In case you’re not yet familiar with my journey, I quit my 9-5 over two years ago to start my own mobile app design business for the mobility it allowed. I traveled and lived all over the world and photographed it all, but that’s a story for another day. This article is an exact step-by-step on how you can hack the freelance site Upwork to close the highest paying projects and connect with world-class clients. (Hint: These are the clients you want to be taking a work relationship offline with!)
Upwork is a merger of oDesk and Elance (where I did most of my work) and dominates the online freelance market. There are a plethora of jobs on there, ranging from minimum wage stuff to five-figure projects. Virtually any digital job that can be done over the internet is on there, so it doesn’t matter if you’re a graphic designer or a copywriter. Alright, let’s get down to business.
First, you have to keep in mind that not all jobs are made equal, and we’ll be using that to our advantage. The most effective way you can make a high income is to become a premium service provider. Here’s our first truism:
To be a premium service provider, we have to provide premium service work.
Makes sense, right? We don’t wanna be competing on price.
Bottom line: There will always be someone who can do cheaper work than you. Upwork, just like other freelance sites, is filled with people from East/South Asia who are eager to do cheap work because they can live decently off that. We can’t afford to, so we shouldn’t.
By doing cheap work, we’re also sacrificing quality for quantity, which means in the long run we’ll be drowning in more projects that we don’t get to really get in deep with. I dunno about you, but that’s definitely a recipe for unfulfillment.
That’s real talk.
There are 5 steps to closing high-paying clients digitally.
Step 1. Identifying the right client
You don’t need to serve every single client out there. In fact, you want to be selective. Look for jobs that satisfy the following criteria:
- As stated above, we want to be a premium service provider from here on out. This means only accepting projects that have a high budget. Now, what constitutes as ‘high’ is subject to your niche. For graphic design, a logo design could easily go over $1000. Create a minimum price you’re willing to do work for, and stick to it.
Looking for an expert
- Upwork sections their level of expertise into entry, intermediate and expert. Entry level jobs are usually very cheap, and expert level jobs commonly go into the thousands. Exclusively comb through the projects that are looking for the ‘expert’ level.
Work that personally appeals to you
- You might be thinking “Jen, if I’m just getting started, I really can’t afford to be so choosy!” While I hear ya, you have to keep in mind that Upwork has a high rate of job turnover. This means that a ton of new jobs are coming in every single day, so you can afford to be choosy. Pitch to the jobs that really speak to you. If the client’s story captures you, run with it. If it makes you think about taking a 2pm nap, ditch it. It’s not worth it; trust me.
Info in the job description you can relate to and connect with
- We’ll get to what this looks like below. You want to comb through the job description for tidbits that you can connect to on some level. This might mean their city, their tone of voice (casual vs formal), anything they’ve attached or the backstory of their company or project. By doing this, you’re setting yourself up for success because you’re already genuinely interested in their work before you even talk to them.
Do your client research
- Purchase history. How much have they spent on Upwork already? On who? This will give you a great idea of the context of their company before you’ve even made contact.
- Feedback history. This is key to find out what they’ve liked and disliked about other freelancers they’ve worked with. For example, if Joe said in a review: “Great to work with Mark, but was slow on communication. Would have loved to check in daily even if there wasn’t any updates just to keep in touch.” You now know to put forth your excellent communication skills in your proposal!
- Personal details. Now, not in a creepy way. If they’ve put any hobbies, interests or their specific niche, these are great little points to work into your first conversation together.
Step 2. Find points of connection
Successful Upwork proposal pitching is all about relating and connecting, my friend. Most of the applicants do not even bother to read a client’s job description. As long as you go above and beyond in showing how much detail you’ve paid to them and their project, you are guaranteed to stand out.
Look out for all relevant information
- Where are they from? For example, if they’re from Vancouver, Canada, mention something like “I’ve always wanted to go to Whistler!” or, “I hear the Grouse Grind is horrifically difficult.” This sets you apart from everyone else who didn’t make the effort to connect on a personal level, and is a great way for you to increase your memorability.
- Likes or dislikes they might’ve mentioned in the job description.
- Hobbies, passions etc.
Use this information to create a customized response
- Form statements that refer to such personal details nonchalantly. You don’t want to type paragraphs upon paragraphs gushing about how much you also love x interest or y passion they mentioned. Name drop it casually; using it to aid the bulk of your proposal, which is how qualified you are for their needs.
Step 3. The first pitch
Here’s another truism for winning Upwork proposals:
It’s all about being likable. On Upwork, being likable in your proposal gets you far.
Most freelancers fail on their first pitch
- This is because there is a tried-and-true formula for doing well (hey, that’s this entire post) and the majority of freelancers on Upwork haven’t grasped it. That’s lucky for you, because you’re on your way to being tiers above them.
- They fail to get a response because they haven’t crafted their initial proposal with the warmth and genuine tone that is required to connect and relate.
Stand out by balancing a genuine, warm tone of care with assertiveness
- You don’t want to be too friendly. Maintain a confident, take-charge tone that is friendly and casual at the same time. For me, it helped to simply type down what I would say face-to-face. The more proposals you send out, the easier this will come to you.
It’s all about getting them on a video chat, not closing the deal
- Here’s a major key: You’re not trying to close the project on the first go. You’re simply trying to get them to respond. Psychologically, the more interactions you generate with someone, the more committed they will be to you and the likelier you’ll land that project.
- Your only goal when pitching is to get them to respond. After they respond, your goal is to then get them on a Skype chat or a Google Hangout.
Here are a series of screenshots of exactly how I landed a $5000 app design project with an awesome fella called Roger, based in Sydney, Australia.
Step 4. What to say in the first meeting
Forget about price. Seriously!
- Don’t mention pricing or any type of money in the your initial chat, Skype or Hangout
- Create value first by speaking broadly, with descriptive tones and colorful benefits
Paint a vision
- “Beautiful, raw, moody photos full of emotion that document the big day with authenticity.”
- “Informative content that serve as an all-you-need-to-know education platform for your client base.”
- “High-res, easy-to-use logos in every format and color way you need to start marketing.”
- Paint a vision of everything you can deliver within project scope. Remember to under-promise and over-deliver
Use your follow up to discuss pricing
- Save your pricing for a follow up email or chat
- This will give client time to digest and mull over your first meeting experience
- They will go on to meet other freelancers offering the same service, and we want to give them time for their impression of us to “stew” a little before coming back to them
Step 5. Responding to client doubts
There will be doubts! If we can be ready to answer them with confidence, it will translate.
“Are you new here?”
What you should say: “Yes, I/we are new to Upwork, we previously worked at (JOB PLATFORM) so we have (TIME) experience in (SERVICE)! Here’s some of my favorite projects we did over there.”
“Why are you so expensive?”
What you should say: “Our prices are determined by the value we add to a business or organization. We have (X) years’ experience in the field and our quality is some of the highest in the market/our turnaround rate is the quickest in the market (YOUR UNIQUE PROPOSITION HERE).”
Hey, are you ready for an awesome free tool?
The most valuable asset in this entire article is my Upwork proposal template. It’s the exact template I have been using to close $5000 and $10,000 projects, and it works on every niche. I’ve fine-tuned this exact copy for over two years, whittling it down to hit the perfect balance between assertive and friendly. Click the image below to download it so you can start firing off proposals right away!
Tell me in the comments below: What are you gonna do TODAY to start closing high-paying projects on Upwork?