Upwork is the biggest freelancing site and represents many people’s primary income source. If you’re brand new to freelancing and don’t have any clients yet, you’ll want to try to get a few projects under your belt on Upwork, but it’s not easy. In fact, in my experience, it’s damn hard. I personally had tried to get started as a freelancer on Upwork a while back and eventually gave up on it as no client was taking me on, and all I’d done is waste money applying to jobs (yes, Upwork will actually charge you, the freelancer, to apply for a job — even for a tiny one paying peanuts).
Clearly, I’m not in any position to give new freelancers advice on how to land their first gig on Upwork. That’s why I turned to others. Here’s the query I put out:
How does one with 0 contacts or experience get their first gig on Upwork? It can be very hard to get your first job on Upwork as someone with no feedback, and we’d like to hear tips and stories from people who did it, beyond just “work for free or next to nothing”. Personal stories welcome.
I received some good replies to that from some reasonably successful freelancers, and have listed them below. This advice is definitely not just applicable to Upwork, so if you or an acquaintance is getting started freelancing online in any area, it’s worth having a read through this.
One recommendation I have for getting your first Upwork gig is to highlight your prior experience outside of Upwork (if you have any). Although I had no Upwork experience, I didn't have any issues getting my first gig as I had a few published samples I could show. However, you might not have this, so I have other recommendations!
Another huge recommendation I have is to write a custom, thoughtful cover letter for *every *gig you apply for. This might be more time-consuming, but it's definitely worth it in the long run. You'll be able to showcase the talents you can bring to their company and why you'd make a great fit. Employers LOVE personalized letters rather than a template cover letter that you send to everybody. If you're a writer, make sure to showcase your writing skills in the cover letter.
My advice is to find your niche. I'm an occupational therapist, but I also have a background in writing. When I decided to take on some freelance work, Upwork was the first website I chose. I made sure to fill out my profile fully and described both my experience with occupational therapy and writing. I did take a few generic contracts at first to get some quick ratings, but it wasn't long before I found OT-specific tasks. Initially, I spent a little bit of time every day using search terms like occupational therapy autism special needs, etc. It wasn't long before I had plenty of clients with repeat work, as well as invitations to interview on Upwork. What also helped me was that there didn't seem to be many other OTs using the platform. To anyone who is looking to get started, even if you don't have a specific degree as I do, I would suggest narrowing down what you're best at and starting there. It's very easy to get lost in a sea of general copywriters/proofreaders.
--Devon Breithart, devonbreithart.com
Finding work on Upwork is very challenging at first, challenging to the point where most people give up and don't look back. The good news is however, business on Upwork also has a snowball effect. Once you get rolling slowly you also gain a lot of momentum in a hurry.
The key to applying for any project (even with good reviews) is writing a personalized proposal to the recipient. A proposal shouldn't just outline your skills but also how well you understand your client's needs and potential concerns.
Ask yourself what can you say to make a client feel comfortable and confident to pick you over the competition. Describe what you anticipate to be the trickiest parts of the job, how you plan to address those issues, and how you've done so successfully in the past.
If you have no reviews yet it's perfectly fine to say I'm new to Upwork which is why I don't have reviews yet...but I plan to change that with great work and customer service. You can also provide them with a link to your Facebook or Google reviews instead.
A strong website or relevant portfolio examples is also huge as people are visual individuals first. If you can put several examples of good work in front of them this often has a bigger influence than experience or credentials.
Also, don't be afraid to bid on the large jobs first. You're more likely to write a good proposal for a great lead as opposed to one where you have to undercharge. Remember it only takes one, big or small!
--Jeff Moyer, Advance Web Solutions
My name is Karen, and I am a freelance content writer. I started looking for jobs on Upwork back in November 2019. For 5 months, I got a total of 6 clients and one of them gives me a monthly writing job until now.
I was able to get clients despite having no review on my Upwork profile by sending proposals that will initiate conversation with the client, or at least catch their interest so that they will respond to me.
Here are what I do in my proposals:
1. After greeting them at the start of my proposal/cover letter, I begin two to three lines that shows I understand their need and I am here to help them with my skills.
2. I introduce myself and let them know how my credentials/background can be an advantage in producing the result they want.
3. I attach samples (PDF/MS WORD file) so they will see if my writing suits their brand.
4. I ask questions at the end - a form of call-to-action to initiate coversation.
--Karen Cas-Alinas, filipinaincanada.com
*Creating an outstanding profile and sending sticky proposals is the core. * When starting out on Upwork, nothing is appealing from your profile and the only alternative is convincing the clients that you are the freelancer they’re looking for. This may be the toughest move considering that there is currently a very stiff competition. Besides, from experience, Upwork bans new accounts that send too many proposals without getting hired. As if that is not enough, Upwork bans new accounts that go beyond two months of inactivity.
Those are some of the challenges new Upworkers may face. Nonetheless, not all clients look for freelancers with previous experience that is usually depicted from their profile’s reviews. With that said, new freelancers on Upwork can easily make it if they can spend some quality time crafting catchy profiles and sending luring proposals to clients.
Another tip worth consideration is making sure that your profile is 100% complete with all the details such as education and work experience relating to your expertise on Upwork. I hope this helps out! Thanks.
--Sam Kane, themoneypig.com
I started my Upwork profile long before they were even called Upwork. They started as o-Desk (around 2014) and I had no idea what I was getting myself into. But I was keen on making money. The tip is to look for work that is highly associated with your university degree. At that time, I worked as a nurse and focused on landing health/research-related topics. I strayed away from the blog posts or articles on health and wellness and just focused on health/research data work. The first job that I landed was to input data for a pharmaceutical company. I was paid $9/hour, and I got a 5 - star review from them as well. And that is all you need, one contract to show that you have been working for them consistently and that they have given you a good rating. After this, it was so easy to land my next contracts, but still in the health and wellness niche. Then I started traveling and my niche grew there as well. It's easy for me to say these things now, as I have landed numerous contracts and worked for a lot of people over the course of 6 years, but all you need is one contract. And to not stop applying. I think I send 5 proposals a week. You won't get a reply most of the time, but when you do, make sure you get a good rating.
--Geninna Ariton, trendhim.com
*1. Apply for Jobs that have below 5 proposal applications*
There are some jobs on Upwork that are very popular and hence stiff competitions. Personally, avoiding to bid for popular proposals and only bid for less popular work helps to massively secure my chances in getting the contract.
*2. Send an Impressive Profile while Bidding*
I personally include 3 to 4 bullet points of my successful results relating to the work requested to instill confidence in my clients that I have the skills to produce high quality work. Plus, I usually include a link to my LinkedIn profile and my work website.
*3. Be Upfront that I'm New to Upwork*
As I know that I have competitions on this platform, I'm very upfront to potential clients that I'm new to Upwork but had been in the industry for over 8 years. This helps my client to look beyond my Upwork page for testimonials, such as my LinkedIn profile, Fiverr (where I had been there for 4 years) and my website.
*4. Provide recommendations and solutions within the bidding message*
I saw most of my success in securing clients come from this strategy. This means that I will already include suggestions for the work, information I need to move forward and proposed solutions. This demonstrates to my clients that I know what they want and their next message is usually to continue the conversation which leads to closing of the contract. This is the fastest way to get the contract as the opening message immediately stands out from other bidders.
--Rashidah Rahman, eventsandmeaning.com
- *Identify your skill:* This seems basic, but Upwork prefers people with one or two niche skills over those who are Jacks of all trades. If you're a writer, what's your niche? Are you a B2B, tech, lifestyle, or health writer? Then specify this on your profile.
- *Sell yourself: *Include ANY past experience you have on your profile. Even if you've never worked for money in that field, state any volunteer work or even work you've done for yourself. I highly recommend creating an online portfolio that potential clients can view. This could be a blog, videos you've edited, or graphics you've designed.
- *Be a pro: *This means no typos, a clean-looking headshot, and well-written job proposals. It also means being ready to do the work -- and to invest. I joined Upwork when some connects were free so I could bid on jobs like crazy until I exhausted them. Usually, this happened in a week or less, that is, 35 job proposals sent in every week. When you're new, you have to work harder.
- *Learn to sift clients: *Not every Upwork client is worth your time, so work smart. Make sure you bid on jobs posted by users with verified payment methods and a good history and rating. Don't waste your connects on people with poor job descriptions -- or those who don't even know what they need a freelancer for. Read job postings carefully and make sure your proposal answers any questions the prospective client may have. Put your best foot forward by avoiding typos as much as possible, especially if you're a writer. And, when you do score that first client, do an excellent job and ask for a 5-star review!
--Afoma Umesi, Oh So Spotless
The key to getting those first few gigs on Upwork is to apply very specifically for the RIGHT gigs. Say, for example, you’re a writer in Colorado with a passion for paddle boarding and Linux. Instead of applying to dozens of generic writing jobs, search specifically for “Colorado” and “paddle boarding;” search the writing jobs for “Linux. It won’t take you long to find people looking for somebody with your specific knowledge.
THEN, put an enormous amount of effort into a far smaller number of pitches for those jobs. Pull out all the stops, and consider even recording a short video application to make yourself stand out. There’s no need to offer to work for little or nothing, but you CAN offer a guarantee that you won’t charge if the client isn’t satisfied with your work.
These methods have worked for me, and whenever I need to find work on Upwork I always begin with tailored searches before looking more widely at the listings.
--Ben Taylor, HomeWorkingClub.com
One of the strategies that work for getting jobs on Upwork is to apply to as many jobs as possible. In your application, explain that you are new to Upwork, but can provide references. It's going to be tough but someone will eventually hire you.
Don't lower your price! In fact, raise your prices. I started out on Upwork with zero contacts or reviews. I applied to many jobs (SEO, Google Ads, etc) and put my hourly at $399 per hour. People were curious why my rate was so high and that allowed me to negotiate project based compensation that was fair and reasonable.
The only issue is that you may have to deal with bottom of the barrel clients while you build up your reviews and portfolio. Just keep applying to as many jobs as Upwork will allow. Eventually someone will hire you.
--Adam Colbert, Rocket 31
*Make your portfolio shine*
While creating your Upwork profile, take time to ideally describe your skills, situations in which you may be useful to the client, and your relevant experience, if any. Write 2-3 paragraphs in the overview section of your Upwork profile and try to twig to around a thousand characters. Be incisive and eschew long and pointless wording.
*Give the relevant tests*
The best thing about Upwork is that they provide plenty of tests that can determine the capabilities of freelancers of different industries. SEO experts, Writers, online marketing managers, and other freelancers can search different tests to further manifest their expertise to prospective clients.
*Carefully read the job opening*
Read every job post carefully before planning to apply. Make sure whether the project is of your interest or not. Also, make sure that you avoid spam applications. Therefore, you should use every application judiciously and make the most of it.
*Compose your proposal carefully*
Try to prepare your proposal properly as it is the first communication between you and the client in which you try to sell your services.
Always write unique content on your own and avoid using the template. The proposal you submit is one of the three most prior things a client will look closely at when determining whether to hire you or not. Another two are your profile and reputation on Upwork.
--Nidhi Joshi, iFour Technolab
My number one tip would be to have your profile 100% complete, and in a way that showcases your skills AND addresses your ideal clients’ needs. Like any good marketing, you want your profile to speak directly to your client, so they feel like you understand them and can deliver what they need. If you’re not sure what they need - market research will be your best buddy. OH! And add a video to your profile - many won’t do it (heck, I haven’t yet!) and it’s such a great way to show your personality and stand out amongst the crowd. And lastly - you surely have past experience, wether education or past work experience - do your best to show that in your profile when relevant.
--Sílvia Pinho, thesilviapinho.com
I've been hired and have hired others on Upwork, so I think I can provide some solid advice.
First of all, reviews obviously are very powerful. Just like with Yelp, Rover dog walking, or any service that uses reviews, getting a gig with 0 reviews is your biggest initial challenge.
If possible, I'd actually suggest having a friend create a gig and hire you so that you can get at least one review. Even having just one job completed looks so much better than having nothing!
Even without any reviews, there are a few things you can do to set yourself apart from the pack:
1. Use the hiring manager's name. The whole Dear Sir / Madam route looks terrible, and including the hiring manager's name is often one of the unofficial requirements that job posters are looking for when choosing between hires.
2. Showcase your portfolio. Make sure to have a portfolio of your past and relevant work that you can show prospective hiring managers.
3. Talk about your experience. Any relevant experience in your field may be enough to outweigh your lack of reviews of existing Upwork feedback.
4. Answer the questions presented in the job post. So many applicants will just copy and paste a formulaic cover letter to answer a job post. If you write an engaging and thoughtful cover letter that actually answers the queries or responds to the material posted in the online job post, you'll definitely give yourself a leg up in the competition!
--Megan Marrs, Safer Senior Care
How do I get going on Upwork if I don't have any earnings or experience?
The truth is--it can be really difficult. Until you have a job or some earnings under your belt, your proposals don't even show to potential clients most of the time.
There are 3 hacks that anybody can use to beat this:
1) If you're currently doing any kind of freelance work outside of Upwork, ask your client if they would be willing to pay you through Upwork. It's a bit of a hassle for them, because they will need to set up a profile and connect it with a bank account, but it's legit, and will help you show honest-to-goodness experience. If they need some convincing, you could offer a small discount on your services, or one-time setup fee credit. You will also be losing a small percentage of your earnings to Upwork, for their service fee. Still, in the long run, if you have this option, it's definitely worth it.
2) If you have friends that have hired freelancers on Upwork before, approach them and see if you can do a small job for them.* If you're a designer, maybe you can do a few logo concepts for them. If you're a writer or editor, perhaps you can provide them an article or rewrite. The dollar amount need not be large, and you can also offer a serious discount on your regular rates, just to get a job under your belt. Send out a message on Facebook (EDITORS NOTE: if you're unfamiliar with using Facebook for marketing purposes, see some business uses of Facebook here), asking if anybody has ever hired a freelancer on Upwork before, and it's likely you will have at least 1 or 2 people that have.
3) The third option is the more black hat version of number #2. Essentially, you find friends who have Upwork profiles (or would be willing to set them up), and PayPal them some money to hire you (i.e. If I send you $500, can you hire me on Upwork for $500?). They post a job on Upwork, you apply for it, and they pick your bid out of everybody else's. Then they use the money that you sent to them to pay you. This is obviously a violation of Upwork's terms of service, but people have done it, and it is effective. In a situation like this, you will also lose the Upwork service fee (5-20% of your earnings).
--Dan Carpenter, Gear Lobo
1) Write an amazing profile summary. At the time, this is all prospective employers have to go on. Make sure you nail it. Upwork also gives you the option to add a video. This video is a great chance to showcase your skills, or continue your introduction.
2) When applying for jobs, link to your portfolio. The portfolio section that Upwork provides is quite tedious, in my opinion. I prefer to share the link to my writing samples so clients can see that in addition to any samples I attach to the bid.
3) Be open to taking smaller one-off jobs to boost your job satisfaction score. I have taken jobs where I reviewed a book so I could boost my score. You can find multiple jobs that are smaller one-off moments that will allow you to book your first job.
4) Be on the lookout for employers who want to hire people specifically for their first jobs on Upwork. There are employers who know how hard it is to book a job on these platforms without any type of reputation score. Find these jobs, and apply to them. You are much more likely to land your first job from one of these postings.
5) Share needed detail in your job applications, but don’t go overboard. Just because Upwork gives you the ability for 5000 characters doesn’t mean all 5000 are necessary. Sometimes, less is more. Cover the important points about your skills, and move on. Some of these jobs get over 50+ applicants. Think about the employer reading 5000+ characters for each and every applicant. Don’t waste their valuable time.
--Ami Brasure, Upwork profile
While getting your first gig is difficult without feedback, what I found that most of the time, the reason you don’t get invited for the job is NOT because you are not qualified, rather it’s because you didn’t put in the effort or simply not prepared. (As a side note, this also applies for real-world job applications).
In order to increase your chances of getting hired, you need to know what exactly the hiring manager/company is looking for and what they see.
Tip #1: Create a Template That Your Personalize Every Single Time Having been in Upwork for a decade, I have a standard application template that I always personalize. The problem with most applicants is they use the same thing over and over. Copy-paste their answers across all their job applications hoping that someone will pick them.
But hiring managers want to know how you can help drive results. That’s why as the job applicant, it is your responsibility to demonstrate that.
So instead of saying I’ve helped companies before with writing content; say the 5 articles I wrote for Company ABC are consistently ranking in the top 10 results of Google for their target keywords. Or the articles I wrote are consistently generating 5,000 new users to the website.
These results will separate you from everyone else.
Related: I have a career management document that I’ve been updating 2-4 times a year. I’ve had it since 2013. Basically I listed there all my roles (whether corporate or freelance) and the accompanying results I’ve made for the company. So if I apply for a job post that asks for writing in order to increase their traffic, I pick the most relevant writing post that I had and use it in my cover letter.
Tip #2: Bring Your Offline Results to Upwork From my experience, people don’t go to Upwork straight from school. They’re usually professionals who either want an extra income/side-gig, or resigned from their job and want to do it solo.
So, bring those portfolios and results into Upwork. If you look at my profile, I listed every company I worked with. I included my responsibilities and the most noteworthy results I made during those roles. This goes back to the career management document I shared earlier.
Plus, there’s a new feature in Upwork that lets you invite other people to write a testimonial for you so it lives on your Upwork’s profile. I’ve invited past clients to fill it out but haven’t received responses yet. I definitely need to followup on that. 🙂
Tip #3: Control What You Can Control At the end of the day, the fact that you don’t have “experience” in Upwork doesn’t mean you can’t do anything. Sometimes, you just won’t get the job. Someone with more experience got it, or your profile didn’t appear, or they saw someone first even if you’re next on the list but they hired him/her immediately.
Tip 4: Follow instructions properly Being in Upwork for a while, I noticed a trend. Instead of just posting the job description, oftentimes you get to hear stories and other instructions. I also posted some jobs in Upwork so I have experience on both sides.
The default “question” that is required for every job applicant is the cover letter. Employers can add more questions if they need to.
In the current UI of Upwork, the first thing employers see is the first line or two of your cover letter. Your reply has to stand out. A “Dear hiring manager” or something similar doesn’t stand out.
What I personally like to do when applying for new jobs is look at the company’s past job postings. I look at the feedback given by freelancers back to the employer. Chances are, they will mention the name there.. So using that in my cover letter, I immediately stand out. I say something like “Hey Katie, I’m interested in helping you generate more leads for Company ABC.”
This is also one of the reasons why a lot of job posts (especially from serious employers) include a “keyword” applicants should use towards the end of their post. For example, they say something like “please reply with the keyword banana at the beginning of your application” —> this weeds out the people who can’t follow/read instructions immediately. If you begin typing your answers without the word banana, you’ll get archived immediately (meaning, you’re removed from the applicant list but you won’t be notified).
Once you get their attention, the next thing employers see is your profile. Again, this has to make you stand out. A new feature in Upwork is specialized profiles which they rolled out recently. It’s best if you fill this out properly. That way, when you apply for virtual assistant jobs, you can use that specialized profile as opposed to using a generic profile, or one that focuses on content writing.
Tip #5: Follow-up politely If you get shortlisted or got invited or they messaged you, it’s best to reply as quick as possible. But you also have to realize that they are also busy. So you have to followup. For example, I got invited for a job before, but after a few days of no responses, I followed up, stayed polite, and got the conversation going again. The owner was just busy with other projects that’s why she wasn’t able to conduct the interview.
Even more so if you don’t have experience in Upwork. This just shows that you are proactive, something that hiring managers want.
Tip #6: Include your schedule I always close my application with my availability that is tailored to the client’s local timezone. This can easily be seen on their profile. For example, I’m in California, I don’t assume I’m available for interview between 12-5pm. The hiring manager might be in the east coast, or they could be in the UK — which at those times will be their late evening.
The final message I’ll say for new Upwork members is that you have to make it easy for the hiring manager/company to choose you. If you make them guess, if you make them find your portfolio instead of attaching it, if you ‘wait’ for them to ask you instead of telling them how you can help, all these will eliminate you from the running. Remember, hiring managers often deal with dozens if not hundreds of job applications for a single post. So it’s your responsibility as the applicant to make it easy for them.
--Ariel Lim, ariel-lim.com
1. Find small jobs: Many people won't risk bigger projects with someone who has no experience, especially when there are so many freelancers available. So you can focus on new small projects, and bid as soon as you see the job. Because here timing is the key, someone wants to get done with something, he might not wait for a lot of people to apply. You'll get a chance to do it.
2. Make your cover letter amazing: Although every client won't even read your cover letter, you have to make sure that the one who reads should be impressed.
a. Write everything in context to what the customer has asked for
b. Build credibility by showing your work that you have done in past somewhere else.
c. Before people reject you , thinking that you have no experience on Upwork, clearly address it in a cover letter.
Here's what I used to say in my cover letters:
Jim, as you can see I am new on upwork and have no reviews, you will be my first job and you can imagine how much heart and soul I will put in you work as my future depends on it as compared to someone who has sent you a template cover letter and is probably working on 40 more jobs
3. Patience: Do not expect you will get a job as soon as you apply, commit to applying to 50 jobs without copy pasting your cover letter. I am sure you'll get hired.
--Rahul Vij, Webspero Solutions
I started working on Upwork about six months ago and had zero experience. One of the first things I did was set up a search filter that looked only for freelancers that are at the “entry level” meaning the client isn’t looking for people with a lot of experience or a big portfolio.
Obviously these jobs don’t get paid as well as the “expert level” but it only took me one job to create a portfolio out of that and start moving up in jobs I could apply for.
Another tip is to think about when you’re looking at jobs. Just like the rest of the workplace, most people are on Upwork from 9-5 in the states. If you’re a night owl or an early riser, check out jobs at these times..
People are looking for freelancers 24/7 and some jobs that would normally have 20+ people applying for I’ve gotten the gig because there were less than five people that applied.
--Joseph Sleek, alldayprogress.com
Focus, focus, focus. Upwork has thousands of freelancers so why is someone going to pick you?
There are lots of freelancers that are able to write decent proposals and reply promptly etc.
My advice to get your first few jobs is to pick a really specific niche so that you really stand out. You're aiming to appeal to fewer people but be MUCH more interesting to the people that you do appeal to.
There are lots of people who are 'Marketing experts' or 'SEO experts' but how many are 'Marketing Expert For Medical & Dental Firms' or 'SEO Experts For Legal Firms'. So pick a really specific niche and aim for that.
You'll get fewer contacts but the ones that you will get will be much more focused and far more likely to hire you.
Once you have your first few jobs under your belt you can then broaden out your appeal if you want to.
--Ben Richardson, Development Academy
My advice is to pitch with personality. Be mindfully present in every pitch or client discussion. A lot of freelancers focus too much on their own needs, accolades, and troubles; they forget it's another real person who needs tangible support at the other end of the line.
The goal of your cover letter or first point of contact is to show that you are professionally competent to do the job. But it would help if you went beyond that. Show interest in potential clients' businesses beyond money, ask questions, provide over-expected services. Be friendly, happy, confident, and calm - these are simple traits that make you more attractive, even in a cover letter, and sets you apart from the other freelancers clamoring for the same job.
When a client has the choice between an excellent freelancer who is grumpy or a superb freelancer who is supportive, the latter will win because people want joy and light in their businesses.
--Kelechi Udoagwu, Week of Saturdays
Before joining OutwitTrade.com I had several years of experience in online marketing, advertising and SEO before also working as an analyst at Hertz for over 2 years.
In my spare time I like drawing, creating music and reading. 🙂
Latest posts by Katie Holmes (see all)
- Here Are The Benefits of Cold Showers - May 29, 2020
- Weight Loss Tips: 18 Readers Share Their Stories & Advice - May 29, 2020
- How Can You Overcome Shyness? - May 21, 2020