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The world has changed a lot in the past few months. Maybe you got laid off from your full-time job and are ready to earn some extra money. Or maybe you now have time to pursue a freelance dream.
I started freelancing a few years ago and eventually was able to open my own branding agency. Because I got my start on Upwork, I’d like to share with you some tips on taking the leap and joining this freelancing platform.
Deciding to become a freelancer is a big decision, so once you’re committed, make sure that you start off on the right foot. In addition to filling out your profile, writing a strong introduction, using a professional profile picture and adding to your digital portfolio, here are some tips to help you get started.
1. Be selective about jobs
If you’re new to Upwork, you’re probably not familiar with the fact that in order to apply to a job, you will need connects. Connects are what you need to submit proposals on Upwork — think of them as virtual tokens. Once you create your new profile, you automatically get 20 free connects to help you try the platform and get you started. When you run out, you can buy more, or complete milestones. If you become a Rising Talent or Top Rated Freelancer, you’ll get more free connects. You can also upgrade to a Freelancer Plus Membership, which comes with 70 connects per month.
Upwork uses this policy to ensure that freelancers are serious about the jobs they apply for. So when you’re applying to jobs, choose ones that you feel you’re qualified for to make the most out of your connects, because there’s no guarantee you’ll get the job. However, if the client ends up closing the job without hiring a freelancer, you’ll get back the connects you used to apply.
Connects aren’t the only reason you should be selective about applying to jobs. If you apply for and are offered a job that’s more than you can handle, it can have a detrimental effect on your freelancing career. If you can’t deliver what you promised, you won’t get paid — and more importantly, you’ll be left with a bad review. Negative reviews decrease your credibility and affect your chances of getting hired again.
Related: How to Get 5-Star Reviews on Upwork
2. Create a good cover letter template
When you start applying to jobs on Upwork, you’ll need to send a cover letter introducing yourself. This letter should explain to clients how you can help and why they should hire you. Writing cover letters can be taxing and time-consuming, so make things easier for yourself by creating a template. You can personalize this template for each job you apply to, so you don’t have to start from scratch for each cover letter. Make sure that the tone is appropriate and professional — no abbreviations, slang or typos.
3. Read the client’s reviews
Just like freelancers, clients get reviews on Upwork. Read them carefully to see what other freelancers have to say about them. (And cross-check the freelancer’s profile to make sure they leave credible reviews.) Even if the reviews aren’t negative, you’ll get a better feel for how the client operates…and an idea if it’s the right fit for you.
4. Encourage clients to take an introductory call with you
When you’re starting out as a freelancer on Upwork, you won’t have any reviews or completed projects, so it can be difficult for clients to trust you. Set yourself apart from other freelancers by offering to set up a preliminary call before contracts and commitments are set in place. This is a great way to convince potential clients that you’re the right person for the job, and also lets them know that you’re a great communicator with confidence in your abilities. Show that you’re not reluctant to have a phone call or video chat, and you’ll get bonus points for building credibility and trust and demonstrating your determination.
5. Make sure the client’s payment is verified.
If a client is new to Upwork, it might take a few days for their payment method to be verified, so wait until it’s approved by the platform before you start working on a project. After that, make sure that the client sends you the offer (guaranteeing you’re the freelancer hired for the job) and funds at least the first milestone. This means the money is in escrow, so you can request payment as soon as you finish the project’s first milestone.
6. Be prepared to work for free…
…at least for the first few jobs. When you’re starting out as a freelancer, your primary goal isn’t to make money (sorry, but it’s the truth!). For your first projects on Upwork, focus on getting positive reviews instead of big paychecks. Start with low bids and even work for free if you have to. You’ll build your portfolio, your professional network, your credibility and your reputation. On Upwork, your reputation is everything. You’ll be competing with Top Rated Freelancers, so use those positive reviews to stand out from the crowd and stay in the talent pool.
7. Check the client’s location
Consider different time zones when you’re applying to projects. If the client is headquartered halfway across the world, it could be difficult to schedule calls or ask for fast feedback. But if you’re someone who works late nights and early mornings, it could end up being a great fit.
8. Pay attention to red flags
In my experience, it’s a big red flag when a client wants to work (and compensate you) outside of Upwork. There’s a reason that freelancers trust platforms like Upwork, so if a client asks to take things offline, it puts you in a difficult, unethical situation. It’s okay to use tools outside of Upwork, but the contract and payment should always be done through the freelancing platform.
Related: How to Hire the Right Freelancer