11 Things You Must Know Before Joining Upwork


11 Things You Must Know Before Joining Upwork

A freelance career can be difficult to start on Upwork or any of the other popular ones with thousands of freelancers doing almost the same business as you try to do. Competition is fierce and differentiating your services from others can be very hard.


Knowing how the Upwork platform works is the most important thing when considering starting an online freelance career. Don’t try to learn it on the go through trial and error, all you will get is trouble, delays in payments, and disputes with clients!

To maximize your chances, here are my elevenbest tips regarding all the things you must know before joining Upwork and start freelancing online.

(Originally I postedmost of these tips on CoachLancer.com where I’ve written over 100,000 words worth of freelancing tips, tricks, hacks, and guides.Follow me on LinkedIn to see my latest tips for freelancers!)

Must know before joining UpworkNo. 1: Sign up as a client first

You might not believe it, but by far the best way to start on Upwork (or any other freelance site for that matter) is to first hire freelancers as a client. Be a client first!

This is the easiest way to learn how you can

  1. Improve your chances of getting your profile noticed

  2. Make your proposals look right

  3. Understand how the contracts and payments work

Particularly, it is important to know how your profile and proposals appear in the list of proposals. It won’t take long before you see how easy it is to differentiate from all the other freelancers once you step to that side of the table.

So, sign up as a client. Hire a couple of people to do work that you genuinely need.It can be something simple such as getting a virtual assistant service to help you with some small things for 30 dollars.

The knowledge you gain by being a client is worth the money, so you can take the spending not only as an outsourcing cost but as a learning cost as well!

Additionally, by being a client first, you may also reach the next level in freelancing sooner: becoming a solopreneur who doesn’t do everything him/herself.

Must know before joining Upwork No. 2: Read job descriptions carefully

Upwork has a million jobs posted every day, so it is an essential skill for any freelancer to know how to read them right.

You only get jobs that are a great match with what you do as a freelancer… simply because there are so many other freelancers out there competing with you. Also, some jobs posts are scams.

Not all clients write everything they need in the job description. Many times you have to imagine the rest to write a compelling proposal. You have to get your first two sentences right because it is those lines only that show up in the list of proposals.

Failing in attracting the client to click on your proposal results in no interview, no discussion, and no job.You can look for clues that help you craft your approach to an interesting proposal:

  1. Does the client have a similar skill set to you? Can you use your domain-specific terms or should you write your proposal using plain English?

  2. Is the client doing something he/she is unable to do on his/her own? Or is the client just lookingfor cost-efficiency

  3. Is the client inviting a lot of freelancers or none at all? This can tell something about the work style of the client and the level of the pay scale.

  4. What kind of business is the client doing?Can you guess the business goal behind the job?

All these factors are often quite easy to guess from the job description if you put a little bit of time into it. That in turn multiplies your chances of winning the job!

Must know before joining Upwork No. 3: Write your profile to match your dream job

Most new freelancers seem to write a (not very good) profile and hope that it is understood by all clients.

But, understanding that every client has different needs, you can not only personalize your proposal but even the whole profile too! This works great when you are just starting up and your work history is blank. If you send a proposal to one job per day, you could have a different version of your profile for every proposal, completely optimized for each prospect!

You can change the title, the description, and the skills list. At least you should make the keywords match each job perfectly so that the minimum result of your proposal is a click from the client to look at your profile. And hopefully more.

This trick doesnot affect the searchability of your profile very much because new profiles with $0 earnings won’t look attractive in the search list anyway. It’s the combination of a good profile and a great proposal that gives you the best chance of breaching zero.

It’s the perfect match is all that your future client will see as long as you take the time to customize your profile. Remember to keep versions of your profile description textsthat you can revert back to later on to save time.

Must know before joining Upwork No. 4: Learn how the search function works

One of the important parts of Upwork is the job search function. Many freelancers sign up to sites and hope that clients find them, but usually, they just don’t. You have to make yourself visible.

Use the search and its numerous filters to identify those of all the available jobs that might fit you well. Not 90% ok, but a perfect match. You can also use it for scanning market trends, e.g. what types of jobs are posted every day or every week.

This helps you figure out the keywords you should be probably using yourself.

If you have time to do a more detailed analysis, you can track interesting job posts and see if clients are expecting proposals or sending a lot of invitations, how many proposals they are getting from freelancers, and so on. All this information can help you define your perfect match better and better until the point you start getting jobs.

Must know before joining Upwork No. 5: Research your client

Once you have a chance to send a proposal to a job that you think is a great match with your services, do a little bit of research on the client.

Basically, you can communicate with the person more effectively if you know something about him/her. Even though Upwork is a global online platform, you can get to know people a bit before talking to them (by chat, initially).

The job description might show the name of the client or the name of the company. If you get an invitation, there is usually some kind of signature.

Put those names on google and do some research! Is it an individual or is it a company? See what the person does for a living and/or what the company produces.Putting some time into knowing what the client does and where they might be going with the job posted on Upwork increases your chances of communicating effectively multiple times over.

I remember a starting freelancer telling me he is very good at writing proposals: “It only takes 5 minutes!” He did not win many Upwork proposal battles. How unsurprising 😉

Must know before joining Upwork No. 6: Show the impact on your clients’ businesses in your portfolio

When creating your Upwork portfolio, make sure that you include a sentence explaining the impact of your work on the business of your previous clients. Upwork offers several formats for the portfolio page, such as a Case Study.

It is not enough to just describe the topic of the project. Instead, describe:

  • What your client’s problem was

  • What you did to solve the problem

  • What good came out of your solution and how it improved your client’s business

This simple trick is easy to learn and apply as it is something many resume writing courses recommend too. This not only makes your previous work look better but it also gives the impression to your client that you are able to understand the business case of your clients.

Must know before joining Upwork No. 7: Portray your background in your client’s context

In case you are not a fresh graduate having just finished school, you have probably done something worth mentioning before turning freelancer. Whatever you have done, you have to be able to describe your experience in a way that makes the client think “great, this guy can do exactly what I need!”

What you sell as a freelancer is your expertise and what that expertise can do for your clients. Freelancing is a service business.

If figuring out what the context that would look great to your clients is, ask others for their opinions. External eyes see things differently.

Portray your background in the context of your client’s immediate needs, inquire about the long-term needs, and make sure what you can do for the clients is clear in their minds.

Must know before joining Upwork No. 8: Learn how contracts work and educate your client

Know when you need a contract and always educate your clients about the legalities including the Terms of Service (ToS) whenever it applies. In the case of Upwork, it is common to have clients with no prior experience on the platform suggesting things that cannot work within the framework Upwork provides.

All work on Upwork is covered by contracts the platform offers. Don’t ever start working without one!

Hourly-paid contracts are great for work that clients cannot yet put borders on at the beginning. Fixed-price contracts are great for work that can be specified easily. They are also preferred by many types of clients who have a budget frame clear in their minds.

Clients who have ended up in a dispute with a freelancer before might know how to deal with situations that fall into the grey area. Other clients are usually clueless, especially new users of a site. That’s where disputes can happen! With every new client, make sure the contract is in place before you engage in the work.

On the other hand, once you’ve made a great impression and already have delivered some work, the business relationship becomes a bit more relaxed and small things could be done without much care as in your mind you know “that guy will pay for sure.”

The scope of legal coverage should correlate with the size of the business transaction, of course. In the case of bigger deals, clients might want an additional NDA (non-disclosure agreement) which is completely fine even though all work paid for would belong to the client anyway.

Freelancing is a service job, it’s about making your clients succeed. One of the ways to do that is by educating your clients about the legal obligations, contracts, and payments in a way that builds trust.

Must know before joining Upwork No. 9: Utilize escrow for milestone payments

You don’t always need to wait until the end of the project to get your client committed to pay you. This is handy particularly in times when:

  1. You would need to commit to a big chunk of work before you would see any money

  2. The next parts of your work depend on the previous ones

Set a suitable price for every milestone and wait for your client to find it one by one! The money will go to the escrow and the client is obligated to release it to you once the work has been completed and approved. Escrow is a great method for protecting freelancers from clients who take the results without paying anything.

This covers you against clients who claim they can pay but do not actually have the money (“yet,” as they might say), because the contract cannot be started without funding the first milestone.

Also, make sure the amount matches what you had discussed. Some clients try to cheat by funding a small amount, asking you to work for days, and then close the contract. In that case, there would not be any way to claim the remaining part of the money promised.

It’s only the amount in the escrow that you are guaranteed to get once your milestone deliverable has been approved.

Must know before joining Upwork No. 10: Learn time zones

Learning how time zones workis a simple thing to do. But it can make a big difference in the impression you give to your client. It only takes about one minute to convert your local time to your client’s time. Calendar applications such as Google Calendar does this automatically for you.

These days Upwork has Google and Microsoft account integrations that you can use.

Avoid the hassle with scheduling, missed calls, and missed opportunities. A busy client might want to stop working with you if not being able to reach you easily!

Additionally, it is best to think ahead of what times might suit your client. Office hours work well in the case of small businesses.Individuals, on the other hand,might be doing their side projects might be more available in their evening times only. Know your client and suggest schedules that are likely going to work with one-sentence communications.

You can save your client’s time by offering the most suitable time slots for introductory and follow-up calls. It will be appreciated. Schedule your calls with the whole globe in mind and make this an integral part of your work process. You will always give the impression of being a total pro!

Must know before joining Upwork No. 11: Have only one contract with a client at a time

One of the things that can kill the Upwork success story you had hoped is working with the same client under several contracts.

This is risky and not recommended in any case. There are 2 significant problems in having multiple contracts for the same client:

  1. The communication and milestones get easily mixed up. In the Messages area, people usually talk to you using the chatbox you’ve last used regardless of what contract the communication belongs to. This gets messy and plain dangerous when the same mess gets extended to milestones!

  2. If things go wrong (for any reason), your Job Success Score (JSS) gets reduced because of poor private feedback your client gave you. Now, clients being people, if the first contract faces unsolvable issues, the client might terminate the second one too! You would get not just one, but twobad reviews that completely kill your JSS!


Dr. Mike

Mikko J. Rissanen, Ph.D., a.k.a. Dr. Mike, is an accomplished solopreneur living in a tropical paradise, inventing cool tech and coding from his beach office… and eating coconuts all day, every day. He’s one of the elite freelancers on Upwork and has been supporting hundreds of starting freelancers since 2017. Follow his latest freelancing tips on LinkedIn!


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