Discover the 8 questions you should always ask yourself before applying to any Upwork gig.
Upwork is a huge platform. It has millions of clients and freelancers. But let’s face it – the platform is so huge that it can quickly turn into chaos if you don’t know where to look at.
As a beginning Upwork freelancer, it’s up to you to develop and refine your job search skills. If you’re bad at finding good gigs, your freelancing life can quickly become a nightmare.
Think about it. It will take you about 15 minutes to find an interesting gig using the search features and writing a proposal.
Now, supposing that you get it wrong 4 times in a row, it means that you’ll spend one hour for nothing. If your hourly rate is roughly $30/h, it means that the overall operation actually *costs* you $30.
Along with that, Upwork assigns you a limited number of ‘Connects‘ – the currency that you use to apply to gigs. Once you exhaust your available Connects, you’ll have to pay $0.15 for each new Connect.
While it doesn’ t seem like a big deal, your number of exhausted Connects can quickly stack up. Here’s a break down how many Connects you need per type of project:
It’s not that much of a cost per se, but it can become a frustrating situation if you don’t land the gigs you’re applying to (and end up paying for the proposals).
All in all, Connects are not that expensive and it would cost you around $45 to apply to about 100 different projects (an average of 3 Connects per project). Not *that* bad.
That being said, let’s talk about the 8 factors that will help you decide whether a gig is good or not. Think of it as an algorithm with ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ questions. If it doesn’t tick at some point, then it’s not good (enough).
Question 1 – Was it published more than 5 minutes ago?
No matter how great a project may seem, its date of publication is the most important factor that you need to look at. It’s a tactic that I teach my students and it’s so powerful that it dwarfs almost all the other factors.
Whenever a gig is published, Upwork tells you when it was published:
If you see that gig in your search results, that’s generally because it was published:
- A few minutes ago.
- A few hours ago.
- One day or more ago.
First of all, it makes absolutely no sense to apply to gigs that were published one day or more ago. Forget about them and consider that they’re in Upwork’s graveyard.
Clients generally prefer re-posting a nearly identical gig than go through an old gig that has dozens of proposals. Even if you applied, they would never get to see your application.
A similar situation generally happens for gigs that were published a couple of hours ago (and especially if the topic is extremely in-demand and competitive).
By exclusion, it leaves us with gigs that were published a few minutes ago. These gigs should be your golden standard.
The idea behind this ‘method’ is simple. Since the client posted the gig only a few minutes ago, it means that he’s still behind his computer screen.
He’s still there lurking for proposals, it means that he may see your application as soon as you apply, and therefore accept it. If you’re lucky enough, it’s possible for you to be the *only* freelancer he’s talking to at that time.
If you’re convincing enough, he may hire you for the gig without waiting for additional proposals.
Question 2 – How specific is the job title?
One factor that’s often overlooked by freelancers (mostly because they’re too greedy) is the quality of the job title and description.
There are generally two kinds of job title:
- Broad/Obscure Job Titles
- Specific Job Titles
Since Upwork is a bit lenient when it comes to preventing shitty clients from publishing gigs, it means that you’ll see a lot of gigs with obscure job titles.
For example, it may look something like “Need help with my marketing“, “Design stuff for my company“, “Make me viral” and other dumb stuff like that.
Most of the time, you should avoid this kind of gig. It shows that the client has no freaking clue what he’s looking for. And a client that doesn’t know what he needs doesn’t know when to be satisfied either. So if you accept a contract from a clueless client, you are guaranteed to get a bad review.
On the other hand, you have specific job titles. These gigs are usually explicit both with the job category and the nature of the work to be performed.
For example: “Looking for an Email Marketing Specialist (Klaviyo) to set up Automated Follow-Ups“, “Looking for a Graphic Designer to design an E-book cover for my personal brand (health blogger)“, etc.
Of course, these gigs are to be preferred by a long shot because you know what you’re dealing with. You know exactly whether you have the right skills for this gig, and therefore if you may be considered by the client as a potential hire.
Now, truth be told, there are a lot of gigs that are in-between. The job title is specific enough to give you the job category, but not enough to give you the nature of the work or the technology that’s required.
Question 3 – Is the job description explanatory enough?
The job description is complimentary to the job title. It’s here to give you context and more explanations on the nature of the work. It can be found below the publication date:
When looking at a job description, pay attention not only to the description’s content, but also to its ‘form‘.
If the client shows that he can’t structure sentences properly and do a lot of grammatical mistakes, it could be a sign that he’s not serious.
Please, don’t kill me. I’m not saying that people who are bad with grammar are bad or anything. I’m just saying that you should be extra careful.
Most job descriptions fall into one of these three categories:
- The vague/short description. It usually goes in pair with a vague job title.
- The explanatory description. As for good job titles, an explanatory job description will explain to you what needs to be done in a structured manner. It will specify important information that are required to complete the job successfully.
- The ‘job offer’. That’s the kind of description that not only explains what the gig is about but also dives into the kind of irrelevant bullshit tangents that you would find if you were to apply to a ‘regular’ job.
You should entirely ignore cases 1 and 3 because that will never, ever lead you to anything good. It just doesn’t happen.
Stick to case 2 and consider that if a job has an explanatory description, it’s a good sign that the client knows what he wants and what he needs from you.
This also means that whatever amount of money he’s ready to pay, this will be exactly for what he states it will be.
Question 4 – Is it an hourly or fixed-price gig?
I’ve discussed extensively the differences between hourly contracts and fixed-price gigs on Upwork.
To know if the gig is supposed to be on an hourly or fixed-price basis, have a look at the section below the gig’s description.
At the very beginning of your Upwork journey, I don’t recommend you to take hourly contracts. Opt for small fixed-price gigs in order to increase your number of 5-stars.
Question 5 – How many hours is the client ready to allocate?
Whenever a client publishes an hourly project on Upwork, he has to specify the number of hours per week he thinks will be needed to complete the task.
You can find this information below the job description:
From the client’s perspective, here’s the choice that he’s being asked to make:
A bit binary, right?
Short-term gigs could be anything from one-day gigs up to 2-months gigs. Long-term gigs could be anything from 3-months gigs up to 1-year contracts. That’s quite a huge range of possibilities for only two categories!
Also, beware: most of the time, what happens is that clients confuse their ‘budget’ with the *real* number of hours that will be needed. They make up a calculation based on these figures:
[total budget/hourly rate] = total number of hours.
As you can guess, this calculation doesn’t make any sense since it doesn’t reflect on the *real* number of hours that will be required.
Unless the gig itself has a recurrent component to it (for example writing weekly articles, emails, etc), you can ignore this item.
Question 6 – What’s the project length?
The project length is a good way to have a peek at the client’s state of mind. You can see it under the gig description section:
From the client’s perspective, here’s what he’s being asked to answer:
As you can see, there are four different categories:
- Less than 1 month.
- 1 to 3 months.
- 3 to 6 months.
- More than 6 months.
There’s no big ‘no-no’ when it comes to project length mostly because it depends entirely on the scope of the whole project. However, pass on fixed-price gigs with a super small budget but a long project length.
Also, I mentioned it already but at the beginning, opt for ‘one-shot’ gigs that will increase your number of reviews.
Once you reach at least 5 reviews from 5 different clients, start to aim for the long-term contracts that are 3+ months long.
Question 7 – What expertise level is required?
I love that one. Really. To me, the expertise level that’s asked by clients is the funniest thing ever.
You can find it just below the job description like the other factors mentioned above:
While it happens from time to time for clients to mess up with the project length or the number of hours per week, it happens *very often* for clients to be totally off the mark when it comes to the expertise level.
There are three different expertise levels on Upwork:
- Entry Level. That’s supposedly the kind of expertise you have when you’ve worked in the industry for less than 6 months up to 1 year.
- Intermediate Level. That one is supposed to be for people who have 1+ up to 5 or more years of experience.
- Expert Level. That one talks for itself. It supposedly means that you are an *expert* at your craft.
Because the whole expertise level system is unregulated on Upwork, anyone can pretend to be anything, and clients are free to ask for any level of expertise independently of the nature of the work.
And to add to the chaos, clients generally mix up expertise level and what they’re willing to pay a freelancer. For instance, if they want someone to perform something at a cheap price, they’ll say that they’re looking for an entry-level freelancer.
My tip is simple: do not apply unless it states that the client is looking for an Intermediate or Expert Level. Avoid ‘Entry-Level’ gigs entirely.
Question 8 – Is the client’s Upwork history good?
Among all the factors I’m mentioning in this article, one that’s absolutely essential is the client’s Upwork history.
Whenever you’re on a published gig, you can scroll down a little bit and see the client’s past history:
You can see:
- The reviews they gave. If the client doesn’t give 5-stars most of the time, avoid him entirely.
- The reviews they received. If the client receives bad reviews most of the time, once again, avoid at all costs.
You can find the client’s profile ‘card’ on the gig itself on the right column:
Apart from the reviews, you can see other interesting information that you should pay attention to:
- Location. I recommend not working with clients from third-world or developing countries. Instead, focus on the US, Europe and similar.
- Number of jobs posted and hire rate. If you see that the client has a super low hire rate (basically, he publishes gigs all the time but never hires), do not waste your Connects on the gig.
- Total spent on Upwork. The more a client has spent on Upwork, the more it shows that it’s an established company that has the means to remunerate you well. Focus on companies that have spent at least $100K on Upwork.
- Average hourly rate. That one is tricky because it’s an average of the overall hourly rate. However, I do find that companies with an hourly rate below $25/h are generally to be avoided.
Once you become more seasoned on Upwork, it will take you less than half a second to know whether a client’s profile is reliable or not.
While the list could go on and on, I really think that I’ve mentioned the most important factors that define whether a gig is good or bad.
To sum it up, here are the questions you should ask yourself:
- Was the gig posted more than 5 minutes ago?
- Is the title of the gig specific?
- Is the description of the gig explanatory?
- Is it an hourly or fixed-price gig?
- Does the client want to allocate enough hours for this kind of work?
- Is the project length long enough for this kind of work?
- Is the expertise level asked appropriate?
- Is the client’s Upwork history good?
Don’t worry if that’s too much to handle at first. You’ll develop an ‘instinct’ to spot the good gigs and avoid the bad ones.