5 Easy Steps to Make Money Freelancing in Your First Week

By Guest Post •  Updated: 08/18/16 •  13 min read

This is a guest post from Minh Nguyen. Minh is a member of our Location Rebel community, and he recently wrote a post in the forums all about his success with UpWork – so I asked him to write how to make money freelancing with UpWork quickly.

His experience is definitely a bit counter-intuitive at times and is different than much of the commonly shared advice on pitching to freelance websites. I wanted to share it to give a different perspective, and if you’ve been struggling to find success with these sites, this approach may be worth giving a shot.

Take it away, Minh!

How to Make Money Freelancing

how to make money freelancingThe world of freelancing online can seem like a daunting place.

There’s just too much competition, too many qualified freelancers, and too little work available right?

I thought so at first.

Or at least, I thought it would take a long time to “break in” to the world of non-starving freelancers.

Before I joined Location Rebel, I had very little prior experience in copywriting, no network, and was living in a foreign country. I figured that it couldn’t hurt to try out UpWork, an online platform dedicated to connecting clients who need work done with freelancers.

Much to my surprise I got an offer after just my fourth application in my first week! It was for rewriting product descriptions for about $30/hour.

In this post, I’ll show you how you can avoid the mistakes I made and fast track your way to make money freelancing.

It’s also worth noting, this is just what worked for me specifically. Use it as a starting point, but don’t be afraid to test or tweak, based on your current situation.

#1. Sign up for UpWork and Skip the Profile

I thought this step was worth mentioning because I think that so many freelancers get caught in this trap of trying to create the ultimate profile before starting.

Now, it might seem completely counterintuitive but I have a reason for this first step: it can lead to stalling, especially as our lizard brain kicks in and finds safety in pushing off the scary prospect of being rejected from jobs.

I spent a few hours crafting what I thought was a decent profile, and guess what? I don’t think anybody has read it – but that’s ok.

The fact is, nobody is going to look at your profile early on, and if they are, they probably won’t pick you just yet. Sure, you might get a job here or there, but we’re not here to cast a fishing line and wait patiently. We’re going right into the stream and catching these fish with our bare hands.

Just do the minimum required work necessary to fill out the information and get a move on. This isn’t to say that having a killer profile won’t help you later on, but for me, I found I had much more success when I dedicated time to my proposals over my profile.

For you, the results may vary, test it out and see.

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#2. Apply to High Probability Freelance Jobs With Long-Term Potential

Okay, so there’s lots of jobs available on UpWork. They come and go quickly – meaning that there’s going to be something that’s right for you.

What we want to do here is to apply to as few jobs as possible. The biggest thing to keep in mind is that finding the right client is just as important as finding the right job.

Here’s how to tell if you’re on the right track:

The right client:

The wrong client:

The real value of what you are providing for your client lies in your ability to connect the dots, draw conclusions, and provide solutions. That is what is going to differentiate you from other freelancers.

It’s your job to position yourself in a way that demonstrates that you are the expert, and that you can be trusted to get the job done and lead them to the right thing.

Proposals take a long time to write up, so think quality over quantity.

Some Tips I’ve Found to be helpful:

With UpWork, there can be a lot of hunting. While you might get put off right away by lots of jobs that are looking to get the lowest price, there are tons of gems hidden inside the site.

The key is you have to be willing to put in the time and energy to look. Here’s what I’ve done to find some great gigs.

Target Old Jobs 

This is counterintuitive, but it can pay off.

If it looks like the client can’t find a good candidate to hire, but they are still looking, you could come in and dominate if you present yourself as the solution. This is powerful because you have leverage in knowing they’ve been struggling to find what they want.

Avoid Additional Questions

Often times, the client will require that you answer a few questions in addition to sending a proposal. I generally avoid these because most of the clients I’ve encountered tend to treat me like an order- taker and not an expert. You can use your own discretion, sometimes being someone who is willing to answer questions can set you apart, test and see.

Look for Long Job Descriptions

The longer the description, the better chances you have to write a targeted proposal. Also, clients who take the time to write out a long description tend to be more invested in actually hiring someone.

Go for a Niche

Perhaps you don’t have experience freelancing in your field just yet, but you do have prior experience doing other things. This is great because you can use this to show your related experience, and clients love to hire someone with a targeted portfolio piece.

Get Paid Well

You can get a client to step above their budget if you prove your value to them, but it’ll be much easier to move up from $25/hour to $30/hour rather than from $5/hour up to your desired pay rate.

Start With Small Jobs

Go for the easy, smaller jobs at first and build your way up to a bigger job with the same client. It’s more efficient to prove your worth and value with a smaller “test” job rather than to complete a behemoth of a job at a mid-tier rate.

Over time, you’ll find a system that works for you.

#3. Send in Your Freelance Proposals

Now we’re getting to the fun part. Again, think quality over quantity and resist the urge to blanket the entire site with proposals.

The first three I sent out were canned proposals. What did get from them?


The fourth proposal? I spent hours on it creating a portfolio piece for the client and won the job.

This is the key. You want to make a very specific and crafted proposal for each job you apply to. If you don’t, your proposal is going to be lost in the shuffle. Yes, it takes way more time and energy, but your success rate is going to be much higher (and you’re going to be likely to get better paying jobs.)

Here are a few things I’ve learned to do in order to win proposals:

Use Their Name

It’s pretty easy to find their name – just scroll down to the job description to the part where freelancers can rate the client. If you can’t find their name, or see freelancers addressing the client as “client,” skip these jobs early on.

You want to build connection and value, and clients that seem robotic or transactional don’t fit into that mold.

Use Targeted Language

Speaking in the client’s language and using descriptive words found in their job description is definitely going to win you some brownie points. Most other freelancers will send in a half-baked canned proposal.

Not you. You know better than that.

Include Testimonials

This has worked for me in the past – social proof is very strong. Think about the last time you had a favorable or unfavorable reaction to a product solely based on the ratings it got.

Testimonials can make up for the lack of ratings you have since you’re new to UpWork.

Stand out!

Don’t be afraid to show your personality. It’s very hard to compete with 100 other robot freelancers on UpWork. It’s much better to do your own thing and let the other bottom-feeders lowball themselves to death.

Emphasize Your Relevant Experience

Include a short paragraph on something similar you did for a previous client and the results positive that came out of it. If you don’t have a relevant portfolio piece, then just create a small sample right on the spot.

It can seem like hard work at the beginning doing this, but after a week, you’ll have more portfolio pieces than you’ll know what to do with.

Demonstrate the Value You’ll Provide

Again, think of yourself as the expert, not the order-taker. You’ll get paid well to bring fresh ideas, perspectives, and bring them to their desired destination.

The most important thing to communicate is what can you do for the client that nobody else can – at least not the freelancers you are competing with for the job.

End With a Strong Call to Action

At this point, you want to steer the ship and clearly show that you are the captain that can lead them to the promised land. What are the results that you can bring to the table? Show them the benefits of working with you and not the features.

#4. The Freelancing Money Negotiation Phase

At this stage, if the client likes you, you’ll have to seal the deal.

There may be a few others the client is also considering. The most important thing is to not treat this like an interview to a traditional job. If the client starts to barrage you with questions and treats you like an employee to hire, then it may not be a good fit.

Of course, there are exceptions, but clients that do this generally won’t see you as the expert.

Remember, as a freelancer you have the choice of working with clients, if someone doesn’t seem like a good fit, don’t push it, just move on to the next job.

Here’s my approach.

The Initial Phone Call

Some potential clients want to have a call or Skype to connect, during this call, you want to get a very clear sense of who your prospective client is, what they are expecting from you, and how conducive they are to taking your advice. I cannot emphasize enough how important this is.

You also want to figure out if you can do a good job for the client or not and leave them blown away with the work you will do for them. It’s also a chance for them to gauge whether or not your process, personality, and style is a good fit for them.

Talking Price

It’s a good idea to not mention the final price until the very end. The reasoning for this is that you want to hook in the client and have time to justify the price you are charging.

If the client insists on a price, then be firm with your rock bottom price. Once the client already likes you, it’s much easier to talk price and negotiate rather than having the client flat out reject you based on price alone.

If the client rejects you here or you can’t come to an agreement it’s okay to let it go – the client didn’t see your value or the value you were providing wasn’t valuable to that client.

#5. After the Freelance Job is Done

Wrap it up with a bow and blow them out of the water.

This is the mindset you have to have if you want to convert a one- off client into a lifetime customer. If you do that, there’s a good chance you’ll be asked to do more and asked to come back.

If not, make sure to leave the door open and touch base with them every once in a while. Add them to your contacts list and ask for their permission if it’s okay to check in once in a while. Instead of being a nuisance, they’ll be glad that you are making sure that they can come to you for assistance when they need help on their next project.

Ask for a good review and think about your goals for the review. Do you need a testimonial that highlights your trustworthy character? Do you need something that raves about your niche expertise?

Formulate a fill-in- the-blank or even write the whole testimonial up for them and get their okay. Make it as easy as possible for them to say yes.

What to Do Next

The tips and advice I shared here pertain specifically to online platforms, but I’m convinced that you could take much of the same principles and apply them to traditional jobs, Craigslist gigs, or even offline freelancing.

It’s a great way to start out, especially if you’re looking to get your feet wet right away.

The key is just to take the first step and see what happens.

Don’t worry if you don’t know exactly what it is you want to do. The beauty of this method for making money freelancing is that you can test out all sorts of different niches and occupations in a short amount of time! If you don’t like what you’re doing, simply try something else.

Set aside 30 minutes each day, and apply to 2 jobs each day for five days. That really is all you need in order to get started.

As a copywriting ninja, Minh helps freelancers and entrepreneurs attract their ideal clients with words that spark a connection. When he’s not busy doing battle with spam filters, you might hear him jammin’ on the harmonica and ukulele.

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19 comments on "5 Easy Steps to Make Money Freelancing in Your First Week"

  1. Roy says:

    Impressive! I read a similar post Minh did in the LR forum, but this one covers it in a lot more detail.

    I do use a few, but this is going to be a truck load of useful stuff.

    Thanks a lot!

    1. Minh says:

      Hey Roy,

      Thanks! It’s comments like these that put a smile on my face and make me want to keep delivering value – it’s for you guys (and gals)!

  2. Joe says:

    Wow, you couldn’t have dropped this article at a better time. I’m currently traveling thru the philippines,down to last few pesos 😱, and have been pluging away at proposals on upwork, and all I hear in return is crickets lol.

    1. Minh says:

      Hey Joe,

      Totally feel you there. I was stuck in a similar situation, though I was in Boquete, Panama at the time.

      The biggest tip I can give you to stand out quickly is to find a way to connect with the client…FAST. People CRAVE connection. People CRAVE wanting to feel important.

      Make that client feel important and connected to you in the proposal somehow. Make a customized video proposal.

  3. Jon Lee says:

    I certainly appreciate the detail and actionable suggestions that went into this article, but Upwork? . . . Really?

    I completely understand that the topic addressed is centered on ‘How to Make Money This Week’, as opposed to “How to Launch a Viable, Ongoing Freelancing Business”, but a quick look and survey on Upwork will reveal that, with search parameters set to $$ (intermediate pay level), the first five companies soliciting bids for the keyword ‘copywriter’ pay a range of $3.94 to $10.64 an hour. The median would therefore be about $7.44 an hour — minimum wage in the United States (at this moment), but soon to be UNDER that.

    I’m not looking to troll here, but do you really think this is the best way to go?

    Jon Lee

    1. Minh says:

      Hey Jon,

      Totally understand what you’re bringing up – I’m sure many others are thinking the same thing. I guess it depends on whether you’re competing against the low-ballers.

      Would you decide against a future in web design or coding just because people can outsource it to India for a fraction of your rent?

      You need to think about how to un-commoditize yourself…on Upwork or anywhere to succeed.

      1. Jon Lee says:


        Thanks for the response. In retrospect, I probably didn’t need to respond as I did, as I’m sure you’re sincere in what you are suggesting.

        I will say this, though . . . .Whether or not you consider yourself in competition with the low-ballers, on Upwork, you almost always are.

        That’s my point. Or at least part of it.

        I don’t go in and set my rates so low as to race to the bottom. Far from it. On the other hand, I’m under no delusions that I’m the only game in town, and there is a finite ceiling to what I can appropriately charge.

        Over the years I’ve attempted to make a go of it on Upwork, I’ve tried countless combinations of keywords intended to best leverage my experience, which at my age is not in consequential. Conservatively, I’ve submitted maybe 80-100 bids on Upwork jobs. I’ve never been awarded any, and have had just two responses.

        The first was to the effect (and I am nearly quoting here) “I saw you put $25 in the window. Are you sure you can do this for $25?”

        Me: “That window contains my HOURLY rate”. (It’s actually pretty clear indicated).

        No further response.

        The second was from a physical therapist from the East Coast of the United States. Wanted me to proof no less than eight different sales letters he had created, then rewrite them as an ‘audition’. I responded that circumventing the Upwork terms of services was not something I was keen on doing, but I would be happy to supply him with several writing samples proving my experience and achievement in this area.

        No further response.

    2. minh says:

      Hey Jon,

      Man, I totally feel you there.

      To take a line from sales old school 101, people do business with those that they like and trust. As quickly as you can, you have to separate yourself from everyone else.


      By making a connection.

      While everyone else is sending in robotic pitches –

      Hello xyz,
      I am a copywriter with a bazillion years experience and I am…

      – You go in and blow them away

      What is the lifeblood of a business? Referrals and repeat clients. At the very foundation of that and of relationships in general, the basic building block is to have a meaningful conversation with someone.

      Make them feel important. It’s not just the job you’re after…you’re going in to help someone on the other side of the screen.

      Sure, it may not work every single time, but you’re going to get a lot more responses when your proposals scream I CARE ABOUT YOU.

      Shoot them a quick, personalized video and link to it in the proposal. Tell them what you can do for them. Show your enthusiasm for the job and for what they are doing!

      When they contact you back, get them on the phone ASAP. Have a website with an intro video and an About blurb that tells them about your personality.

      Get them comfortable with YOU.

      That’s rare! That’s not a commodity.

      With your years of experience, I wouldn’t be surprised if you could hit $100/hour on upwork within just a month or two.

  4. James says:

    Excellent post Minh! And congratulations on getting Sean to feature your work.

    My full-time job has been keeping me really busy over the summer, but saw this and HAD to read it immediately. Packed full of value. Can’t wait to go try it!

    Well done mate.

    1. Minh says:

      Thanks James! I’m super excited for you to test out the ideas listed here. Seriously and honestly – let me know how it goes and if you run into any roadblocks.

      I have lots more I want to say about this topic if Sean’s interested – and I guess that depends on whether or not the readers are interested 🙂

  5. Dvir says:

    Great post! I’m mostly on the client side on Upwork, and I’ve been writing up manuals on how to find the best freelancers out there. This is a very strong demonstration of the other side of it, and it beautifully mirrors the same things I’ve been explaining. Good job.

    1. Minh says:

      Thanks Dvir! Would love to take a look at those manuals 🙂 I started out a couple years back hiring people off of Fiverr, Elance, and Craigslist — and man, I’d have saved a lot of $$ if I had a how-to guide at first!

      1. Dvir says:

        I wrote them in Hebrew, but I could definitely translate them if there was anyone interested in publishing them (*cough* *cough*)

  6. Roger says:

    Great article of encouragement Minh.
    I’ve worked on Upwork for about 5 contracts in total and have found success in being different. When you see others low-balling, don’t fall for it, stick to what you feel it’s worth. Like you mention, YOURE the expert, believe and value yourself as if you are.

    I’ve seen what Jon is mentioning too about potential clients asking for details on what you’d do and/or samples of work that you’d do for them. My advice- don’t fall for it and do any work for free. If they don’t or can’t see your value from your proposal or call, they’re not likely to see your value later. …I’ve been burned on this before and won’t fall for it again.

    I’ve found success in “project” work as well. It isn’t long-term work as Minh suggests and is viable for a sustained income, but it is a way to make some decent money. I’m just wrapping up a contract right now that entailed writing 4 emails to an email campaign and providing the clients with recommendations for an upcoming launch. The project in total is $450 their cost (=$360 for me) which will end up being about $20-30/hour.

    In the filters, make sure you select the $$ or $$$ function asking for intermediate to expert freelancers. That’s another method to get above the low bids out there.

    Again, I don’t do this full time, only when I want to make some extra money for the month. But my single advice again is to value yourself and the work you offer – don’t sell yourself short.

    Best of luck!

    1. Minh says:

      Awesome tips Roger! And I totally agree – you wouldn’t want to work with clients attracted to lowball freelancers in the first place. Those clients don’t understand or value your work. Find other clients who do! 🙂

  7. Patrick says:

    Thanks Minh! I’ve never considered Upwork before but as you explain if it is tackled like building any business (understanding you customer, having a unique approach, looking at what you can do for them rather than seeing them being a source of revenue for you) you can obviously build freelancing into a viable business.
    The bottom line: building any business needs plenty of “mindwork”!

    1. Minh says:

      Hey Patrick,

      Totally! As with any new venture, freelancing is best done slowly and surely – building it up while you have another steady stream of income going! I don’t suggest anyone just dive in full-time as a newbie.

  8. Nancie says:

    Hi Minh!

    Excellent post! There will always be bottom feeders out there, but I know that I don’t want to be that person. When I was in corporate sales I would apply for jobs that I wasn’t even exactly sure what I would be selling. I’d get interviews because my cover letters always focused on what I could do for the company and not what the company could do for me. I would never have worked for a Fortune 100 company if I had presented myself differently. I haven’t started to look for gigs on Upwork yet, but when I do I will be using your post as my blueprint.

  9. Shobha says:

    Great info!!

    Thank you so much.

    So far I have figured, upwork is good for already settled freelancers. and less useful for new starters.

    Tried others and getting good results. Below sites are also good to get you started as a freelancer.


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