How do I get my first job on Upwork?

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Originally published on Quora

When I first started freelancing, I was always under the impression that clients would only hire people with the most education, credentials and/or experience.

I think this was just a by-product of having a job my entire life, where I had to overcome a plethora of requirements to even be considered…

So with that in mind, I went out and got every certification I could think of.

At the time I wanted to be a freelance bookkeeper, as I had my Master’s in Accounting…

So over the next few months, I decided to make myself “more valuable”.

I started off by getting my IRS Enrolled Agent certification, that way I could represent taxpayers in Audits…

Then I became a Certified Public Bookkeeper (yes, that’s a thing) and also became certified in multiple accounting softwares…

Then once I had all those under my belt, I finally had enough confidence to start submitting proposals.

To be honest with you, I’d actually done a little spying on my competition, and I can confidentally say I was more qualified than 90% of them…

But no matter how hard I tried or how much I bragged myself up, I always struggled to find clients.

Sure, I was able to land a few here and there…

But when you looked at how much time I was putting in to get these clients, the $1K/month I was making was hardly worth it.

This really got to me after awhile, as I wasn’t sure what else I could do…

So after months of getting beat up and hating my freelance career, I finally decided to make a career switch and become a copywriter.

Why I chose copywriter, I’m still not 100% sure…

But if I had to guess, I’d say it’s because I couldn’t help but see how much others were making off this lucrative skill.

I had no idea how (or why) they were making this much money, but the results didn’t lie…

So I decided to enroll in a premium copywriting course and begin my new journey.

When I first started, I was under the impression that I’d learn how to write with flair, having an amazing command of the English language and writing words that made people practically begging to work with me…

But then as I started digging into the first few modules, I couldn’t help but realize how this new skill had little to do with actual writing.

Instead, it was more focused on customer research, product positioning, funnels and a bunch of other things I’d never heard of…

Which confused me at first, but I’d already bought the course so I decided to move forward with it anyway.

I kept gradually moving along, trying to figure out why I was learning about all this random stuff that had nothing to do with writing…

But then one day I came across a piece of advice that literally changed my entire freelance career.

As the instructor explained, “people don’t buy a drill because they want a drill, people buy a drill because they want the hole”.

At first I was really confused by this, as I had no idea what drills had to do with writing…

But after thinking about it for a little bit and doing the action steps, I started to understand what he meant.

There’s a few different ways you can slice this, but in the simplest form…

Most freelancers mess up because they try to sell their skill, when in all reality — they should be selling the outcome.

So to give you an example of how I did this, I didn’t tell clients that I could write amazing words and craft persuasive copy (the skill)…

I told them I knew how to setup a system that skyrockets their email list right away (the outcome)…

And the results? Well, they were amazing:

I was able to stand out right away in a category that had a crazy amount of competition, which was insane to me as I literally had zero experience or education in this field…

But I was happy it worked, and here’s 3 pieces of advice that could help you do just that.

Advice #1 — Build a skill set that helps you reach an intended goal

Again, clients don’t want skilled freelancers…

They want freelancers that can help them reach a certain goal.

I don’t care if you’re J.K. Rowling or Stephen King, if you don’t know how to help me reach my goal…

Then I’m probably not going to hire you.

On the other hand, if you know how to create blogs that attract readers and in turn, have them join my email list…

Then I’m going to see value in your skill and pay you a lot of money to do so.

One way I did this (after months of trial and error) was learning how to write blogs that readers enjoy, then after that…

I learned how to write landing page copy that converted like crazy.

I knew this was an important 1–2 punch to learn, as that’d allow me to write blogs anywhere and send them back to my client’s landing page…

Which would then grow their email list and provide the result they were looking for.

Again, I always talk about this from a copywriting perspective as that’s what I have experience in…

But it applies to any skill.

Another example would be if you’re a bookkeeper, don’t position yourself as another number cruncher — because anybody can do that…

So position yourself as a bookkeeper who knows how to analyze data and give the client important feedback that can either help them save money, or identify areas of growth.

Again, I could go on about this for days…

But if you always focus on the desired outcome a client wants (the hole) instead of the skill you provide (the drill), then you’re already 10 steps ahead of most freelancers.

Advice #2 — Find a niche

Another important part of freelancing that most new freelancers don’t know about, is simply finding a niche.

This is important for many reasons, but the way I like to look at it is…

Well, when hiring freelancers — clients don’t want glorified employees, they want working consultants.

Ones who are clearly experts in their specific field, and don’t let the term expert scare you either…

Because with the right positioning, it’s something you can do right away.

There’s a few different ways to carve out your niche, but if you’re new to this topic…

I advise one of two things:

Method #1 — Specializing in a small part of a vague category

Again, I always like to talk about this from a copywriting standpoint…

Because it’s not only something I have experience in, but it’s also something that’s extremely vague and well, let’s face it — most copywriters are generalists who will take on any work (a.k.a. Not experts).

There’s a lot of different subskills you could specialize in this industry, but to give you a few examples I’ve seen people get amazing results with:

  • Explainer video scriptwriter
  • Landing page copywriter
  • Facebook Ad copywriter
  • LinkedIn copywriter
  • Google Adwords Copywriter
  • Etc, etc, etc…

Tend to work well, and does that mean you have to stick with this niche your entire career?

Hell no, that’s the last thing you want to do…

But, doing this first will allow you to stand out from the crowd, become an expert in one defined field, rapidly gain reviews…

Then after you’ve built your foundation, that’s when you can start learning other skills and grow that way.

Method #2 — Combining a skill with an industry

Another method that I advise, and one that I actually used in the early stages of my career to stand out…

Was combining a skill (copywriting) with an industry that you have a lot of knowledge in.

For me, I did this as a Copywriter for Tax Firms…

Because I had my Master’s in Accounting and I was an IRS Enrolled Agent, which clearly showed I had an above average knowledge in this field.

And I knew this would be a perfect opportunity for me to stand out right away, as very few (if any) writers positioned themselves this way…

So you best believe I won 90% of the tax writing jobs I applied to (and nearly got a 100% response rate from clients, the only ones that didn’t hire me were the ones who couldn’t afford my rate).

Again, that’s from a copywriting standpoint…

But the logic applies to every skill.

Just make sure you pick something you can become an expert in right away, and if you do — that’ll eliminate 95% of your competition and make your life a lot easier.

Advice #3 — Make your own portfolio

The last piece of advice that I tell every new freelancer, and one that I really struggled with in the beginning stages of my career…

Was figuring out how to get clients without a portfolio.

I knew they’d want to see one, as every job posting asked for this…

But being a new freelancer with zero experience, I wasn’t sure how to get over this hump.

That put me on the sidelines for quite some time, thinking I’d never be able to get a job…

But then one day I was reading an article from another freelancer who’d been in my shoes, and he said a simple, yet highly effective, piece of advice that literally bamboozled me…

Just create a portfolio item of your own.

Clients honestly don’t care who the portfolio item was made for, they just want to see if you can do the work or not…

So just create something that’s relevant to their posting, and you’ll be good to go.

I’ve honestly done this throughout every stage of my freelance career, but to give you an insight on how I won my first blog writing job…

All I did was write a 650 word article on a Google Doc (about Tax), then shared that article with clients…

And started landing jobs 4 days later.

Long story short…

There’s a lot of terrible advice out there.

There’s no need for you to work for $5/hr on your first job, or take every Upwork test…

You just need to know how to position your services (sell the hole, not the drill), find a niche (so you look like an expert), create a portfolio item (so they know what you’re doing)…

And I guarantee you’ll get your first job in little time.

P.S. If you want to learn more about getting jobs on Upwork, check this out