to make money (well, earn more than $3 an hour) on Upwork? Not a chance.
But is the much-maligned marketplace really as bad as people make out? I say no.
Over the last ten years, I’ve made a significant portion of my money on Upwork. And with the right strategy, I believe anybody can generate a steady stream of high-paying, long-term clients.
With that in mind, here are five tips for success:
1. Understand You’re Playing a Numbers Game
The first and most important thing to understand about making money on Upwork is that you’re playing a numbers game.
Lucrative, long-term contracts exist. They’re just mixed in with all the “$5 for 1000 words” jobs that send self-respecting writers running for the hills.
Take the following steps to separate the wheat from the chaff:
- Send out lots of proposals —I sent nearly 100 proposals during my first week on Upwork. If you’re starting out, with no testimonials, volume gives you the best chance of connecting with solid clients. Consider purchasing “connects” so you can send out more proposals than your initial allowance.
- Use a (good) canned proposal — Don’t write a personalised proposal/cover letter for every project. It will take far too long and won’t provide any benefits. Instead, create a short template and customise the name and work experience section for each application.
- Ignore fee levels— Filtering by fee level is a mistake. I’ve come across many multi-million dollar companies that were happy to pay premium rates but accidentally set the skill threshold as entry-level. Equally, I’ve seen $10-an-article listings asking only the most experienced writers to apply (good luck with that).
- Focus on long-term opportunities from established companies — Once you start to get replies to applications and learn more about clients, opt for offers of long-term work. This will prevent you from having to search for new gigs every few days/weeks and break the feast-famine cycle of work that a lot of freelancers experience.
- Don’t be afraid to say no after you’ve applied — Kill the urge to accept every offer that lands in your inbox. If a job doesn’t fit, especially if the rate is too low, just politely say that you’ve realised you’re no longer a fit.
2. Pick a Profitable Writing Niche
When picking your niche, don’t go too specific. Often, freelancers make themselves unavailable to large portions of their market by arbitrarily focusing on a small group of potential clients.
Let’s say you’re a sales-page copywriter. Is there really any benefit in advertising yourself exclusively as a copywriter for small businesses, or startups, or enterprises, instead of as a B2B copywriter? The service you’re providing is, in essence, the same.
Determine you niche based on the nature of your service — which will usually be a combination of a “genre” (like content writing) and a topic (like real estate) — rather than the characteristics of your target market.
Here are some of the top writing niches on Upwork:
- Content writing — Digital marketing, finance, technology, web development, and real estate.
- Technical writing — Legal documents, CVs, software tutorials, and translation.
- Copywriting— Sales pages, email sequences, and product descriptions.
- Editing and proofreading — Academic, health, and long-form fiction.
There’s another reason to “niche down”, too. By picking a specialisation, your ability to write quickly and effectively about a topic will improve over time, dramatically increasing your output.
3. Build a Streamlined but Impressive Portfolio With Guest Posts
Don’t despair if you haven’t built your portfolio yet (or if your current one is a bit lacklustre).
I’m going to let you in on a little secret: it’s not that difficult to write for prestigious online publications.
Two or three guest posts on well-known sites will work wonders for your portfolio.
Here are my top picks for sites that accept guest posts:
- Business Insider
- Smashing Magazine
- Startup Bros
Pick a couple, send the editors an email, and wait for your cue to start writing.
4. Create an Enticing Profile Title and Overview
Which of the following headlines do you find more compelling?
“Freelance writer” or “Experienced B2B freelance writer for companies that want results.”
I know which one I’d go for.
Incorporate the following elements into your profile to give it some extra shine and sparkle:
- A specific and engaging title — There are two things you should include in your title. First, an explicit reference to your niche. Second, a reference to the main benefit you provide. My title reads: “Content writer for B2B brands that need measurable results.”
- Professional headshot (i.e. suit-and-tie) — Research shows that potential clients respond more positively to headshots in which the subject is smiling and dressed professionally.
- Quotes from previous clients — Include client testimonials immediately after a short opening paragraph.
- References to past publications — Experience is more persuasive than a set of promises. Include the names of publications you’ve written for in your opening. Don’t have any credits to your name? Get some guest posts written!
- Quick response time — Upwork displays your response time on your profile. Respond to any new proposals in less than twenty-four hours.
5. Resist the Urge to Undercharge
Lots of writers start out on Upwork with the wrong mindset. They say to themselves, “I’ll slash my fees, get some testimonials, and then go back to my normal rate.”
No, no, no!
Don’t skimp on what you’re worth. A solid profile is enough to make you attractive to clients, even if you don’t have any feedback.
I recommend $0.15/word as the lower limit. You shouldn’t be charging anything less than $150 for a 1000 word post or landing page.
My hourly output, including research and proofreading, is around 400 words. At $0.15/word that equates to $60/hour at a minimum. That alone should prove to you that it is possible to make decent money on Upwork – even as a writer.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in over ten years working online, it’s this: the only way to know if a tactic, strategy, or opportunity is worth pursuing is by testing it yourself.
Some people say Upwork is a total waste of time. Others claim they’re making six figures.
The only way to know if it will work for you is by trying it.
At worst, you’ll waste a few hours. At best, you’ll build a sustainable, largely free source of leads and revenue.
Doesn’t sound like a bad bet, right?
Now, time to get to work on your profile, and make some money on Upwork.
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