Follow these 8 steps to build the best Upwork profile and crush your competition.
As you’re looking for tips on “How to be successful on Upwork” or “How to succeed on Upwork“, you’ll definitely notice a pattern: most articles have been written years ago and are not really up-to-date with the current state of affairs of freelancing (and Upwork).
The authors are meaningful and honest, but their articles are just too old. And while I like my stuff to be a little bit vintage, outdated articles also mean outdated tips.
Freelancing platforms change constantly, and while Upwork has looked pretty much the same in the past 5 years, cosmetically speaking, a lot has changed. Its algorithms, ranking system and the whole idea of how to be successful on the platform have totally changed.
If you want to become successful on Upwork in 2020, this article is great news for you. It’s *not* a 2010’s time travel. Let’s start with the most basic thing ever: your Upwork profile.
Make your Upwork profile 100% complete
Nowadays, it seems that it has become increasingly difficult to get yourself accepted on Upwork. Getting accepted on the platform used to be a bit like going to your town’s free event with one drink offered, and it now feels more like an old-school country club for rich gentlemen. Basically, it’s a feat of itself apart from the whole “become successful on Upwork“.
And as for any place with restricted access, if you really want to enter but get rejected, you’ll feel frustrated. That frustration will build up even more if it takes you weeks to get in (it took even months to one of my friends).
So, obviously, once you finally get your golden Upwork ticket, you’ll want nothing but to go straight into the action – Mission Impossible-style. You’ll want to apply to every freaking gig.
You may think that your profile not being 100% complete is not a big deal. After all, why would a client care about your profile completeness? Well, trust me, it *is* important.
If your profile is not 100% complete, you won’t be able to become a “Rising Talent“, “Top-Rated” or even benefit from Upwork’s premium services, for that matter.
Upwork has a great article on the topic that details how you can get your golden 100% complete status here. It’s a bit bureaucratic and there’s not much to say about it apart from “follow all the steps”.
Do your best smile
Profile pictures are extremely important all over the internet, and not just on Upwork. No matter whether you’re on Facebook, LinkedIn, Tinder, Grindr or Upwork, it doesn’t make a difference. You’ll get more “matches” with a nice profile picture.
People (including clients) are very visual, and their animal brain is wired to pay more attention to your profile picture rather than your boring textual description.
While I’m not an expert photographer (and my fiancée would definitely agree with that one), here are a couple of tips that Upwork gives you to take the best profile picture shot ever:
- Lighting: Make it shine! Your face should be perfectly visible and the whole scenery should be full of light. The sun is probably the best light you can get for this kind of picture. Otherwise, you can get yourself a lighting pack on Amazon for $50.
- Background: There are diverging opinions on that one. Basically, it shouldn’t look like you’re shooting for a horror movie. A white wall would cut it if you ask me.
- Face: You should smile and face the camera. You should look right into the eyes and souls of your clients. Looking away is sometimes considered a sign of duplicity.
- Readiness: You should look professional. Basically, wear something you would wear if you were to give a talk on your field of expertise.
Upwork gives us also a couple of examples from people with both a “bad” version and a “good” version that you can find here.
You can also use a website called photofeeler.com to submit your picture and get people to vote for its professionalism.
That’s a pretty cool website that’ll let you vote for other people’s picture, and also submit your own picture based on “Competence“, “Likeability” and “Influentiability“.
Write a great Upwork job title
Your Upwork job title is basically a little “box” you put yourself in. It’s a handy etiquette that helps clients figure out who you are and what you can do for them.
The tips for a great title are straightforward:
- Short: Your title shouldn’t be cropped out in search results when a client is typing a keyword related to your industry.
- Specific: That’s an obvious one, but it should be specific to your industry. For example, I’m specialized in “Paid Advertising”, and that would ill-advised to just write “Digital Marketing”.
- Unique: It should be outstanding (basically, not boring and common).
Let’s quickly compared 3 different profiles and see what we can get.
Profile 1 – The mono word.
That one looks weird. The freelancer just wrote “Copywriter” as if it was all-encompassing, but it really doesn’t tell much about her personality.
Also, since the whole concept of copywriting is about being able to write stuff, that doesn’t look very enticing. Basically a 0/10.
Profile 2 – The experienced, skilled, ultimate, sensational…..<Read More> guy
That one is more polished, but it crops out in a weird way. We get the two main adjectives (experienced and versatile), but we can only guess what comes next.
Since it’s meaningful and probably representative of the guy’s field of expertise, I would still give him 6/10.
Profile 3 – The Kung-Fu Master.
I like this particular job title because it uses the *active* form (‘hire’) and doesn’t hesitate to define himself as a master of his craft.
That makes his job title mysterious, and it could work very well or do the exact opposite depending on the client reading it.
Write a great Upwork profile description
While writing the best profile description ever doesn’t require a degree in English literature, there’s some sort of science behind writing a good profile description.
I’ve asked myself multiple times what a good description was, and I think I’ve found out a few key patterns between all good profile descriptions. To avoid wasting your time, here’s the list:
- Part 1: The Hook. That’s a killer statement that captures the client’s attention. It’s something outstanding that makes you look different. You can use it to have the client focus on something particular about yourself.
- Part 2: The Achievements. That’s what you’ve done in the past, and why you’re legitimate to work as an expert in your field.
- Part 3: The Skills. That’s what you can do for your client. That’s the skills you’ve spent years to master.
- Part 4: The Call-to-Action. That’s your way to announce your availability, and push the client to invite you.
Let’s example 3 profiles that I consider to be “successful” on Upwork.
Profile 1 – The experienced Journalist
I really do love his “Hook” and the way he established himself as a big deal on Upwork. He then proceeds to talk about his past experience for a while.
One thing I don’t particularly like about his description is that he spends too much time talking about the past, remains a bit vague and broad about his core skills, and terminates his description with a bizarre delusional statement about his talent. It would have been better, in my opinion, to write a compelling “
Profile 2 – The Data Scientist / Analyst / Writer
That profile ranked #1 when I typed “Data Science” on Upwork, but it’s, in my opinion, a “bad” example. It doesn’t have a compelling “Hook”, it’s formatted weirdly and it dives too much into irrelevant details, rather than focus on talking to the client directly. And also, the “Call-to-Action” is to generalistic.
Profile 3 – The MIT yada yada
This profile is one of the most compelling profiles I’ve seen on Upwork so far, even though it’s a bit long-ish and verbose. Interestingly enough, he’s put the “Hook” after the first paragraph, so that clients will first see his credentials and his college education at the prestigious MIT before reading his Hook. That’s an interesting way to put it, as it mentally prepares the client to receive it.
This freelancer passes all the marks as he mentions his skills, experience, credentials as well as what he can do for the client. That’s a 10/10.
Build a portfolio using Upwork’s builder
It took me a long time to even consider building myself a portfolio, mostly because I’ve found out that the *best* clients on Upwork generally do not even ask for one. They’re more focused on the present/future (and what you can do for them), rather than on what you did in the past for previous clients.
Of course, this doesn’t apply to graphic design and the kind of gigs where you must show your own personality and talent through your creations.
That being said, you definitely need a portfolio to reassure your clients, and also to make sure that you look your best on Upwork’s search results. Remember the profiles I showed you earlier? Some of them had no portfolio items, and it looked like this:
Just for this reason and to stand out, you should have at least one portfolio item. And Upwork makes it quite easy for you to build your own portfolio items through its portfolio builder:
They will even let you select a specific template based on how you want to display your portfolio item:
There’s really a whole science involved behind creating a compelling portfolio item, and I prefer to keep that energy for a dedicated article. In the meantime, you can check Upwork’s own tips about creating a portfolio:
- The Story: Each portfolio item should be its own story.
- The Proofs: Each portfolio item should be leveraged by all means possible (screenshots, results, testimonials, etc.).
- The Problem/Solution: Each portfolio item should highlight what problem you had to solve, and which skills were involved in the whole process.
While there are different ways to go about a portfolio item, I find that adapting your portfolio item to the so-called “Hero’s Journey” pattern makes up for a great story.
Adding the right skills to your Upwork profile
The very concept of a “skill” is at the core of the whole freelancing business. A skill is basically a collection of knowledge, expertise, and know-hows that, when put together, form what we may call a skill.
Even though we live in an age where people put up skills they don’t have on LinkedIn, skills are still here to stay, and they’re a necessity of the gig economy.
While it doesn’t sound very empowering and sexy to force yourself into a tiny box with an etiquette written on it, they’re still the best way for clients to find you and eventually ask for your help.
The thing about skills is that they help you think about what you *really* master, what you *somewhat* master and what you *don’t* master at all. And the great thing is that Upwork limits the number of skills you can add to your profile (10 skills).
When I first got started with freelancing on Upwork, I was not consistent at all. I put really completely different skills that had nothing to do with each other. It looked something like “English to French Translations“, “Article Writing“, “SEO“, “Business Analysis“, etc. You get the idea.
While it was true that these were my core skills, they did not reflect on a coherent profile. I wanted to grab all the gigs possible, and it made my overall profile completely incomprehensible.
As time passed, I realized that it did not only bring me more food on the table but that it actually hindered my potential for more, and better gigs. I decided that it was time for a clean-up. I removed all the irrelevant skills and added only skills that were coherent with the profile of a “Paid Advertising Expert“.
That’s why I recommend you to think about what you really want to do in your life. If you had to think 2-3 years ahead, what would you like your profile to look like, in terms of specialty?
Adding certifications to your Upwork profile
While certifications may seem overkill, they’re actually important. It’s reassuring for clients to see that some sort of third-party entity tested you and guarantee that you really possess the skills you claim you possess.
In my opinion, no matter what your specialty is, there’s always a way to connect your current skills to some sort of certification. For example, if you’re a copywriter, you can take the Cambridge certifications. If you’re a graphic designer, you can take the Adobe certifications. You get the idea.
In my case, since I work as a PPC consultant, I took the Google certifications to reassure clients and make them feel like not only Upwork, but Google itself trusts my abilities to get stuff done.
Of course, you’ll find blokes that hold a gazillion certifications but cannot deliver even the most basic things. But certifications are reassuring, once again.
Education, Employment History and Other Experience
While that part is not *as important* as the other points mentioned above, they’re nonetheless necessary to a successful Upwork profile. Since Upwork is really competitive, it means that you really should tick all the boxes when it comes to the basics of an Upwork freelancer profile.
These sections function a bit like a CV. What it means is that:
- Be succinct: You should not put *everything* you’ve ever done in it.
- Be coherent: You should tailor these sections according to the kind of gigs you want to land.
So, for example, if you really want to become a successful copywriter on Upwork, you should really focus on stuff that can be somewhat bridged to copywriting.
Sorry if you found that this article was a bit lengthy. There are so many things to say about every and each of these points. I’ve spent years working as a freelancer and I still discover things every day and try to get better at it.
To wrap things up, we’ve seen that you should:
- Make your profile 100% complete
- Take the best profile picture
- Write the best profile title
- Write the best profile description
- Build yourself a portfolio along the way
- Add coherent skills to your profile
- Take the right certifications
- Be succinct but meaningful with your past experiences
All in all, if you had to remember one thing from this article, it’s this:
To be successful on Upwork, you don’t need to be the best but you need to be better than your competition in all possible ways.