If you’ve been following my blog for a while you’ll know that I switched my focus away from early retirement towards building online income streams so I can travel the world with my family. For over a year I’ve been spending my limited time building this blog and working on other websites that I plan to monetise. I adore working on websites, I wake up every single day excited to get started. For the first time in my life, I love what I do and have no plans to quit. BUT making money from websites is a long-game. And I want to make money NOW so I have started taking writing jobs from Upwork.com. I have been a client of Upwork (and Elance before that) for years but never bothered giving it too much time because the rates of pay on offer seemed pathetic. All that changed when I saw a listing offering $175USD for a 750-word post. I applied, even though I had no experience, feedback or samples other than my blog. A few days later I got a notification that the job was mine.
Want to know why the client offered me the job? She loved my blog. And I personalised my pitch template to her needs. If you’ve searched Upwork for freelance writing or virtual assistant work you may have been turned off the pay rates available. By being selective and using filters, I’ve still been able to make decent money on Upwork. So if you’re interested in finding work online or earning an income while you travel I think Upwork is definitely worth looking into. I’ve outlined some steps below for anyone wanting to get started.
Get thyself a platform
I’m going to say it now. You need a blog. Any freelance writer worth his salt has an online home, somewhere to host their writing samples, or even just regular old blog posts which become your portfolio. Blogging is the best way to get started as a freelance writer, as you are able to build networks and practice writing (it’s a craft, in case you didn’t know). If you don’t have a blog, be prepared to spend about $100 to get started. You’ll need to purchase hosting (I recommend and use SiteGround for all my websites – this is my affiliate link) and a premium theme which can run from $20 upwards.
Want more info on getting started with a blog? Check out my post: How to Start a Money-Making Blog in Five Easy Steps
2. Write some samples
Now that you have a blog you need to fill it with content. What to write? Search Upwork to see what type of articles clients are looking for. In my niche (personal finance) there is demand for anything to do with loans, investment information, listicles (5 ways to save on groceries etc). Write a couple of each type so you’ll have solid samples to pitch when it comes time to apply for jobs. This will probably take the most time, of all the steps.
Want to be a better writer? I recommend starting with On Writing by Stephen King. You can buy it here. Other useful books include On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser and A Pocket Style Manual by Diana Hacker.
3. Fill in your profile
Your Upwork profile is the place you sell yourself. Make it succinct.
Stick to a few brief sentences about your experience and why you would be the best fit for a potential client. Avoid describing the reasons you want to work online and shoot straight for the benefits a client will get from working with you. Be prepared to sell yourself (I hate this part but it’s necessary). I use Upwork to hire people for my marketing business, and I can guarantee you, a long profile full of fluff just irritates me. I read the first few sentences and then skip straight to the reviews (more on those soon).
4. Search for jobs
Now to the good stuff, finding your first job.
Join any Facebook group for writers or virtual workers and you’ll find plenty of people whining about the pay rates on Upwork. Let them whine. There are well-paid gigs on Upwork but you have to search hard to find them. If you are a new writer, consider this time your ‘apprenticeship’. You are learning the ropes and cannot bring a wealth of experience to the role so naturally, you command a lower premium. That’s not important now, the only thing that matters is getting your first gig.
How I find suitable jobs
I use the filters to weed out the entry-level articles and the hourly rate articles. I don’t want to track my time and I’m not entry-level so that cuts out the irrelevant jobs. I then use keywords to search for the type of content I want to write about. I save all the jobs I’m interested in and then go through my list to read the full job description.
What if the pay sucks?
What are we comparing this to? In my case, it was either writing articles from home whenever I wanted or taking a night job stacking shelves at the supermarket for minimum wage so I could work around my husband’s hours. That meant I had to make over $15/hr to be better off as a freelance writer. However, I know my work is worth more than that so I set some parameters for my search:
- If the client mentioned they were a ‘growing’ company I knew they would have a growing budget and might be able to pay me more in the future so I would definitely apply to them even if the start rate was less than what I wanted
- If the client had great feedback I would apply
- Stay away from the bottom feeders offering a 5-star review for a $10 article.
Tip: I initially thought I wanted to write for blogs when I started freelancing, but I quickly learned that I don’t like to provide content for other bloggers in my niche. It might sound selfish, but my ideas are mine, and selling them for a fixed price to another blogger is undercutting myself. I now prefer to work with commercial operators such as finance companies or online magazines.
5. Apply to a select few
Once you’ve narrowed down the jobs you want, you need to apply. To save time I created a pitch template: here’s mine if you want an idea of what works for me.
I wish to express interest in your content writer opportunity.
My name is Emma Healey. I’m a married mother of two. My interests include travel, property investment, personal finance, and business. I am a personal finance and lifestyle blogger (at MoneyCanBuyMeHappiness.com) looking to branch out to freelance writing.
(I always personalise the next paragraph to the client’s requirements. This was for a travel gig)
I travel extensively – over 30 countries so far – and have written content about travel on my blog. Examples as per below:
Insert relevant blog post links here
(This was for a real estate gig)
On a personal level, I’m very interested (maybe a little obsessed) with real estate investment as a vehicle for building wealth. I’m currently renovating my own place which is a lot of fun, and a steep learning curve for this wannabe DIYer!
I’ve written a few articles about real estate investment, home-buying and reducing housing costs on my blog. I’ve posted the examples below:
Insert relevant blog post links here
Tip: Personalise your application for each job. Although I have a template, I always personalise the details to show the client I have read and understood their requirements.
How much to pitch?
I set a minimum limit of 10 cents per word when I was starting out*. That nets me $50 for a 500-word article before Upwork fees (which start at 20% for the first $500 you earn with a client). That’s pretty low for a native English speaker, but I would rather get the job and increase my rates once I’ve built a relationship with the client than work nights at the supermarket. I actually accepted a job paying half of what I wanted as I figured I could ask for more if they wanted further work. That’s how a $25 article became $675 and counting.
Tip: Don’t pitch too high or you might never hear from the client again. Pitch a fair price for the work you do, but remember you are competing with others and as a beginner, you need to nab your first gig to get the ball rolling.
6. Do your best work
Do I really need to say more? Submit your best work. This client might be an ongoing relationship for years. If you want to be in this for the long game, start as you mean to go on. If you’ve done your absolute best work, consider any edits as ways to improve your writing.
7. Suggest ways for the client to improve their offer
Adding value to your work is the best way to get repeat business. You’re not just a writer, you’re a content strategist. What do I mean by that, you ask? Do you mention any products or services in your article? If so, suggest the client apply to affiliate programs so those links can become affiliate links and make the client money! It is in your interest to help your client become more profitable. Do you link to the client’s existing content? If you’ve researched your client’s website and found related articles, link to those articles where possible. You’ve saved them a job and they will notice.
8. Social share
If you’re proud of the work you’ve done, share it! The client will love you for it and it’s a great way to showcase your work. If like me, the majority of your freelance work is ghostwriting, you can add it to your sharing calendar but you cannot say that you wrote it. Staff writing (where your name is in the article) is much harder to come by on Upwork but if you’re lucky enough to nab a staff writing gig, be sure to share it far and wide once the article goes live.
9. Ask for feedback – your first 5-star review
Don’t forget to ask your client to give feedback. It’s so important to ensure you keep getting hired. Plus Upwork will recognise consistent positive feedback and reward you with a ‘rising talent’ badge which helps you to get better offers.
We’re about to head overseas for 4 months and I plan to take on more work through Upwork to offset our expenses. Upwork has been a major part of my online working strategy and I think it’s the best place for a new digital nomad or freelancer to get work. The support is excellent and the escrow system means you will always get paid, which is a constant struggle for freelancers. I recommend checking out Upwork if you want to start making money online.
*I now charge 20 cents per word.