Hate to say it, but it’s true.
Most freelancers on Upwork struggle to find work. BIG time.
But you know what really tickles my underbelly?
The silly excuses those same freelancers keep telling themselves about why Upwork sucks.
In fact, I'm always reading on blogs, forums and groups that it’s near impossible to create a serious income from the platform.
Here are the usual suspects:
- There's too much competition
- There's not enough work opportunity
- Low-rate freelancers take all the jobs
- There's a lack of quality clients on the platform
- You need a skill in high demand
- You need years of experience
- It's not a stable source of income
- Takes too long to start making decent money
They're simply not true. Any of them.
Because if they were, how can you explain the success of people like Danny Margulies, who’s making a cool six-figures as a freelance copywriter on Upwork?
(A guy who by his own admission, rolled out of bed one day and decided to call himself a copywriter)
Answer: You can’t.
So here's the deal: I’m going to take each excuse and obliterate it. Right here, right now.
#1: There’s Too Much Competition
Easily the most common excuse.
And okay - I’ll admit it - there are a TON of freelancers on Upwork. In fact, it’s estimated that Upworks’ database contains over 10 million freelancer profiles.
The number of freelancers on Upwork is roughly equal to the entire population of Portugal!
So yeah, in this case you could actually be forgiven for thinking the platform is just too competitive.
But you’d still be wrong.
Upwork isn’t a lottery - the odds of winning aren’t the same for every ticket played.
You see, MOST freelancers don’t know the first thing about winning clients. The few that do are the ones who consistently cash in.
Let me explain:
I'm sure you've heard of the Pareto principle (or the 80/20 rule), which states that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. And this applies practically everywhere…
- 80% of a company's profits come from 20% of it's customers
- 20% of the carpet in your home receives 80% of the wear
- You wear 20% of your clothes 80% of the time
And you guessed it, same applies on Upwork:
- 80% of the money is earned by 20% of the freelancers
And I personally believe the 80/20 rule to be even more skewed in the case of Upwork.
Yup. 90/10.... maybe even 95/5.
Upwork isn’t too competitive, you're just not currently part of that small percentage of freelancers who've refined their approach.
#2: There’s Not Enough Work
Upwork sees thousands of new jobs posted every day, across every category of online freelancing you can think of.
And that’s without even considering private job invites - which some freelancers refer to as the "hidden economy”.
Here’s how it works.
Some clients (generally the more serious ones) choose not to make their job listings public. Instead, they’ll manually seek out freelancers who fit the bill, and send them a private invite.
They generally look something like this:
I get invited to these types of gigs on a daily basis.
And the best part?
When you get these invites, you’ve already made the shortlist - at that point, it requires very little work to actually win the client. It often comes down to who communicates the fastest and most effectively.
Note: You have to build some history on Upwork before you start getting invited to jobs like this. It can take a few weeks or months, but they’ll come.
Lewis' Pro Tip:
The majority of your work shouldn’t be coming from the public - or even private - job listings. The real key is to build long-term relationships with your clients.
Not only does this allow you to spend less time prospecting for new clients - and more time doing “billable” work - it also gives you first dibs on opportunities that never see the light of day on Upwork.
Upwork is full of work opportunities, but it’s your job to get the most out of them and build long-term, mutually beneficial relationships.
#3: Low-Rate Freelancers Undercut Everyone And Scoop All The Jobs
I know, I know.
Upwork has been SWARMED with low-rate freelancers willing to do unearthly amounts of work for next to nothing.
There's no escaping it.
I mean, how the hell do you compete with rates like that?
Well, I'll tell you.
You don't. And you shouldn't be trying to, either.
What if I told you these “low-rate” freelancers are actually doing us all a huge favour?
Thing is, clients who choose freelancers based on price alone are almost always the clients you desperately want to avoid.
They’re the ones who will:
- Expect high-quality work for less than the cost of a cheeseburger
- Treat you like a commodity (which - by trying to compete - you would actually become)
- Try to squeeze free work out of you (work creep)
- Be about as easy to work with as Donald Trump
We should be thankful.
Low-rate freelancers clean up the majority of clients on Upwork who’ll bring the rest of us nothing but misery.
The way I see it, Upwork is divided into 3 general “classes”, or “tiers” - (and Upwork even recognises this, too).
Each has it’s rightful place in the ecosystem, and each one is readily accessible to you if you know how to tap into it.
If you’re having to compete with low-rate freelancers, then you’re playing your cards at the wrong table.
#4: The Quality of Clients on the Platform is Poor
Many freelancers were concerned that the high-quality clients Elance was known for would be killed off by the hordes of “cheap-charlie” clients on oDesk.
And even years later, you’ll often see it spewed around popular forums and Q&A boards around the web.
But if you just think about for a moment, it doesn’t even make sense.
The client pool might be a little more diluted, sure - but high-quality clients don’t just vanish, they still exist. And they're still active.
The difference is: you need to get better at finding them.
Upwork actually gives you insightful statistic on their clients, so you can make logicial decions about who you send your proposals to.
On any job listing, you’ll see client stats on the right side:
Take that in for a second.
This client (which took me less than a minute to find) has paid out $290,800 to freelancers on Upwork.
Not sure about you, but I'd say this is a pretty solid client - and one you could build a fruitful relationship with.
The best part?
Once you start looking at right metrics, it's not even hard to identify high-quality clients on Upwork. They're everywhere.
Despite all the bad press about Upwork, it’s still remains the best freelance exchange for high-quality clients to find freelancers.
#5: You Need to Have a Skill That’s In High Demand
I’d be lying if I told you all skills are treated equal on Upwork.
Some skills ARE in higher demand than others, there’s no doubt about that. In fact, Upwork publicly revealed the most sought after skills on the platform.
And here’s the thing:
In business, it’s all about supply and demand.
If you’re skill set isn’t the best fit for Upwork, then you need to stop bitching and actually do something about it.
Expand. Adapt. Grow.
YES, you may have to learn a completely new skill.
YES, it will take time.
NO, it wont be easy.
But not only will you expand your capabilities, you’ll also be able to tap into any skill-based online marketplace for the rest of your freelancing life.
Freelancing is a business, and if you want to survive in this landscape, you’ll need to learn to adapt to the demands of the market just like any other business.
#6: You Need Years of Experience Before You Can Be Taken Seriously
This is my favourite one.
See, when I created my account on Upwork, I had pretty much ZERO clue about what service I would eventually offer.
I mean, sure. I knew a thing or two about search engine optimisation - but it wasn’t something I would enjoy doing for clients every day.
So what did I do?
I decided to switch things up and choose something I had very little experience in - copywriting.
And you can imagine what my portfolio looked like...
Not even the tiniest slither of copywriting experience occupied my profile at the time.
But I decided to go for it anyway.
I sent out roughly 10 proposals, and within a few days I managed to land my first copywriting gig.
It was for a 300 word explainer video script in the luxury niche (which I was awarded at a fixed-price of $60).
But the thing is, I didn’t know how to write a video explainer script - I’d never written one before.
So I looked to Google...
And then I looked to Youtube...
And just by reading guides and studying others who had already done it, I was able to write a high-quality video script for my client and submit it to him that same day.
Couple days after that, BOOM...
I’ve applied this same strategy each time I land a new copywriting gig, allowing me to gain experience on-the-go.
It’s just about using the endless resources at your disposal.
In most niches, you don’t need any existing experience to land gigs on Upwork. The battle isn't won on what you can do, but what the client believes you can do before they hire you.
#7: Upwork Cannot Provide a Stable Source of Income
It’s easy to see why this is popular assumption.
Because for most freelancers, the whole “Upwork thing” looks a little like this:
And when you look at that, I have to agree - it’s not a stable source of income. But the problem isn’t with Upwork, it’s your process.
I touched on this point earlier. The real key to being successful with online freelancing is to build long-term relationships with your clients.
When you can do that, they will provide you with consistent, ongoing work.
This is how it SHOULD look:
Now you might say:
“That’s fine, Lewis, but what if they suddenly drop off the radar and stop giving me work?”.
Well, what if you get laid off from your “stable” job tomorrow?
Happens all the time. And that would mean 100% of your income is lost, almost overnight.
But with online freelancing, you can have 3, 5 or maybe even 10 of these ongoing relationships. And if one client drops off for any reason, you only lose a fraction of your income.
In which case, you can spend some time prospecting on the side for a new long-term client… until you fill the gap.
Which one sounds more stable to you?
As long as you have the right approach and mentality, Upwork can be a very stable source of income. The magic happens when you start building relationships with your clients.
#8: It Takes Too Long to Work Your Way up the Ladder
When I was 18, I took a full-time job at McDonalds.
At the time, my hourly rate was around £5/hour (or $7).
Naturally, my boss would encourage staff to strive for higher positions within the company. I’m sure you’re familiar with how it works…
Work hard, prove yourself, and in time you’ll receive the recognition and promotion you deserve.
During my time there, I saw a number of my fellow “Crew Members” climb the ladder and get promoted to “Managerial” status.
And for all their hard work, they received:
- A different uniform and badge
- More responsibility/pressure
- A (very) marginal pay increase
Now, would you call that a reward, or a slap in the face?
Online freelancing is different. There’s no “climbing” involved because, well, there’s no ladder.
Too many freelancers have this “ladder-mentality” and it doesn’t make any logical sense. The only ladder that exists is the one you create in your mind.
How do I know?
Because you can literally go to your Upwork profile right now, and change your hourly rate to anything you like.
Of course, your rate should reflect the type of results you deliver. But that’s up to you to decide, along with how you communicate and justify it to potential clients.
That's how I skyrocketed my rate from $25/hr to $100 in my first few months on Upwork.
People with “real jobs” could only dream for a 4x wage increase in 5 years, let alone 5 months.
As an online freelancer, you're given back control of your own worth and it's up to you to exercise that freedom. Remember, Upwork isn’t your boss - you are.
It's Time to Cut the Crap and Take Action
Maybe you've tried Upwork before and you couldn't make it work.
Or maybe all this time you've just been put off by the naysayers and didn't even bother trying.
Either way, it doesn't matter.
Plenty of freelancers are making a living from Upwork alone. A comfortable living. If you ever want to know what that's like, you need to take responsibility for your excuses and limiting beliefs.
Get yourself (back) in the trenches, and start figuring it out.