Freelancing on Upwork: How to over-deliver

The key is to give more value than what they’re paying for. Here’s how I do it…

This is post #3 in my Freelancing on Upwork series. Post #1, post #2, & post #4 are here.

Well, I’ve completed my first Upwork job and gotten my first 5-star review this week. I also landed a second job with the same client this week, so things are going great.

How I got my 5-star review

After submitting 4 blog posts for my first Upwork client, I got this review:

My first 5-star review!

Except for the fact he spelled my name wrong — lol — I’m really pleased with this review. But don’t get it twisted; I worked hard to get 5 stars, even for a cheap $60 job.

Here’s what I did:

  1. Before the job offer, I communicated with the client about what he wanted and made sure I was able to deliver it. For example, he originally proposed 16 blog posts, but I asked for a trial run of 4 posts first. That’s because I wanted to limit downside for both me and the client.
  2. After getting the job offer, I did preliminary research then sent the client an outline of what I was planning on writing. I told him that I’d go ahead and start writing (not wasting his time), but if he sees anything now that he’d like changed to let me know (not wasting my time).
  3. Throughout the project I checked in daily to let the client know about my progress. Since it was only 4 articles, I only checked in once, but I’ve found this to be best practice when working on a bigger project.
  4. I delivered high-quality writing. The writing I did was way more valuable than the $0.03/word the client paid for it.
  5. I took care of all the plagiarism, grammar, and SEO tests clients usually run on articles like these. When I sent over the final results this was the note I sent with it:
My note to the client upon completion

Notice the passing reference to “5-star service.” I want the client to know, subtly, that I expect 5 stars and to raise any concerns now instead of in the review.

Go over the top

I sent in my work and that great note and now I’m done, right?

Wrong. I knew the client was also thinking about other keywords he could possibly have articles written around.

It only took me 10 minutes on a keyword generator tool to come up with a potential list, but being proactive and adding value really helped the client (as we’ll see in a minute).

This is the note I sent over:

I kept working — for free!

Giving value creates opportunities

The client LOVED that I came up with some keywords for free, and as a result he decided to change his strategy.

Originally, he wanted 16 blog posts of 500 words each. After I wrote the first four, he liked my writing and decided that longer form writing was a better approach. He asked me to write a 2,500-word guide to Minneapolis Farmers Markets — one of the keywords I suggested. He even used a smiley emoji when saying thanks:

Here’s where things get interesting.

Negotiating a higher rate

At this point I know the client loves my work and wants me to write a more complicated, research-intensive article.

After getting a few more details about the proposed project, giving more value by offering free marketing advice, and deciding on the specifics of the guide, I decided to negotiate a higher rate.

My opening offer.

A few rounds of back and forth later, the client came to see that writing a longer guide requires more research and planning. We eventually settled on $150 for a 2,500-word guide.

At $0.06/word, I just effectively doubled my rate with one conversation!

Once you prove your value, negotiation gets a lot easier. I’ll continue to do cheap work or even spec work if it means building a relationship with a client. Especially here at the beginning of my Upwork career.

Upwork fees :(

In the last article I said I was making around $20/hour on my writing based on how quickly I could write blog posts.

I forgot to include Upwork fees in that figure. I don’t get to take home all of that $20. After fees, I made around $12/hour on my first job. Still, not bad, but I definitely would prefer $20.

I don’t begrudge Upwork for their fees, though. They bring me warm leads, keep money in escrow, and generally make freelancing easier. That’s worth the 20% I had to pay them on this job. Without Upwork, I would have never heard of this client.

The good news is that the fees are only 10% on jobs bigger than $500. And they go down to 5% if you take on multi-thousand dollar jobs.

So far, I’ve made $48 on Upwork, but because of Upwork’s mandatory holding period, I won’t see that money for a few days.

I’ll also make $120 off this $150 contract I’m currently working on.

My Upwork earnings so far

Why I haven’t pitched more clients

I sent 8 pitches my first week on Upwork, and I haven’t sent a pitch since.

I’m three weeks in, and I’m sure I could have made a lot more money had I kept pitching consistently. All my money so far has come from only one client.

I haven’t pitched more clients because I’m going to start traveling around East Africa soon. For those who haven’t been following along, I currently live in Uganda. For that reason, I’ll be off Upwork between June 11 and July 26.

Then, I’ll come back to the platform then.

My profile video

One other update. I said I’d add a video to my profile on Upwork, and I did.

Let me know what you think of it and any tweaks you suggest.

If you’re interested in Upwork or freelancing, please follow along on this Medium series. You can get updates when I publish a new post by following me.

This is post #3 in my Freelancing on Upwork series. Post #1, post #2, & post #4 are here.

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