(This is a guest post from Les Blythe, a freelance copywriter living in South Africa. Les booked a chat with me a few weeks ago about taking his freelance career to the next level. He has been doing fairly well as a higher-end writer on Upwork.com but had sort of reached his ceiling there and was looking for new avenues. While I typically don’t recommend that people pursue content-mill oriented sites like Upwork, I know that for many of you, these sites are your immediate reality, so I asked Les to put together some tips on how to maximize your time there and get the most from your efforts.)
Conventional wisdom says the freelancing website Upwork.com is a waste of time and effort.
Many consider it a soul-sucking, lowly paid content mill where you need to write 5,000 words for $20 just to compete.
Such is the opinion of many successful writers I know of and respect.
If only life was that simple…but of course life rarely is.
It’s definitely possible to earn $125/HR and more on the Upwork platform.
I can guarantee it’s possible because it’s exactly what I’m doing right now.
My Personal Upwork Journey
First off let me say I’m fighting with one hand tied behind my back when it comes to landing clients on Upwork.
Many of the jobs posted on the site ask for native English speakers from North America.
Now, I’m from the UK but live in South Africa.
While there’s nothing particularly wrong with my ability to write native English (I can even do American English), I don’t think having Africa plastered all over my profile helps my cause at all.
So, there’s a tick in the negative column for me when most of my potential clients reside in the US.
Back to the story. I started on Upwork 15 months ago and I’ll come clean and say I did initially work for a pretty lowly rate; one I immediately click away from these days I’m pleased to say.
My first real gig was ghost writing 800 word articles about event management for $25. In total I wrote over 40 of these articles for a single client.
Next I wrote dog breed articles at $30 for 1,300 – 1,400 words. I did over 20 of those.
I sort of believed it’s what you had to do on Upwork to make money.
But, right from the start there was one thing really bothered me about Upwork.
I kept seeing writers earning thousands of dollars – like $30,000 or $40,000 showing up on their profiles. I didn’t get it. I was obviously missing something.
At first I naturally assumed they must be much better writers than me. It seemed a reasonable assumption to make.
However, I eventually figured out the secret and it’s actually not a secret at all.
In fact, it’s blindingly obvious.
The secret to earning $125/HR or more on Upwork is to ask for it!
This statement isn’t as crass as it might appear at first glance.
Let me explain.
Do You Have The Right Mindset?
Ah, mindset – that old chestnut!
I’ve got to be honest here and tell you I’m not a great believer in all things motivational.
I’ve been self-employed for years now and firmly believe the best motivation of all is self- inflicted.
So, when I talk about mindset, don’t get confused.
I’m simply talking about a mindset that allows you to recognize your true worth and charge accordingly. Nothing more.
It’s the mindset you need to adopt if you want to make decent money on Upwork.
That said, getting to $125/HR on Upwork is a process. A process I personally could have completed a lot faster if I’d known in the beginning, what I know now.
So, let me give you some of the most important steps in the process. These are steps I’ve worked out, learned from other people or simply stumbled across on the road to earning $125/HR on Upwork.
Why Your Upwork Profile Should Not Be About You
Sounds crazy – of course your profile is about you.
It’s your way of telling potential clients how fantastic you are.
It’s how you tell them about your amazing qualifications, how experienced you are and how their business can’t possibly survive without you – right?
Well, actually…wrong, to a point at least.
To start developing a convincing profile you need to go back to copywriting basics and consider one of the most important words in our craft “you”.
Put yourself in your potential client’s shoes. Generally, they don’t really care whether you have 5 years of journalistic experience behind you or a creative writing degree. Really, they don’t.
As a rule, they care about one thing and that’s solving their problem.
The problem they have is they need well-written copy (an article, blog post, press release, website content, email series etc.) from a reliable writer who delivers on or ahead of schedule and with the minimum of fuss. That’s it.
The mistake I see people making all the time is filling out their profile with how amazingly qualified they are without taking the time out to think about the client.
You need to relate your profile to the client and resonate with him.
A good way of doing this is to pre-empt the issues he might be facing. Here’s an example of how to do it:
“I know it can be difficult for you to find a good writer, one who consistently delivers great work on time, every time. That’s exactly why I give you a realistic lead time for all my work, one I meet or exceed every time. I’ve never yet missed a deadline.”
By doing this you’re showing potential clients you understand their problems and your mission in life is to solve them.
This is way more powerful than simply reeling off your qualifications, which by its very nature means you’ll be talking about “I” rather than “you”.
I’m not saying don’t talk about the qualifications you have. I’m saying make sure your profile is client-centric and shows you’re going to make their life easier if they work with you.
A final word on profiles – there’s no such thing as the perfect profile.
In the first couple of months, expect to come back and re-visit your profile many times over. You’ll add to it, subtract from it and alter it as you gain more experience and think of different ways to more effectively phrase its content.
How to Avoid Killing Your Cover Letter
There are two fatal mistakes you can make with your cover letter when you send a proposal for a job.
Just as your profile is not exclusively about you, neither is your cover letter. The same rules as your profile apply to your cover letter, customer problem solving first and you next.
The second mistake is the big one and the kiss of death for your proposals – sending out standard cover letters.
As well as working on Upwork, I’ve also employed freelancers from the platform.
I can tell you, a standard “cut and paste” cover letter stands out like a sore thumb.
It says to your potential client you didn’t even take their job seriously enough to write something original. Pretty bad as you’re supposed to be a writer in the first place!
That said, writing a cover letter from scratch each time can be daunting and eat up a lot of time.
Here’s what I (eventually) did and it works for me.
I developed what I call my “perfect storm”.
It’s a very comprehensive, customer-centric master cover letter from which I can pull certain paragraphs as I need them to make up individual cover letters.
It’s written in such a way it can be made to sound very personal to each client.
One of the ways I do this is to make sure I slot the customer’s requirement in at least three places in the cover letter.
So, if the client wants a press release, I’m sure to mention the words “press release” at least three times in the cover letter.
It took me a while to work out my “perfect storm” but now I’ve got it to the stage where I can apply for a job, with a very personal looking cover letter, in about ten minutes.
Even so, I still write original content when I know it makes my cover letter even stronger.
Final Tips You’ll Thank Me For
Let me finish off by giving you 5 Ninja tips that also answer some common problems new freelancers face on Upwork:
1. Help! I’ve Never Written a Blog Post, Article, Press Release, xxx (fill in the blank)
With the help of a simple Google search you can quickly arm yourself with the knowledge you need to tackle just about any job. I usually look at 2 or 3 sources, prepare myself a summary sheet (which I keep for next time), and go from there.
2. What Came First, The Chicken or the Sample?
When you initially get started on Upwork, you might well not have samples to show. Just go to 1) above, write a sample of 200 words or so and include it in your cover letter. Save that for next time also.
3. Continually Hone Your Craft
As I mentioned above, there are many online sources available for free. Use them, continue learning and be the best writer you can be. Oh, and ALWAYS over-deliver, clients love it.
4. Collect 5-Star Reviews Early
As soon as you start writing on Upwork start collecting 5-star reviews. Some people say you shouldn’t ask for reviews, I disagree. But be subtle, here’s how:
“If you think my work is 5-star a positive review would really be appreciated. It helps me a lot. If not, please let me know immediately and I’ll do my best to put things right.”
5. Become Your Client’s Trusted Partner
I can’t overemphasize the power of this, it’s made me thousands of dollars. You’re asked to write a blog post or article for a client’s site. That’s great, but you should always be on the lookout for other ways you can help your client. Maybe you notice some bad copy on the site, misspellings, out of date content – whatever.
By simply mentioning it to your client, it’s amazing how much extra work you can generate.
Just ask your client straight out if there’s anything else you can do for him. If you do a 5-star job and he has more work available, he won’t say no. Trust me.
Always be on the lookout for extra work and, most importantly of all, repeat business.
After all, it’s far easier and much more profitable to look after an existing client who gives you a steady, reliable income stream than to be continually hunting down new business.
But, that’s just common sense, right?
Les is a full-time copywriter with a background in business and IT sales. In a previous life he worked for IBM, Fujitsu and Xerox and owned his own IT company before selling out and moving to South Africa to live by the ocean. He writes in 3 main areas – general copywriting, email marketing and technical IT writing. You can connect with Les at LesBlythe.com