How To Build and Protect a Positive Reputation on Upwork

As a freelancer, your reputation on Upwork has a significant impact on your ability to attract new clients and grow your business. In addition to assessing your skills, each time you submit a proposal or a prospective client considers inviting you to an open job, the client will review your Job Success Score, work history, client reviews, and portfolio to determine whether you’re the right fit.

During my experience as a Top Rated Plus freelancer and running a UX/UI design agency on Upwork for nearly 10 years, I’ve learned valuable lessons about how to build client relationships and maintain a positive reputation.

Below, I’ve highlighted key lessons and best practices to help you build a positive reputation on Upwork.

Table of contents:

Tips to vet clients

Not every working relationship between a freelancer or agency and a client is the right match, even when the budget, project scope, and required skills seem to fit.

Before beginning a project, potential clients have the opportunity to interview you and review your profile. You, as a freelancer or agency owner, also have the chance to vet clients and determine whether you’ll collaborate well with one another. Thoroughly vetting clients can help increase the likelihood of success on Upwork.

Answer relevant questions when evaluating clients

Whether you’re considering submitting a proposal or a client invites you to interview for an open job, review the client’s profile to learn how they’ve worked with other agencies or freelancers.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What kind of feedback has the client received for other projects? The reviews left by independent professionals can tell you a lot about a client. If the client has received a steady stream of positive reviews highlighting strong communications and clear expectations, this is a good indicator that the client builds positive working relationships. Conversely, if the client has below average reviews with feedback related to miscommunication, unrealistic expectations, or exceeding scope, you may want to reconsider partnering with them.
  • How has the client reviewed other freelancers on Upwork? If a client has previously left positive reviews or shared constructive feedback, they’re likely invested in building strong, mutually beneficial relationships with freelancers or agencies. On the other hand, if the client has completed several jobs and their profile shows that they consistently don't share feedback or only share negative feedback, they may not be the best partner.
  • What’s the typical budget for the client’s projects? When reviewing potential clients, take a look at the total amount spent on Upwork and the average hourly rate to gauge whether the client’s budget aligns with your expectations. For example, when I’m evaluating clients, if I notice the client exclusively engages freelancers for small $200-level jobs, I realize they may not be the right fit for a larger scope UX/UI project
  • What’s the client’s hire rate? Client profiles also highlight their overall hire rate by showing the total number of jobs posted, percentage hire rate, and total number of open jobs. If the client has posted several jobs and has a zero percent hire rate, you’re likely better off using your Connects to submit a proposal to a client with a better hire rate.

Understand the context of feedback

A client who doesn’t have all five-star reviews or hasn’t left all positive feedback may still be a fit for your next project. In addition to looking at the star rating, reading the written feedback can help you understand the freelancer or client’s reasoning. Depending on your specific work style or processes, unfavorable feedback that the client received or shared with freelancers may not matter as much to you.

Below, I’ve highlighted examples of feedback I’ve noticed when vetting clients for my own projects and my agency.

  • Negative review about an emotional client. If a freelancer left a review indicating that the client was frustrated or expressed negative emotions during the project, this type of review doesn’t necessarily turn me away, unless the client was disrespectful. I have a calm temperament and have learned how to successfully partner with clients across a wide range of personality types. I’ve also gained experience navigating and responding to client frustrations.
  • Review about a freelancer’s lack of organization. I’ve seen clients leave negative reviews about UX/UI freelancers or agencies who don’t provide documentation throughout a project. My team maintains detailed documentation and a set process for every project, so this wouldn’t be an issue for us.

Don’t overlook clients with limited history on Upwork

While taking a look at job history, spending, hire rates, and reviews can help you partner with the right clients, everyone on Upwork has to start somewhere and certain clients may have little to no history on the platform. If this is the case, rather than overlooking clients with limited history, at least have a conversation with the client to learn more about the job and whether there is a fit based on the scope and your skills.

I’ve learned firsthand about the value of initiating conversations with clients who are new to Upwork. One of my agency’s top long-term clients had zero history on Upwork when we first started working together. We’ve built a strong relationship over the past three years, which has helped contribute to my agency’s overall success.

How to clarify client expectations

Setting expectations from the start of projects and reiterating expectations throughout can help you maintain positive, collaborative relationships with clients. Consider the following steps to set and clarify expectations.

Confirm overall goals

Looking at the overall goals of a job or project from a strategic standpoint is important for success. While the end goal may be to launch a new app, I like to get an understanding of the role of my client in the company, and how the project will impact the business as a whole.

If a client needs to validate an idea in an investor meeting in two weeks, for example, this project will require a high-level approach. It may need an overall concept and some mockups quite soon, rather than in-depth user experience and market research for a project with a goal of launching in six months.

When discussing project or job goals with clients, also share that one of your goals is to receive honest feedback at the end of the project to continue building a positive reputation on Upwork.

Request detailed information up front about the project

In my experience, you often have to push clients up front for additional details on a project or job. Asking the right questions before accepting a job or project can help ensure you and your client successfully cross the metaphorical river together. It also helps clients clarify for themselves the end result they seek. Resolving questions right away may change the scope or way you approach a project.

One challenge I’ve run into with clients recently is that many are eager to incorporate artificial intelligence (AI) into their solutions without having a full understanding of how it works. In other words, they simply want to be able to say they’re using AI. Sometimes, AI may not be the best or most effective tool to use. Gathering additional details before beginning the project can help ensure we approach the project with the right solutions in mind.

Because UX/UI projects can be complex, I often follow a formal bidding process with clients, which can save time, reduce project costs, avoid over- or under-estimating total project scope, and set up the project for success. As a freelancer or agency, during the bidding process, you’ll have the opportunity to send detailed project briefs and questionnaires to gather as much information as possible about the client and project. My team has a list of questions prepared ahead of time that I ask before kicking off any project.

Set communication expectations

Engaging, streamlined communication throughout each step of a project is a key to success with a client.

Effective communication can increase the likelihood of achieving project goals, receiving positive reviews, and maintaining a positive reputation on Upwork.

Start on a positive note and stay on track by confirming communication expectations with each client.

Factors to take into consideration include:

  • Time zones
  • Working hours
  • Meeting cadence
  • Preferred communication format
  • Milestone deadlines
  • Desired feedback timeline to keep the project on track

Best practices to ensure client satisfaction

Client satisfaction throughout the project can help both sides work harmoniously and increase the chances of positive feedback once the project is completed.

Consider the following best practices to help drive satisfaction:

  • Be realistic about your skills and capabilities. While some freelancers may be eager to accept any projects or jobs that come their way, this isn’t always the best approach. I’ve turned down projects that align with some of my skills and experience but also require skills outside my area of expertise. Accepting projects that showcase your strengths can lead to more successful outcomes.  
  • Document communications and progress. Whether you’re an independent freelancer or lead an agency, maintain a written record of all communications and project updates to help keep the project on track and provide visibility into the project status. Document progress by centralizing all updates in a project management platform, sending an agenda before in-person or virtual meetings, or sharing a recap email or message following each meeting.
  • Show enthusiasm for projects. If you join a meeting excited and happy to share the latest updates, the client will likely respond with enthusiasm and remember your positivity when it comes time to leave a review or consider working with you on a future project. On the other hand, if you appear disengaged, the client may lose excitement for the project, which can reduce satisfaction.
  • Offer incremental add-ons or perks. While staying within scope is important to effective project management and your own success as a freelancer or agency, offering small add-ons can show clients you appreciate their business. One perk I offer my clients is, when my team designs a new logo, we sometimes create a mockup to show the logo in Times Square or at another well-known landmark to bring the brand to life. This add-on may take my team 30 minutes but seeing the client’s face light up when they picture their logo on a famous landmark is worth the extra effort.

How to respond to and resolve client issues

During any project or job, you may run into challenges or receive less-than-stellar incremental feedback from a client. Resolving issues sooner rather than later can help increase client satisfaction with the final project outcome.

Some ways to respond to client issues include:  

  • Address issues as soon as possible. When a client approaches you with an issue, schedule a meeting as soon as possible to discuss and determine a resolution. Avoid attempting to resolve the issue in back and forth messaging over email, on a messaging platform, or through document comments. While written feedback and emotions can easily be misinterpreted, scheduling a meeting can help ensure you’re on the same page with the client.
  • Understand the client’s point of view. While a client may call out a legitimate mistake or point out that you’re falling short of expectations, they may also share negative feedback or display emotions due to other factors outside your control. For example, the client may have just attended a meeting that left them frustrated or may be facing stress in their personal life. Listen to the client’s point of view, display empathy, try to avoid letting your own emotions impact project success, and reiterate project goals and expectations when addressing issues.
  • Take ownership of mistakes. Even the most experienced, successful freelancer or agency will make mistakes on occasion. If my team makes a mistake that requires additional time to fix, I take ownership and don't ask for increased budget or scope. A few extra hours of work can go a long way toward increasing satisfaction, rather than possible reputation damage from a negative review.

How to ask for feedback

While asking clients for feedback can feel uncomfortable at first, receiving honest feedback will help you learn from each job and continue building your reputation and business on Upwork.  

Here are some tips to navigate asking for client feedback:

  • Confirm all project goals have been met. Before reaching out to a client for feedback, review all project milestones and goals to confirm you’ve met expectations. If you faced issues along the way, double check that all issues have been resolved. Reach out to the client to check if they need anything else to consider the project complete and successful.
  • Request honest feedback. Even when a project or job meets or exceeds expectations, some clients may be busy with their day-to-day responsibilities and overlook leaving feedback. Politely asking for honest feedback can help you continue to build a positive reputation on Upwork. Remind each client to leave feedback on your profile during a meeting right before the project concludes, especially if they’re visibly satisfied with the project and sharing positive verbal feedback.
  • Avoid directly asking for positive feedback. Asking clients directly for positive feedback or five-star reviews is against Upwork’s terms and conditions and can come across as unprofessional.  However, you may want to reiterate your goals from the beginning of the project, including that a primary goal of all projects is to drive successful outcomes and continue maintaining your reputation on Upwork.

What to do if you receive a negative review

Achieving and maintaining a 100% Job Success Score (JSS) and five-star average rating on Upwork is easier to do than trying to improve your score or rating once they’ve dropped. If you receive a negative review after a contract ends, knowing how to react and respond to these reviews can help you preserve your reputation in the long run.

Understand the reasoning for negative feedback

A common reason clients may leave negative feedback is because expectations weren’t met or they faced miscommunication or frustrations throughout the project. However, in some cases, you may receive negative reviews due to no fault of your own. Understanding the reasoning can help you resolve issues with clients and avoid less than stellar feedback in the future.

I’m committed to maintaining a 100% JSS and my status as a Top Rated Plus freelancer. However, I’ve received reviews below five stars from time to time. For example, one client left me a four-star review and I asked the client what could have gone better to receive five stars. The client said the project was completed 100% perfectly and the four stars were supposed to motivate me to continue growing and improving.

This taught me a lesson that I should consider explaining the importance and impact of five-star reviews at the beginning of the project and as I approach project completion with a client.

Resolve additional issues, if needed

A client may also leave a below average review if they noticed a mistake or not all goals were met for a certain job or project. Once you understand why a client left a review lower than five stars, consider completing a few additional tasks to boost satisfaction—especially if the project fell short of the client’s expectations. This may take you or your team a few additional hours, but can have a significant positive impact on your Upwork reputation. After the issues are resolved, consider politely asking the client if they’re willing to resubmit feedback, which is an option on Upwork for a short period after a project is completed.

Consider asking existing clients to leave feedback

On Upwork, certain jobs include the option to leave feedback mid-contract. If you receive a negative review or have a limited number of reviews, you may want to ask some of your long-term, satisfied clients if they’re willing to take a few minutes to leave a review. If you recently received positive written feedback from a client, they showed enthusiasm during a meeting, or you successfully completed the latest project milestone, consider asking the client to leave a public review directly on your profile.

Each time you ask clients to take a few minutes of time out of their day to leave a review, consider sharing add-ons or perks after they leave a review—such as the Times Square logo mockup mentioned above—to show your appreciation. Avoid doing so before the client leaves the review, as offering free work in exchange for positive reviews is a violation of Upwork terms and conditions.

Reach out for support on your UX/UI projects

Whether I’m working on my own freelance projects or partnering with other UX/UI experts through my agency, I’m motivated to do my best work possible. I follow the tips above to continue maintaining a positive reputation on Upwork.

I partner with businesses on UX/UI design projects and help clients navigate common product challenges including showcasing proof of concept, raising capital, gaining first users, improving lifetime value (LTV), incorporating gamification, and embracing artificial intelligence. If you need a skilled partner for an upcoming UX/UI project, send an inquiry through my Upwork profile and we can discuss your specific business goals.

This article was submitted by and expresses the views and opinions of the independent freelancer listed as the author. They do not constitute the views or opinions of Upwork, and Upwork does not explicitly sponsor or endorse any of the views, opinions, tools or services mentioned in this article, all of which are provided as potential options according to the view of the author. Each reader and company should take the time needed to adequately analyze and determine the tools or services that would best fit their specific needs and situations.
This article was submitted by and expresses the views and opinions of the author. They do not constitute the views or opinions of Upwork, and Upwork does not explicitly sponsor or endorse any of the views, opinions, tools or services mentioned in this article, all of which are provided as potential options according to the view of the author. Each reader and company should take the time needed to adequately analyze and determine the tools or services that would best fit their specific needs and situations.
Article Author
Bohdan H.
Top Rated Plus
Software AI Design Expert
Kharkiv, Ukraine
Software design expert

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