Need cheap freelancers? Want to work for pennies? Yes, that’s the general feeling for most people I’ve talked to about Upwork. I’ve experienced my fair share of bad feelings from freelancing websites, but if you’re just starting out as a freelancer or you’re just starting a business or nonprofit, there are ways to make freelancing websites like Upwork work well for you.
If you’re not in the know, Upwork is a freelancing website. It ate Elance and Odesk, two popular freelancing sites, and is now the mega go-to place for people to find affordable professional services. Love it or hate it, it’s not going anywhere, so you have to learn how to avoid the pitfalls.
I’m not gonna lie, I’ve had some TERRIBLE experiences on Upwork and Elance. I’ve had clients give me a 5 sentence description of what they wanted, then ignore my requests for more information, then get upset when I delivered work to the best of my ability with hardly any information. I’ve had clients suddenly add things to my plate and then refuse to pay more for them. I’ve had clients drop my design project because I wasn’t “getting it”, despite having never received a proper brief. After my share of bad experiences and a lot of middle finger pointing at my laptop, I got smarter about how I worked on these sites.
I started using freelancing websites about 6 years when I got on Elance to make extra money (I was a $13/hr-earning front desk agent at a ski resort) to support my ski bum lifestyle (seasons passes+expensive gear+sunshiney patio beers…a lot). I was also really exploring the idea of becoming a writer full time, and Elance was a great way to learn different types of web writing fast with little risk. I was able to earn an extra few hundred bucks every month, which was a big deal at the time.
If you can learn how to avoid bad clients and poor wages on Upwork and other freelancing websites, here is what you’ll gain:
- Guaranteed payment, delivered to you within a week (no waiting for paid invoices!).
- A marketplace full of potential ideal clients pursuing projects you care about.
- Potential full-time employment with startups you can grow with.
- A quick and easy way to build your portfolio without having to work for free.
I’ve also hired on Upwork, and had a great experience! If you can learn how to avoid bad hires asking for too much money, here is what you’ll gain:
- A reliable freelancer who you can trust to deliver you great work over and over again.
- Quality work within your budget.
- Potential collaborations (I’ll tell you about an exciting one I’ve had).
How to make Upwork work for you: for freelancers
Nothing feels worse as a freelancer than being told your work isn’t valuable. Unfortunately, this is what happens when you don’t value yourself and your work enough on a site like Upwork. People will pay you what you think you’re worth. Think about that.
Before you even start writing proposals, fill out your profile. Include your 75 word business description that says exactly what you do and who you want to work with. This sets you up for the right people to find you. List all of your skills and include a link to your online portfolio or a few examples to show people.
Will you get $100/hour projects? No, but your first gig with a client could lead to a $100/hour project. Freelancing sites are not a place for established, high-earning creatives who offer premium services. Freelancing sites are best if you’re starting out, building your portfolio, need gigs to fill in income gaps, or live somewhere where you can afford to charge a bit less for your services. Be humble and start somewhere.
Set your desired hourly rate and don’t budge. I mean it. I actually raised my hourly rate and started getting better clients. The same goes for project quotes. Quote within the job’s budget (don’t bid on it if you can’t because nothing is more annoying than being quoted double what your budget is), but be realistic about how long the job will take you.
Don’t think that writing a ton of proposals is the answer. Write targeted, personalized proposals to people you think you’d actually like to work with. This means you’ll write less proposals, the writing of the proposals will take a bit longer, but you’ll end up working with clients that are a better fit for you.
In your proposal clearly outline your experience, any similar projects you’ve done, why you want to work with them (make it personal, like you really love their cat wigs book idea), and what results they’ll get from you. Make it short and add personality. You have to stand out from the 20+ other proposals!
In the end, offer to get on the phone with them to go over any details, send a questionnaire they have to fill out in order to get the information you need to do a great job, or request any existing materials they have you can use to work from. Make sure you hammer out the details beforehand, especially deadlines, and communicate clearly to avoid misguided expectations. Do this and you will have happy clients who will want to keep in touch with you long-term.
How to make Upwork work for you: for employers
Upwork freelancers are from all over the world, with many living in countries like India and the Philippines where the cost of living is much less than that of North America. For this reason, it’s easy to find freelancers who will deliver work for a very low fee. Many others are trying to launch their freelancing careers and need somewhere to get experience. Be cautious!
I have actually been hired to fix international freelancer’s work because the English grammar was terrible. If you’re hiring for a writing project, ensure your hire has excellent English and ask for samples of their work. Often, if you need something high quality, you’re better off paying more for a freelancer with an extensive writing background whose first language is English. Don’t be cheap just because you can.
In your job listing, clearly outline what you need done. Nothing makes me want to yell more than the two sentence job description: “Looking for designer to create new logo for company. Must tell a story.” WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?! Answer the following to write your job description:
- What are the project specifications? For example, how many words do you need written, or what type of marketing document do you need and what format do you need it in?
- In 2 sentences, what does your business do?
- Who is the audience for this project?
- When do you need the project done by?
- What kind of person would you like to work with? For example, are you looking for someone with a scientific research background or a virtual assistant with an interest in environmental sustainability?
The clearer you are about your project and your ideal hire, the easier it will be for you to find them and vice versa. Not clear? Explain that a phone consultation will be a part of the gig, expect to pay for that time, and work out the details together.
If your freelancer does a good job, tell them! Give them 5 stars and a good review, which will help them get more work in the future. Think of your relationship as potentially long-term. How great would it be to already have a contact you trust to do a great job than to have to list a job and search for the right person time and time again. Being a good employer will save you tons of time in the long run, plus you never know what else it could lead to. A recent hire I had offered to help get me a book review on a major site they work with! PLUS!
It’s like anything. Be a good person, and you’ll attract good people. Don’t treat freelancers as if they were a dime a dozen (because the good ones aren’t!), and likewise, freelancers don’t treat employers as a generic proposal spam outlet. Be reasonable with your expectations and communicate!
Tips to add? Write them in the comments!
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