My name is Aleksandar Pavlovic, and I’m a top ranked freelance writer on Upwork. I did not have a specific guide to follow on my journey, but I guess this is your lucky day, because I’m about to share some insight on what it takes to make it in this jungle. Buckle up, and let’s begin!

Build a strong profile

First and foremost, you’re gonna need to register and verify your account, but let’s skip that part altogether, because I’m sure you’ll manage to do so on your own. What I will preach, though, is about the need to create a profile which is very captivating. Ultimately, you’ll want to stand out from the crowd, and there are several ways in which you can do so.

Step #1 It starts off with a decent profile picture. I know, most of you have no experience in photography, nor do you have a perfectly lit white background at home, but guess what, neither did I. In fact, my profile pic was taken just minutes upon registration, and I still haven’t changed it. To make matters worse, it has a yellow background, and I’m wearing a coat (not joking here guys, check it out).

However, it was taken in a well-lit room, and I did manage to position myself right in the center, so it’s not all that bad. Still, when I was making a profile for some of my friends, I always advised them to get a decent profile pic, as it can make you look more professional. One additional step you can take is to film a video about you, but I never tried it, so it’s up to you to decide.

Step #2 – Build a description showcasing some of your abilities, or previous work experience. Try to approach this from a client’s perspective, as no one would be willing to read you bragging about your accomplishments all day long. What’s more, try to keep it short and sweet, and jump straight to the point. Sort these items as neatly as possible, and I did so by using a bullet list where I named some of the projects I previously worked on.

Step #3 Set Availability – Besides plain Available and Unavailable mode, there are more things to choose from. This is a great option, as you get to determine whether you’re gonna use your profile for finding a full time employment, or you’ll simply use it as a hustle business on the side.

At the beginning, I chose the full time available option, but once I got a client or two, I quickly changed it to „Open to Offers“. Do not neglect this step! Upwork employers will oftentimes send you invitations for their job offerings, and it’s this exact step which determines whether you’ll eligible for their bid or not.

Step #4 Remain active – Which bring us right to our next important tip. Try to remain as active as possible, and respond to invites in a timely manner. The responsiveness meter will always appear on your profile, and some clients pay close attention to this category. When it comes to remote work, communication is one of the most important things. As you see from my example, I didn’t manage to get it right every single time, but keeping an overall positive track record is vital.

Step #5 Showcase your skills and test yourself – Upwork allows you to choose from a variety of skills, but you can only display up to 10 skills on your profile, so choose wisely. Every skill comes with tests you can do, in order to prove your knowledge. Don’t worry if you get it wrong either, as you can hide the results from your profile page. Additionally, you’ll get a chance to re-do the tests in two weeks again, until you get it right.

Step #6 Add some portfolio items – What better way to showcase your expertise than by displaying some of your best work on the spot? When clients are looking through hundreds of profiles, chances are they’ll jump straight to this section. Put your best foot forward, and hope for the best. Oh yeah, and choose some exciting thumbnails, that’s always a big plus.

Submitting a proposal

OK, now that your profile is completed, we move on to the next logical step, and that includes sending your first proposal. Life isn’t easy for newbies on Upwork, as the competition is very stiff. Luckily, it becomes easier as you build your profile, but what’s the key to scoring that first important gig to push you to the top? Slow and steady does it. Here’s what I mean by that claim. Of course that we all want to work for those reliable clients and get paid top buck for our efforts, but in the beginning, that’s not really possible. A lot of people stumble on this obstacle before they even begin, as they try to hunt for the biggest jobs available, and simply quit after getting rejected a couple of times.

Good Vs Bad Job Postings

Well, without really wanting to put anyone on the spot, I feel like I should go more into detail on how to choose the right gig. With that in mind, I will now post two completely different job posts, and trust me, it won’t be hard to select the better one.

What becomes immediately clear with this job is that you’re dealing with a client who knows exactly what they want. During my time on Upwork, I usually worked with these sort of people, but I had my hardships once or twice, and let me tell you something, it’s not fun. As the image above shows, this particular client clearly knows what he wants, he already posted a ton of jobs before, and he also has a more than a respectable number of reviews. What more, he clearly specified the budget, the level of experience he is expecting, and the timetable under which the job needs to be done. Because it ticked all the marks, I went ahead and applied for this job, and guess what, it worked! In the article below, you’ll also get a chance to check out the cover letter which I used, and it might help you in your journey. Check it out!

On the opposite side, we have job postings that look kinda like this. Notice how the description is very vague, the title doesn’t really explain much. Naturally, the budget is nowhere near specified either. That’s right, you’ve stumbled upon a classic job posting which needs to be avoided at all costs. The last thing you’d want is to be stuck with a client who doesn’t know what he wants. Imagine the stress of dealing with a person who expects nothing but the best, but gives out no instructions what so ever? Yep, you could end up with a potentially dangerous situation on your hands, and your profile might suffer as well if you get a bad review along the way. My friend had a situation where he dealt with a similar client, who then asked him to do work outside Upwork. Guess what, it nearly got him banned for good! Even if you find yourself in a dire need for cash, I’d advise you to skip on these sorta deals. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

How to choose the right client?

My personal preference always was to avoid newcomers. Sure, I lost a ton of potential earnings this way, but I also didn’t put my profile at risk, as I simply skipped the part of dealing with those shady characters. As you can see from the image below, Upwork allows you to filter out the job postings that fail to match your preference, and I always avoid clients with no previous work history.

Don’t get me wrong, not all of these people are bad, but I always pay close attention to my potential client’s work history because I like to check out how they behave towards their freelancers. If they tend to leave a lot of negative grades, or simply fail to post a review altogether, I tend to skip that job posting, even if it looks amazing at the first glance.

Once again, this comes with certain downsides, as lots of freelancers are following the same mechanism, and the competition is always stiffer for these particular jobs, but it definitely pays off in the long run. Trust me, the last thing you would want is to waste your potential career for a one time paycheck.

Pick a category

Upwork job employers always have a specific plan at hand, and they seek for freelancers who fit that plan perfectly. Because of that reason, it seems like a smart idea to select a category you’re good at, and stick to it. Not only that you’ll create a routine for yourself by doing this, you’ll also get the small nuances of the job a lot faster if you focus on the little things.

Hourly or Fixed Price?

All jobs on Upwork are divided into two categories, fixed priced and hourly based ones. It’s up to your personal preference to choose which one suits you the most. I started off with a fixed price projects, but right now, I’m doing a bit of both. If you choose the hourly method, you’re gonna have to download the Upwork tracker app, which looks kinda like this.

The hours are measured on a weekly basis, and after that, it resets. Clients can choose a specific number of hours they’d like to allocate to the project at hand, and you’d have to stick to that time frame. The app itself is very simple. It captures screenshots every 10 minutes or so, in order to follow your progress. Not only that, but it also records the number of your clicks and overall activity during the time between two screen captures. While it might seem like a boring task of having to keep up with these screenshots, it can be a good motivation to keep you on the track. Believe me, I’ve been through this. Fixed price jobs are great, because you can work at your own pace, but distractions and temptations become so enticing over time. Oh yeah, and if the screenshot captures an image you wouldn’t like to be shared with your client, you can choose to delete it, but then the timer takes away the 10 minutes of your schedule. There’s a price to be paid for inactivity.

How to apply for jobs

Ladies and gentleman, we finally come to the interesting part. So, you’ve browsed intensely, and you’ve stumbled upon a job that matches your skills perfectly. All there’s left to do is to apply. At first glance, things appear to be very simple, but you’d be surprised to hear just how important this step actually is. Once again, I speak from personal experience, because I’ve done things the wrong way. As it happens, when I was just starting, I also read numerous blogs, and most of them claimed that the right path was to act professionally all the way. Let me tell you something, they were wrong! When I switched my approach later on, I realized just how big of a mistake I was making,

Still, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. When you decide to submit a proposal, it will look something like this. Every job requires a specific number of connects. Every freelancer gets 60 new connects every month, and on average, job proposals usually require 2 connects. With that in mind, don’t go all out during your first couple of days, as you might find yourself waiting for connects near the end of the month, and you might miss out on some terrific deals.

Clients usually set the desired budget themselves, but freelancers are the ones that get to decide whether they’ll stick to that, or enter their own personal bid. Freelancers also choose the time they’re gonna need to get the job done, so try to keep this as low as possible. Still, don’t go overboard, as can be forced to work all night long to get things done. Happened to me once or twice, not so fun at all.

Cover letter is the next thing, and to me personally, it’s the detail that can separate you from the competition. In my early days, I tried to sound as smart and sophisticated as possible, and that got me nowhere fast. Ultimately, who’d want to deal with a person who’s so boring all the time? Additionally, as I tried to score a gig, and failed to do so multiple times, I even started to perform a copy/paste on my applications between different jobs. Do not do this! Trust me, the clients can spot the difference between a copied text and a true application from a mile away.

Instead, what I do now is take my time, try to study the client, and give a personalized bid whenever possible. One neat trick is to mention the client’s name right from the start, as that will get their attention a lot quicker. Also, try to include a few jokes here and there, but also be serious to a point, and let them know that you are the candidate they’ve been waiting for. Finally, in the attachment area, add some of your previous work that resembles the one they’re looking for. This way, they will get a preview of your skills, and that can do the trick sometimes. Now, I wouldn’t want to leave you without an example, so here it is.

In this cover letter, I went with a more casual approach, even sliding in a couple of smiley faces along the way. However, right in the middle, I also mentioned some of my assets, but just enough to keep the client interested and real him in. Writing cover letters can take up a bunch of time in the beginning, but after you keep on applying for jobs, it becomes a routine. For example, I wrote this letter above in only a couple of minutes. It didn’t turn out so bad, did it?

The best thing about freelancing

Let’s face the truth here guys, freelancing is a tough business. Job security isn’t the best in this line of work, but the rewards are amazing too! Not only that it pays really well, but you’ll also get a chance to be your own boss, and no money can buy such a freedom. I had months where I earned large amounts of money, but I also had some dry periods where I was just able to get by. There’s a lesson to be learned during these hardships. If you work hard, and you catch some lucky breaks along the way, you’ll profit big time, but when you start slacking off, your bank account is certainly going to feel it. Still, this feeling of absolute control empowers me till this day, as I know that I’m the only person that’s standing in the way of my dreams. What other job can offer such a luxury?