How to Make Money on Upwork – A Guide to Freelancing in 2023!

If you want to know how to make money on Upwork, you came to the right place! The below is just free info that I want to share with my fellow freelancers, so you can see how I made over $140,000 freelance writing on Upwork (so far)!

The advent of the Internet changed the way people work, but many of us never realized just how drastic those changes could be. The COVID pandemic woke a lot of workers and employees up to the possibilities, and now the “gig economy” is hotter than ever. People are increasingly staying home and trying to convert their freelancing side hustles into viable standalone careers. 

I’m one of those people and I’m here to tell you it is possible if you have skills that can be used remotely…and if you work hard to build up your online reputation. 

I know it is possible because I’ve earned over $145,000 on Upwork, by myself, with no training or help. And I only use Upwork part-time, a few hours a day, Mon-Fri. 

How to make money on Upwork

Here’s a direct link to my Upwork profile if you want to check it out live.

Okay, here’s how I’ve made money on Upwork and how you can make money on Upwork, too. Please read carefully…

Adjust Your Freelancing Philosophy 

In America, there are restaurants called ‘buffet style’ restaurants. At these, all the food is already prepared and is sitting out on countertops. There are no menus. There are no waiters. Nobody helps you; you have to get up and go get what you want…before someone else gets it. 

Upwork is a buffet-style work platform. 

The food (i.e., the work = the money) is there. But you have to get up and get it…before someone else does. 

Nobody will do it for you. It’s not easy; it takes time and patience and persistence. But the jobs are there, waiting. The more jobs you get, the easier it gets. 

Think Like Your Upwork Customer

You have to invest time to learn how Upwork works, and how to get more jobs. Let’s start with the customer. 

Upwork is the world’s largest freelance platform. Customers come, with money in their hands, to post jobs. 

Then they wait for you to apply, and then they make a decision about who to hire. 

If you want to make money on Upwork, you have to think like the customer. 

What are they looking for? 

How do they find you?

How do they decide who to hire? 

I want you to spend time thinking about these questions. Think like the customer thinks, so you can adjust your profile and your proposals. 

Now let’s talk about your profile and your proposal strategies…

How to Find Upwork Customers Who Will Hire You

While Upwork customers are looking for freelancers, you are looking for them, too. Don’t rely on them to find you, though. Go out and help them discover you by bidding and by optimizing your Upwork profile.

Upwork customers find freelance talent through 1 of 4 main ways:

  1. The customer posts a job, then they look for qualified candidates to invite (no connects required)
  2. Upwork staff sees their job post and invites you to bid (no connects required)
  3. The customer posts a job, then you see it and you bid on that job (connects required)
  4. Referrals from other freelancers who pass on an invite

Note, I got 99% of my Upwork jobs through #3. I find the jobs I want and bid on them.

Your Upwork Profile

Your Upwork profile needs to be optimized by:

  • Using a heading that appeals to the customer
  • Includes relevant categories and skills tags, so:
    • you will show up when they search for workers
    • you will be listed as the BEST MATCH worker when you apply*

*Upwork has an algorithm that it uses to ‘recommend’ Best Match applicants. So even if you are the most qualified, the potential client will never know if they don’t open your profile. Many only open the profiles of the recommended freelancer. 

You have to try to make your profile become a Best Match by using the right categories and skills tags

Updating Your Upwork Categories

Under your Settings, Profile Settings, you can select the categories of work that best describe the services you want to offer. I only add the most relevant ones, for my situation, under the options given for Writing.

Updating Your Upwork Skills Tags

Under Settings, My Profile, if you scroll past your reviews, you’ll see a place to edit your skills tags. Add as many as you can! If you want to understand how to make money on Upwork, you have to follow all these steps and don’t skip any.

Optimizing Your Upwork Profile Photo

To make money on Upwork, you have to land jobs. To land jobs, you have to have a great profile! Your Upwork profile is the first thing Upwork customers look at! In fact, your Upwork profile PHOTO is the first thing!

In your Upwork profile photo, you should look the way you want them to view you — as a person they have to hire immediately! Confident, with a smile and a direct stare at the camera. Head up, a nice shirt or something, and some color to make the image stand out. 

Think about this — a customer might get 20 – 50 applicants to a job. The first thing they do is look at the photos of the Best Matches. So your photo has to get their attention. 

I’ve tried lots of different photos on my Upwork profile. So far, this one has been the most successful. I actually don’t like this photo of myself; my head looks kinda weird in it, but anyway, it seems to work. Maybe it’s the scarf 🙂

Matt on Upwork

Crafting Your Upwork Proposal Cover Letters and Bids 

To make money on Upwork, you’ll need a compelling cover letter when you bid. When an Upwork customer is reviewing applicant bids, they see your basic info first, before they see your actual letter. That info includes: 

  • your name, 
  • photo, 
  • where you are located, 
  • heading on your profile,
  • hourly rate you bid (we’ll talk about Setting Your Rate below),
  • how much you’ve earned,
  • your Job Success Score (if you have one)

They’ll also see a line or two from your proposal cover letter, so that first line has to get their attention (see mine below)…

When I bid on an Upwork job, I do use a cover letter template that I have saved on Google Docs. But, I customize it a little bit for each job I apply to. 

I’m going to share my proposal template with you. It is long, and not every customer likes to see a long template. But, I do get a lot of positive feedback about it. 

My Upwork cover letter template (not my profile, because you cannot put links in your profile…but you can put links in your profile portfolio. I use Bitly to shorten the links to my online work samples. I also share a link to my Google Drive, where I have some excerpts of my writing):

My Upwork Cover Letter

The first part of my cover letter…

Below the main “intro” part of my cover letter, I offer some links to work samples. I use Bitly to make the URL’s shorter.  

Below the work samples, I spell out in more detail a bit about my general work history and past clients…

I also list out a few more of my past clients, along with my educational background…

(I’ll post a breakdown of all my cover letter elements soon…)

Upwork Customer Feedback and Reviews

To make money on Upwork, you have to do everything possible to earn a 5-star feedback from every customer, every time. Great feedback is as vital because bad feedbacks mean you won’t get hired by anyone else. They impact your job success score and most clients probably read through your feedbacks (if they consider your profile at all, which they won’t if you have a lousy job success score).

Here’s my tip. Ask them before you close the contract — is there anything else I need to do to ensure a 5-star feedback? 

Ask them directly before closing. That way, you give yourself a chance to fix anything, and you put the pressure on them now. 

Now if there’s a problem, you gave them a chance to correct it, and if they don’t take that opportunity, they have no excuse to give less than a 5-star review. 

Every Upwork feedback should be great, but it is largely up to you to make that happen. Do not take a passive role in this. Be proactive, go above and beyond, no matter how big or small the job is. If you take care of your reputation first, then the money will take care of itself. 

If you put your Upwork customers’ needs before your own, they will come back for more. That does not mean to let them take advantage of you. Be a professional and demand their respect. But earn that respect. Treat them well but as an equal. After all, they are the ones asking for YOUR help! 

As one of my Upwork customers likes to say, he needs me more than I need him. And he is right. They need you but make them really depend on you and count on you. Make them love your work and they will return. 

Repeat customers are your best friend on Upwork. You want the same Upwork customers to keep coming back and this will save you time and energy (but you only want them to come back if they pay well!!). 

How to Select the Best Upwork Clients

I get at least 2 invitations a day from potential Upwork clients, but I turn down 95% of them without doing an interview. I am very selective about who I work with, and you should be too, if you want to make money on Upwork and have fun, too!

You want to have a fun experience and want the customer to be happy so you’ll get a great feedback and repeat business). 

So, don’t take an Upwork job unless you actually are interested in it AND are qualified to do it (or at least think you can be, with some research). 

I like to read the reviews that other freelancers leave on customer profiles. That’s right, it isn’t only the freelancers that get feedbacks; the clients do, too. And if they don’t have a 4.85 score or better, I read their reviews very closely to look for the problem. The freelancers will usually tell you about a bad experience. 

I also look at how much the clients have spent, BUT — many big spenders don’t pay very much per hour. So look at how much they pay on average, and scroll through some of the past jobs they’ve hired freelancers for. Check out what they’ve paid in the past. 

Also, I pay attention to their tone of voice in the job post. If it sounds like they are going to be super picky, I avoid them. If they are bossy sounding, I avoid them. I’m here to make money but also to have a good time. I select my clients carefully and enjoy working with them. I’m looking for repeat business and long-term relationships. 

To date, I’ve only had a handful of what I would consider less than optimal clients. The vast majority have been awesome, and that is not by coincidence. It’s from carefully vetting them just as much as they’re vetting me. In fact, if the client lists the name of their business in their post, or in their profile, go ahead and look that business up online. Do some homework on them. This can help you ensure you are a good match, and if you bid and they open an interview, you’ll already know a bit about what they do.

Clients love to see initiative like that, in my experience. Of course, that doesn’t mean to go cyber-stalking them. And never ping a potential client on LinkedIn…that is not only against Upwork’s terms of service, but clients simply do not appreciate it. I’ve never done it, but have worked with enough folks to hear their Upwork complaints, and that one has come up a few times…

Setting Your Upwork Rate

To be honest, if an Upwork customer is looking for an English-speaking writer, for example, they will choose a native English speaker first. The only reason why they might not is to save money. That means, if you are a non-native English-speaking writer, you might need to charge less than a native speaker. 

So what is a fair profile rate to ask? That may depend on where you live. 

There is a term called geoarbitrage — to live in one economy but earn money from another economy, and then profit from the different currency values. 

Find a rate that is fair to you and that the customer will pay. 

Again, if they are shopping for overseas talent, it is because they are trying to save money. It does not save them money if you are asking the same rate that a native speaker would. Your experience and education are factors to consider, so you may well deserve more than the average. But you have to prove it to the customer. 

Remember, Upwork is “UP” work. 

The more you do, the more reviews you get, the more you can charge. 

You work your way up. So, you have to start with a lower rate and go up slowly over time. That’s how I did it. I started writing at about $0.02 per word, and now I charge at least $0.10 – $0.12 per word. As an hourly I charge at least $35, up to $45 or more. In some cases, my rate (for fixed price jobs) broke down to over $65 an hour.

Okay, folks, that’s all for now! If you liked this article on how to make money on Upwork, please give it a thumbs up and share with your friends!!

Want more tips? Here’s what Bard says about how to make more money on Upwork!

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Published by Matt Cates

Retired USAF Veteran. Freelance writer. Author of 'Haveck: The First Transhuman.'

2 thoughts on “How to Make Money on Upwork – A Guide to Freelancing in 2023!

  1. I really enjoyed reading this article. It’s very explicit and the values here are worth practicing. A friend sent me this link. I have been on Upwork for a while and the challenge has been having to land that first job. I had to delete my Upwork account after much frustration. But reading your article and seeing that it is a niche that I have skills in, I am considering opening up Upwork again and giving it another shot. The challenge though is, I don’t have as much experience or a portfolio as huge and somewhat intimidating as yours so I want to ask if you have a few pointers in this area. I’ll appreciate your response.

    1. Getting the first job can be tough, and Upwork is not for everybody. But I think if you closely follow the tips in my article, it may help. I learned these the hard way, by trying and experimenting. I did not have much experience in writing when I got my first Upwork gig. Now I do have a kind of large portfolio, but I did not in the beginning. It is something I have worked on over the years, freelancing a little every day (well, Mon – Fri). One trick, which I did not do myself, but I have seen others do it, is if a friend has an Upwork profile and they hire you for your first job. Then, after you do that job, they can leave a feedback. Feedbacks help you get more clients. That way you can start the ball rolling. Then you must focus on getting a job success score. Once you have that score, it’ll help you get more jobs. Then you must keep up a great job score, by giving awesome customer service and doing strong work. As you get more feedbacks, and earn more money and log more hours, pretty soon you grow your reputation. And once you have that, it gets easier. So, starting is hard. Most people struggle and give up. I kept trying and it worked out, eventually.

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