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 about.
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
The 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.
#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:
- Sees you as the expert
- Values your opinion
- Is looking to you for guidance
- Is very clear on what they want
The wrong client:
- Sees you as an employee that they don’t need to pay benefits
- Sees you as an order-taker
- Doesn’t see the value in your consultative guidance
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.
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.
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.
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.