Making Money on Upwork: How I Made More Than $100,000 Freelancing on the Platform

UpWork is one of the largest freelancing platforms with more than 14 million users in 180 countries. Revamped in 2015, it’s the go-to option for people looking to make money online or start a career from home. You can work on UpWork as a part-time worker or a full-time freelancer. 

The platform offers something for everyone. However, some people still struggle to make money on UpWork as it can be a little difficult to navigate through its many rules and regulations, especially for a new user. As an experienced UpWork freelancer, I am in a position to tell you more about the platform including how to make money on UpWork.

I’ve been freelancing for over 15 years and have earned more than $100,000 freelancing on the platform. I know the ins and outs of making money on UpWork and can help you boost your freelancing career. In this guide, I’ll explain everything about UpWork including creating a profile and writing kickass proposals. Let’s get started.

What is UpWork?

UpWork is an online marketplace for freelancers in a variety of fields including writing, web development, and graphic design. The site bridges the gap between workers and employers. It allows companies and individuals to hire freelancers from across the world.

A publicly-traded company, UpWork makes it easy for people to find work and make money online. There are both new and experienced users on the platform. However, competition is tough, especially for some niches like writing and SEO, which can make it hard for workers to land a gig. Still, there are opportunities for everyone as all the network’s freelancers earned over $1 billion per year combined on Upwork.

What kind of jobs can I find on UpWork?

The easiest way to find a job is to search for it. Go to the Find Work section and look for relevant jobs. This is important because jobs are not always posted under the right category. For example, SEO writing jobs can be posted under both SEO and writing sections. There are thousands of jobs on UpWork broken into multiple categories:

  • Accounting & Consulting
  • Admin Support
  • Customer Service
  • Data Science & Analytics
  • Design & Creative
  • Engineering & Architecture
  • IT & Networking
  • Legal
  • Sales & Marketing
  • Translation
  • Web, Mobile & Software Dev
  • Writing

Each category has subcategories. For example, there are Database Administration, Information Security, and Network & System Administration jobs under the IT & Networking tab. You will notice that almost every category has the ‘Other’ option where you will find relevant jobs that aren’t suitable for other sections.

Making money on UpWork: 13 rules to follow

Now that you understand UpWork, it is time to talk about ways to make money on UpWork. Some are obvious, but others are less intuitive. These rules will help you start off on the right foot.

#1 Create a kickass UpWork profile

This is the most important factor because you will not be able to make any money if you do not have an impressive profile. Technically speaking, you will have to work on your profile before you join UpWork because the company will not approve your membership application if it doesn’t find your profile to be impressive or you to be a good fit. Here are a few things to remember.

Be honest

This is the most important factor because lying on your profile can get you into serious trouble. Be honest about everything from your name to your education to your country of residence. Remember that UpWork may ask you to verify your identity from time to time, lying about your name or other information may get your profile approved but you will eventually get banned if you’re caught lying. Also, don’t present someone else’s work on your profile under your name. It’s a serious offence that could get you permanently banned.

Get inspired but don’t steal

It is okay to get inspired when creating your UpWork profile, but remember that it is not okay to copy and paste someone else’s bio or other details. Read other profiles, especially profiles belonging to top freelancers, and create a similar profile but in your own name. Most clients go through profiles and judge a person based on what they write. Proofread your submission and ensure there are no grammar errors or typos.

Choose a professional profile picture

UpWork requires all freelancers to have a profile picture depicting their faces. There are certain requirements that your profile picture must meet, otherwise, it may not get approved. Also, changing your profile picture later on can be a nuisance as doing so may require you to re-verify your identity.

The picture must belong to you and it should look professional. Don’t put a picture in your PJs. It should show you’re serious about work and ready to be the next big thing. You can upload your company logo if you have an Agency account.

Write an impressive biography

A lot of profiles get rejected because the bio is not good. The job of a bio is to tell UpWork and your potential clients who you are, what you do, and why they should hire you. It should include things such as your education and experience. Also, work on writing a bio that shows some personality and tells users your achievements

Enter all relevant information

UpWork will ask you to enter information such as your educational background, certificates, and experience including offline experience. Provide all the information and make sure it is correct. While UpWork doesn’t usually ask to verify educational background or experience, lying could get you into trouble because smart clients can identify discrepancies and may even report you for lying. There’s no limit on how many times you can update your bio so make sure to keep upgrading it every now and then to add new information such as a new degree or experience.

#2 Choose the right membership type

There seems to be a lot of confusion about UpWork payment plans and membership packages. While the platform is free to use, you might want to buy a paid package to enjoy more perks. Every member starts with a free plan (Basic) that comes with 10 Connects per month with the option to purchase additional Connects. 

You will need Connects to bid for jobs. Each job costs 1 Connect with the option to boost your bid. Each boost costs 1-3 Connects and could help you win jobs. On the other hand, the Basic plan comes with 80 Connects per month with other perks such as the ability to customize your profile.

If you are new to UpWork then you can start with a Basic plan and upgrade later on. You will have the option to upgrade anytime you want. The paid plan can be very useful if you know how to utilize it. The ability to see competitor bids can help you make the right offer. You will need to add a payment method to your profile in order to pay the fee, charged monthly, or have it deducted from your account balance if you’ve earned enough money.

#3 Know your worth and your rate

You will be asked to choose an hourly rate when creating your profile. Don’t waste too much time thinking about it at this stage because you will always have the option to change your rate. The minimum rate is $3 per hour with no limit on the maximum hourly rate. 

However, in addition to hourly jobs, you will also find fixed jobs on the platform where you earn a fixed amount for your job. Let’s talk about the hourly rate first since most UpWork jobs fall in this category. Here are a few things to remember when selecting your rate:

  • It included UpWork fees
  • The rate depends on your niche
  • Pick a rate according to your skills and experience

If you are new to freelancing then go as low as you can. You may even find some people offering work at $3 per hour, which might not be feasible in all cases. Most new freelancers have an hourly rate of $15 per hour. Intermediate freelancers with a few years of experience usually bid between $20 and $40 per hour and experts go above $40 with many charging over $100 per hour.

There are two opinions here. Some people believe that writing a low rate on your profile can help you attract more workers. While some believe that writing at a high rate can be more beneficial. Based on my experience, it boils down to multiple factors.

A low rate might cause you to attract more clients but they’re usually not very ‘attractive.’ They may not pay well or may be difficult to work with. Similarly, a very low rate may discourage clients who do pay well as they may not consider you a very skilled freelancer if you’re too cheap to hire.

Similarly, a rate that’s too high will discourage a large portion of UpWork employers since most are looking for affordable work. You have to understand your worth when you’re fixing a rate. Anything between $15 and $20 can be a good option if you are new to UpWork. 

You can raise your rate once you gain some experience and have good reviews to show. Similarly, the rate isn’t fixed and you may always have the option to negotiate a higher rate or reduce your bid when you make a proposal. Hourly jobs can be a little complicated because clients often expect you to finish the work within specific hours, which may not always be possible. Make sure to be clear on this aspect. 

On the other hand, fixed-rate jobs are usually easier because you are getting paid a fixed amount of money no matter how many hours it takes. Understand the scope well before you bid on a project. Most freelancers agree that it boils down to the niche and the type of job. 

For example, the hourly option can be better if it’s a consultation job. You will be paid according to the hours you put in. On the other hand, a fixed job can be more suitable for a writing gig because you can easily gauge how many hours it will take you to write a specific article.

#4 Send an impressive proposal

Creating a solid profile is only half the battle won. If you want to make money on UpWork, you will have to create impressive proposals that hit the bull’s eye. Your proposal shouldn’t be too long or too short. Keep it crisp and proofread it to ensure there are no grammatical issues. This, however, is easier said than done. Here are some rules to follow:

  • Do not write generic proposals or send the same proposal to everyone. You must create a customized proposal for every job you apply to. Clients don’t like generic proposals. It makes them feel that you are non-serious about work and may not put enough effort to do the job.
  • Ask questions if you have any so that you are clear about the job and there are no issues later on. Asking questions is also a good way to start a conversation. Clients are more likely to respond to a proposal that contains questions because it makes them feel that you are genuinely interested in the job.
  • Mention relevant experience and qualifications to show why you are a good fit for the job. It isn’t only about being good at what you do, it’s about being the right candidate. For example, a client looking to get English to Spanish translation may not hire you just because you mention that you have five years of translation experience. You should talk about your experience translating English-Spanish, any relevant courses, etc.
  • Don’t forget to add samples since clients want to see what you are capable of. You can attach files, send a link to your portfolio, etc.
  • Clearly mention what you’ll charge in the proposal. This is important because clients don’t always refer to the ‘budget’ section and want you to explicitly mention what you’ll charge.
  • Read the description properly and make sure to answer any questions the client may have asked. Some clients want freelancers to take specific actions such as fill forms, or add a phrase to show they’ve read the job. Don’t miss out on this, otherwise, your proposal will get rejected. 
  • Be clear about your policy in regards to revisions, submission, etc.

#5 Don’t forget to add your portfolio

UpWork allows freelancers to add numerous portfolio samples to their profile with information such as client name, date, etc. When potential clients visit your profile, they want to see your work before they send you a job invite. Not having a portfolio on your profile can cause clients to look elsewhere. There are two ways to add a portfolio:

  • Your profile
  • Your proposal

Now, for proposals, you have a variety of options to choose from. UpWork allows clients to attach files including PDFs, .ZIP, and .DOCs, with a maximum file size of 25 MB. For bigger files, you can use a third-party platform like Dropbox and Google Drive and add links with your portfolio. 

I suggest that you add both files and live sample links so clients can pick what they need. Some clients want to see live examples as it is easier to click links and access files, and some prefer to download files. It is very important to ensure that all samples uploaded are relevant. 

Files that you upload should be virus-free, all links must be working, and your portfolio should not be dated. Also, feel free to include more information on the files that you share such as your role, the output or result, etc. If a sample, such as an animated video, is not under your name then explain it was created for a client and that you have permission to use it as a sample

#6 Communicate well with your clients

It doesn’t matter what stage of your UpWork journey you’re at, communication is key. You can write the best proposal but you will not be able to get the job if you don’t communicate well with your clients. Any client who likes your proposal and sample will get back to you with questions. Follow these guidelines when responding to client queries:

  • Be nice, use salutations, and show some personality
  • Be quick to reply. Most clients expect to get a response within 24 hours
  • Read the response carefully and answer all questions a client may have

You have to maintain communication during the project as well, especially if it’s a long project. Keep your clients updated about the latest happenings and send regular updates. If there are any sort of delays then communicate it to your clients. Remember that the ‘client is always right’ but you have the option to make your point. If you don’t like an offer then be clear about it. Don’t forget to ask questions, if any, and never be unprofessional with your clients, even if a job doesn’t work out.

#7 Leave and ask for good feedback

Feedback is of huge importance on UpWork. Both clients and freelancers have the option to leave feedback. It tells clients how good a freelancer is.UpWork allows clients to rate freelancers on different aspects including quality of work, deadline, etc.

Unfortunately, not all clients are willing to leave feedback. Some are new to the platform and don’t know how to provide feedback, some have no idea how important it is, some forget about it, and some don’t care. Back in the day, a job with no feedback could negatively impact your profile rating

However, things have now changed. UpWork no longer penalizes feedback-less jobs. However, it’s still important to seek feedback as it can help you win more clients and prove how reliable you are.

I’ve noticed that the best way to get clients to leave feedback is to ask for it. Once a job ends and it is time to close the contract, write a short note to your clients explaining how good the experience was. Also, add that you’ve left them feedback and you’d appreciate it if they do the same as it could benefit you. Most clients will take the trouble to leave feedback if they realize you’ve already done so.

#8 Set up your projects

This is a new option that allows freelancers to make money on UpWork directly without bidding for jobs. Some experts argue that UpWork has stolen the idea from Fiverr, another big freelancing platform. It works in a similar fashion where you can set up projects.

You will have to provide information such as your price, portfolio, and experience. UpWork usually takes 24-48 hours to approve projects. Once approved, they’ll go live on your profile and the platform.

Anyone looking for services that you offer will be able to find your projects and assign you a job right away. I’ve noticed that most clients who use this feature do not negotiate since Projects provide a clear system. Make sure you write detailed descriptions and answer all questions a client may have about a project. A bad thing, however, is that UpWork doesn’t give freelancers the option to ‘decline’ jobs offered through this means. 

If you can’t do the job for any reason, you will have no option but to cancel the job.  That could negatively affect your profile score. Still, I feel it is a very good way to make money since it removes the need to search for and bid on jobs.

#9 Don’t be quick to close jobs

This might come as a surprise but it’s not a wise idea to close jobs right after you complete a milestone. You should give your client some time to review work and get back to you with feedback. A lot of my clients have more work to offer. Closing a job shows that you’re not interested in any more work.

Always ask your clients if they’re interested in more work and send a message offering your services before you close a contract. There are many more benefits of keeping jobs open. It shows your profile is active. This can be useful for freelancers who find it hard to win gigs. 

A job on your profile shows you’re active. UpWork is known to suspend inactive accounts or accounts with no jobs. However, don’t go overboard. A freelancer with too many open jobs isn’t considered attractive because clients feel that someone who works on too many projects at the same time may not be able to meet deadlines.

#10 Learn to identify good clients

Not every client is a good client. As an UpWork freelancer, it is important to be able to identify reliable clients so you can go the extra mile to win them over. There are some red flags that can help you identify unreliable clients.

Bad reviews

As stated earlier, UpWork allows both clients and freelancers to leave feedback. We suggest that you work with clients who have at least a 4-star rating as it indicates professionalism. However, don’t just go for the star rating and read comments as well. 

Sometimes, freelancers leave feedback that can tell you more about a client. But, remember not all reviews are reliable. Don’t trust a single review and look for clients who have worked with a number of freelancers.

Poor job descriptions

While not the most important factor, a poorly written job description is a red flag. It indicates issues such as a lack of understanding of what one wants. You do not want to work with clients who keep sending revisions just because they don’t know what they want.

Some clients leave vague statements like ‘need a website’ or ‘looking for a designer.’ They do not provide any other details even during the negotiation phase. Also, some can be fussy and ask for private details such as your phone number. 

While scams are not very common on UpWork, you still need to protect your interest. Stay away from clients that are only interested in your email or phone number. Also, don’t accept a job request that requires you to communicate outside of the platform or accept payments using a third-party provider. Doing so could even get you suspended.

Unclear communication

Dealing with difficult clients can be a lot of trouble. If you ever feel a client is difficult to work with then it’s best to maintain distance. You don’t want to work with a client who disrespects your work. Politely excuse yourself if you ever feel you’re not the right fit for a job and look for better options.

UpWork even shows client history including location, total spent, and the number of jobs posted. Since UpWork is a global platform, you will find clients from all around the world. However, Canadian clients are among the most in-demand as they pay well and are professional. To save time, consider working with clients who have a verified payment method.

#11 Know the power of badges

UpWork recently introduced the badge system that helps high-quality freelancers stand out. ​​You must have a 100% complete profile to qualify for these badges. Other requirements include up-to-date availability, a decent Upwork Readiness Test score, and an active account. There are four badges:

  • Rising Talent 
  • Top Rated 
  • Top Rated Plus 
  • Expert-Vetted

The Rising Talent badge is the easiest to get. It indicates you’re popular on the platform and among the best new freelancers in your niche. Expert-Vetted is the hardest to attain as it is invite-only. 

UpWork Badges don’t only help freelancers win more jobs but offer other benefits as well including the option to get feedback removed, access to improved customer support, and a reduced fee for Featured jobs. You’ll need a Job Success Score of at least 90 percent to qualify for most badges. The score depends on factors such as contract size and feedback.

#12 Be quick to respond to invites

UpWork uses an algorithm to decide how many job invites a user receives. The system seems to prefer freelancers who respond to invites within 24 hours. UpWork tells how quick you are to respond and if you respond to every job invite.

More invites mean more chances to win jobs and make money. Clients who send invites are more likely to award contracts. Don’t worry if you don’t want to bid for a job. You will always have the option to decline invites. Also, set your profile to inactive if you cannot respond to invites for any reason, like if you’re holidaying or sick. This will ensure you receive no invites. You can always set your profile to active once you get back to work.

#13 Don’t give up

Our last tip is to not give up. According to UpWork, the average client takes 48 hours to award jobs. However, not all clients award contracts and many jobs close without success. Competition on UpWork is very tough, so get ready to lose some jobs. 

It can take some freelancers more than three months to win their first gig. You have to keep your best foot forward and not give up just because you have won no contracts. Keep bidding and work on your profile and proposal so you can win jobs.

FAQs about Making money on Upwork

Michael Wight is a full-time freelance writer with over 15 years of writing experience. He is heading his own content writing firm, Michael Words, and also contributes to other websites. He is a digital marketing expert and enjoys playing musical instruments in his free time. You can find Michael on Upwork as Michael W. and he is also associated with Michael Words.