How to Get Your First Upwork Job: 5 Tips for Writers

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What freelance writer doesn’t want more ways to draw in clients?

Upwork is one of the biggest platforms for connecting freelancers and clients, but they don’t make it easy to get your first client.

In this article, I’ll explain why you should be using Upwork and how to get your first job on Upwork.

I’ll be describing the same tips that I used to optimize my portfolio, profile, and proposals – the tips that landed me my first client on Upwork.

Why Upwork?

Upwork is a great way to make some extra money as a writer.

Unlike some other writing platforms, there is no cost or waiting period for offering your services on Upwork.

They also take care of everything to do with payments.

With Upwork

  • You don’t need to create invoices
  • You don’t need to chase down clients that don’t pay you on time
  • You don’t need to handle online payment processing.

The downside to Upwork being so easy is that everyone seems to have created an account.

It’s typical for 20+ people to submit proposals for a job.

Because of this, many of the jobs end up paying a mockingly low rate.

I’ve seen some as low as $0.002 per word for content that required heavy research!


How I Got Started

I’ve been on both sides of the Upwork divide.

Back when I ran a startup, I hired clients for creative and technical jobs.

Most of the proposals that I got were absolutely terrible.

Most of the profiles that I saw offered no clear messaging.

Now, I offer my services as a freelance content writer on the site, where I’ve found some of my best long-term clients.

Things didn’t start off that well though.

For my first few weeks on Upwork, I had a 100% rejection rate on my proposals.

Based on advice from several friends and mentors with Upwork experience, I put together an extensive list of changes to try.

Most of them didn’t work for me.

They were great pieces of advice for certain circumstances, but they weren’t transferrable.

I did find 5 things that had an impact.

When put together, they made all the difference.

They landed me my first client, and everything became easier from there.

1. Become an SEO Expert

If you’ve ever looked into how to start freelance writing, search engine optimization (SEO) almost certainly came up.

Most clients care about SEO, and they expect some level of SEO knowledge from their freelancers.

There is no way that I can completely cover this topic here, so I suggest looking at Neil Patel’s SEO Made Simple guide.

At the very least, you should be able to speak intelligently about keyword research and targeting as well as on-page SEO optimization — structuring, body content, alt attributes, etc.

I would also suggest learning the best practices for meta titles, meta descriptions, and URL slugs.

Many clients won’t expect this from a content writer, but you don’t want to be blindsided.

2. Prove the Quality of Your Portfolio

If you have no previous content to show off, you will fail on Upwork.

Every client I’ve talked to has asked for writing samples.

Luckily, there are a few different ways you can beef up your portfolio in no time.

  • Offer your services for free. Send an email to any of your favorite websites offering to supply content for them. Tell them that you will do it for free if they will let you include it in your portfolio and give you a 100-word testimonial. This is quick, easy, and has a high success rate.
  • Publish on websites like Medium. Submit your work to some of the biggest publications you can find within your niche. Most Upwork clients won’t know these publications by name, but the number of followers is a metric they will understand.
  • Drive traffic to your own work. Creating works that get a large number of views and a low bounce rate also works to show your prowess. Either your own site or a blogging platform will work for this as long as you can show results.

3. Perfect Your Profile

My original profile was both vague and wordy, which is a terrible mix.

I hadn’t established a niche, so nobody had any idea whether I was a good fit.

You can see the revised version of my profile in the image below.

My Upwork freelance writing profile

Remember, your profile is your resume — it needs to be complete, concise, and free of errors.

Here are a few particular tips.

  • Don’t be afraid to call yourself an expert. Let me be clear: you shouldn’t lie. However, if it’s a gray area why not let the client decide whether you deserve the adjective? Don’t undersell yourself.
  • Put your niches right in the title. Don’t leave people guessing what you specialize in.
  • Emphasize your English skills. Working with a native or native-level speaker is worth quite a bit extra to most Upwork clients.
  • Include a couple of quantitative metrics. I suggest using the top 1–2 highlights of your portfolio’s performance. This can mean major publications you’ve gotten into, highly viewed articles, or whatever else is impressive and easy to understand.
  • (Optional) Show off your credentials. This is especially important for technical writers, but it can also matter within certain niches. For instance, if you are seeking clients for work and career articles, the HR position you held might be good to mention.

4. Improve Your Proposals

First impressions matter.

When I was reviewing proposals, I nixed over 90% of them based on either price or cover letter before I ever looked at profiles or sent out messages.

These are my top suggestions for getting past this first hurdle.

  • Be cheap enough. Your first job will not pay well. If the client gives an estimated price range, you want to be at the bottom of that range. If they give a fixed price, offer to do the job for about 5–10% less than that. Don’t be so cheap as to seem sketchy, but they need to see you as a bargain. When you have reviews, you can start raising your rates.
  • Be enthusiastic. Let them know how much you love the topic you’d be writing about. Clients prefer to work with freelancers that like their jobs. This should only take a few words, and it must not come across as desperation.
  • Be thorough but concise. Make sure you answer every question or concern from their posting, but a good Upwork cover letter should rarely be more than 6–7 lines, each being at most two short sentences. Don’t write in full paragraphs.
  • Be specific. Tailor your proposal to their needs. Focus on the parts of your background that make you the best candidate. Tell them how you would solve their problem. Feel free to mention tools and writing style — show expertise but be clear that your methods are flexible if they have specifics in mind. Be careful not to use jargon unless you know the client will understand it.
  • Check for spelling and grammar errors. Remember, this is the client’s first impression of your writing skills.

5. Make Yourself Available

Get the app on your phone and make sure you are watching for notifications.

On Upwork, the early bird tends to get the worm.

When you see a new job post or you get a message from a potential client, you should answer within an hour.

Once you have a relationship with them, you can set boundaries on when and how quickly they can expect a response.

For potential clients, however, waiting an hour often results in them picking someone else instead.

Final Thoughts

The difficulty of getting the first job on Upwork discourages many freelancers.

Just keep in mind that the first job is much harder to get than the second job. Once you have reviews, you will have no problem getting clients.

Use the above ideas.

Be vigilant.

Apply for every job in or around your niche, particularly your first couple of weeks on the platform.

Taking a low-paying job or a task that you don’t enjoy is a price you may have to pay to get that first review.

Your difficulties are not an indictment of your ability as a writer.

We all had a hard time getting that first client.

To get that first review, most of us had to take a job we didn’t want.

Fortunately, it only gets easier from there.

That’s just how Upwork works.

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