I’ve always been a voracious reader. Even those folded inserts in medicines, I read them! Reading just naturally evolves into writing. Novelists like J.K. Rowling and Stephen King have been writing since age six, but I only started in my teens.

When I was 13, I rode my bike in the school grounds. Grass, trees, and little paved paths. A bee was also cruising, enjoying the scenery. We had a collision. Rather than being splattered on the pavement, the insect crashed inside my ear. I can only imagine the wreckage in there. I managed not to topple off my bike, but later that night, I was crying at the pain.

Damage Turned into Challenge

Our ears are right beside our brains, so my ear infection easily spread to the meninges—the membrane between the brain and skull. Meningitis always leaves permanent damage: Blindness, deafness, or brain deterioration. I lost my hearing.

Joanna Paula CailasI got the sweetest deal, didn’t I? The world is silent, but I can see (and think!), and 80 percent of information comes through sight. But I got depressed for a while. Imagine turning the TV to MTV without being able to hear. Watching dubbed anime (with no subtitles) on local TV also became impossible. I shied away from people (hated them for talking to me, because I couldn’t hear) and read instead.

Reading turned into writing. The feel of the typewriter’s “noise” beneath my hands and fingertips was very gratifying. At 15, I got a personal essay published in a national broadsheet. That encouraged me to write more. At 19, I won a national essay contest. At 21, I got my first short story published in an anthology. The next year, that story was in The Honorable Mentions list of The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, a worldwide annual roundup of stories. I’m one of six Filipinos included.

Fiction takes more effort than it looks, so I turned to non-fiction. I got my writing into local magazines easily enough. And then an epiphany: This is lucrative, this is a career. I didn’t have to win literary prizes. I could win clients instead (and money to buy more books).

I might have been doomed by that bee (poor bee, it’s dead now and I’m here enjoying tea and ice cream) but I live in the best time to be deaf. Smartphones have transcribing apps. Movies have subtitles. And the Internet! It’s a great equalizer. Can’t hear? No problem, everyone types. And now the Internet has made jobs fair and square for everyone.

Working and Enjoying It

One idle weekend in 2012, I created a profile on (what was then) oDesk, got addicted to scoring in the top percentile of the English tests, landed my first job, and got my first $9—all in one day! It was amazing. I wish I’d printed and framed that first $9. It was 25 percent upfront for a fixed-price contract.

oDesk turned into Elance-Odesk and then into Upwork. I’m still here. Still writing. Still in awe of how awesome it’s turned it out to be.

I know people who, like me, would otherwise have found it challenging—if not outright difficult and impossible—to have full careers, if not for the current age of the digital marketplace. But here we are and I’m a full-fledged writer and editor. I have clients, a steady stream of interview invitations, and I’m a contractor with USource, an agency on Upwork that has a real, collaborative team with real friendships and jealousies within it (over hand-made ice cream and cheesecakes).

"What clients like to feel from freelancers..."

What’s the Secret?

There’s no technique to freelancing hidden away from newbies by secret clubs. I’ve been picked as Best Answer in oDesk’s and Upwork’s Freelancing Tips (got bumper stickers!) about winning jobs and keeping clients. In a nutshell, it’s all about personality and genuine responses.

If your cover letter for a job post can just as easily be sent to other job posts, you really didn’t answer THIS particular job post, so why would they pick you? It’s as simple as that. Every time you apply for jobs or reply to invites, really, truly respond to each particular job. Don’t lump them all together. Don’t make it a routine to spend your Connects.

It’s not fishing and hoping something bites. It’s knocking at a door and charming the one who opened the door. You’re an outsider asking to come in. Rather than brusque and cold as business is usually viewed, make it personal and warm. Your freelance career hinges on how well you project this to potential clients, on every step of the application process, and on every task you complete: “I hear you. I’m here for you.”

Is that fruity and cheesy like a salad? Nope. You listen to your client and deliver what’s needed, don’t you?

This article was submitted by Joanna Paula Cailas and does not constitute the views or opinions of Upwork.

Image credits: Krizia Camalig, Jaqui Magadia and Mariah Garcia of USource