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

  • Earning six figures as a freelancer is not 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 hold 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 professional with a pristine and optimized Upwork profile, quick cowl letters, and efficient proposals.
  • While it is vital to be form and accommodating when assembly with purchasers, it is also crucial to put your foot down when discussing charges and noticing crimson flags. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for extra tales.

Three and a half years in the past, I give up 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 highway to building a profitable and profitable dwelling on the platform wasn’t precisely simple. In truth, once I was simply beginning out, I learn horror tales on-line from dejected freelancers about the way it was unimaginable to discover high quality jobs.

Fast ahead to right now, and I’ve revamped $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 executed and as an alternative focus on the recommendation of gifted Upwork professionals who had been already making a killing on the platform.

Now it is time for me to go the torch to different Upwork hopefuls and share among the greatest ideas and tips that I, together with different six-figure Upwork freelancers, are utilizing on a every day foundation to discover high quality purchasers 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 forestalls 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 stated. “I liked these odds, so I made a profile.” 

He stated 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 earnings on Upwork to make a dwelling for himself and give up 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 may simply shock you.

Optimize your profile with key phrases and sturdy data

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

Your public profile is a rigorously curated physique of labor. After all, it is typically the very first thing a shopper sees when choosing 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 usually embrace: 

  • An expert headshot
  • A descriptive title
  • A quick bio with a description of providers
  • Your most popular hourly fee
  • Testimonials and opinions 
  • A portfolio 
  • An inventory of abilities
  • An inventory of certifications 
  • An employment historical past

Freelancer Francisco Lora, a WordPress net designer, has earned over $140,000 on Upwork and stated a nicely 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 stated. “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, advised 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 stated. “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 purchasers in her area of interest would use when looking for a freelancer of her skills.  

Set a baseline earnings purpose and bear in mind to scale it up as you achieve extra expertise

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

Personally, I centered on what I wanted to earn to make freelancing a viable possibility.

I knew I wanted to a minimum of produce an earnings 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 nicely inside the business 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 purpose 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 main supply of earnings in 2020, largely due to the pandemic. Almost half of Baker’s $200,000 Upwork earnings 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 stated. “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 earnings, “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 stated. “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 purpose put up for your self. While many Upwork freelancers have a tendency to begin at a low-end fee, the perfect professionals are in a position to scale up shortly. 

Goulet, as an illustration, 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 stated. “If you aren’t doing this, you’re leaving cash on the table.”

Write concise and tailor-made proposals to purchasers

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

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 acquired my first “nibble.”

Make your cowl letters quick and candy. Aim for about 200 phrases or much less and ensure to embrace the next elements: 

  • 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 stated. “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 evaluation on the board. After that, every successive job turns into simpler to purchase. Today, I virtually by no means apply for jobs on Upwork — all of them come to me. 

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

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

I provide a concierge-level service. I am not simply a graphic designer — I am a downside solver, enterprise advisor, and pal.

Two months in the past, a shopper 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 discovered over time that I am wonderful at getting issues executed. 

I’ve one other shopper that initially employed me on Upwork to make a $40 Mailchimp banner for his perfume firm. Three years later, I am now answerable for virtually each on-line side of his enterprise. 

Sure, these items are a bit outdoors of my regular duties, however that is what a concierge-level service appears like.

“I’m kind and approachable,” stated Lior Ronen, a monetary marketing consultant 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 at present represents about 30% of his annual earnings.

Lior Ronen

Lior Ronen.

Lior Ronen

Transparency can 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 stated. “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 additionally creates a extra predictable income stream, and classes Upwork’s fee charge from 20% to as little as 5% (extra on that later).

Trust your intestine to acknowledge a unhealthy shopper or doomed challenge earlier than you begin

We all know the sensation. Something in regards to the shopper or the challenge units off alarm bells at the back of your thoughts, and also you simply know that a profitable final result is unlikely, at greatest.

Over the years, I’ve grown fairly choosy in regards to the tasks I take on. I’ve discovered to search for crimson flags in job posts, which embrace however are usually not restricted to:

  1. Bad opinions
  2. Poorly written job descriptions
  3. Jobs that embrace 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 as an illustration. “A pamphlet and cards please. Need some one to make it look a whole lot better,” the complete job description reads.

upwork job

A job posting on Upwork.

Morgan Overholt/Upwork

For me, this temporary and poorly written invitation tells me that the shopper’s communication abilities are usually not 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 additional time extrapolating particulars. 

At the tip of the day, I deal with my freelance career like a small enterprise. I anticipate each events to behave professionally — this expectation promotes a greater chance for a profitable final result. 

Quit worrying about charges and begin eager about 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 anyplace from $zero.15 to $zero.90 to apply for a job and takes a 20% fee on the primary $500 earned with every new shopper that you simply 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 may look like a lot of cash, however in contrast to the typical 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 charge isn’t clear as a result of the freelancer and shopper are requested not to talk about charges with each other. The company will pay the freelancer simply $19 an hour whereas charging the shopper $34 an hour, and neither celebration is the wiser.

To make issues worse, a minimum of in my expertise, the company is not vetting the freelancers as promised.

Upwork provides not solely built-in vetting within the type of opinions and id checks but additionally cost safety ought to battle come up.

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

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