Making Money

Freelancing on Upwork: How I made $400

Freelancing on Upwork with CashforKat
Check out my Upwork and reach out with fun projects!

Does freelancing on Upwork… work? That is the question that I asked myself back in 2017 as a desperate college grad trying to make some quick cash.

And the answer in 2017 was, “HELL NO.”

Thankfully, a lot has changed on Upwork since then. And I’m so glad that I gave it another chance! If I hadn’t, I would have missed out on $400 bucks that I earned while chilling in my pj’s.

What is Upwork?

Upwork is a platform that connects businesses of all sizes to freelancers, independent professionals, and agencies. It is a global platform that has been running under various names since 1999. Upwork is the largest freelancer platform in the world!

This platform has gone under many changes since I first started using it in 2017. The problem with Upwork a few years ago was that anyone, anywhere could sign up as a freelancer. This meant that there was a bunch of random, unqualified people spamming every job posting. Everyone was trying to compete with each other by offering dirt-cheap rates and it was hard to make money.

What Upwork is like for Freelancers in 2020

Upwork has gotten much better at segmenting jobs in the last few years. They are able to offer suggestions based on geographic location, experience, and rates. A large part of this is thanks to Upwork’s policy of verifying passports/ID’s to apply for certain jobs.

Now that the quality of applicants is better, there are more employers offering positions on Upwork than ever before. And the rates are better too!

In the last 6 months, I’ve made an easy $400 by freelancing when I have spare time. Most weeks I don’t even go on Upwork, so the potential to make $1,000+ is easily there! Here is my quick how-to guide to start landing your first freelancing gigs.

How I made $400 Freelancing on Upwork

Freelancing on Upwork Income
Here is a screenshot of how much I’ve made on Upwork so far. Not bad considering I only long in maybe once a month! I started with a rate of $15 an hour and scaled up using the methods listed in this post.

Step 1: Start with low rates when you start freelancing on Upwork

The step that no one really wants to see, I know! Like with any job, you have to first build up your experience and reputation to land good gigs on Upwork. The fastest way to do this is to undercharge and overdeliver.

By exceeding your first few client’s expectations, you will start to stand out from the thousands of freelancers who have low/no ratings. This helps you to get the foot in the door and puts you in a better position to haggle rates.

I recommend doing your first 2-3 projects at a low-ish rate, at say $15ish per hour. This was my rate for easy gigs like writing, administrative tasks, data entry, etc. If you have more advanced experience or degrees, feel free to price a bit higher.  The main point is to focus on getting deals before dollars!

On that note, I always double-check my projects by using Grammarly’s Free Chrome extension. Grammarly is a free grammar checker that makes sure your projects are always professional. If you would like to learn more, I’ve written an article about my experience using Grammarly Premium!

Step 2: Find your Ideal Client profile

After you’ve done a couple of gigs, you will have a better idea of what kind of projects you enjoy. You will also know which ones are harder to book and the kinds of people you DON’T want to deal with again.

At this point, you have a pretty good idea of what your ideal client should look like. To help you further refine your searches, here are some of the basic things that I look for in my Ideal Clients.

  • A Client who has spent A LOT of money on Upwork before

You will notice that a lot of people who have not spent money on Upwork before often sign up and never log back in. What a waste of your time to apply for projects people have already forgotten!

Not only do you want someone who has spent some cash, but ideally find a client who has spent A LOT of money. This likely means they have a budget and like working with freelancers on Upwork. They may even have more projects in the future. I recommend looking for people who have spent at least $1k, but $10k+ is even better!

Since Upwork only gives you a limited amount of free applications, it is vital that you aim for recurrent work. Unless you have some good clients already, it doesn’t make sense to invest in the professional version of Upwork.

One other thing to note is that Upwork takes a percentage of your projects as your fee. This charge is 20% of your first $500 in earnings with a particular client. OUCH! This fee drops to 10% once you pass that dollar amount. This is why you need to look for long term clients from day one. When freelancing on Upwork, you should be focusing on your medium-to-long-term ROI. This is not about just making a quick buck!

  • A Client who has clearly defined goals

Always try to find a client who knows what they want and is able to give you a general direction on the result they are looking for. Unfortunately, I learned this lesson the hard way. I ended up in an Upwork Dispute with a client who didn’t want to pay our agreed-upon amount!

I thought that submitting an initial draft, which they liked and approved, was going to be enough to avoid issues. The reality is, you should have a more explicit written agreement of what success looks like. This makes sure that there is clarity on the expected results. That way you can be sure you’ve checked every box when submitting a project.

Luckily, I was able to file an Upwork Dispute and prove that my work was as discussed so that I could receive my payment. However, this process takes a couple of weeks to go through and is a pain that is best avoided by only partnering with clients that know what they want.

This also puts you in the best position to succeed and get good reviews so that you can leverage yourself into better-paying gigs over time. My hourly rate started out at around $15 and now I am charging $30+. If you follow these steps, freelancing on Upwork can build a decent income within 2 months.

  • A Client who has a high enough budget that you can offer a price lower than the competition

Aim for clients that are offering about 20-25% more than your goal minimum rate. This way, you can offer them a “discount” while still getting an amount you are willing to work for. So if you are setting your minimum at $15, try to apply for things that are at least around $20 an hour.

Feel free to apply for things higher than that and adjust your rate up accordingly. If you offer too low of a rate then you are just selling yourself short. Even worse, the client might be worried about the quality of your work!

Everyone knows that some deals are too good to be true… so don’t try and tell someone you’ll do a website in an hour for $10. Most clients who have worked with freelancers before will have a good idea of how long their project should take and the market rates.

Step 3: Find your first recurrent customer 

As I mentioned in Step 1, Upwork charges a percentage based fee for connecting freelancers to projects. Finding a recurrent customer will reduce the cut that Upwork takes. This makes it much easier for you to build a steady income. Once you have about 2 happy customers that have left reviews, you can begin raising your freelancing rates.

This also uses up less of your free connection credits. This means that you can apply to more jobs that will hopefully also become recurrent customers! It is better to work with someone at a lower rate that has a lot of working hours than it is to apply to a job at a high rate but is a one time project.

Remember that your time is valuable too! Freelancing on Upwork is about making your life more convenient by creating a recurrent online income. The more time you spend applying to projects you will not get is time that you could’ve spent making money. Plus, Upwork will take a good amount of your one-off project’s money…. and that’s before you’ve even paid your taxes!

Step 4: Update your profile

At this point, you have probably already made your first 200+ on Upwork form your initial 2-3 clients.  You may even already have some great recurrent clients and are way past this amount!

Now you should focus on increasing your rates from the $15-$20 range. A good way to set this is by setting your intentions through thoughtfully updating your Upwork profile.

Freelancing on Upwork Profile
Here is what my updated profile looks like now that I have a better idea of the kinds of projects that I like working for. It is tailored to attract my Ideal Client! I update my profile every 4-6 months to keep it in alignment with my interests.

Make sure that all of the basic fields are filled out if you haven’t already. This includes your prior work history, portfolios, and ‘about me’. You can also list your rate per project as well as your current hourly rate. As you continue freelancing on Upwork, be sure to review your profile to make sure it matches up with the kinds of clients you want to work with.

You probably initially filled this out in a rush, but now that you’ve made some cash it is time to take this much more seriously. Now that you have an idea of the clients you want to attract make sure you use the kind of language that appeals to them!  And don’t forget to highlight the skills that they care about the most. If you’d like some ideas, you can check out my Upwork profile here!

If you really want to go the extra mile, upload a short video about yourself and provide access to a digital portfolio. Most people don’t do this but it easy to do! And it will really show you are a professional freelancer that cares about your work. Your profile is one of the first things clients look at… Make a good first impression!

Step 5: Make a business!

Obviously, this step is optional but since you are making recurring money it might make sense to create a business name. This creates more of a “brand” and shows your dedication to your work. That is to say, you probably look fancy enough that you are worth that higher rate!

You may want to invest some cash into a website, I personally use and recommend BlueHost because it costs as little as $3.99 a month.  I decided to create the CashforKat website via BlueHost after doing extensive research on the best (and easiest) hosting platforms. It took me less than a day to set up the framework for this blog and I had no clue what I was doing!

This has many benefits that make building a site worth the investment. First, it will make it easy for your clients to remember you and recommend you to friends. It also allows them to stay up to date by having access to your portfolio and any news updates. This builds a long term relationship that will help turn your side hustle into your main business!

A word of warning: Never, ever offer to do a project off of Upwork even when you’ve built an ongoing relationship with a client that values your work. It is worth it to pay the 10% Upwork fee for longterm clients to ensure you are paid accurately and on time!

Final Tips for Freelancing on Upwork

  • Be Patient

Though you can start making a couple hundred pretty fast, building a recurrent income by freelancing on Upwork usually takes a few months.

The more willing you are to work for a low rate, the faster your business will grow. But if you work too many low paying gigs it will not be worth your time. You will also struggle to raise your prices because your profile will show a low average rate.

Unless you are willing/able to pay for connects every month, this will take several months to build up a solid clientele.

  • How I handle disputes while freelancing on Upwork

As I mentioned in Step 2, I had a client who did not like some of the work I provided. It’s embarrassing to admit, but it is bound to happen eventually.

In this particular case, we had a launch call where I outlined what the project and deliverables would look like and I sent him a rough draft that he said was perfect. Once the final copies were delivered, he told me he did not like the results and would only pay half! When I offered to revise for free, he refused. When I asked for feedback, he also refused to explain.

Needless to say, this sounded very fishy to me. I decided to risk the money by escalating the issue to Upwork. The end result was he had given me a 4 out of 5-star rating, did not provide negative feedback, and did not engage in the dispute.

Here is a screenshot of the review I received from the person who said he didn’t like my work… He gave me 4 stars! Luckily, Upwork sided with me in this dispute after looking over the evidence and I got paid.
  • My dispute result (Sweet, sweet victory!)

I’m always willing to stand by my work. Even when you provide quality, you will still have the occasional unhappy customer. Since I was able to prove my case in the dispute, Upwork was able to release the funds to me. It came several weeks later than I was expecting but I was able to get the additional $100 I was owed.

So don’t be afraid to bring up a dispute if you know you provide quality work. That is why Upwork exists, to mitigate these sorts of issues and come to as fair of a conclusion as possible.

Overall, freelancing on Upwork has been an excellent way to make some easy cash. I’m not sure it will ever be my main source of income, but it is definitely some welcome fun money!

Kathryn Rucker is a sales consultant and content writer. With 7+ years of sales experience, she is passionate about helping businesses and individuals grow their sales pipelines by improving their online presence.

She has been traveling full-time since 2018 thanks to the location and financial independence she has gained from her business, Rucker Sales Consulting. You can connect with her on Linkedin!

Kathryn Rucker is a sales consultant and content writer. With 7+ years of sales experience, she is passionate about helping businesses and individuals grow their sales pipelines by improving their online presence.

She has been traveling full-time since 2018 thanks to the location and financial independence she has gained from her business, Rucker Sales Consulting. You can connect with her on Linkedin!

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