How I Make Money on Upwork.com

Nicky Martin

Upwork.com is a freelance hiring website that lets you earn money uh…at home, with just an internet connection.

Currently, I use it to make all my money.

Friends often ask, “How does it work?” and I type them a slapdash response on Facebook Messanger. So I decided to write one really good response and send that instead.

Benefits of Upwork:

(skip to the next section if you know what Upwork is already)

Upwork posts jobs in a variety of niches — I choose “Writing and Editing”, but there’s tons of “Programming” and “Data Entry” and probably other stuff you know how to do that I do not know how to do. Jobs get posted all day. Even in my low-traffic niche, it’s about a post per hour.

What sets Upwork apart from Craiglist is they insure you receive every client’s payment. This is huge. It’s hard to get ripped off on Upwork and it hasn’t happened to me (yet). When a client hires a freelancer, they deposit all the money to Upwork; Upwork holds that money until the client says you completed the work. The freelancer gets paid one week after finishing the job. If you submit the work, you get paid. If the client refuses to pay you, just submit a Help Ticket (more below) and tell them the situation. As long as you completed the agreed upon contract, Upwork will side with you.

Contrast that with Craiglist: you’re just working for some dude over email, hoping he’s honest and if he’s not — guess what buddy, you just wrote 25,000 words of hot and horny werewolf erotica for FREE! Finding out you got ripped off is a very demoralizing. Upwork solves this problem.

What’s the catch? They earn a commission on all of your jobs.

Before you get your money, Upwork takes a percentage of that money. The percentage is calculated depending on how much you’ve earned with the contractor. For the first $500 you earn, Upwork takes a 20% commission. Then, from $501–$9,999, Upwork takes a 10% commission. After you’ve billed $10k to a client, Upwork only takes a 5% commission.

Notice the logic here: Upwork incentivize freelancers to work with the same contractors over and over so other freelancers have opportunities to get the new jobs. The problem is, for low-billing gigs, it can take a while to reach $500. Jobs like these are perfect for freelancers, but sometimes you won’t make $500 in an entire year with a client. Maybe they’ll solve this problem, but for my purposes, I no longer apply to write short stories and just skip straight to novels — guaranteeing that by the second job, we’re down to just 10% commission.

The takeaway tip: once you’re established, look for jobs that make you more than $500.

How to Get Ghostwriting Jobs on Upwork

Since I’ve only done writing jobs on the platform, I only have authority to speak about how to get those — but I have a sneaking suspicion that the skill is transferable to other niches.

Obviously, step one is ,make an account. Once you do that, fill in all the details. Attach clips. Write a nice profile. Pretend it’s Linked-In 2.

Then — and this is important — take the basic skills exams. They’re incredibly easy but do well, score high, and work fast. Accuracy, speed, and percentile of answerers are all assessed. Without these tests you will get zero jobs because there’s a toggle to screen out people who didn’t take the tests.

This take an entire day. That’s fine. Take a break and come back.

Back? Awesome! Now look at the available jobs and see which ones you can do well. I write good fiction. I prioritize fiction jobs because those are the ones I do best.

Once you figure out which one you think you’ll be good at and then scour the search engine for them. Save searches with the best search terms for your niche. For example: I saved “sci-fi” “science fiction” “fantasy” “romance” “crime” “fiction” “novel” “ebook” and “short story.” Use the Save Search button early, then the feed shows you jobs you’d be interested in forever more.

Keep in mind: when you fav/heart/❤ a job, it saves that specific job by moving it to the Saved Jobs tab. You’ll use that tab a lot, too, but it is entirely different from the Save Search tab.

Proposals

Once you find a job, you must submit a bid and proposal for every job. There is no auto-apply option.

Proposals are essentially a cover letter saying what you’ve done before and why you’re a great fit for the current job. Here is my standard Proposal message:

Hello!

I’m Nick Martin, a full-time writer from Chicago. I’m a native English speaker with a degree in English Literature from the University of Illinois. I’ve written over 500,000 words for clients on the Upwork platform in genres such as THE ONE I’M APPLYING FOR RIGHT NOW, sci-fi, romance, fantasy, reviews and blogposts and more. If it’s an established genre of writing, I’ve already written it.

Here is A SPECIFIC CLIP THAT PROVES I CAN DO THE JOB I’M APPLYING FOR. Here’s another clip MAYBE THIS ONE IS MORE SPECIFIC.

I think I would be great at this job because of SPECIFIC REASON WHY.

My rate is FAIR RATE FOR JOB I’M APPLYING AND HOW YOU CALCULATED THAT RATE. IS IT BY HOUR? WORD? LINE? SHOW YOUR WORK.

Thanks for your time and consideration and let me know if you have any questions,

Nick

Feel free to use it as your template, but obviously tweak it too.

Now, let me explain the two bolded phrases — or as I view them, gatekeeper lies.

In no way do I, Nick Martin, think being a college graduate or a native speaker inherently makes you a better writer than someone who isn’t those things. Therefore, I do think you need to include these two things in a proposal — and for me, they’re both true. But if they’re not true for you, go ahead and say they are. I won’t tell.

If you are a native English speaker, definitely mention so. This is a HOT commodity in every genre of the writing world. Companies want native speakers. English has a tricky, contradictory illogic — and theoretically, a native speakers internalized these quirks. In reality, I believe this is all hooey. Vladimir Nabokov was a native Russian speaker, but he wrote better English prose than perhaps anyone else in the 20th century. If you’re not a native speaker, but you are an amazing writer, just say you are a native speaker! I don’t care! How will they even check?

Likewise if you have a college degree, of course you should mention it! Hell, my parents paid $100,000 for the thing — I completed the courses — of course I’ll mention it. But if you don’t have one, you could probably still say you do. How the Upwork contractor would check? Maybe look at your LinkedIn?

I bring up these two points in the proposal for a specific reason — they are not evaluated as highly as your clips. If you say “I went to Harvard” but you don’t have a clip of MPreg Shifter Dragon Romance, you won’t get the job. Tell the prospect about yourself, but keep in mind clips get you the job.

Bids

Let’s talk bids. The going market rate for fiction is $0.01 per word, or $1 per 100 words. Yes, this is very low. Yes, this is literally how much Charles Dickens was paid to write in the 1820s. Yes, this is not the type of income you can use to support a family.

However, for your first jobs on the site, you have to take the bad rate because you have 0 hours and $0 earned — getting even one job at a bad rate job is ok because you need to build up some credibility, get a review, and prove you’re not a scammer. I recommend taking any quick job you can get for your first one. If you’re picking writing as your niche, search “review” and sometimes you can make $5 to post a 5-star Amazon review — and in turn, get a 5 star review for yourself.

In fact, you can negotiate a higher rate directly with the client once they know you do not suck. I quote $2.00 per 100 words as my going rate and places pay it because I have decent clips now. Keep in mind, 20% (or occasionally 10%) of that goes to Upwork, so figure that in your quote.

It’s ok to charge low at first if you think of it as getting paid to write your clips — once you have good clips, raise your price (you’re worth it, baby). I have no idea what to charge for anything other than writing so if you’re doing something else, you gotta figure it out yourself, bub.

Hopefully a client is interested in you and they make an offer. Accept the offer and do the work. Turn it in on time and tell the client you deserve more money. If you did a good job, they’ll probably agree — and if they don’t, and they’re no fun to work with, drop them! It’s freelance, baby! Go find someone new.

Pros and Cons of Upwork

Should you try doing this at all? Maybe. It depends on your personality, living situation, and expectations.

Here’s a list of all the things I like about doing writing jobs on Upwork:

  1. I get paid to write fiction. Very satisfying!
  2. I can do the work whenever and schedule anything I need to do during the day.
  3. I’m made just enough money to pay rent and bills months that I did this full time.
  4. I got better at writing from doing it so much.
  5. I learned to market myself and my services.

I make about $1000 a month, after Upwork fees, while doing a LOT of writing. Always one novel, sometimes two.

And here’s the cons: contrary to the start of this post, I do not recommend making a full-time income from Upwork.

If you’re using Upwork to make a part-time income so you can afford a trip or something, that’s a great idea. Do that. Or, if you want to use it to make money editing someone’s work so you can afford to hire an editor, that’s awesome too. There’s a lot of ways that Upwork could supplement an income and also give you very fulfilling work opportunities to build a killer portfolio.

For 60% (a guess) of people, it’s not a big deal to wake up, go to an office and work on the same thing every day. If you can do that, I recommend it. A full time job makes more money and is probably easier — though it might not be as fulfilling as making your own way.

Thanks for reading.

Quick note: I do NOT receive a commission from Upwork for signing up new people. I wish I did. There are no affiliate links in this post, as Upwork doesn’t have an affiliate program. I truly couldn’t care less if you join the platform or not. If you do, in some ways it negatively impacts me since that means another person is vying for (probably the same) jobs to which I’m submitting. I actually don’t believe that though. I think everyone deserves an avenue to make money, and I’m happy to tell you about a way to do it.

Nicky Martin

Written by

botnik.org managing editor. blogging about writing & SF

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