Upwork is a Marathon, Not a Sprint (and That's a Good Thing)
There are a lot of freelancing websites out there. Just a simple Google search will point you to a ton of options and they even get industry specific. But how do you decide which is the right fit or if they even work at all?
I’ll be transparent right out of the gate and say that I’m not a big fan of these sites. They typically support this “race to the bottom” mentality. If you’ve used these sites before, you may have experienced little money and a lot of frustration. I’ll also say that I haven’t tried many but I’m hesitant to trash any of them too much because there is a real need for these sites. It’s obvious that clients have trouble finding good freelancers for their projects and these freelance sites are just filling that void.
Anything that’s worth doing, is worth doing right
This saying is my mantra when on a site like this. To be specific, I’m hyper focused on Upwork. I don’t keep any of the other freelancing sites current. After looking at the different companies, I chose Upwork based on their fee schedule and quality of clients. The interface is constantly being updated and they have a pretty decent messaging platform. I also felt like Upwork was more of a place to market myself and my profile instead of a place to sell gigs.
You’ll want to give all your time to one platform to start. These sites don’t just get setup and run. Like any marketing platform, they take time to build and they take work. Work you won’t be paid for. You’re building something and that something might take months or even a year. These sites are packed with users and if it was a “get rich quick” thing, it would be even worse.
Take some time to search all your options. Make sure you look at industry focused sites and then decide what makes the most sense to you. Which site aligns with your business model? You should look at these sites as an extension of your business. You’re just opening it up to a client base that you didn’t have before. Every site has a bit of a different feel so find the one that you vibe best with. It should be exciting new opportunity, not a last resort.
Take Time on the Profile
This step is probably the most important. Once you sign up, search other profiles on the site. On Upwork you can create a client account and search people who do exactly what you do. Find out what people are charging and how they present themselves. Only worry about the best rated ones. Just look at who is doing it successfully.
A side note about rate, I will always tell colleagues to charge what they are worth. I don’t encourage discounts or negotiating your rates. I know people do it and I respect everyone’s right to run their business any way they want. (Plus, different industries have different expectations.) These sites will all have a freelancer working for $2/hour. Just put your actual rate. Don’t try to compete, because you can’t. If you’re rate is double everyone else’s, then maybe you’re on the wrong site?
Okay, back to your profile. Spend your time here. Fill in all the boxes. Many of these sites run on algorithms and you have to play ball. If you leave stuff blank, they’re not going to lift you up. Make sure you have a profile picture and I even post a video of myself just talking about my experience. People are looking to work with humans. Let them know you are one and you’re a kick ass one at that!
Save Those Searches
This might be getting site-specific but on Upwork, I can make a detailed search filter and save it. I can even have it email me daily whenever anything fits the criteria. Don’t spend hours searching the site. Let the technology do the work for you. You may have to adjust your filters over time but build them out.
Curate an Original Proposal for Each Project and Follow Up
This is very important, and you need to spend a little time at it. When you send a proposal to a client, they need to know that you’re talking to them and to their specific project. I have created a proposal template, just three short paragraphs. It’s evergreen and can work for any job in my field. I swap out the name at the top and then I add a couple lines to the second paragraph that specifically relates to their project.
They want to know you read the brief and you’re actually a good fit. I promise these clients are getting a ton of proposals and most are just copy and pasted over and over again. They may not even be accurate. You’ll stand out by individualizing these. But you still need a template to work with. It takes me 3 minutes or less to apply for a project. Anymore and it can become daunting.
Also, after about a week, I follow up. After another week, I follow up one last time. These clients are often on these sites because they’ve never contracted this type of work before and a follow-up can be just what a busy person needs. I’ve landed several jobs just because I was the only one to follow up. I assume I was the path of least resistance (but hey, it’s a paying client so I’ll take it!)
Review and Be Reviewed
All of these sites have some sort of review process. On Upwork, you get reviewed and you get to review the client. Do this every single time. This is very important. If you enjoyed the client, lift them up. If they were miserable, let your fellow freelancers know so they don’t have to experience the same miserable relationship you did.
These sites are about work and typically one-off projects, but I don’t see it that way. I see them as relationship builders. They are giving me access to clients that I didn’t know existed and now my foot is in the door. You never know what client project will turn into a long-term partnership. And you may even land a project with one of the coveted Enterprise clients (again Upwork specific). A quick note about building these relationships, it is likely against any freelance site policy to take the client off the platform in an effort to avoid the fee, so I’d advise against that if that’s your plan.
A Final Note
These sites are all the same but very different at the same time. Every site is structured in a specific way that reinforces their model. You’ll find different pricing structures and fees, different ways to market yourself and very different clients. You should be able to browse posted projects or other profiles to get a feel for the type of structure they are reinforcing. That structure should be something that represents you well.
Find the platform that you feel most comfortable with and run with it. Focus on just one to start and work at it until it feels like it’s up and running smoothly. When you’re building this out, have fun with it and let it be part of your business. It should feel exciting and not like a budget offering. Remember, you’re not a gig worker, you’re a small business owner. You’re just advertising in a different venue.
About the author
Brandan Baki is a graduate of Columbia College Chicago and has worked for Method Studios, Akron Children’s Hospital and Outcome Health creating content for marketing, education, TV commercials, music videos and short films. In 2017, he created 26Made (formerly Parallel Vision Post), an independent post-production studio in Avon, OH. In 2018, Brandan launched the Cleveland chapter of the Freelancers Union SPARK program which he currently co-leads. In 2020, he launched Engage Small to encourage engagement for small businesses and freelancers.