New Freelancers: How to Make Money on Upwork

The pay might not be high, and Upwork takes its cut, but this marketplace is good for connecting with clients and building your portfolio.
Making Money, Personal Finance
make money upwork

Upwork, a marketplace for freelancers in fields like writing, graphic design and web development, can be a valuable tool to start your career. The site tries to make it easier for professionals to find projects, communicate with employers and get paid.

If you’re new to your field, you can rack up valuable experience without always having to pitch clients cold. You may not earn as much as you expect, since the site is full of new workers who are willing to take work for a little less pay. But with a clear idea of the logistics, you can make this marketplace work for you. Here’s how to make money with Upwork.

Set up a robust — and honest — profile

Your profile serves the same purpose as a general résumé for prospective employers. You can’t get work without one.

Fill out the job type you’d like to do, the specific areas in which you’re skilled and your level of expertise. This is all self-reported, so be honest. If you get hired for jobs you can’t deliver on, your account could be put on hold or closed.

After that, add a headshot and a detailed description of your background. You can include links to a portfolio or to specific work samples. You can also fill in your education, how many hours per week you can work, location and preferred rate. If you’re not sure what to charge, check out the rates of other freelancers on Upwork who have similar experience.

Assuming everything is verifiable and accurate, Upwork will approve your profile within 24 hours. Then you can get working.

Pound the online pavement

Submit proposals for jobs you qualify for with Connects, the platform’s internal tokens. Upwork provides a limited supply of these, so consider carefully which gigs you want to go for. You get 60 Connects per month with a free account. The proposals you submit include an introductory letter, your desired fee and answers to questions the client included in the posting. You can also send examples of any work you think would be relevant.

If someone reaches out to you, you don’t have to use any Connects. The more robust your profile looks, the more likely you are to receive job offers from potential clients. Displaying your best work or highlighting specific experience can help you stand out. If you’re new to your field, volunteer experience counts, too.

Before applying for a gig, get an idea of the potential employer’s reputation. The Better Business Bureau, Glassdoor and a search for news coverage of the employer on Google are good places to start your research.

Upwork’s ratings system helps you decide who you really want to work with and lets others see if they want to hire you.

Much like Uber or Lyft, both parties rate each other after the contract is complete. Employers are graded on a five-star scale, and their ratings are visible on their pages. Ratings from your clients make up your Job Success Score, which is a percentage displayed on your profile that represents how many gigs were completed to the client’s satisfaction. These ratings help you decide who you really want to work with and lets others see if they want to hire you.

Even if everything checks out, keep communication and payments within the site. Documenting behavior on both sides discourages scams, as clients will be held accountable for making shady payment or work requests or making claims about your work without in-site proof.

Set your price and start working

Upwork’s fee structure is based on how much money you make from each client over time. On the first $500 earned from an individual client, you incur a 20% service charge. Once you reach the $500.01 to $10,000 range, Upwork takes a 10% cut. After that, it’s 5%.

You can get paid in one of two ways: hourly or fixed price. Upwork’s fees are the same for both.

Your hourly rate on Upwork is the price before the service deduction. So if you list a rate of $20 per hour for your first gig, you can expect to earn $16 per hour. When you negotiate a rate for a fixed-price job, the same idea applies; if you’re getting paid $400 for a job, you’ll be paid $320 after the cut.

If you’re approached for a job with a low rate of pay, don’t take it at face value. Negotiate with the customer to find a price that fits.

If you’re approached for a job with a low rate of pay for much tougher work, you don’t have to take it at face value. Negotiate with the customer to find a price that fits.

All hourly projects get logged in your Work Diary, which is built into Upwork’s desktop app. With this function on, the app will keep a detailed record of your progress on a project. The app tracks your time in 10-minute billing cycles. It records keystrokes, scrolling, clicks and active windows. It also takes a screenshot periodically. You can delete these snaps before you submit the record of your time, but if you do, you forfeit the money you made in that 10-minute period.

You can also turn the Work Diary on and off at any time and log work manually instead, but using the tool helps you qualify for an Upwork service called Hourly Protection. This service ensures that you’re paid for work you can prove you completed, even if a client refuses.

Payment for fixed-price projects is more straightforward. The person or company contracting you has to set aside a certain amount of money when you make the agreement. The employer must also set milestones, which are concrete deliverables on the way to the finished job. You’re paid with some or all of the deposit once you hit these checkpoints, and the remainder is paid once everything is complete.

Get paid

All of your hourly projects are billed weekly. You’ll get paid after you and the client review the work, 10 days after the billing period ends. You can get paid through options like direct transfer to your bank or PayPal.

If a project gets dropped before it’s finished, that’s when Hourly Protection and milestones come in handy. If you think you weren’t compensated fairly, Upwork has a dispute process.

For fixed-price projects, you can begin a dispute if the client fails to pay for a milestone or refuses to pay for what you think is completed work. Hourly Protection helps with payment disputes on other projects, as the documentation from your Work Diary can help prove when you were working and what you were working on.

Upwork makes it easier to find jobs and make more money, but think carefully about which gigs you want to apply for. And check out our guide to managing money as a freelancer for advice on how to handle your newfound income, once it starts rolling in.

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