9 Ways to Win and Keep Long-Term Writing Clients on Upwork

And why I’m not accepting $100 articles anymore.

Toni Koraza
Nov 2, 2020 · 6 min read
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Photo by Toni Koraza on Unsplash

I'm about to add an extra $3,000 from Upwork clients this month.

The platform gets a bad reputation but I have a different experience with the clients from Upwork. I made $1,703 in my first month and now have a single retainer for $1,200/month.

I’ve been a member of Upwork for a little over two months. I only ever engaged six clients, and they all extended contracts into long-term jobs. And two weeks ago, I had to cap my client list.

I already passed $100/article contracts from projects that I’d love to work on if only I had more time.

Upwork’s bottom-feeding clients and race to the bottom is a matter of perspective.

Two of my contracts add up to $3,600/month, but I intend to charge less.

Many are concerned with the cheap labor on Upwork. The problem with this assumption is that some people feel entitled to set payment for work. The truth is, the internet is everything but an entitlement service.

If you prefer to work only with people from your country, you can find plenty of options in local-only listings. However, you can also work with international clients, and that’s when freelancers get uncomfortable.

You can’t expect a government-set salary from a global freelancing platform.

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If a freelancer can’t offer a better service than someone writing $5/articles, maybe a writing course can improve their writing and presentation skills.

I understand this is a simplified approach, but let’s leave that topic for another discussion.

Here’s how to win and keep long-term clients for your writing services on Upwork.

The following principles are business philosophy, and they are not for everybody.

Good opportunities are everywhere, as long as you are the right person for the job.

  1. Provide extra value. I try to provide more than its agreed upon with every contract. If I’m writing a story about telltale signs of Vitamin B12 deficiency, I'm also posting links to news sites, writing short Quora and Reddit answers, creating content roadmaps, recommending design tweaks, and everything that can help build clients’ business. Providing extra value creates a positive vibe and builds relationships with a client.
  2. Make it a deal. Don’t trick your clients into thinking they’re getting more than they are. Don’t be a Machiavelli. Instead of trying to fake it, make it. Give them a stellar deal — one they can’t get elsewhere in terms of value. I dropped my rate from $420/week to $345/week mid-conversation with a client because I wanted to provide more value. That’s one extra week, each month, completely gratis. I’d rather work with an awesome client than try to squeeze everything out of them. Long-term business is a relationship, and you can focus on good vibes and longevity instead of trying to make the most out of it. If the job is well done, you’re not missing on rewards.
  3. Overdeliver on their expectations. I always give my first hour completely for free. I usually finish every single story before it's due, sometimes weeks before the deadline. I have a deadline in 7 days with one digital agency, but the story is already on their drive. Sometimes I send 3 articles, instead of just one. If a client asks me to work only 3 hours because of a tight budget, I’m doing my best to add at least one extra hour for free. If you provide 5x more than they asked for, you don’t have to be afraid of cheap labor.
  4. Stay available at all times. Busy means poor time management and unhinged expectations. You can organize your time in a way that you’re never busy. I never had to postpone a meeting or communication with a single client, ever. I’m always available. If you choose the right people to work with and have a mutually respectful relationship, nobody is bothering you in your free time. I’ve traveled to China, Cambodia, Croatia, Germany for months on end this year, all while being available 24/7. Of course, that doesn't mean you’re be working 24/7. You’re just available. The right people will respect your time.
  5. Get away from toxicity, and choose your clients carefully. Toxicity easily spills into other parts of life, and suddenly everything sucks. Your work, relationships, and your perspective on life are all suddenly bleak. Be careful who you’re working closely with because that might affect your whole life. In terms of Upwork, don’t take on people that expect the world for nothing. If your client is disrespectful to you, then you might find yourself in a strange situation. Your client can leave an awful review of your work and try to sabotage your whole business. Instead of putting down the fire, don’t even start one.
  6. Avoid bottom feeders like it’s a zombie apocalypse. You have a better chance of working for free than with business owners who think you’re worthless. I published 400+ stories before I even pitched the first client. I would send my work to publications and publishing houses. I never had to write a $5 article to get through the door. However, I wrote 100 articles that made less than $1 in the past two years. If you can’t find a good client, rather write for free, or film for free, or build a web application if you’re a developer.
  7. Accept feedback and grow with it. Providing a service is an emotional and personal business. Writers give a piece of their soul with every story. I know I do. However, please try your best never to take your work personally. The truth is that in every business, there is more of the unknown than explored. Most startups are big trial and error games. I work with a few young businesses, and I’m trying to jumpstart the Mad Company in London. And with every client, company, and personal project, there is a learning curve. The more you resist the feedback and try to convince the other side how wrong they are, the more you’re missing on a chance to grow and learn.
  8. Rank first on Google. Simply, demonstrate authority. Every time I signed a draft with, “Toni Koraza, (Google my name for further information.)” I got a positive response. If someone searches for SEO writers, you get points for being the first on Google. Typing Toni Koraza gets you 3 pages of results from my Medium, Unsplash, Vocal, Quora, LinkedIn, Personal Blogs, projects, etc. Not a single result is for somebody else.
  9. Build trust and relationships. Life is much better when you care for others and when others care for you. If you vibe well with your company, your startup clients, and your projects, you have a greater chance to create lifelong connections that can bring more opportunity throughout the lifetime. You might find friends, and you can get a surprise recommendation from an old client you’re not working together with. Good people and connections are the ultimate rewards you get in the world of digital business or any business.

I had to cap my client list to provide a full and uninterrupted service to each client individually.

I choose six projects I want to work on for more than a few weeks on Upwork.

I can see myself being a part of the bigger story and vibe with the work culture. When I left my job in February, I decided to work only with people I enjoy. If I was already risking a decent salary at National Geographic and fully provided accommodation, I could at least try to make my writing attempts worth the risk.

I never looked back once.

I turned down four proposals to work on cool projects last week and can’t accept $100/articles anymore.

I sat my ass down and churned story after story this year.

Most professional writers and entrepreneurs know that you have to put in the free work with no real ROI (return on investment) so that you might have a chance at something real and profitable one day. I published 300+ stories this year and wrote 2 full-size books that are ready for editing rounds.

People are slowly recognizing my work and now pitching proposals to me, instead of the other way around.

For the first time in my life, I had to turn down good-paying and fun projects because I didn’t have enough time.

And If I can do that, so can you.

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness and fulfillment.

Toni Koraza

Written by

Curious Fellow | Founder at Mad Company | Koraza’s Letter: koraza.substack.com | Free Covers: unsplash.com/@tonikoraza

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness & fulfillment. Join thousands of others making the climb on Medium.

Toni Koraza

Written by

Curious Fellow | Founder at Mad Company | Koraza’s Letter: koraza.substack.com | Free Covers: unsplash.com/@tonikoraza

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness & fulfillment. Join thousands of others making the climb on Medium.

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