Let’s face the music. Freelancing is tough. It’s stressful, can be inconsistent, and it’s risky. But the possibility of making a living from your laptop with the world as your office is a reward that’s worth the risk. I got my start through Upwork, a platform that connects freelancers with firms looking to hire outside help. You can do almost anything on Upwork, from content writing to web design to translating. The website takes 20% of your earnings to offer its services, but freelancers don’t have to pay to join unless you want a premium account. The platform will soon charge 15 cents per proposal, which is essentially a job application. For now, that change has yet to be made, and I’ve managed to establish some great professional connections that put money in the bank. Here’s how I made my first $100 on Upwork and how you can, too!
1 // Determine your marketable skills.
This was my first mistake. I started out on Upwork as a translator, which didn’t get me any jobs. Then, I started offering data entry, which I got a couple messages about, but nothing that turned into a job. All this time, I had a blog and had been complimented before on my writing skills. It took way too long to put two and two together. My main marketable skill was writing.
The majority of my money from Upwork has come from content writing jobs, some of which you can see in my portfolio. Now that I’ve marketed myself as a content writer, using my blog for writing samples, I’ve gotten more jobs in a few weeks than in the past few months combined. My secondary Upwork skill is graphic design, which I’ve used to make a flyer for a nonprofit in Texas. You can see my graphic design portfolio here. Once you know your best skills, you can create a profile that will make everyone want to hire you! Upwork has tons of tips on how to make a profile that will rake in employers, so use the resources they offer, too.
2 // Research opportunities that you know would be a good fit.
So you’ve got the profile down pat, and now it’s time to start looking for your first Upwork job. The platform will use your profile to show what jobs would be a good fit, but I’ve honestly seldom found it helpful. I prefer to type “blog writing,” “content writing,” or “graphic design” into the search bar at the top and search that way. If I like the way a job sounds, I save it and move on.
I only apply for jobs in which I know I will be a competitive applicant, I have the skills to deliver an outcome that the client will love, and I have the time to do it sooner than they want it done. It’s also important to consider how much money the client is offering. I won’t lie to you–some don’t offer nearly enough compensation for the kind of job they want. I kid you not, I was offered a whopping $10 for 2500 words of writing. That job was very time-consuming, and it paid me below minimum wage. I know now that my work is worth more than that, and I only apply to jobs that are offering realistic compensation. Stick up for yourself! I found it so empowering to respectfully tell some of my clients that I needed higher compensation, and have not lost contracts for doing so.
3 // Apply to a ton of jobs, and apply often.
The key to this whole freelance thing is perseverance. There were so many times I wanted to throw in the towel and focus completely on applying to regular desk jobs. But I knew deep down that I wanted the flexibility to travel often and work from anywhere in the world. Freelancing was the life for me. It just took time, patience, and trust. Now, I’ve built a foundation of good reviews and lasting contacts through the website. It’s looking like freelancing will be the path I take for now, while I try to satisfy my travel cravings. But I wouldn’t have known this was possible if I didn’t keep applying to jobs.
Apply to a bunch, and apply some more. If you don’t hear from a client after starting a conversation with them, follow-up. Be persistent, without being overbearing. Chances are, they’ll consider you even more professional for taking the time to let them know you’re still interested, and will consider you for a different job if the position has already been filled. It took me months to get my first gig, so it can take time. But the wait is worth it.
4 // Respond to all of your messages promptly.
I know life gets in the way, but the more promptly you respond to your messages, the sooner you can get started on a contract and the quicker your paycheck is headed your way! I highly recommend getting the Upwork for Freelancers app for this purpose. I’ve heard from clients while in the airport, at a coffee shop, or out grocery shopping. Getting those notifications to my phone is so helpful when I want to keep up with work while on the go. Besides, flexibility and versatility is the whole point of freelancing, right? Do yourself a favor and get the app. It’s been a lifesaver for me!
5 // Deliver incredible work.
This is the most important part. You can ruin your future prospects if you don’t deliver quality work for your current clients. I’ve felt incompetent in some of the work I submitted, because I’m my own worst critic. I would edit my writing again and again, submit it, and cross my fingers. All the worrying I did made my work its absolute best, because my clients have been more than satisfied with my deliverables. That high work quality has gotten me to the point I am today. I’m continuing to build my freelance business through Upwork, and I have some long-term contracts with clients because I always turn in work that goes above and beyond. Before you submit anything, make it worthy of a five-star review!
Freelancing is the best move I could have made in the aftermath of my Peace Corps service ending early. I focus on creating great content for my clients, and building my personal blog content. My days are full, I love what I do, and I can drop everything for the cheapest plane tickets. As I type this, I’m at a hotel in Puerto Rico, and I have travel planned every month for the rest of the year. If you’ve thought about ditching the traditional 9-5 for freelance work, the time is now! Don’t let life pass you by while you sit in a cubicle. Switch to a job that works for you, so you can get out there and live.
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