As a follow-up to my extensive overview of Upwork as it pertains to the artist and designer, I'd like to offer some helpful tips to those who've decided to give it a try. In general, I don't think Upwork is a perfect solution, but it can give budding freelancers a jumpstart to finding work and building experience. Here are my suggestions:
It is super important to have an attractive profile that highlights what YOU have to offer over everybody else. Be specific about the types of work you can do and the skills and software you excel at, putting greater emphasis on the types of work you WANT to do, because of course you want to attract clients with those jobs first. For example, in my own profile, which you can view here, I start out by listing the types of work I do at the top, so it is the first thing you see. I then outlined my background in art and illustration, because that is the type of work I prefer. I talk about my style and list specific types of jobs I would be well-suited for. Then I go into my book design experience, which I also like to do. Towards the bottom, I go into the drier stuff. I list some FYI information, such as software I use, my location and timezone, language, etc. Upwork also provides areas where you can enter your education, employment history, and skills list much like a resumé. They also provide software and language tests that you can take, which just help give additional proof to potential employers of your skills and proficiency in certain areas.
Before Hire—Choosing Jobs and Applying
So many jobs are posted on Upwork constantly, all with a huge variety of tasks, scopes, experience levels, etc. If the description sounds like something you could do, go for it and see what happens! At first, I eased myself in with smaller jobs. Much of your hire-ability is based on past experience and ratings. Obviously, if you have just started on Upwork, you need to build that up, so beginning with smaller jobs is good in that respect. (For more tips on creating an attractive Upwork profile and getting hired, I've linked to a great resource website below.) Once you are hired, you can use these jobs as an opportunity to develop experience and get positive feedback from clients.
Be Picky—"Good" Jobs and "Bad" Jobs
There are many things to consider when choosing which jobs to apply for. First and foremost, it should be something you CAN do (duh) and, ideally, something you WANT to do. As I wrote about in my review article, there are many "bad" jobs to watch out for. Some of the common red flags that I try to avoid include:
- Low budget and/or pay history
Obviously, you want a client who is willing pay fairly for the work they want done.
- Client's refusal to accept any other rates
This is a sign of inflexibility and unwillingness to consider the experience and skill of the freelancer, so they don't care about the value YOU have to offer.
- Poor job description
I've seen job descriptions that are literally, "I need a logo" and that's it. You need to know more than that to accurately assess the job and give a fair bid. Bad spelling and grammar is also a warning sign. This could mean the client is either unprofessional or not a native English speaker (or whatever language they are using). Either way, they are indicators that there could be trouble with communication, which is important to a client/freelancer relationship. You want to know that the client is able to clearly convey to you what they want, which will make it a whole lot easier to give them what they want and end up with a happy result for all.
- Low rating (or no Upwork experience, though not always)
If their rating is on the low side, read freelancer reviews to get a good idea of what it's like to work with the client. You can get a good indication of whether they are difficult to work with, unfair with their pay, and/or bad at communication. Some clients are new to Upwork, so they won't have history or reviews, but that's not necessarily a reason to shun them. But if the low ratings are there, it is a sign to proceed with caution.
- Asking for free work
Some clients want proof that you can do the work by asking for a "test" job as part of your proposal. That is FREE WORK. The client should be able to make a decision by your cover letter and existing portfolio. Asking for a "test" seems unprofessional and unfair in my opinion. Sometimes you can consider these instances on a case by case basis. If they just want to see a sketch, for example, that would take just a few minutes, that's usually not a problem for me. The client most likely just wants to see that you are on the same page—just be careful you aren't handing them free ideas. If I see requests like this in a job description, often I will either move on or suggest a PAID test in my proposal.
- Unreasonable deadline
If the client asks for work that you know should take more time than they're asking, this might be another sign that they have no idea what they're asking for as far as the work and skill involved, and the value attached to that. I also often see jobs needed for holidays and events that are posted just a few weeks beforehand—another sign of poor planning and lack of professionalism on the client's part. Those jobs are usually not worth the hassle. Of course, it's up to you if you think you could get the job done. If the client is well aware that it's a rush job, see if they're willing to compensate with higher pay. In general, make sure you have a good idea of the client's deadline and the scope of work BEFORE going in so you can avoid running into problems.
With these red flags in mind, here is a summary of what you DO want to see in a job post:
- The job description is something you feel confident you can do, and preferably something you want to do.
- The client has high ratings and reviews from past freelancers.
- The job description is clear, detailed, and well-written.
- The client is willing to pay fairly, indicated by their budget and pay history.
- Note the client's country and time zone and make sure you would be willing to be available to them during their business hours if needed.
- The client gives the overall impression of being professional, flexible, pleasant, and a good communicator.
Job proposals are composed of your bid and cover letter, and occasionally additional interview questions and a portfolio.
Bidding is a whole topic that deserves its own post. I went into it a little bit in my previous article. In summary–pay attention to the client's history, ratings, and budget, and make the judgment call on whether the job is worthwhile. Value your work and place a bid that reflects that. There are many factors to consider–your experience, the scope of the job, schedule, etc. In the end, charge what you're worth! It is so important. Fees are paid either hourly or as a fixed price per job. Especially with fixed price jobs, it is important to have a mutual understanding between you and the client what expectations are for the work and what is included (and what is not) in that fee, so sometimes your bid at this point will still be up in the air until you get more information from the client, should they decide to continue with the interview process.
In general, it is best to give each cover letter special attention. It might be tempting to create a generic text to attach to all of your proposals, but clients want to know that you've taken the time to read about their job. (Some even say something at the end of their post like, "Type CROCODILE at the top of your cover letter so I know you've read the whole thing." Something to watch out for...) Once in a while, the client will have additional questions specific to their job that they will want you to answer as part of your proposal. Don't skim over those, either. Do your best to show that you took the time to read and answer their questions.
That being said, there are certain things you would probably say to any client that you don't want to type each time. In fact, I DO have a generic text that I use over and over, but I don't just copy/paste and leave it at that. I have saved several different versions of Upwork cover letters tailored to the different types of work I do—one for illustration, one for adult coloring, one for book design, etc. Then I will go in add to it to fit with the job I am applying to. I'll state what it is I can do for the job, why I'm interested, why I'm a good fit, ask questions, give an estimated timeline...you get the idea. It lets the client know that you already engaged in the job and showing interest.
Since I do several types of work, I don't keep my portfolio directly on my Upwork profile. Instead, I usually point the client to my website, where I have my work separated onto different pages, and in some cases I will send samples of work that are specific to the client's needs. But if using the portfolio section on the Upwork profile page works well for you, it is a good idea to go ahead and have it right there for the clients to view.
After Hire—Building a Reputation
After you start getting jobs on Upwork, it is important to keep high standards since you are rated at the end of each job. Higher ratings make you more attractive to clients among your competitors, which leads to more jobs. The things you need to do to maintain a good rating are pretty much common sense—
- be on time, or early, delivering your work
- follow design briefs and technical specifications
- maintain clear, consistent, and friendly communication
In summary, give the client an overall pleasant working experience. Give them what they need, and more. Of course, this works both ways. We've all heard stories of nightmare clients, and don't worry—you will have the chance to rate your employers as well. It helps to avoid trouble in the first place, though, by avoiding some of the red flags as outlined above when choosing your jobs.
These are all general guidelines I follow when choosing my jobs, write my proposals, and execute my work. I've done some learning the hard way, but I hope this article is helpful to others who are looking to see what Upwork can do for them.
Freelance to Win
A website I found super helpful when starting out on Upwork. It goes into much more detail on some of the ideas I've only skimmed over here, and more.