After emigrating from the UK to Italy in April 2015 I needed to find work, and it wasn’t long before I discovered the Remote Working websites. There seem to be hundreds of these sites, but I found there were only a few that didn’t cost money to apply for work and were useful. These days, I have a stream of regular work from my long-term clients, but when I’m bored and looking for a gig, I have a look through Upwork.
Is Upwork any good? Well, if you’re starting out (writing or any other freelance job), then it can be a great way to gain some experience and can be used as a learning tool. At 20%, the fees can hurt, a lot, but I took the view that it was better than nothing; plus, it was only 10% fees when I started using it. As well as a tool to learn your craft, it can, on occasion, lead to a long-term client.
It took me quite a while to figure out how to get the most out of Upwork, so I thought I’d write up a guide to setting up an account for those who might want to give it a whirl. So, if you’re thinking of signing up, grab a coffee, sit back, and relax, this might be a bit of a long read.
When you first register with Upwork, you’re invited to fill in your profile. Do not skip this. It’s way too tempting to dive straight in and start applying for jobs, but you’ll find you’ll be wasting your time if you don’t have a well-written profile. So, where to start?
Before you write anything in your profile, first think about what type of work you truly want to do. Many people who use Upwork are ones who are starting a new career, or who have to stay at home for one reason or another. There are so many different types of work offered on the Job List that it can be a little overwhelming at first, and tempting to try and be all things to all people. Attempting this doesn’t work. Most clients have a quick scan of your profile looking for essential items of information. And, a profile that tries to cover lots of topics will be far too much trouble for them to read. In many ways, your profile is just like a standard CV, only in a different format.
Setting up Your Profile
Your job title is the first thing a potential client sees. Try to think of something that is specific to the work that you want to do. Don’t merely write Freelance Writer. Think of two or three words that describe your service and make you stand out.
Hourly Rate/Fixed Price
Personally, I don’t consider this an important number. You can over-ride this figure and set an individual rate or price for any job that you bid on. The only time it may be of any importance is when a client is searching for Freelancers with specific skills and rates for a project. This doesn’t happen very often, at least not in my experience. For now, I’d put in the minimum amount you’d be happy to earn.
Again, be selective, don’t add skills that have nothing to do with the work you’re looking to do. It’s all very well being the best dog groomer in your county, but if you want to be a writer, then it’s not relevant. You can list up to ten skills here, but I’d say five is the optimum number. If you list too many skills, the clients will be tempted to skip over them.
The overview is the meat of your profile; this is where you get to sell yourself. The trick here is to keep it short but sharp. Try to get as much information into as few words as possible. While you can’t use bullet points within the editor, you can make your own. A list is an excellent way of getting a lot of information across clearly yet concisely.
Work History and Feedback
The History and Feedback section is where any jobs you currently have open or have finished will be listed. It will also show any feedback you’ve received from your clients.
You have another chance to show work you have done in the past in this section. Again, make sure anything here is relevant to the work that you’re going to do. Your portfolio is another crucial area, at least until you’ve completed some jobs and got a bit of work history built up in the previous section.
If you don’t have any relevant certificates or awards, then leave this section blank. Don’t be tempted to put your cycling proficiency certificate in here.
Personally, I’m not sure how relevant this section is. There are many who argue that these tests are meaningless; a fair number are available (with answers) on the internet.
Upwork allows you to take as many tests as you want, and they are all free. However, bear in mind that each one will take between 30 and 40 minutes. If you fail the test or get a low score, then you can choose not to have it shown on your profile, so, if you want, there’s no harm in taking as many as you think are relevant. If you do fail the test, you can retake it after a month. Try to find tests that are aligned with the work you’re aiming for.
This section covers you last employers and what you did for them. Don’t rehash what you’ve written in your overview, try to make each job look and feel as close to the work you’re looking for as possible.
This section may or may not be relevant to you. If you have a degree, then definitely put it in here. It doesn’t matter whether the degree has anything to do with the work you’re looking for; some jobs specify one.
I’m not convinced that this is an important section; I seriously doubt many clients make it this far down your profile. If you are going to put something in here, such as hobbies and interests, then make sure there’s nothing that might put a prospective client off.
So, that’s it for the profile section. Have you spotted a theme so far? Yup, make sure any information in your profile is relevant to the jobs for which you’re making a proposal. It takes a lot of hard work to get your profile slick, and you’ll find yourself tweaking it as you finish more work. However, getting it right is one of the most important things you’ll do on Upwork.
Applying for Jobs
Searching for Jobs
So, you completed your profile and successfully passed some tests, and you’re now ready to start applying for jobs. Searching for work can be done several ways on Upwork; by default, the search results will try to match the skills listed in your profile, but it really isn’t very good at that. You can search for jobs with specific keywords in them, and save this search. For every search you save, it is listed in your Job Feed, and the results you see are an amalgamation of these searches. The other way to search is by category; you can drill down to the sub-category that interests you. A heads up here, some clients don’t put their jobs in the right category, so this type of searching might miss those jobs. The resulting jobs are all listed in a standard format:
- Title – What the client has called the job.
- Type: – Whether the job is a fixed price or paid hourly.
- If it’s Fixed Price, then the only information on this line will be the budget the client expects to pay.
- Hourly/Skill Level: You should be looking for jobs that match your level of skill.
- Rate: An hourly rate the clients wants to pay.
- Est. Time: How long the client thinks the job will take to complete. It might also display whether the job is full or part-time.
- Description: A truncated view of the work required, click on “more” to see the complete job description.
- Client: A graphical representation of the client’s profile. If you hover over the $ sign, you will see any history the client may have.
- Skills: A list of skills the client feels are required to complete their job.
There is also an entry on the Type line showing how long the job has been live. This is only useful if you’ve just refreshed your page as it is a static figure.
When you join Upwork, you are given a number of connects. As a basic member, you will receive 60 of these on the 10th of every month. These connects are like virtual tokens or credits that get used within Upwork. You will use some of these connects every time you apply for a job. The number is based on the size and type of the job being offered and ranges from 1 to 5. However, the vast majority of jobs will cost two connects. You can upgrade your membership, and one of the benefits is that your unused connects will roll over each month.
Making a Proposal
Before you apply
When you find a job that you want to apply for, you submit what’s called a proposal. This is like making a bid on an auction, except that once you make your bid, you can’t change it. Clients can add specific questions to their job description that you will need to answer before you can submit a proposal, but most of them are straightforward. When you click on a job entry, you’ll see the full description along with these questions that the client expects to you to answer.
At this point you should do a double check:
- Do your skills match most, if not all, of the ones listed?
- Do you have the required level of experience the client is looking for?
- Have you got enough Connects left to be able to apply?
- Have you got the capacity to do the hours needed to finish the work?
As well as checking to see if you’re a match for the job, you should also check and see what type of client you might be working for. The first thing I do is to assess the way the job description reads, and then ask myself if it feels as though this client knows what they want. I once had a proposal accepted for a short 300-word article about technology. Despite the client appearing to be very clear about what he wanted, it took me five attempts to deliver something he was happy accepting. What we ended up with was a million miles away from what he asked for in the first place, and despite all the rewrites, I only got paid for an hour’s work. There’s nothing worse than having to spend hours of your time educating a client on what they actually need.
On the right-hand side of your screen, there will be some information specifically about the client. It will start with whether they have a verified payment method. If there is a tick after their name, then they have done this; if it’s a question mark, then they have yet to verify their payment method with Upwork. Now, I’m not saying never apply for a job if the client doesn’t have their payment method verified, but proceed with caution. Sadly, there are a small number of people on Upwork posting jobs for which they have no intention of paying the freelancer. Upwork recommends that you don’t proceed with any contract until they client has verified their payment method; having been burned myself, I can wholeheartedly agree with that. When I had just started with Upwork, I was so pleased to be offered a position that I didn’t check whether the client had this or not. I ended up writing five articles comprising of over 4,000 words without getting paid. I was not a happy bunny, but I learned a valuable lesson that day.
Just below the client name is their reputation, if they have any. It will show their average feedback score and how many reviews they have received. Anything below 4.5 should be treated with caution unless there’s only one review. Below this is where the client is based, and what their current time is. I find this useful to work out when are the likely times the client will want to talk to me. For most remote working jobs, it doesn’t matter what time zone you are in, but you do need to know what time the client means when they say they need the work completed first thing tomorrow morning.
There are three more groups of information, but they are all self-explanatory:
- The number of jobs posted.
- Percentage hire rate: this is the number of hires against the number of people interviewed.
- The number of open jobs.
- The amount the client has already paid for work on Upwork.
- How many people the client has hired, and how many are currently working for them.
- What their average hourly rate of pay is.
- How long the client has been a member of Upwork.
You should use all this information about the client to make a judgment on whether you would like to work for them… or not as the case may be.
The final two pieces of information on the proposal screen are how many people have already applied for the job, and whether the client is currently interviewing any of them. A final point here is that if you like the job, but you’re still not sure about applying, you can save the job to your favourites by clicking on the heart icon.
OK, so you’re happy you can do the job, and you think it will be a good client to work for. And, you’re confident you’re going to get paid, now is the time to make your bid. The first two sections cover the job description and the number of connects it will cost you to submit a bid. If you’ve done everything I mentioned in the previous section, then you can ignore these. If the job is an hourly paid one, then you will have the opportunity to amend the default rate per hour. This rate will be pre-filled with the rate that is on your profile.
Now to fill in the Cover Letter. Remember, you only get one shot at this, so it has to be the best you can do. Start by re-reading the job description, and then try to match all the salient points with some experience. You might want to write this in Word or something similar initially. One reason for doing this is that you can save it for reference, or to amend for a different but similar job. The other reason is to take advantage of any inbuilt spell checker. However you chose to write it, make sure that you read it at least twice. There’s nothing worse for an employer than to read an application full of grammar errors, especially if the job is anything to do with writing.
After your cover letter, there may be further entries depending on whether the client has asked any qualifying questions. If not, then the last part is to attach a file with any supporting documents.
So, that’s it. All you need to do now is keep an eye on your messages just in case the client contacts you about the job. Successfully finding jobs on Upwork can be hard work, but like most things in life, the more effort you put in, the more you tend to get out. During my career, I have read hundreds of job applications. I quickly got to the point of thinking if the candidate can’t be bothered to present themselves in the best light possible, then I can’t be bothered to read their application. Some of the jobs on Upwork attract hundreds of proposals, just think of the poor client that has to sift through those to find ones that stand out. Make sure yours is one of those proposals that catch their eye.
I would recommend creating a website that details the services that you want to offer along with any particularly good testimonials. Many clients will do a Google search for you to see if you have a presence apart from Upwork. You can see an example of testimonials on my site here.