Why Your Upwork Profile Sucks (and How To Fix It)

It was almost four years ago that I first signed up for Upwork. I was excited by the opportunity to control my career, work from home, spend more time with my son, and really just enjoy life more.

Fast forward to twelve months later. I’d earned exactly zero. Nothing to show for the hundreds (maybe thousands) of proposals I’d sent out.

Needless to say, I threw in the towel on Upwork and found myself back at a “normal job”. I wasn’t happy about it, but it seemed that Upwork was for other people, not me.

Fast forward again to three months ago. I decided to give Upwork another go, but this time I had a game plan in place. I radically revamped the way I was presenting myself to potential clients on the platform and won a four-figure contract within a week of starting to send out proposals.

In this article I’ll break down how you can update your presence on Upwork to allow you to command attention as well as premium pricing.

You’ve got to specialize

Search for “web developer” on Upwork and take a look at the main title area on all the results you get back.

I can tell you what you’ll see. 98% of the profiles will say one of two things:

  • “Web developer” (literally just that…..)
  • Or something like “Front end developer with responsive design and WordPress experience”

You know when you see a bunch of birds all take off from a tree at once?

Using a bland, generic title for your headline is tantamount to being one of those birds. You won’t stand out.

Your headline is one of the very few things that is initially displayed to potential clients during searches for freelancers and when they’re filtering through proposals.

Stand out by specializing within a vertical (finance, sports, restaurants, service businesses, dentists, etc) or a narrow horizontal skill (mobile app, calculators, React, Angular, email automation, ad handling, form building). You can even do both, once you’ve discovered a common combination.

A couple examples:

  • I specialize in building beautiful, responsive forms (“for small businesses”, maybe)
  • I specialize in building React components (“for admin dashboards”, maybe)
  • I specialize in automating email capture funnels (“for restaurants”, maybe)
  • I specialize in Facebook pixel integration and custom event capturing (“for influencers”, maybe”)

You may feel like you’re narrowing your pool of potential clients by doing this, which you are. But that’s ok because I guarantee that there is plenty of work within most highly specific verticals to keep you busy. Besides, specializing in a single vertical allows you to charge even more for your services.

Would you rather do five different projects per month for $1,000 each or one project per month for $5,000? Most people would choose the latter, which is made possible by niching down.

Worth mentioning briefly in this section are the “tags” that Upwork allows you to select, which are meant to be a way for you to show up in results for certain specific activities or technologies.

I recommend following the guideline of specialization here and only select 2–4 tags that are highly related to your very specific horizontal skill.

Section summary:
Narrow your focus to appear like an expert and stand out from the masses on first look

Establish credibility as soon as possible

The people looking for freelancers on Upwork want to hire someone they believe can take them from where they’re at to where they want to be.

The key word here is “believe”.

If you want to be the one they hire, they must believe you can solve their problem.

What’s the best way to demonstrate your ability to solve a problem?

Show that you’ve solved a similar problem before.

What’s the second best way to demonstrate your ability to solve a problem?

Show proof of your extensive knowledge of solutions to similar problems.

Here’s an example of a bad opening paragraph:

“I can provide any work you need related to responsive web design. I have worked with PHP, JavaScript, HTML, CSS, and XML to create interactive websites. I guarantee you’ll be happy with my work. I began as a web developer 10 years ago and am now a full-time freelancer.”

Now, here’s an example of a great opening paragraph:

“I’m currently contracting with a Fortune 1000 company to rebuild a page that gets 50+ million visitors a year. Previously, I helped build embeddable lead generation financial calculators for a number of large financial organizations.”

Notice the differences.

The first is focused on the writer. It describes what they can do, what tools they use, their history, and their current status. The client doesn’t care about this stuff.

The second is focused on the results of the writer’s work. It allows the potential client to envision a similar successful end to their own project.

For those of you that don’t have a lot (or any) formal experience in the niche you’re trying to get into, you’ve got a few options to establish at least a little bit of credibility to earn those few initial jobs:

  • Take (and ace) any Upwork tests related to your niche, then call out your stellar results at the top of your profile: “I scored in the top 10% of JavaScript, CSS, and HTML freelancers on Upwork.”
  • Open profiles on sites that allow you to test and share your technical abilities. Some popular examples are codewars, hackerrank, and coderbyte. Call out your rank/score/etc of those at the top of your profile
  • Build projects for yourself that are similar to what you’d be doing for clients, then provide links to a few of those projects at the top of your profile.

All you need to do is establish enough credibility to get an entry-level project in the niche you’re targeting. Then you can use the results of that as credibility for a slightly larger project. Continue this pattern and soon enough you’ll have plenty of impressive projects along with the solutions you provided to reference.

Section summary:
Use the first part of your profile to establish credibility. Don’t talk about yourself. Focus on solutions, if you can.

Have some standards

Perhaps by now you’re seeing a trend.

The primary goal of revamping your profile is to bring your potential client to the point where they think “This is the perfect person for my project”

Just as you crafted a very specific title for yourself, you should use the second paragraph of your bio to provide more detail on that speciality. Be sure to remain focused on benefits and results, not tools and features.

As an example,

“I specialize in building custom WordPress templates, primarily for companies in the transportation industry. My focus during any custom template development is functionality first, as I have found usability to be the most important factor in a visitor’s positive assessment of a website. Creating custom templates allows me to implement elements to drive visitor-to-customer conversion that heavily target my clients’ unique audiences.”

Immediately following your specialization paragraph, you’ll want to clearly define the types of projects you will work on as well as the type you won’t work on.

This doesn’t have to be long, but it will resonate with your ideal client. Further, it will deter clients that think you’re a good fit but don’t jive with your standards.


“I prefer to work on short-term (1–2 month) projects that are being freshly built. I will not accept jobs that require me to inherit code from a previous developer. I also prefer to work with clients that are generally able to respond to questions or requests during the evening hours (PST) on weekdays and try to respond within 48 hours of communication.”

Section summary:
Define your ideal project and your ideal client. Call out those projects and clients you won’t touch.

Explain the process, then request action

We’re almost to the end of your profile section, I promise!

Clients, especially ones you haven’t worked with before, are always a bit apprehensive about “the process”.

What happens after we initiate the contract?

When do I get the final product?

How do I get updates?

Take a paragraph (or two) to clearly outline the general process that you go through with your clients. Knowing what to expect during the project will go a long way towards earning their trust during the process of selecting a candidate for the project.

Once you’ve done that, there’s one last bit to the profile:

You’ve got to ask them to take action.

Something simple will suffice, for example:

“Click the ‘Contact’ button to invite me to view your project or open a chat with me if I’ve already submitted a proposal for your project.”

Section summary:
Provide a quick overview of what the client should expect after the contract is started, then directly ask them to contact you.

At this point, you’ll be firmly placed in the top 1% of Upwork freelancers that actually look like they know what they’re doing, which will unlock access to the top 1% of extremely lucrative projects on the platform.

Your portfolio and other odds and ends

There are only a few bits of your overall presence on Upwork to handle now!

Your portfolio is where potential clients will look to see that you’ve actually done what you say you can do. However, digging through portfolios takes a ton of time, therefore the vast majority of potential clients will only glance at the thumbnails and titles in your portfolio section or even skip looking at it altogether.

As a result, you don’t need to spend a bunch of time putting your portfolio section together.

Just follow a few basic guidelines:

  • Have 3–5 entries
  • Make sure they’re all relevant to your chosen niche (your title, remember?)
  • Use the title of each project to focus on the solution/benefit provided, not the tools or languages used

The “other experiences” section is stuffed all the way at the bottom of your profile, so it doesn’t get much visual traffic. However, you can use it to share a story or two about past projects with a little more focus on the technical side of things. This will allow you to cash in on searches for certain languages or frameworks without boring the non-tech people that are reading your main profile.

As for your profile picture, it should go without saying that it should convey professionalism. Smile, make sure it’s high resolution, minimize background distractions, and get your whole head in frame. It’s that easy.

Lastly (though it’s a controversial topic), set your prices at what you’re worth. Do not try to compete on price on the Upwork platform. It’s a game you don’t want to win.

Below is a super rough guideline for my USA-based readers (sorry, I got nothing for the rest of ya!). This is certainly not set in stone and is dependent on the specifics of your niche. Use it as a starting point, then adjust accordingly once you start getting results. If you start getting too much work to handle, steadily raise your rates. If you aren’t getting enough work (and you’ve already optimized your profile), lower your rates slightly

  • Beginner w/ no professional experience — $25/hr
  • Junior developer — $35/hr
  • Mid level developer — $50/hr
  • Senior developer — $70/hr
  • Senior dev in very specific niche — $90+/hr
Section summary:
Focus on your niche with your portfolio. Get a professional photo. Charge what you’re worth. Don’t compete on price.

Change your expectations, expect change

Now that you’ve gotten a healthy dose of knowledge to level up your Upwork game, you’ve got a decision to make.
 Are you actually going to put these tips to the test and benefit from them or are you going to continue throwing proposals at what seems to be a brick wall?

It is possible to make an incredible income from Upwork, but it will only happen if you begin to expect that success and act accordingly.

Let me know in the comments below whether any of the information in this article was helpful or if you’ve previously implemented similar changes and had great results!

If you’ve found this helpful, please consider giving this article a clap, sharing it with your audience, and taking a look at the other articles on my site at gaege.xyz.

I’m also on Instagram and Facebook if you’re feeling talkative.

Originally published at www.gaege.xyz on September 27, 2017.

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