Rax Suen

April 21, 2021

Upwork is one of the largest online freelancing sites in the market today. If you are looking to kickstart your freelancing career through a freelance marketplace, this is one platform that you should try out.

With the prominence of the marketplace, you would be right to think that the competition is high. Upwork has started to limit freelancer applications for some popular job categories. However, despite the large numbers, there are only a limited number of top-notch vendors.

As both a client and freelancer on Upwork, I have had my fair share of bad hires. It is also increasingly clear that incorporating some good business and communication practices will already set you apart from a good portion of the competition.

If you just started on the platform, here are five beginner tips that will give you an edge above the lazy contractors.

1. Personalize your pitch and job applications

Avoid using one standard template for all your job applications. It is becoming evident to buyers that there are vendors just spamming applications with a single boiler template. These templated applications are also pretty obvious to spot. By personalizing your application to the job specification, you already stand out from half the competition. Address the client by name if they stated it in the job description.

That said, to save time and effort, you can consider creating a foundational template where you adjust accordingly based on the job you are applying to.

2. Provide details in responses where possible

As a freelancer, I am sometimes skeptical of job postings with extremely short descriptions.

E.g., “Need an expert level graphic designer to design marketing materials.”

The short description signals that the buyer did not spend much time creating it. It can mean that the lead is not as warm, or the project details are not finalized, and the process could drag on for a while.

A more detailed job description signifies that the buyer spent time and put more thought into it. It is a good sign that the job is likely to be of higher importance/priority to the buyer.

The same thought process applies to the buyer’s side. Spending time and effort to send a more detailed response tells the buyer that you are a committed freelancer. That is also why a standard template often sends a negative message that you can’t be bothered to address the buyer.

The clearer you can articulate your take on the project, the more trust it builds between both parties.

3. Have your portfolio ready and easy to view

On freelancing sites like Upwork, the portfolio is everything, especially when your profile is new without many reviews.

Without a portfolio, there is nothing for the client to gauge your skill level. There are way too many subpar contractors on the platform to hire without substantial justification unless you compete solely on a low price. Furthermore, there are now even contractors faking template works as their portfolio. Therefore, if you can make it evident that the portfolio belongs to you, that’s even better.

Ensure your portfolio is set up in an easy and convenient view for the client to look through. When there are so many applications, the client will not download 10-20 files to look at your work. Have your work on a website or in a collated document.

There are many convenient platforms for uploading your work. E.g., Graphic designers can upload their work on Behance, and writers can use medium or simple blog sites like Wix or Blogger.

4. Don’t be a jack of all trades.

In most cases, specialists tend to do better than generalists on the platform. This applies particularly to areas with deeper niches like design, programming, writing, etc. One exception might be Virtual Assistants where width of skills can sometimes appeal to certain clients more than depth. Test and play around with the scope but make sure it is not spanning too wide.

If you are a writer who also codes and designs, the lack of focus creates a perception that you are not very good at any of them.

Instead of just being a graphic designer, try to go deeper into specific areas, like UX/UI design, branding, illustration, business presentation decks, etc. Make sure your portfolio reflects your positioning.

Remember: Even if you have other skillsets, you can always pitch for further projects with the same client once you get connected and have done an excellent job in the first project. If the client is pleased with you, they might ask approach you with projects of similar nature.

5. Vet the leads to optimize your “connects.”

I personally never go for new clients without any prior hires or payment verifications.

Check the hiring history of buyers to determine if they are a good fit. If your rate is $50/hour and they have always been hiring at $10/hour, it is unlikely that they will engage you. You are better off spending your “connects” and efforts on projects with more realistic budgets for your rates. Try to reference past hires of similar jobs as some clients can have a vastly different budget for different positions. (They might be willing to pay $50/hour for a developer but $10/hour for a designer).

Upwork is a competitive platform, but many leads are warm and ready to hire. If you put conscious effort into applying and servicing your clients, this can help you stand out from the competition.


Rax Suen is a top-rated plus freelancer on UpWork, and services a global clientele while traveling all around the world. He shares his travel and business insights at www.nomadsunveiled.com.