How I Made Over $150k on Upwork

And how my Upwork profile has generated another $50k in additional income.

Jovan Cicmil
Feb 4 · 5 min read

Just so we’re all clear that I’m not making this up, you can visit my Upwork profile here. Once there, you will find out two things:

  1. I am not making anything up.
  2. I did not make that money by writing.

Most of the earnings came from software development projects, with a bit of consulting here and there. But, I do invite writers and marketers to go through the points below — most of what’s presented here is not specific to technical jobs. These are the questions that younger freelancers have asked me often during my career.

  1. How do I get started? When you build your profile, don’t be shy about setting your rate to a reasonably high number. You will be bidding below this number at first, but you want the clients to know that you are bidding below price in order to get experience. List any and all things that can separate you from other workers. If you’re in a creative field like writing, this might be easier for you than for us technical types. If your English isn’t perfect, make sure you run your profile, especially your main description paragraph, by someone whose English is perfect. Your first impression shouldn’t consist of telling the client you are neither great at English nor dedicated enough to do a grammar check.
  2. How do I make myself competitive? The global freelance market is interesting in that you’re simultaneously competing against the entire world and against nobody at all. Many people become despondent when they bid on their first job and realize that there are people willing to do the same thing for ridiculously low amount of money. But remember: there are plenty of people charging $50/hour for services that other people will do for $5/hour. There is a way, but it’s covered in thorns: in the first couple of months you need to bid well below your normal price in order to get good reviews and get your profile ranked higher. Make sure your clients know that they’re getting a deal by hiring you at half of your normal rate. You also need to accept tasks that you don’t care for, and do them like they’re the greatest thing on Earth.
  3. How do I keep my clients happy? There’s a saying in my native Serbian: tie the horse where your boss tells you, even if it kills both the horse and the boss. As someone building a reputation, you are in no position to be pushy about what you think is the best solution to a problem. Clients like suggestions, but they tend to like them only once. It doesn’t matter if you know for a fact that your proposal is better than his, remember that you are in this for the great reviews at this stage. Don’t let your ego get in the way of your progress.
  4. At what rate can I reasonably raise my rate? In retrospect, I was far too slow in this regard. It took me a few years to get to my current rate. Later on, when I advised friends who were just starting out, I laid out a plan for them which had them working for $30+ per hour within 6 months and $40+ per hour within 1 year. The specific numbers depend greatly on your profession and level of experience, but you should, in general, aim to gradually reach your full desired rate within a year. After that, you’re in a good position to negotiate and optimize further on a per-project or per-client basis.
  5. I’ve made it, now what? So you’ve reached a point where you’re charging good money for your services, and you have a few great clients on Upwork. This is where everyone gets the urge to take their clients off Upwork and get rid of the 10% fee. I strongly recommend that you resist this urge, especially if you are in the software development industry. By all means, you should become increasingly more picky when it comes to choice of projects, but staying on Upwork for a couple of years can be of great benefit in the long term.
  6. How can I use my awesome Upwork profile to further boost my income and career? This is a topic that I will explore in detail in a separate article because it’s so important. In short, an impressive Upwork profile is a magnet for opportunity. Because of my profile, I was invited to work on a browser-based strategy game for a year, which was a dream come true. I was contacted by a number of people outside Upwork (mostly via LinkedIn, where I link to my Upwork profile) to consult on their projects, and I’ve been approached by development agencies to ask if I have clients to connect them with. I was able to get some projects going in this way in exchange for a percentage of the project value. A link to your profile also goes a long way when you’re applying for work in other places, and it gives you a good negotiating position because it acts as proof of value. As I said, I will write an article dedicated to this, but my estimate is that my Upwork profile has generated over $50k of very low-stress side income.
  7. Why haven’t you been doing more on Upwork in the last three years? Those of you who clicked my profile above may reasonably ask why, then, I haven’t been very active on Upwork in the last 3 years. Mainly it is because I have been dedicated to some of my passion projects, and I also have 2 long-term clients that are unrelated to Upwork. This amount of work is enough to live comfortably and provide enough freedom to build what I enjoy building, especially with the passive income streams I have established. I have been pursuing various hobbies as well — one of which you’re experiencing right now, since I’ve made it a goal to write 100 articles in 2020.

You can look at Upwork as a way to make some quick money on the side. This is perfectly legitimate. But, if you’re persistent and you do quality work, your profile can take on a life of its own and propel your income upward in the long-term.

Jovan Cicmil

Written by

I don’t write articles, I write short stories that happen to contain a lesson or two. I am a programmer, freelancer, writer, entrepreneur and pool enthusiast.

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