5 Easy Ways to Make Upwork Work for You

by Zach VanderGraaf
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Zach VanderGraaf is a freelance content writer who has found success using Upwork, one of many online networks for connecting freelancers and clients. Zach agreed to write this guest post, sharing his Upwork experience and strategies as well as why he uses this particular platform. Soak it up! And don’t forget to check out his site!

I love Upwork!

Upwork gets a bad reputation, and there are a number of people out there who complain about this freelancing platform. But I’m here to tell you that Upwork can be an easy way to earn money as a side-hustle or even as a full-time job!

I’ve been on Upwork for a few months now as a freelance content writer, and I’ve had nothing but positive experiences. The secret, in my experience, is to know how to look for jobs, how to sell yourself, and how to read the client.

Read on to find out about the largest online freelancing platform and 5 easy ways to make Upwork work for you.

How Upwork works

What is Upwork? Essentially, Upwork is an online platform connecting freelancers with clients. Clients post jobs, and freelancers bid on the job by writing a proposal.

Clients can also skip the job posting process and search clients directly based on their experience and skills and offer to interview them on the spot. When the client is ready, they offer you a job. If you accept, you communicate through Upwork and bill through the platform as you complete the job.

Upwork does take a significant chunk as a fee for connecting you to the client. At the time of this writing, it starts at a 20 percent service charge, but then it drops to 10 percent after $500 are billed, and 5 percent once you reach $10,000.

A lot of people are turned off by this fee, but I think it’s worth it for several reasons:

  • Upwork is the largest platform and has the most jobs.
  • Upwork allows you to communicate completely through the system using chat, call, or video.
  • Billed hours and Fixed-priced contracts are protected by Upwork (so you won’t get stiffed without having an action plan to help you).
  • They offer support and qualifications to freelancers who work within their system.
  • Their customer support is quick and understanding.

Using Upwork from a freelancer’s perspective boils down to this.

5 Easy strategies to improve your Upwork experience

Upwork can be overwhelming if you don’t know how to navigate the platform. It’s easy to learn but difficult to master. Here are a few strategies I’ve picked up on from my own experience using the service.

1. Make your profile shine

Take the time to fill out your profile entirely and intentionally. Most people make the mistake of thinking that all the magic happens when you write your proposal to the client. While this part is important, your profile can make or break your chances of getting the gig.

Make sure you fill everything out that you can on your profile. As you’re completing the profile, aim everything you have towards your niche and skill set.

Don’t have a niche? Take the time to find one in your skill set or learn a new one.

Follow this list to make sure you have everything done:

  • Title.
  • Overview.
  • Profile Photo.
  • Portfolio.
  • Skills.
  • Tests.
  • Certifications.
  • Employment History.
  • Education.

Even if your employment or education doesn’t seem to be relevant, take the time in your overview to point out the skills you learned from that experience.

For example, I’m a music teacher by day. Until I got more writing jobs, I pushed that experience by explaining how teaching gave me the skills to take complicated information and present it in clear, engaging ways.

My favorite line I still use occasionally is: “If I can teach middle school boys to sing a song about baking a cake and have a fun time doing it, I can write about _______ in an entertaining way.”

2. Put relevant things in your portfolio

After you bid on a job, a client may go to look at your profile. If your profile is looking good, the next thing they look at is your portfolio section. Some people consider this to be the most important part of your profile.

The portfolio is your chance to show off your work. It even lets you link the projects you share directly to completed jobs on Upwork. I suggest having around 6 to10 examples.

What should you include as examples? Well, I came up with this list of features to help you determine what to keep. This list is in general order of importance.

  1. High-profile, big-name clients.
  2. Relevant to your service and niche.
  3. High-quality work on your part.
  4. Project completed recently.
  5. Jobs done on Upwork.

Find work that matches these elements. More potential clients check them out than you realize.

If you’re new to freelancing, get some portfolio items by creating your own. Make your own blog and write about your niche. Ask your friends if you can edit their work for free to help you create some samples. It’s OK to create samples that are relevant just for your portfolio’s sake.

3. Search for the right jobs

A simple search for jobs on Upwork can show you up to 25,000 jobs posted at a time! Knowing how to sort through jobs and what to look for is key to landing the gig, saving time, and making money using the platform.

There are many methods that people suggest for getting to the best jobs, and some people get into a lot of great detail about it. Here are my easy steps.

First, I select the specific category I’m looking for (for example, “article and blog writing”). Then I filter for “Payment Verified.” Finally, I browse for jobs that match my skill set or are interesting to me.

The key here is “Payment Verified.”

Many of the jobs that pop up are unverified. Some of these will be people who are new to the platform, but sometimes these are scammers. By filtering for only payment verified clients, you can eliminate that completely.

If you want, you can further sort by project budgets or specific keywords. Then I scroll through, save jobs that fit my skills, and apply.

Pro tip: Apply for jobs that match your skills and experience the closest. This increases your chance of getting the interview.

4. Talk openly with clients

Long-term success on Upwork really depends on not just completing jobs, but getting those sweet five-star ratings. In my experience and from what human behavior tells me, almost all conflict results from a lack of understanding and communication.

By communicating quickly, being positive, and asking for and accepting feedback, you can collect those good ratings. As the job success score improves, clients become much more likely to hire you, and the whole system snowballs into more jobs for better pay doing what you want.

5. Learn from the ultra-successful

Don’t take my word for it. I’m no expert, but the early success I’ve found is the result of those I learned from. I regularly follow those who rake in the big bucks (sometimes up to six figures) on Upwork.

Here are some of my favorite resources:


Upwork is not a magic place to go and collect free money. Just like all other new jobs, you’re going to have to put in the work.

If you’re looking for a quick buck, Upwork and freelancing are not for you. You need to put in the time getting experience, reviews, and the reputation to inspire trust in potential clients. But it doesn’t have to be hard.

Follow my 5 easy ways to make Upwork work for you, and you’ll begin to find success that spins into more money over time.

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