UpWork – How to Stand Out from the Competition and Impress Clients

Ten years ago, if you had told me that I could make extra money by offering my skills through an online freelance platform, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. But today, I’m the one telling others that freelancing is not only a way to supplement their income, but it can also be a way for them to grow their portfolio of work, pursue their passion, and make a living doing something they love. The top freelance marketplace, and the one I’ve been a part of since late 2015, is Upwork.

Upwork was formerly Elance and oDesk, founded in 1999 and 2003, respectively. The two platforms merged in December 2013 to become Elance-oDesk, but eighteen months later, was rebranded and relaunched as Upwork. Since that time, it has grown to boast impressive numbers including twelve million registered freelancers, five million registered clients, and three million jobs that are posted annually. Thanks to Upwork and similar platforms like it, freelancing has transitioned from something that is an anomaly for a few people to something that is normal for millions of people around the globe.

Through Upwork, I’ve not only been able to make over $10K, but I’ve also been able to work with independent professionals and major enterprises from all over the world including Canada, Australia, England, South Africa, and of course, the United States. I’ve been able to use my skills of graphic design, article writing, creative writing, transcription, and more, to not only grow my portfolio, but also to help businesses and individuals get work done.

My success with Upwork, however, didn’t come overnight. The first few months after registering for an account, I had applied for hundreds of jobs, but had only been interviewed for a few and hadn’t been hired for any. This wasn’t because I didn’t have the right skills or was unqualified for the jobs for which I was applying. It was because the freelance marketplace, like any other marketplace, is super-competitive. Freelancing doesn’t make the process of applying for, interviewing for, and being hired for a job any easier. In some ways, it can be more difficult, because you’re not only going head-to-head with local freelancers, but with freelancers overseas, as well.

After some time, I soon learned three things that helped me to stand out from the competition and begin getting hired by clients on Upwork on a regular basis.


If you’re just starting out on Upwork, you will not have any work history to show, but that shouldn’t stop you from building a strong portfolio. In your bio area, highlight your work experience and areas of proficiency. If you want, you can even upload a video showcasing your skills. You can also display your education, employment history, certifications, and any other relevant experiences that may attract clients to you. Upwork also features skill tests which you can take for free and then display the results on your profile. The more tests you pass, the more professional you look, and the greater chance you have to impress potential clients. Since most of my skills consists of writing, editing, blogging, etc., a few tests I took when I first started on Upwork included the “Creative Writing Test – Non-fiction (U.S./UK Versions)”, “Online Article Writing and Blogging Test (U.S. Version)”, and “U.S. English Basic Skills Test”. But whether you work in programming, accounting, or graphic design, Upwork has plenty of tests for you to prove your skills.

As you are hired on Upwork, the jobs which you complete will automatically show up in your work history, but you will need to add them to your portfolio. A key part of your profile will be the feedback that clients leave for you and vice versa. In a freelance marketplace, this feedback serves as recommendation that often helps other clients decide whether or not to hire you.


The rate that you bid for jobs should show that you value your time and skills, but it shouldn’t be exorbitant. The number of freelancers on Upwork has grown since the platform was relaunched in 2015, and freelancers overseas often offer their skills at rates which are much lower than those which freelancers in the U.S. offer. Let’s use a graphic designer as an example. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average graphic designer in the United States earns $22.07 per hour. If a graphic designer in Malaysia offers his or her services for $7 per hour and a graphic designer in the U.S. offers his or her services for $22 per hour, which designer is more likely to get hired faster and more often on Upwork? The designer in Malaysia, of course.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get the money that your work is worth, but when submitting proposals for jobs, take into consideration the benefits of freelancing. One, you can do it from the comfort of your home or from the coziness of a coffee shop, which means you don’t have to spend your hard-earned money on gas commuting to a place of business or waste time sitting in traffic. Two, you can work on your own time. Most clients will set a deadline for you to have their project done, but if you want to work from midnight until 5 a.m. to meet the deadline, you can. You’re not boxed into the average 9-to-5 workday. Three, you don’t have to deal with a toxic workplace culture. There’s no micromanaging boss hanging over your shoulder and no complaining co-workers to listen to. So, in lowering your bid for a job, you may lose a few dollars, but you also gain so much more.


This is an important part of freelancing as there is little to no face to face interaction. Since this is the case, all client messages should be responded to within 24 hours. Downloading the Upwork app will help you keep track of messages when you’re away from your computer. If you’re not able to complete a project or need more time than the deadline given, immediately communicate this with your client. If the project is a large job that takes several weeks to complete, provide updates along the way so that they will know you are working on it.

Nearly all communication takes place via the Message Center, Upwork’s chat-based communication and collaboration platform. You can also use Skype, email, and regular phone to communicate with clients. On two occasions, I had clients request to interview me over the phone instead of through chat. After this initial phone conversation, they immediately became comfortable with me as a person and confident in my abilities and I was then hired for their projects. For obvious safety reasons, Upwork prefers that clients and freelancers keep all communication on the Message Center, but if you’re confident that a client’s request to speak with you outside of Upwork is legitimate, then I see no harm in doing so. I have communicated with clients outside of Upwork via phone, email, and Skype, and have not had any negative experience. Of course, you should never share your banking details with clients as all payments should take place through Upwork.

Building a strong profile, offering your skills at lower rates, and providing clear and frequent communication are three ways that will help you go a long way in getting the jobs you want and being successful on the freelance marketplace of Upwork.