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Getting Started on Upwork and Landing Your First Client

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Dina is a work-in-progress freelancer on Upwork who earns money by translating and writing for clients.

Upwork doesn’t let just anyone clutter their website. They won’t accept all applications. If there isn’t enough demand for your set of skills, your profile is likely to be rejected.

Upwork doesn’t let just anyone clutter their website. They won’t accept all applications. If there isn’t enough demand for your set of skills, your profile is likely to be rejected.

Freelancing on Upwork

Do you find freelance work over the internet?

Upwork and other freelancing websites can be intimidating. There are so many basics to cover before you get started, let alone before you start applying for jobs and get the hang of it. Freelancing sites have also become a very competitive arena due to their availability to a large number of people and their convenience.

Upwork became my first choice after trying to work on Freelancer for a couple of months. The biggest problem I had with Freelancer was that the website collects its fee before the client actually pays you for the job. This caused me to have to pay $50 for a job I took but never got paid for. Freelancer and I eventually straightened the situation out, but it caused me never to trust this website again.

Upwork, on the other hand, will take your money only after you receive your pay. However, Upwork is much more selective than other freelancing websites even when it comes to accepting new applications from freelancers.

Here's how to get started with freelancing on the site.



1. Go the Extra Mile in Your Application

Upwork doesn’t let just anyone clutter its website. They won’t accept all applications. If there isn’t enough demand for your set of skills, your profile is likely to be rejected.

Therefore, I would recommend putting everything you can think of in your profile application, whether it seems relevant or not to you at the moment, because you will create your general and specialized profiles later on.

These public profiles are where you promote yourself as an expert in a particular field in which you actually want to work, and the profiles don’t have to cover all the skills you listed in your application.

2. Educate Yourself

I would highly recommend educating yourself before applying for jobs. This means reading as much as possible on Upwork or even taking some (online) courses on freelancing.

Getting familiar with Upwork and its clients is extremely important because freelancers need to use Connects when applying for jobs. You get 20 Connects when you start out on the platform and submitting a proposal to a job requires 1 to 6 Connects.

When you run out of Connects, you have to purchase them at the price of $0.15 each. You don't want to waste your connections on jobs you aren't likely to land. Don't spend them on low-quality proposals, or while your profile isn’t finished.

3. Collect Everything You Need to Get Started

  • If you are outside of the U.S., you will have to provide your W-8BEN tax information before being able to withdraw funds while U.S. persons are required to file a Form W-9.
  • Also, you’ll have to provide your VAT number as well if you are in a country where Upwork supports VAT. Only businesses can have VAT numbers (at least in my country, Croatia), while physical persons have to find out how to pay their taxes.
  • Another thing to collect would be references from your past employers that are relevant for your future work if this is possible. This is a good idea if you still don’t have any references on your Upwork profile (which you can’t have if you’re new). You can then post these references on online portfolio sites like Jimdo, or you can even add them to your Upwork portfolio.

Of course, needless to say, you should collect your best work to put them in your portfolio, but more on that in the next section.

4. Create an Outstanding Portfolio

The single most important thing is to create a portfolio that reflects your work. If you have done many relevant projects, kudos to you, but try to be critical of your work and decide whether you really want to include all the work that you did.

Not all projects reflect our capabilities to the fullest, and those that don’t will actually work against you.

If you haven’t had the chance to work on projects for clients before, don’t worry. Just create your own projects specifically for the purpose of putting them in your portfolio.

If you want to write poetry for money, find websites that allow you to publish poems online for free (e.g. AllPoetry), while HubPages is a great platform to showcase both your poetry and your other writing skills.

One thing to keep in mind is to make sure that you have great visuals in your portfolio. Most clients will scroll through your portfolio without even looking at the descriptions of the projects; they will decide to read them only if the visuals are inviting.

5. Write Relevant and Personalized Proposals

One piece of advice I stumbled upon very frequently is to get personal with your job proposals.

  • Try to include your client’s name in the first sentence of your proposal and don’t send out generic proposals that you have sent a hundred times before.
  • Pay close attention to what your client wants and tailor your proposal according to that.
  • Address all problems your client may have mentioned in their job description and make it clear to them what your approach is. For example, mention that after they decide to hire you, you will jump on the phone and go through all the details with them.
  • Also, try to provide a relevant work sample. If you have one that fits your client's needs, you can submit that. If you don’t, take the time to create one specifically for them. Even if your portfolio or proposal sucks, your work sample will be enough to show them that you know what you're doing.

Happy freelancing!

© 2019 Dina Sostarec


Imogen French from Southwest England on July 12, 2020:

I've just completed my first editing job on Upwork. The client was lovely, and the job was a breeze, but getting paid is not an easy process! Be prepared to provide all of your tax details, bank details, driver's licence, a detailed profile, complete a video call to verify your identity (this didn't work on my laptop, I had to do it on my mobile phone, which took me a few days to work out). Now I've finished my first job and am still awaiting payment. Although the site holds the client's money until a job is complete, it still takes five days to clear after it is approved, and then the site only pays out on a Wednesday, and only when the freelancer's balance is in excess of $100. Beware that the site also takes a fee and charges VAT. You'll need to keep all of this in mind when submitting your proposals and prices for jobs.

Also, maybe due to the global pandemic situation, there are a lot of competitors on the site. Every job I have submitted a proposal for has at least 10-20 other freelancers bidding for the same job. Many jobs are snapped up within 1 or 2 hours of being posted - you have to be on the ball! I have only succeeded in one job out of 6 that I have applied for.

sarahshahzad from Lahore,pakistan on February 10, 2020:

hi sarah is here..! well great sharing, really this is very helpful for all of us thank you so much for all these tips, keep sharing.. :)