Freelancing sites like Upwork promise to help you find freelance clients online, but let’s be honest—it’s not as easy as they make it sound.
And when you see other freelancers working for $2 an hour, you wonder if you’ll ever be able to compete with that.
The good news is you can still find good clients on Upwork that are willing to pay high rates for good freelancers.
I’ve used Upwork on and off for the past 5 years, and I’ve earned more than $10,000 on the platform. (FYI: This wasn’t my only source of income—I earned more through agencies and off-platform clients over those same years.)
While I don’t recommend Upwork as a long-term solution for building a freelance business, it’s a great way to jumpstart a new business, get some reviews, and bring in extra money when you need it.
And over 5 years and hundreds of projects completed on the platform, I’ve learned a thing or two about finding good clients on Upwork.
Ready to get more clients on Upwork? Let’s dive in.
Table of Contents
- 👤 Step 1: Create An Attractive Upwork Profile
- 🔎 Step 2: Use Strategic Searches
- ✏️ Step 3: Craft Confident Proposals
- 💬 Step 4: Nail the Client Interview
👤 Step 1: Create An Attractive Upwork Profile
When you apply for a job on Upwork, you’re prompted to create a proposal. The proposal is where you explain what you can do for the client and how much you’ll charge for the project.
But the proposal isn’t the whole picture.
Having an authoritative Upwork profile is just as important as the proposal you send. After the client views your proposal, they’ll click through to your profile to see if you’re a good fit for them.
So how do you create a powerful Upwork profile? Here are my top tips:
✅ Specialize in 1 or 2 things.
If you’re a jack-of-all-trades, you won’t stand out to anyone. You’ll get a better response if you focus on just 1 or 2 specialties. That doesn’t mean you can’t do other jobs, but choosing just 1 or 2 for your profile is best. Any more than that and (unfortunately) your profile will become forgettable.
✅ Set your Experience level to “Expert.”
If you have experience and are confident in your skills, make sure to set your Experience level to “Expert.” This will help you to get better jobs on the platform. If you’re a newbie to business, but still have some skills, you can start with “Intermediate” and move to “Expert” later. (Find these options in your Profile Settings.)
✅ Create Specialized Profiles.
Your general profile should be an overview of what you do. But you can also create Specialized Profiles, where you focus on just one specific niche.
✅ Write a headline that means something to your client.
Your headline (the big, bold text at the top of your profile) is the first thing people will see. Try to choose something that will communicate to your ideal client why they should care about you. You can mention the industry you work for (“Writer for Travel Businesses”) or the type of work you do (“Sales-Focused Blog Writer”). I also like to make it into a statement (“I Write Blog Posts That Lead to Sales”).
✅ Spend time on the opening line.
People will read the first line of your profile, but if it doesn’t grab them, they’ll stop reading. You want to acknowledge what the client is thinking, feeling, and desiring when they visit your profile. What are they looking for? What do they wish to find? What’s their ultimate goal? See my current profile below for ideas.
✅ Talk about the client, not yourself.
Don’t lead with your education, skills, or experience. Start by telling the client what you can do for them: what projects you can complete, how you can help them reach their goals, or what problems you can solve. Then back up those claims by mentioning your education, experience, and expertise as proof.
✅ Leave out the non-essentials.
Your whole profile should position you as an expert in the specific niche you’ve chosen without any extra fluff. Leave out job experiences or education that don’t directly relate back to your niche.
✅ Give the client freedom to choose.
Don’t write your profile as if you’re the only choice for your client. Smart clients see through that as sleazy sales copy. Instead, you’ll get a better response if you write from the perspective of “I’m a good choice for X, Y, and Z. If that sounds like something you’re looking for, send me a message.”
For example, here’s my general Upwork profile right now:
And here’s my writing-focused Specialized Profile:
🔎 Step 2: Use Strategic Searches
If you’ve been on Upwork for any length of time, you’ve probably experienced the scroll of doom.
It happens when you visit Upwork and look at the recommended project feed. Nothing particularly grabs you, so you start to scroll down.
Some jobs are downright weird, and many don’t even fit your niche. So you scroll more and more.
Suddenly you realize you’ve wasted an hour, and you’ve got nothing to show for it. I felt this frustration so many times until I learned a better way to search for jobs.
To avoid the scroll of doom, you want to use the Search feature to search for only the jobs that you want to apply for.
To get to this page, click the button with the magnifying glass on the search bar.
You’ll be taken to a new page with more search options. On the left, you’ll see a sidebar that says “Filter By.” I recommend narrowing your search down to Expert jobs only.
You also want to choose the categories you work in so you only get jobs that fit your niche.
I recommend starting with these filters, although you can do more, like searching for jobs with the hourly rate that fits your intended hourly rate, choosing specific client locations, or adding keywords that match your ideal client like “travel,” “food,” etc.
Once you’ve found a search that seems to bring up a lot of good-sounding jobs, you can click “Save search” to store those settings for later. You can create multiple saved searches to find different jobs with different criteria.
To access your saved searches, simply click on the search bar on your home page, and the list will pop up.
The next question is, how do you know which jobs are worth applying for? Here’s what I recommend:
✅ Focus on newly-posted jobs.
If it’s been more than a few days, you’ll have a harder time getting a response.
✅ Look at the number of interviews and hires.
If the client is already interviewing people, it’ll be more difficult to get your proposal answered.
✅ Imagine the person behind the job post.
How does the client sound? Do they sound humble and ready to accept the help of an expert? Or do they sound like they’re barking orders at you? I avoid job postings that have a condescending tone, because chances are, the client won’t respect you or your work. My biggest red flag is when a client says, “This should be easy” or “This should be quick”—run far, far away from those clients.
✅ Look for clients with money to spend.
There are plenty of businesses with higher budgets that want quality work, so it’s better to look for those clients instead of trying to convince low-budget clients to spend more. I avoid job postings that say, “We offer competitive pay,” “There’s an opportunity to increase your rate if we like your work,” or “We want 10 articles for $5”… Those clients will never pay you a good rate, and you’ll end up losing money for the time you’ve spent. Instead, I look for clients that say, “Willing to pay more for expert work,” or ones that are open to my proposed rates.
✅ Check the client’s reviews and job history.
If they have any reviews, see if they’re good or bad. You can also see the rates they’ve paid to other freelancers for similar jobs to figure out their price range. If the rates are too low, that’s also a red flag.
Each proposal you send costs a handful of Connects, which is Upwork’s currency for freelancers. If you use up all your Connects, you’ll have to pay money to buy more, so it’s smart to choose your jobs carefully.
Once you’ve found a job you like, the next step is to craft a proposal that will catch the client’s attention and get you an interview.
✏️ Step 3: Craft Confident Proposals
The way you write your proposal can make or break your chance of getting the gig.
And it’s not just the words you use. Over my years on Upwork, I’ve found that the mindset you have is the most important factor in writing a winning proposal.
It’s important that you see yourself as an expert consultant who’s offering their services to a client, NOT a newbie freelancer who’s hoping to get picked.
You don’t want to approach the proposal like you’re auditioning for a job. That makes you look desperate.
And when a client sees you as desperate, they don’t see you as an expert. So what happens is, they’ll either hire someone else who sounds more confident, or they’ll still hire you, but will treat you with disrespect.
So you don’t want to sound like you NEED the job.
Instead, I find this approach works MUCH better:
- 💡 Understand. Show them you understand their problem or needs, and let them know you have the skills to help them.
- 💡 Solve. Then explain how you can solve their problem, adding samples or other information to back up your claims.
- 💡 Give a next step. Finally, you put the ball in their court by telling them they’re free to contact you if they like what they see. You’re not trying to convince them to hire you or making it sound like they “have” to hire you to get a good result.
This has always gotten the best results for me, which is why I’m recommending it to you.
Here are 2 proposals I’ve sent that got me hired. Notice how I don’t try to “sell” myself. I just let them know what I can do and then leave it up to them to decide.
Here’s the first job post:
And here was my proposal:
Here’s a second job I applied for:
And here was my proposal:
Side note: Although I used it in the first example, I usually avoid saying “Thanks!” at the end of my proposals because they’re not doing me a favor by reading my proposal. On the contrary, I am helping them by offering my skills. So I simply wish them a good day and end it there.
Why do these proposals work? Let’s break it down.
- ✅ I restate the problem. I start by restating the need or problem they’ve mentioned in the job post. This is a phrase I learned from an old Upwork course (Secrets of A Six-Figure Upworker), which seems to be discontinued. (I learned a lot from it, though!)
- ✅ I show them how to solve the problem. That’s all they care about, so I don’t mention anything else at the beginning of the proposal.
- ✅ I give them ideas of other things I could add to the project. This also shows them that I can do more if they want more help.
- ✅ I give them samples of my work. This gives them a feel for what I can do. If possible, I try to provide samples that are close to what the client is looking for.
- ✅ I don’t pressure them to choose me. I let them know that the decision is up to them—there is absolutely no pressure to choose me. This gives them freedom and will ultimately motivate them to choose me if they feel it’s a good fit. (People hate to be pressured and if they feel like you’re forcing them to do something, they will run far, far away.)
- ✅ Finally, I give them an easy next step. I say something like, “Simply respond to this message and we can see if we’re a good fit.” This makes it feel easy to give me an interview.
Side Note: When you send a proposal, you can choose the profile you send along with it. If you have a Specialized Profile that matches the client’s needs, it’s better to send that one instead of your general profile.
💬 Step 4: Nail the Client Interview
The purpose of an Upwork interview isn’t to “win” a job or “ace” the interview.
Instead, your goal is to:
- Understand what the client wants and propose a solution
- Decide together if you’re a good fit to work together
Again, you don’t want to use the interview to try to convince the client to hire you. It’s all about understanding the client and seeing if it’s a good fit or not.
Here’s what I like to figure out in an interview:
- 💡 The problem. What is the problem my client is trying to solve?
- 💡 The goal. What is their ultimate goal for their business, and how does this project fit into it?
- 💡 The solution I can provide. What kind of solution could I provide to make this project succeed, and ultimately help them reach their goal?
- 💡 Other expert suggestions I can make. Is there anything else I can recommend that would help them reach their goal faster or more easily?
- 💡 Specific requirements. What kind of requirements do they have for this project?
- 💡 Information for the project. What information can I get from them during the interview so I can prepare for the project?
- 💡 The due date. When do they need the final deliverables by?
- 💡 The best way to contact the client. What’s the best way to contact them during the project? (Most people don’t use Upwork for communication.)
- 💡 The budget. Are we clear on the budget, or do we need to clarify the rates and settle on terms?
- 💡 Next steps. Are they ready to move forward, or are they interviewing other candidates?
After clarifying all of this, the client usually feels heard and understood, which makes them excited to work with you.
And this actually works. You’d be surprised at how many freelancers skip this step and launch into a presentation about what they think is best for the project. (Which makes the client feel ignored, frustrated, and confused if the freelancer will actually be able to help them or not.)
Just by asking good questions and listening carefully, you can win a potential client’s trust and ultimately win the project.
Then it comes down to whether it’s a good fit and if you are both happy with the budget.
Here’s my rule for negotiating budgets. If I need more work and I don’t want to lose the opportunity, I sometimes accept a lower budget. (As long as it’s sustainable for me.) But if I’m booked up, and I have nothing to lose, I’ll ask for a higher budget. If they say no, I already have a full client schedule. But if they say yes, I can potentially phase out a lower-paying client and increase my income.
If you’re both happy with the budget, it’s pretty much a done deal. The client has already invested so much time into interviewing you that 9 times out of 10, they’ll want to hire you on the spot.
And that’s how to get a good client on Upwork!
If you’re looking to get more freelance clients on Upwork, you can up your chances of finding good clients by following these 4 steps. It won’t always be easy, but you’ll be able to start building a freelance business with good-quality clients that will propel your growth.
Do you have any more questions about freelancing on Upwork? Leave me a comment, and I’ll be happy to answer it for you!