How I Started My Agency on Upwork

When you are out on your own as a solo talent, you are a small fish in a big internet pond. The good work you do for your clients often loses steam once you're done. It's back to the drawing board to land another client or finish another project. The process can become grueling and tedious.

This is how I was feeling in early 2016. I didn't have any new prospects in he works when my last consulting contract ended. I had been working with web development agencies  as a solo contractor for more than a year. I loved the work, but not the hustle, and I was running out of money.

In this story, I share the lessons I learned—and the success I found—when I decided to use digital access to my advantage. I took these steps to start my agency on Upwork.

- I set up a profile on Upwork

- What had I done wrong?

- Soon, passive inbound lead flow began!

- I decided to form my own agency

- My agency evolved to eCommerce

- The agency grew and sustained!

- Here’s how you can start your own agency

I set up a profile on Upwork

Two days later, I found myself on Upwork, spending an hour setting up my profile and scouring an endless list of relevant jobs. After three to four more hours submitting close to 40 applications that first day, I was tapped out. I felt a sense of defeat.

I noticed that some of the jobs had been sitting there for weeks. Had I wasted precious time? I was probably the 100th person to apply. My application would probably sit at the bottom of the pile and go unnoticed.

I went to bed early that night, hoping to wake up to ten new jobs. Instead, I woke up to zero. I questioned everything I was doing. It was hard to stay motivated. My approach, my messages, my work history. I went down every job application and reread what I wrote.

What had I done wrong?

I contemplated making up things to make my profile look better. But I quickly realized that wasn't the solution. My foundation is authenticity. I was confident that I would be able to prove myself to whoever decided to take a chance on me.

It took five days and 80+ applications to receive my first response from a potential client. I had to move quickly. I asked them to get on a video call. I knew I had the skills and the personality to land the job, and I did. There is no better feeling than receiving an email with the subject line "Congratulations, you received an offer on Upwork". Of course I accepted, and hit the ground running.

I kept applying to more jobs, averaging about 10 applications every two to three days. Two weeks later, I landed a second job. I started making about $1,500 per week.

Soon, passive inbound lead flow began!

Once my profile grew and I was upgrading my badges, I started to get a lot of inbound lead flow. The requests started to come from agencies that needed project managers as well as from SaaS businesses.

This is where Upwork shines. Your completed work feeds the algorithm and pushes your business to the top of relevant searches. As you complete more projects, you start ranking higher because you're building trust on the platform. Upwork tracks how much the contract value was, the time it took to complete the work, and the review you got from your client. It doesn't get lost in the noise of the entire internet; it gets highlighted on a marketplace where people are actively looking for your services.

On Upwork, your results speak for themselves, not solely your keywords.

I decided to form my own agency

This new exposure gave me insight into agency operations and how they managed their sales pipeline and I came to realize that there were a lot of gaps in their systems. I wondered if I should start my own agency, but I wasn’t ready to take the leap. Instead, I kept ramping up my Upwork profile and the lead flow just kept coming. I no longer had to apply for jobs. Every morning I would wake up and see a new job invite.

Finally, when 2017 was coming to an end, I decided it was time to transition into becoming an agency owner. I had all the tools that I needed:

  • Project management
  • Network of designers and developers
  • Consistent lead flow

Everything else I could figure out as the business grew.

My agency evolved to eCommerce

In 2018, I decided to go all in on building an eCommerce agency. I was ready to take the leap into the world of service work, full-time. I spent a lot of time consulting as a project manager for other agencies (and clients), but I had this fire burning inside of me to set up my own shop. As a project manager, I had a chance to see a lot of the under-the-hood processes and systems that other agencies had in place.

It was the natural progression to go from a one-man freelancing business, doing work for others, to growing a small team.

The agency grew and sustained!

Once we launched the agency, two days later we received our first big contract that came through a word-of-mouth referral (outside of Upwork). We didn't even have a website, we didn't do any marketing, it was a pleasant surprise.

The contract was roughly $30,000. It was a fully custom Shopify store, we had to do the design, development, and custom integrations. Truthfully, I’d never handled a project of this size. I felt like it was a test from day one whether the Tako Agency was going to survive or fall flat on its face. We continued to grow our agency from there.

Luckily, 5 years later, we are still here.

Here’s how you can start your own agency

In the beginning, you'll need to spend time going after jobs that you see posted. Once you land a few projects, make sure you complete them to the best of your abilities relative to what the client expects.

Build trust to support deal flow

Professional success boils down to trusted relationships. If clients trust and enjoy you, they are more likely to want to work with you. Create a profile presence that attracts clients to you:

  1. Create a clear profile
  2. Showcase your previous work
  3. Respond to each post with unique insight and relevance, not a templated approach.Stay away from blanket statements; stand out.
  1. Most importantly, be human and honest. If you can't do a job, let the client know. Don't risk getting a bad review just because you wanted to make an extra few hundred bucks; do the work you're comfortable taking on.

When you land a client on Upwork, if the job goes well, they’ll rarely want to work with someone else because they feel a sense of security with you.

As bigger companies use Upwork to outsource their work to agencies, it's becoming a better outlet to land those big clients versus sending a cold email to them directly.

On Upwork, you have their attention.

Understand the marketing model


The only marketing you have to do on Upwork is:

  • Respond to job posts
  • Respond to interview invites
  • Complete projects
  • Get positive reviews
  • Post your jobs

The Upwork marketing model which focuses on reviews and past successes provides the client with a sense of security, especially in the early days of the relationship. In the same way, it provides the agency or freelancer with a sense of security that they will get recognized and rewarded for good performance.

Insider tip on how to get the job

If you have a specific clientele you'd like to target, you can create a feed of jobs so you don't have to refresh the Upwork page all the time.

Here's a cool little hack to be the first to respond to new jobs:

Step 1: Conduct an advanced search with relevant information.

Step 2: Create an RSS feed for that search.

Step 3: Add that RSS feed to your Slack channel.

Step 4: Anytime something pops up, click on the link in the RSS feed and go directly to the job and apply.

Be detailed, personal, and give away valuable information to the potential client. Demonstrate that, even before paying for your service, they are already getting value.

Let Upwork support your agency with lead generation

Upwork is a great partner for anyone wishing to start their own agency as I did. Your completed work feeds the algorithm and pushes your business to the top of relevant searches. As you complete more projects, you start ranking higher because you're building trust on the platform.

Upwork tracks how much the contract value was, the time it took to complete the work, and the review you get from your client. Your agency won’t get lost in the noise of the internet; it gets highlighted on a marketplace where people are actively looking for your services.

I consult with freelancers and agencies to help them grow their businesses and find success on Upwork. Get in touch with me here if you’d like to find out more.

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
Author
Zlatko B.
Business Coach & eCommerce Expert
Sacramento, CA
Entrepreneurship
Product & Agency Building

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