10 Tips for Upwork Success From Experienced Independent Professionals 

10 Tips for Upwork Success From Experienced Independent Professionals 

You know you have what it takes. But somehow, your freelancing career is still awaiting liftoff.

We understand. Slow progress in the early days can be very frustrating! To help give your fledgling freelance business the boost it needs, we asked for advice from those who know best. We spoke with experienced independent professionals who’ve “been there, done that, and got the t-shirt.” 

Drawing from their firsthand experiences, here’s the advice successful freelancers have for your Upwork success:

1. Create a high-quality profile

Yes, yes. It’s that age-old advice that keeps turning up everywhere you look. But that’s only because quality is important!

Your Upwork profile is like a digital resume. It’s your introduction to prospective clients. So it’s essential to create not only a complete profile but also a high-quality one. 

What does a top-notch profile look like? It includes a profile photo, an overview of your skills and experience, a portfolio, rates, work history, and maybe even an introduction video

Graphic design and video ad professional Jeff Minnichbach says, “When I joined Upwork, I worked very hard on building out my profile. I learned very quickly that the number of reviews isn't as important as your relevancy to clients and that it's worth every bit of time to make sure your profile speaks to people in a unique way.”

Facebook and Instagram ads professional Hannes Jacobsson’s advice is short and sweet—just like he thinks your profile should be. “Make your profile text short and simple. Less text is better. Be conversational and use bullet points.” 

Win more work with ads on Upwork

If you're on the lookout for work opportunities, make the most of Upwork's ad products, which are designed to get your profile in a client’s direct line of sight.

Available to work now? Add the Availability Badge to your profile and get noticed in search results. You can use your Connects to turn on the “Available Now” badge when you’re open to new projects, then turn it off once your project pipeline is full. The Availability Badge increases the number of job invitations freelancers get by as much as 50%.

You can also use Connects to boost your profile and get priority positioning at the top of a client’s list of suggested freelancers. Increased visibility can lead to more job invitations which can lead to more hires.

For more advice on creating a complete and high-quality Upwork profile, check out:

2. Write a thoughtful proposal

If we’re discussing profiles, can proposals be far behind? The two always go hand in hand on Upwork. 

Creating a good proposal that makes a prospective client pay attention takes work, but it’s work that is 100% worth it! After all, every client wants to know why they should pick you for their project over any other freelancer who applies. A well-crafted proposal will help you put your best foot forward so they will do just that.

Like his advice on profiles, Minnichbach’s tip for proposals is to make an effort to write something unique and personalized. “DO NOT be that person who copies and pastes proposals. When writing your bids, make sure you speak about the actual project. I love to start my bids with a sentence about how I could help them with this particular project, followed by other similar jobs I have done and how they helped my other clients. I then speak about how open and available I am every day for communication. Just write unique proposals, never copy and paste generic ones, or you will never get hired.” 

Illustrator Thaddeus Pasierb agrees. “Be short and direct but personable in your cover letters. Avoid standard or stock introductions. It’s important to read about the job and reference it specifically in the cover letter.”

Similar to his advice on profiles, Jacobsson is a fan of keeping things brief. “I recommend keeping your proposals concise. The first step is to create interest from the client's side and understand the project in detail; then you can discuss more. Don't overwhelm the client with too much text, but avoid being too short. 

“Every proposal I make is customized. Try to see it from the client's perspective and give personalized advice based on their exact needs. I don't use a template. I do, however, always use a specific structure for the text. The first section confirms that I have understood what they are looking for in the project, and I use many of their own words about what has to be done. Next, I tell them how I solved this problem for similar businesses and share case studies. Finally, I ask questions and in some cases outline possible next steps for the project.”

Get noticed by the right client with a Boosted Proposal

You’ve invested all this time to create a great proposal. Now, you can take control to win the work you want with the help of Boosted Proposals. This Upwork feature is designed to increase your chances of getting the jobs you really want by boosting your proposal to the top. When you’re seen first, you will be top of mind for the project.

Boosted Proposals increase the chance of getting hired by 24%.

Learn more about boosted proposals and the details of how they work.

For more advice on proposals, check out:

3. Identify the right projects and clients

Freelancing gives you the freedom to work with the clients you want on the projects that most appeal to you. As you start to grow your freelance business on Upwork, you will learn to pick and choose the work that is best suited for your skills and interests. You will also learn to identify the clients that are the best fit for you.

Content designer and UX consultant Kelsey Notstad shares her approach: “I seek out clients who first and foremost offer jobs that fit my interests. My favorite clients are those who are easy to communicate with and treat me like another member of their team, rather than a freelancer they occasionally ping. My most rewarding project so far is one I'm currently working on. The client is clear and transparent in her communication, we can geek out about user experience topics together, and the UX writing work I'm doing is the exact type of task I enjoy!”

Web developer Kevin Campbell also considers the client’s budget and understanding of the project. “I make sure their budget is within my hourly rate. I also look for a clear explanation of the job. Sometimes people put a small description and then want an estimate without an interview. That's a red flag for me. I need to see that the person understands the scope of the work to be done by the amount of details they put on their description.”

Paid ads professional Lisa Jeannet agrees, “My green flags are clients with clear expectations and realistic goals.” 

Social media marketing professional Fabiana Echeverria assesses a few key things before applying for a job on Upwork. “I look at when the jobs were posted and how many people have applied. If the job already has 50 proposals, I don’t bother. I also always make sure I believe in the product I'm supporting and that I feel I can trust my clients and that they trust me. If they can't trust me to do my job, then I know it won't work out.” 

4. Toggle your rate strategically

Figuring out how much to charge for your freelance services can feel tricky for new freelancers. While some professionals recommend lowering your rates to start with, others believe in staying firm. To get started, pick a rate and watch how potential clients react to it. You can then raise or lower it to match your needs. 

Campbell, who previously shared advice on what to look for in potential clients, says lowering your rate can be a strategic decision to help you get your first clients on Upwork. “The biggest challenge I faced when I first joined Upwork was getting new clients. I overcame this by reducing my price to the point where people had nothing to lose by giving me a try. Doing this and delivering top-quality work at the same time allowed me to build up good feedback and get valuable hours of work. Over time, doing this allowed me to increase my rate. 

“So, be prepared to lower your rate and explain why you're doing so. Don't just lower it because then potential clients might think you're not good. I let potential clients know they should take advantage of my temporary low rate because I had 10+ years of experience and was only lowering my rate to build up my profile on Upwork.”

Illustrator and visual designer Ana Cosovic used the same strategy. “As a newbie, my biggest challenge was gaining a client’s trust. To overcome this, I lowered my rate and was hired by a super nice French client. After my project ended, they gave me great feedback and that was the wind at my back.” 

On the other hand, Jeannet—who earlier shared her client green flags—believes in staying firm with your rates. Her advice is, “Do NOT decrease your rate. It will make you look very cheap and a lot of clients don't like that. Experience means $$$!”

Thankfully, as a freelancer, you have the freedom and flexibility to change your rates. The price you set isn’t written in stone. So, don’t overthink it. Learn more about setting your rates through these resources:

5. Be honest and transparent

Successful business relationships are built on trust. For your freelance business to thrive, you should work on building trustworthy relationships with clients right from the get-go. 

When applying for jobs, be honest and transparent about what you can (and can’t) deliver. Being up-front about your skills and abilities and delivering on what you promise is the best way to start building valuable relationships with your clients.

Cosovic realized early on that building trust was key as a freelancer. Earlier, she spoke of building trust in her newbie profile by lowering her rates to generate good feedback. She also says “I think the most important thing is to be honest. Do not over- (or under-) estimate yourself. If you've done similar projects in the past, mention that and tell them how you would solve their problem.” 

Minnichbach agrees, “I built trust with my clients by being fully transparent with who I am and what I can do. I focused on only searching and bidding on jobs I knew met my skills and experience.”

Campbell says, “I remember trying so hard to come across like I knew everything! I’ve since learned the value of being truthful and clear about what you have to do with the client. Your clients will appreciate your transparency.”

6. Communicate with clients

Good communication skills are essential for being successful in life—even more so for independent professionals. As we’ve already heard from Cosovic above, establishing and maintaining trust is a necessity for client-freelancer relationships. Good communication plays a vital role in this trust-building process.

Cosovic says, “The important thing for me was to learn how to communicate properly and how to show a client that I am the right person to help them with their project.  My advice is to communicate with a client as you would do in person. Ask questions. Show interest in their project. It goes a long way!” 

Jacobsson also believes genuinely expressing your interest in a client’s project can go a long way. He already shares this advice for creating effective proposals but further elaborates by recommending that you, “Ask questions so you understand the project in detail. This also creates a feeling of trust from the client’s side because it shows that you want to understand everything before getting started, and don’t just want to win the project and solve everything later.”

7. Go above and beyond 

The best, most successful freelancers aren’t just good at what they do; they also go the extra mile for their clients. 

In your early days as an independent professional, every example of good feedback is likely to make a huge difference to your success on Upwork. Clients always remember the professionals who put in just that extra little bit of effort. Don’t be afraid to go above and beyond.

Minnichbach and Jacobsson both strongly believe their willingness to put in the extra effort has helped them establish successful freelancing businesses. 

Minnichbach says, “There were times where I went the extra mile because a customer didn't like something I created for them. I would remake it for free, just to make sure their experience was a great one. I truly believe that going above and beyond and giving people a great customer experience will make all the difference for you as a freelancer. You don't have to be the best freelancer in the world but if you give your customers a great experience it will be well worth it.”

Jacobsson shares, “I started with zero experience in my field and built my career one step at a time. In the beginning, my main focus was to deliver great projects and receive top reviews. I didn’t care about the project price in the beginning. I focused on moving fast with multiple projects in the short term to benefit in the long run.”

8. Show your work

Your portfolio as an independent professional is like an online display book of all the work you’ve done. For a client, it’s tangible proof that you really can deliver on the services you offer. 

Echeverria, who previously shared her recommendations on what to look for before applying for a project on Upwork, also recommends that professionals create a strong portfolio.

“I can’t stress this enough but, SHOW YOUR WORK! Show previous work, mock-up samples of what you can do, and build up the portfolio, so clients can see what work you've done. When writing your proposals, always highlight what the problem is and that you have the skills to solve it!”

Jacobsson agrees. “Create a good case study for the service you will be delivering so clients can see exactly how your skills can help them achieve their goals.” 

Create better portfolios to win more work

Upwork makes it easy for you to create your portfolio with an intuitive tool and preformatted templates designed to empower freelancers to showcase all types of work on their portfolios.

Upwork freelancers who publish a portfolio are hired nine times more often than those who haven’t.

Choose from three different templates, Gallery, Case Study or Classic, to tell your professional story to clients.

Learn how to create your Upwork portfolio and elevate your work samples in front of the client’s eyes.

9. Make the most of Upwork features

Setting up your Upwork profile is just the beginning. In order to truly thrive on the platform, experienced independent professionals also suggest making the most of the various Upwork tools and features.

Minnichbach’s two-pronged advice is to:

  1. “Set up custom job searches on Upwork so that your feed is only showing you projects that fit your skill set and experience. You don't want to waste time searching through thousands of new projects per day in a category if half of them don't even apply to you.
  2. "Buy more Connects! The more Connects I bought, the more jobs I could bid on every week, and ultimately the more jobs I was awarded. The cost of Connects was nothing compared to the money I would earn from the jobs they allowed me to land.”

Connects: Upwork's virtual token

Connects are an investment toward your freelance career. You can purchase Connects in bundles or a custom amount of your choice. Each Connect costs $0.15 (USD). You can use Connects to invest in ads on Upwork.

Upwork Ads are designed to help freelancers win more work. You can use them to boost proposals, boost your profile, and signal your availability to clients through an Availability Badge.

We provide a monthly allotment of free Connects and ways to earn your Connects by registering for the first time, getting a Rising Talent badge, winning an interview with an established client on Upwork, and a one-time Connects bonus if you complete an Upwork Skills Certification.  

Your Connects, your choice. Spend Connects like points on Upwork to show potential clients that you’re serious about your business and invested in building a working relationship with them. Win more work, increase your earning power, and build longer-lasting relationships with clients who know you best.

10. Be patient and keep trying

Finally, be patient. Solopreneurship as a freelancer often takes some trial and error. Try, try, and try again. If something doesn’t work for you, take a step back, learn from your mistakes and, as they say, keep on keeping on.

There’s no such thing as an overnight success. Success will come. In the meantime, continue learning, implement your lessons, and keep experimenting. 

Many of the professionals we interviewed shared similar advice. They want to remind you that they were once where you are. That first project can seem elusive sometimes, but don’t give up.

Thaddeus Pasierb says, “I believe the most challenging part of first starting out on Upwork is landing that first project. Once you get a few jobs under your belt, the rest come easier as you build your reputation.”

Fabiana Echeverria agrees. “It took me a long time to crack my first job. Once I landed those first few interviews, it was smooth sailing from there. I had to make sure I was telling clients in my applications that I had experience off-platform and to upload sample work on my profile.” 

Jeff Minnichbach’s advice is to never stop analyzing your approach. “If you're never getting hired for jobs, stop and think about why this is. One big issue I was running into is that I was offering graphic design services with no real portfolio. So I started tweaking my profile on Upwork to showcase my work and I also tweaked my profile description to speak more to clients on the platform and not just talking about who I am. It was almost like a sales pitch to the world and why they should hire me.”

Kelsey Notstad’s words of wisdom are, “Keep going and keep pitching! It can be discouraging when you're just starting out, but there are some really amazing opportunities out there. Your dream projects are most certainly within reach—as long as you keep putting yourself out there, interviewing for jobs, and gaining experience.”

And finally, Ana Cosovic’s simple but important reminder is to “be persistent, be honest, and just do your best always!”

Start your freelance journey on Upwork

While it will likely take time and hard work to get started, becoming a freelancer is both achievable and rewarding. Success comes with many benefits. Freelancing offers an incredible opportunity to control the way that you work. 

Becoming an independent professional gives you the freedom to work when, where, and with whom you want. And that’s just the beginning. Ultimately freelancing gives you the flexibility to tailor your work to your life and not the other way around. 

If you’re interested in starting (or growing) your freelance business, start by signing up for an Upwork freelancer account.


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Author Spotlight

10 Tips for Upwork Success From Experienced Independent Professionals 
Radhika Basuthakur
Content Writer

Radhika is a self-confessed word nerd and content expert with over 15 years of experience writing content for businesses around the world. She is a cheerleader for flexible work, a passionate world traveler, and spends her free time alternating between a good book and a good hike.

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