How to Stand Out as a Freelance Writer on Upwork

Or anywhere you want to thrive as a writer.

Phyllis Romero
Sep 16 · 9 min read
Image from Arnel Hasanovic on Unsplash

I’ve kind of been MIA here on Medium the past couple of months and that’s because my freelance writing career has just been crazy busy. In spite of me taking a break here on Medium though, I’ve still had several people reading my articles and reaching out, in particular, the ones where I talk about Upwork.

So, I thought it was time to write another article about my experience as a freelance writer on Upwork.

Standing Out as a Freelance Writer — Let’s Talk About How to Do It.

So, some of the common complaints I hear from freelancers who sign up on Upwork are:

  • “The market is oversaturated on Upwork. I’ll NEVER win jobs there.”
  • “Most clients only want to pay pennies and I’m not working for free.”
  • “Other freelancers are undercutting my bid and they’re the ones getting ALL the jobs.”
  • “How can I stand out? There are so many freelancers and some have WAY more experience and formal education than I do.”

Freelancing on Upwork really isn’t rocket science. I’ll address these one by one.

Yes. The market is quite saturated on Upwork.

In fact, I thought it would lighten up because Upwork just changed the way a freelancer uses connects. Upwork used to offer free connections but has just started charging for connects.

To apply for a project on Upwork, most jobs now take four connects. I figured this would weed out people who really weren’t serious about making it on Upwork. Thus, I figured there would be less competition. But, if anything, I think it’s incentivized those who are buying those connects. I guess it’s the mentality that if one pays for something, they’re more likely to use it to the best of their advantage than if they’re given something for free.

So, yes! There is a lot of competition on Upwork. And it’s becoming harder to have a reliable law of averages you can count on when trying to win jobs.

But, the key is to win some jobs and then knock it out of the ballpark. Start by winning however many jobs you can, even lowering your bidding price to start with if you have to. You just want those first few chances to prove yourself. How do you prove yourself and set yourself apart? We’ll talk about that in a bit.

But, let’s get back to those common Upwork objections so often made by freelancers.

True, some Upwork clients only want to pay pennies for your work.

And no, you shouldn’t work for free. But, you may have to piggyback off of them while you’re establishing your reputation.

Then, once you have a few jobs under your belt, raise your hourly fee and continue to do so at regular intervals, say every three to six months or so. Because you do deserve to give yourself a raise as you gain experience.

There’s a bit of psychology to charging what you’re worth. Some clients actually want to pay good freelancers what they’re worth. I’ve had some clients give me bonuses on projects that I had already earned a generous commission on. Clients who pay me top dollar are my best clients, not just because they’re paying me well, but because they tend to respect my work more. They’re more pleasant to work with.

When you get to the point that you know your services are more valuable than 80% of the other freelancers out there, you’ll want to command top dollar. Until then, think of those lower-earning projects as par for the course in running your own business. That’s right, as a freelancer, you’re an entrepreneur. And, entrepreneurs rarely make money the first couple of months. Think of it as investing in yourself until you’re full speed ahead.

And once you know you’re there, don’t even deal with clients who offer you less than what you’re worth.

But, what about those freelancers who are bidding less than you?

It depends on which ones you’re talking about. There are two variations of those. There are the ones who work overseas for $2 to $5 an hour on average. They can afford to work at those rates due to cost-of-living adjustments. And yes, some clients will ONLY hire those freelancers.

Those are the clients you want to avoid altogether.

So let’s say you’re on a potential client’s job page and you scroll down and see that 99.9% of the freelancers they’ve previously hired worked for $4 an hour. Here’s what you do.

Hit the Back button on your browser. Find another prospective client. One who will value your time, talent, and services.

The second type of bidder might work for a few dollars less than the project’s budget. So, let’s say a client puts an ad for a 1,000-word blog at $75. Some freelancers may bid under that in hopes of winning the job. And it may work for them.

But, believe it or not, very few freelancers actually WIN by bidding higher than the proposed budget. I know I have. And herein lies another case of providing a lot of value to a client and standing out from all those other applicants.

Image from TheOtherKey on Pixabay

So, how do you stand out as a freelancer?

Let’s get right to it.

Meet deadlines.

You’d think this one would be a given for any serious freelancer and for those who eat, breathe, and sleep freelancing, it probably is. But, it always amazes me when someone takes on a project and they haven’t even started on the project the day before it’s due. Clients love freelancers who turn their work in on time. They love freelancers even more when they are fast as lightning and turn their work in well before it’s due. It shows them that their freelancer is dependable and someone they can always count in. No client wants to have to hold their breath because they’re stressed and wondering if they’re going to have to hire someone else last minute. If you want to set yourself apart, make or exceed those deadlines!

Know your audience and talk conversationally.

One of the first things you want to do as a freelance writer is to get to know your audience. You’ll want to discover your client’s target audience. In doing so, you’re able to preempt anything they might want to know when they go to your client’s website. Have a conversation with your audience, using language that a fifth-grader can understand. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Harvard grad. Unless you’re writing to academically-inclined people, make the content relatable and relevant.

Be a stellar researcher.

There is almost nothing I can’t write about because I’m a great researcher. Now, having said that, I have turned down a couple of projects that I felt were technically out of my league. And, I tend to accept a lot of projects that I happen to be good at because I’ve researched them to death for multiple clients and projects. Some freelance writers go to one or two websites to research their projects. I tend to err on the side of overkill and go to 5, 6, or even 7 websites. At the beginning of my freelance career, it was probably more like 10. Kind of overdoing it, I know. But, when I’m working on a project, I want to know everything I can about it. And, while you’re researching, use only reputable sources.

Know SEO.

So here’s the difference between writers who know SEO and writers that don’t — about $15 or more an hour. Seriously. Most clients, with very rare exceptions, want keyword usage and SEO in their website content. It’s what will give them higher rankings in the search engines. And after all, what good is a website to a client if they’re not seen? Some clients have SEO strategists and content specialists behind the scenes to work SEO in when a writer fails to do it. And, some clients prefer freelancers that are the total package. If you’ve been scratching your head the entire time you’ve read this paragraph, do yourself a favor and head on over to Lynda.com or Udemy.com and take a couple of SEO courses.

Turn in perfect or near-perfect copy.

Every time. Now, does this mean that I never make mistakes? Not at all. More than once, I’ve gone back and re-examined my work, only to find a glaring error or two. But, you should always strive for perfect copy before you turn it into your client. At a minimum, I read my copy the first time, put it through Grammarly (although I rarely get a perfect score on Grammarly. I’ll have to write about that someday), then read it again before I turn it into a client. I’d say the most common compliment clients have given me is that my work is “publish-ready”, meaning I’ve delivered the type of content they wanted and it has no errors (most of the time — I am human, after all). The point is to not be sloppy and just turn your work in without a second thought. Always go back over your work.

Never plagiarize someone else’s work.

Put your work through Copyscape. While most topics need research and some of the same ideas are used, you should never copy someone else’s work. Most clients will put your work through Copyscape and if your work is flagged, they will never work with you again. Not only that, they’re likely to give you bad feedback and this will scare other clients away as well. The only exception to word-for-word copy is quotes that are used in journalism sites. News stories often have quotes that will be flagged in Copyscape. However, they are acceptable in the journalism industry.

Take your work seriously.

And this just means taking everything I’ve already mentioned into consideration. Being on time, learning more about your subject matter and audience, taking the time to research your subject, and turning in a great article when it’s all said and done shows the client that you’re passionate about your work. It shows them that their project is as important to you as it is to them. And they’ll flock to you like bees on honey. It’ll help you stand out as a freelancer.

Image from Karolina Grabowska on Pixabay

Final thoughts.

I’ve been a freelancer as well as a client, where I’ve hired freelancers. No amount of education can make up for a freelancer who can do all these things. This is what will make you stand out.

I’ve hired freelancers who had Master’s degrees and didn’t know how to write to an audience. They knew all of the scholarly stuff but didn’t know how to write great website copy that the audience could relate to.

As for myself, the only advanced schooling of any kind that I had was a real estate license that I earned in a few months. I did take a few courses to bring me up to speed on SEO practices and such. But, many of the freelancers I’m competing against are college graduates.

And in many cases, I’ve amassed more of a presence on Upwork and won more jobs.

Freelancing is all about knowing what clients want, being able to deliver, and carrying something from each experience to be a better freelancer for the next client. Real-world experience is worth ten times the amount of a college education in the freelance writing world.

Work on your craft, persevere, and strive for greatness. Collectively, these are the best ways to stand out as a freelancer on Upwork or anywhere.

Now go get ‘em!


A new online magazine about the art, craft, and business of storytelling, STORIUS is a publication for everyone interested in how stories are created, discovered, distributed, and consumed.

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Storius Magazine

STORIUS is an online magazine about the art, craft, and business of storytelling. Featuring perspectives of professional and emerging authors, filmmakers, and other creators, it delivers a rich mix of storytelling facts, news, and techniques to its readers.

Phyllis Romero

Written by

Freelance Writer, Armchair Psychologist, Philosopher, 50-something author of an upcoming inspirational novel, nature lover, people lover.

Storius Magazine

STORIUS is an online magazine about the art, craft, and business of storytelling. Featuring perspectives of professional and emerging authors, filmmakers, and other creators, it delivers a rich mix of storytelling facts, news, and techniques to its readers.

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