Upwork is one of the most popular freelance marketplaces, and it's growing rapidly to become the choice #1 for getting professional services online.
During 2020-2021 when most companies switched to hiring and working remotely, Upwork's popularity amongst both freelancers and clients significantly increased, with its monthly traffic reaching 40M visitors.
Because Upwork offers access to thousands of new projects posted daily by enthusiastic clients, many entrepreneurs and freelancers start considering Upwork as a primary sales channel for their business. Of course, everybody wants to get their share of the rapidly evolving market. Still, not everyone is ready to take a leap. Due to various Upwork specifics, technicalities, and other unknowns, many people hesitate to get started before knowing answers to the key questions:
- Is Upwork a suitable channel for my business?
- Should I get started on Upwork and grow it as a primary source of new clients?
Well, yes and no.
From 6 years of growing and managing businesses on Upwork, we learned a simple truth:
Upwork is not for everyone.
We watched multiple companies fail because they failed to adapt and understand how to operate their businesses in Upwork realities. We had also seen dozens of intermediate-level specialists thrive and transform their Upwork into a long-lasting sales-making machine.
Whether you are a freelancer or an agency owner, here are 4 things you need to know about Upwork before deciding to start a business there.
1. It requires commitment
Before getting into Upwork, you need to understand how committed you can be.
Is it something that you are willing to push forward until you succeed? Or is it something you want to experiment with and then toss away if you don't achieve any immediate results?
There is no immediate effect
The truth is: You won't get any short-term results.
Upwork is built in a way that benefits freelancers with an established reputation and track record of success, which makes it challenging for newbies to compete at the start.
So, most probably, you will end up losing money in the beginning. Achieving success on Upwork often means sacrificing short-term profits to build an outlasting reputation, which will lead to extraordinary sales.
Upwork is an SEO for business
The best analogy is to think of getting on Upwork as though you are launching your first website.
In the beginning, the number of your website visitors will be close to 0.
So the primary way to attract customers is through advertising (on Upwork — outbound lead generation.)
But as you add more pages, write and publish articles on your website, you soon will start to attract passive (organic) visitors. Your website will get ranked higher in search results, leading to more traffic, leads, and sales.
On Upwork, the situation is identical. At the start, your newly created profile won't get any views by itself.
But as you start moving your way up, complete a few small projects, build a reputation by getting 5-star reviews from your first clients, you create positive momentum.
Upwork algorithms will start acknowledging your accomplishments and provide certain perks and benefits.
You will start receiving different badges like Rising Talent, Top Rated, or Top Rated Plus, which will give you access to the specific talent pools. Also, your profile will start getting higher ranks both in search results and projects you applied for, leading to organic visitors and better conversion rates.
Soon, your profile can get into the "Featured" section with top-30 freelancers from your industry, which will lead to even more passive traffic.
And at some point, you may find yourself getting so many inbound requests that you can't keep up with the flow of new customers. That is certainly a good problem to have.
But it won't happen in the beginning for anyone just starting on Upwork—like in SEO, building a positive reputation on Upwork takes months, if not years.
Therefore, it is important to understand how committed you and your business can be before stepping into this thorny journey on Upwork.
2. It requires a different mindset
Building a career on Upwork requires shifting your perception about certain business processes, such as customer acquisition and delivery. It all begins with understanding Upwork's target audience.
Who are clients on Upwork? They are people with a very concrete problem, often well-described in a job post, seeking the right talent to solve it. And more often than not, they are looking to hire someone HERE and NOW for it.
Considering it, what kind of freelancer is going to be the most successful? Most likely, the one who will:
a) demonstrate his ability to solve the problem
b) be there when the clients need it
c) solve the problem well enough to ensure client satisfaction
To make the best out of each point, you and your business will need to adopt the proper mindset.
Sell by listening
When working on customer acquisition on Upwork, the best mindset is to perceive each new opportunity as unique.
With more than 20.000 jobs posted daily, each one of them has a specific problem that requires an individual solution.
Therefore, the first important trait to develop in yourself and your team is the ability to listen. You need to tap into the client's problems and really understand what they need.
Put yourself in their shoes: what are they dealing with? What is the context? What industry are they in? Which example from your past experience has the most relevance to them?
We often use the slogan "Sell by listening," which is as true as it gets in Upwork realities.
How often we saw templated proposals containing all-in-one solutions. More often, they go directly into the "Archived" section of the client's account.
Templates don't work. For every 10 templates, there will be 1 person who took the time to write a meaningful cover letter and win the project.
Eventually, after sending out a dozen cover letters, you will get a response from a potential client interested in your proposal. What do you do then?
The correct answer is: drop everything you do and write a reply.
The second, and arguably the most important, shift in the mindset relates to how you process warm leads.
On Upwork, most of the hires happen within 8 hours after clients post the job. They are often looking for people available NOW, and if you are not there for them, there will always be someone else who is quicker.
Time on Upwork costs so much money. We often see agencies and individuals who come from the slow-paced corporate culture having hard times starting their businesses on Upwork.
If you are planning to check your Upwork mail once in 1-3 days, it's not going to get you anywhere. To succeed on Upwork, you need to be fast, lean, and attentive. The most successful freelancers are those who reply to the messages within 1 hour. Responsiveness to such extremes is something that will lead your business to thrive in this market.
Focus on reputation
The last critical realization about Upwork's ecosystem is that everything is transparent.
Every client needs to rate a freelancer on a 1.0 to 5.0 scale after completing a project. This rating remains publicly visible in work history forever.
Therefore, every next client has direct access to your track record, which ultimately impacts if they are going to hire you or not.
As a result of this transparency, the quality of your past work determines the quantity of your future sales.
This fact leaves no room for mediocre performers and sub-optimal delivery.
At any point in the project, you need to make sure there is no reason for a client to give you any other rating than 5.0 stars. Be professional, deliver on time and with quality, communicate regularly, and cooperate with your customers.
Where everything is transparent, reputation matters most.
Work on your reputation now, and reputation will work for you later.
3. Be ready for challenges
Life on the job board
For the first 1-3 months on Upwork, you won't get any passive traffic or requests for the interview. So most of the time, you will have to spend on the Upwork job board doing active outreach and lead generation, all by yourself.
Job board will become a part of your daily business, and you can almost say you will LIVE there.
Not everybody is comfortable with such routines, so you have to assess how suitable it is for you and your team.
Learn from Upwork
Upwork is full of various tricks and ways to enhance your profile performance. Things like Specialized Profiles, Portfolio Cases, Customer Testimonials, Project Catalog, and others - are ways to boost up your Upwork presence.
You need not only spend time actively applying to jobs but also be willing to explore and consistently apply various ways to optimize your profile.
Be ready to make exceptions
Your first couple of clients will probably be far from your ideal customer profile.
Their projects may be rather small, low-budgeted, or even outside of your working scope.
However, at the beginning of your Upwork career, every project, even a minor one, is a unique opportunity to build a lasting reputation - a priceless commodity.
So, you will most probably have to do things for less money than usual. Sometimes you may even find yourself learning new skills and frameworks and do things you had never done before.
Stick to every possible opportunity, and do everything you can to make it a success. Because after this, there is more.
4. The rewards are astounding
So, why all this struggle? - you may ask. - What can I get after deciding to commit to Upwork and changing my mindset to its realities?
Steady flow of hot leads
The most impactful reason is, of course, passive lead generation.
After 3-6 months of active life on Upwork, most businesses we worked with never have to worry about marketing again.
When you build a stronger reputation, you will start getting interview invitations from clients finding your profile via search engines or talent pools. Each invitation means a potential client with a relevant project interested in discussing it with you.
For example, Top Rated Plus freelancers get 5-7 job invitations per day on average.
This single fact will turn Upwork into a limitless sales machine for your business.
1/3 of Upwork projects are private, meaning that you can only get access to them via personal invitation. What you see on the job board is just a part of the picture. The best clients and high-paid projects are hidden.
By getting into the top ranks of the Upwork performers, you will start getting exposed to such limited opportunities often offered by Fortune-500 companies.
Usually, private projects are more long-term, high-ticket, and with less competition.
Personal and business growth
It's a unique opportunity for growth. Challenges you face in the Upwork environment force you to step out of your comfort zone.
Besides getting an immense amount of experience, you are consistently improving yourself and your business every day.
By getting in contact with various people from all over the world, you are building a personal network that will serve you well in the long run.
Upwork is not for everyone. It's not a conventional sales channel where you can expect to throw money at it and get results. Many businesses fail here. You need a certain level of commitment and dedication to be able to make it. Besides, you will need to be flexible enough and be able to adapt to Upwork realities. You may even need to reinvent many business processes along the way.
But in the end, the rewards are staggering. Upwork is the infinite source of leads. The cost of acquiring a single customer will decrease as you grow your reputation. Upwork is a long-term investment that will bear fruit for your business for the rest of its existence.
To be successful on Upwork, stay lean, flexible, attentive, empathetic, fast, and responsive. Learn from experts and make your business thrive on Upwork.
Success on your journey 🚀🚀🚀