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How to Get Hired on Freelancing Websites

Julie Ewald Freelancing Tips, Job Search Leave a Comment

I’m a big fan of Upwork for folks who are getting their start as freelancers. In fact, I’m such a big fan, regardless of how busy Team Impressa gets, I keep my profile up. But many struggle to make it on freelancing websites like Upwork, but there are some things you can do to actually land gigs.

Complete your profile

freelancing websites apply image

When you sign up for a freelancing site, don’t apply for a gig before you’ve completed your profile.

Online #freelance tip number one: Fill out your profile ASAP. Click To Tweet

A full profile is so important that when I dished five tips for being a rockstar on freelance job sites, three of those tips were around filling your profile out. Why? Because many clients on these sites won’t hire folks with incomplete profiles.

Sure, there are some clients that don’t care and don’t look, but clients who are spending decent sums of money will do a bit of due diligence on you before they even initiate an “interview” with you–and it starts with your profile.

For example, I don’t consider freelancers who can’t be bothered to put up a photo… that’s actually of them! From there, I look at their overview, listed skills, experience, education, and portfolio.

And while what a client looks for should count for something (clients are the ones hiring you, after all), what freelancing websites like Upwork look for should matter too! For example, Upwork isn’t about to make anyone a “rising talent” or “top rated” without having a complete profile. This means you’re less likely to be recommended by the platform to clients, and your applications and bids may be automatically deemed a bad fit and hidden from clients. And no one can hire you if they don’t see that you’re there.

Accept that you’re a newb

Freelancing First Day of School

If you’ve been doing what you’ve been doing for some time, getting started on a freelancing platform can sting.

All of your experience seems to be for naught on a site like Upwork when you first join. Regardless of how deep your portfolio is or how extensive your skills are, you’re a total newb as far as that freelancing site is concerned. Before people see your profile, they see that you have zero (or close to zero) hours logged, have made little to nothing on the site, and don’t have much feedback, if any, from previous gigs. This makes you a total wild card!

Hiring you is a gamble until you’ve cranked out some work. This is because of the sad truth of freelancing websites: a lot of folks that sign up on these platforms are full of shit.

Some people exaggerate experience or skills. Once they land the gig, the quality isn’t there, and the client is out time and money. If you’re new to the platform, no one knows whether or not you’re the real deal.

Then there are those who aren’t suited to this kind of work. Some people don’t work well independently and produce poor quality without regular supervision. Others won’t get anything done at all. Again, no one knows this isn’t you… yet.

And there are those who either show other peoples’ work as their own or farm out the work they get to others. Or they post their best and brightest one-off piece of work. The result of all of these scenarios is the same: the work the client receives is vastly different from the portfolio or work sample. Usually, this is not for the best, and this is why some folks like Jake “Dr. Freelance” Poinier avoid hiring on freelancing websites now.

Jake’s experience hiring on a freelancing platform:

My first time buying someone’s writing services on a bidding site, I had a pretty negative experience. Sure, he was affordable. But the fact is that the writing didn’t match the quality of his portfolio, and it took too much work on my end to bring it up to standard.

I’m a little gunshy to hire freelancers that are new to online freelancing because of experiences like Jake’s–unless they’re incredibly affordable.

Someone charging lower than “market” rates and claiming to be top tier with an attractive portfolio is less of a risk. If they do great work, I’ll keep working with them and rolling with whatever rate increase they want to throw my way (to a point). I’m only out a few bucks if they don’t do well, and I can move on.

The more positive reviews and on-site experience you have, the more you’ll be hired (and the more you can charge). This is why Jake suggests that you should “make sure the product you deliver is equal to or better than your portfolio samples.”

From @DrFreelance: Make sure what you deliver is as good or better than your portfolio. #freelance Click To Tweet

But for now, you’re competing with other “beginners” to land gigs.

Follow directions

freelancing follow directions

I had an email conversation about freelancing sites with Scott Alan Turner. He’s a former money moron (his words!) turned early retiree, and he’s building a media empire around helping others get out of debt faster, save more money, and retire rich. And he also happens to hire folks on Upwork.

He wished that more applicants would “read and follow the job post listing carefully.” I think this is also my number one complaint!

If you want a #freelance gig, @scottalanturner suggests you read the post first! Click To Tweet

Scott told me:

I’ve passed over countless candidates simply because they didn’t provide the information I requested in their proposal. It might be a link to a portfolio, or even a bid!


Clients like Scott and I put things in our listings for a reason. While some potential clients are crackpots–I’ve seen some pretty silly requests–most application-related asks are both relevant and vital to picking the right person.

As an example, quick cut-and-dry one-and-done jobs don’t need a bunch of back and forth. If a listing requests a quote for the project, Scott points out that “requesting the person doing the hiring to contact you and discuss rates is a way to eliminate yourself from the pool of candidates.”

Of course, if you can’t follow directions from the job listing in your cover letter, the odds are likely you won’t be able to follow them in the gig either. So start honing your attention to detail!

Do your homework

homework freelancing client

Did I tell you about the time my agency was almost retained by a misogynistic, white supremacist, eugenics enthusiast, Japanophile to do some ghostwriting and digital marketing around one of his books?

Well, I did a bit of research on him. He was a corporate dude by day and a specific brand of dystopian fiction writer by night, and it seemed that he was horrible all the time. A quick Googling uncovered that he’s rude to his employees, likely has a drinking problem, sometimes doesn’t pay people, and has a propensity to saying off-color things around the office. My impression of him got worse when I started to read his book.

We dodged a bullet because I did my homework.

On the other side of the coin, doing your homework can help you identify and land good opportunities.

Liz, the community manager over at Location Rebel, suggests that you should “never be afraid to spend an extra ten minutes researching the client.” Why?

#Freelance tip from @LFroment: never be afraid to spend an extra ten minutes researching the client. Click To Tweet

She says:

If you can find information about them online, go to their site and check out what they’re already doing. You likely can offer some advice or small suggestions or tweaks that will not only help them but will place you as an expert in their minds.

Yep. People want to hire experts who give them greater value, regardless of how green they are to the online freelancing world.

Don’t pitch everyone

pitching clients

If you apply to every gig you find you could do, you probably won’t get any of them. Why?

You’ll either get no gigs or get locked into beginner status by looking like a jack of all trades and master of none.

One person won’t be able to do exceptional, professional-quality work as a social media manager, copywriter, SEO, marketing strategist, web developer, graphic artist, and video editor. It’s just not happening. And clients know this.

Even if you focus on a narrower set of skills for all of your pitches, sending out a bunch of them at a go likely means you’re rushing. And rushing means you’ll miss important instructions, have typos, or do something else sloppy. Or you’ll start to send the same proposal or cover letter out to everyone–and quality clients notice this.

FYI: anyone calling me “hiring manager” while talking all about their off-site SEO acumen on a simple keyword research gig is immediately disqualified.

Liz told me that she’s “all for sending quality pitches over quantity.” This is because quality pitches get gigs.

Want to #freelance? @LFroment says to send quality pitches over quantity. Click To Tweet

And quality pitches can keep you on the online freelancing site too!

Upwork is suspending accounts and kicking people off the platform if they send out too many proposals and getting no traction. I’m not sure what the criteria are, but from what I’ve heard any combo of the following will end up ending your online freelancing career on Upwork real quick:

  • applying for many gigs in a short time frame
  • copy-and-paste cover letters
  • applying for too many gigs without getting hired or interviewed
  • applying for many jobs where your qualifications don’t match the client’s preferred qualifications
  • clients flagging your proposals

Be fickle with your focus

freelancing focus

Instead of casting a wide net, you may want to hone in on a specialty. People seek out specialists, not generalists.

It’s a bit of a double-edged sword, though. The more specialized you are, the fewer total opportunities you’ll find that are a good fit for you. However, opportunities that are an ideal fit will come looking for you, and you’ll easily find yourself at the top of the list when you do stumble across a listing for a gig that’s golden.

Starting out too firmly in a niche could be limiting. Maybe focus on web development gigs at first–only doing web development gigs for small businesses providing eco-friendly location-based services will be too narrow when you’re new on a platform and trying to get established.

And you may want to avoid overly saturated areas too. There are tons of folks offering their services as data entry specialists, researchers, and virtual assistants. Because of this, many apply for these gigs, so it’s hard to get noticed and get hired.

Also, if you’re in one of those overly saturated areas, you’re more likely to get booted off of Upwork… if that’s the platform of your choice. Since those areas are so popular, all of your ignored applications will add up quickly. Because there’s actually too much competition for these gigs, it’s in Upwork’s best interest (and the best interest of clients who use the site) to boot underperformers in those fields sooner than later. You may be suspended before you know it.

Avoid red flags

freelance red flag

I posted a while back about signs a freelancing gig is sucky. It just so happens that all the red flags I wrote about are plain to see before you engage. And these are just some of the troublemakers.

Before I apply for a gig, I scan the listing. If I see any of the following, I move along because the odds are good I’m not going to get that gig:

  • Experience-level mismatch
  • Rate mismatch
  • A low hire rate (unless they’re new)
  • gig posted more than 48 hours ago
  • More than 20 proposals received
  • More than 10 invites sent
  • More than 5 interviews
  • More than one preferred qualification not aligned
  • Any ask for free work in the listing, including custom-made samples

Stay with it

You’re never going to get hired on a freelancing website if you give up.

Some folks get gigs overnight, but it takes others months to land one. Stick with it. And follow my advice, darn it!


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