If you want to be your own boss and make money online by doing what you love on your own terms, freelancing could be the path for you. Freelancers typically work in creative industries, like journalism, copywriting, and graphic design, but there’s also a demand for freelancers with skills in tech, accountancy and finance, admin, and even health and fitness. Essentially, if you have a set of skills which you think people will pay for, you could stand to make money by becoming a freelancer.
However, there are pros and cons to becoming a freelancer, so you’ll need to think very carefully and learn as much as you can before deciding anything. In this guide, we’ll cover:
- What is freelancing?
- How does freelancing work?
- Freelancing FAQs
- Pros and cons of freelance work
- Case studies: 3 different experiences of freelance work from home
What is freelancing?
Freelancing is work that a person carries out on a contract-by-contract basis, rather than being employed by a single organisation. Freelancers are self-employed and can engage with more than one client, working on multiple assignments at once, without having to commit to a single employer.
As a freelancer, your schedule is up to you, to a certain degree. The number of assignments that you choose to work on at any one time depends on how you organise your time (and deadlines you agree to meet) and the time frame in which you think you can produce the work.
The term ‘freelance’ (as ‘free-lance’) was first used in an 1819 novel by Sir Walter Scott to describe mercenaries who were willing to work for whoever was willing to pay them the most. These men were considered ‘free’ and not bound by loyalty to any one party. The ‘lance’ referred to their weapons. Over time, the term has obviously moved away from its origins on the battlefield to the freelancing we know today. After all, they do say the pen is mightier than the sword.
How does freelancing work?
Not all work is completed by an inhouse team. Sometimes, businesses choose to outsource work. This work can be picked up by creative agencies, or freelancers, depending on what the client is looking for. Freelancers can choose to work with a client on a short or long term basis, either completing one-off tasks, contracts which run for a number of months, or multiple gigs of varying lengths.
If you’re interested in becoming a freelancer, we’ll look at the business side of things a bit later on in this article. But for now, here are a few things you’ll need to think about to get the ball rolling.
- Find your niche and make your passion pay.
- Pick an online freelancing platform and set up a profile.
- You’re worth it, so make sure you’re not working for peanuts.
- Complete jobs to the best of your ability and meet deadlines.
- Get paid for your work.
- What kind of jobs can you freelance?
Jobs from all kinds of sectors can be done on a freelance basis. A lot of the time, if work can be outsourced (instead of being done in-house), it can be done by a freelancer. Here are some examples of the types of job that you could do as a freelancer:
- Writing (articles, ad copy, marketing, blogging, research, ghostwriting for book and ebooks)
- Web developer or programmer (front or back end development on a website, game programming)
- Graphic design (branding, logos, typography, advertising)
- Search Engine Optimisation | SEO (keyword research, competitive analysis, on-site analysis, link building)
- User Experience | UX (interface, layout, content, interactive elements)
- Virtual assistant (email and chat support, research, communication management)
- Transcription (medical or legal documents, translation, video or audio)
- Bookkeeping (accounts preparation, VAT returns, payroll)
- Photography (wedding, wildlife, fashion, portrait, stock photos, lifestyle)
- What kind of freelance work can I do?
The type of freelance work you can do depends on you, your existing skills, or your passion in picking up new skills. For example, if your passion lies in writing, then it makes sense to focus on that. But there are freelance options for most jobs.
- Can I start freelance with no experience?
Pushing aside the risk of Imposter Syndrome, it’s completely possible to freelance without having any prior experience. While it makes sense to play to your strengths by using your existing skills to attract clients and produce work, deciding to go freelance can also be a good opportunity to jump into a full career change. The worry is that a lack of experience either in your niche or as a freelancer means you’ll struggle to get your first client. That’s not necessarily the case. Clients pick freelancers based on any number of things…maybe it is your experience levels or credentials, maybe it’s your rate, or maybe it’s because you wrote an awesome proposal where something grabbed their eye.
- How do freelancers find work?
Perhaps the best way to find work as a freelancer is to look online. There are loads of sites offering the latest freelancing opportunities. The most well-known of these sites is probably Upwork, but there are lots of others to take a look at too. Some may be sector-specific which should help you minimise the amount of time you spend searching for work. Upwork is a platform where freelancers and clients can find each other. Freelancers sign up to the site, create a profile which shows their skills and experience level, and submit proposals to jobs they’re interested in completing. On the other side, clients post job listings which describe the job and available budget and then review and accept proposals.
- How much do freelancers get paid?
The amount of money freelancers get paid can depend on a few things such as experience, sector, or individual task. For example, ProCopywriters conduct an annual survey to discover more about the freelance copywriting landscape. Their 2018 survey found an average day rate of £342. IT Jobs Watch showed that business consultants can charge an average of £475 per day and solicitors at least £100 per hour.
- Is freelancing difficult?
As with any job, freelancing has its easy and difficult periods. We’ll take a closer look at some pros and cons in a minute, but some things that make freelancing difficult include:
- Lack of motivation
It can be hard to stay productive when you’re in charge of your workload and setting your own hours. If you’ve got multiple jobs running at once and find yourself juggling a few deadlines, the hours can be long. This can leave you feeling burnt out. A large part of being a freelancer is about being able to stay focused, even when you’ve got more than one plate spinning.
- Very little ‘you’ time
Depending on the amount of work you take on and the hours you work, as a freelancer, you may forget what it’s like to not be sitting in front of your laptop! Sometimes, it may feel like you don’t see daylight for days. And when you do get some precious ‘free’ time, the chances are that you’ll feel like you’re slacking off and should be getting on with some work. You may even start to forget what ‘you’ time is!
If you’re someone who enjoys being around other people, there are ways to stave off the potential loneliness of life as a freelancer. Instead of working from home, you could choose to work in public spaces, such as coffee shops or desk hubs. You could even discuss going into the office of your client on a regular basis.
- Not a stable source of income
Freelance work isn’t a guarantee. Which means the income probably won’t come in a constant stream. Unfortunately, you don’t always know when your next job is coming along. This can be the case even if you’re lucky enough to have repeat clients. Jobs can come in ebbs and flows, even with your best organisational skills at work. Sometimes, you’ll be stressing your way towards multiple deadlines at once without a minute to spare, and other times you could go for weeks without having any work at all. If you’re in need of a stable source of income, freelancing may not be the best option for you in terms of making money.
- Lack of motivation
Pros and cons of freelancing
Before things get too negative here, let’s balance things by looking at some of the pros and cons of freelancing.
- Choose your own hours
Because you’re not working a typical 9 to 5, you have a bit more flexibility. For example, if you know that you’re more productive in the late afternoon/evening, it makes sense to start working a bit later in the morning. As long as you schedule your workload properly, freelancing should allow you to set your own hours.
- Work on different projects
Some jobs can be a bit repetitive. Doing the same sorts of tasks and working on the same projects day in, day out. Freelancing gives you the opportunity to pick work from a whole range of topics. One month you might be writing copy from an ecommerce site that sells antique furniture, the next you could be working on an ‘About Us’ page for a SaaS company.
- Enjoy being ‘the new kid’
If you choose to go into your clients’ workspace during your contract with them, you’ll get to socialise with lots of different people and experience how different workplaces feel. You’ll probably become a master of small talk and you’re likely to be able to avoid becoming involved in office politics.
- Avoid notorious busy periods
Shift things around or pause projects so that you can head to places when you know they’re going to be quieter. Don’t drive during rush hour – miss the traffic!
- Choose where you work
While freelancing doesn’t always equal working from home, there are a lot of opportunities to do just that. Depending on the details of individual projects, you may find yourself in the office on a couple of occasions, depending on the type of work and the client’s requirements. You could also find yourself set up in the local coffeehouse.
Depending on your personality type, you could find freelancing isolating. This could be the case whether you’re working from home everyday, or find yourself going into lots of different offices which can make it hard for you to settle.
- A different approach to promotions (and pay rises)
It’s up to you to sell yourself, set your rates and pitch your skills, so it’s also up to you to upgrade your job title or increase your pay.As a freelancer, career progression isn’t as clear as it is for employees, and there’s no boss to offer you a promotion or pay rise for doing a good job. That doesn’t mean that your career can’t progress though: if you think you’ve moved up a level in terms of skills and experience, reflect this in how you sell yourself.
- Lack of structure
This is the downside of having flexibility. Your days are unstructured…unless you choose to put structure into them. Organisation is a key part of freelancing, and it’s up to you to make sure you set and stick to a schedule to ensure that you meet deadlines.
- Budget and badger
Even with repeat clients and a (hopefully) higher-than-an-employee hourly rate, freelancing involves a certain amount of ‘feast and famine’. It just doesn’t come with the stability of a monthly paycheck. And you don’t get paid for sick days or holidays. It’s a good idea to draw up a budget and put away what you can while the pay is good, to make sure you have enough when the times aren’t so good.
You’ll also need to keep on top of payments which will involve submitting invoices to the clients and, unfortunately, chasing unpaid invoices.
How to become a freelancer
If you’re thinking about setting up a freelance business, be aware that you may need to wear a few hats. And unfortunately, they are areas which fall mostly outside of your billable work:
- Tax (Self Assessment)
You’ll need to pick a structure for your freelancing work. For example, are you a sole trader, a limited company or an umbrella? It’s a good idea to speak to other freelancers, as well as an accountant, so that you can understand the benefits and drawbacks of each.
It’s a good idea to have a written contract in place for every client you work with. If you detail everything including the brief, expectations and deadlines of a job, it will be easier to settle any disputes that come up.
Value-added tax is an amount added to the cost of almost all goods and services that are bought in the UK. The current rate is 20%. If you set up a freelance business and earn over a certain threshold, you may need to register for and collect VAT. It’s a good idea to know how VAT can affect you and your business. You may need to add VAT to your prices and send that extra money to HMRC. You’ll be able to claim back any VAT that you pay on business supplies.
Income tax: do I have to pay taxes on freelance work?
Income tax is calculated on the total amount of money you earn. You’ll pay 20% tax on earnings which exceed your personal allowance and below the upper limit of basic rate or 40% tax on earnings above the lower limit of higher rate.
Being organised: bookkeeping and accounts
As a freelancer, you need to couple your creativity with being organised. It’s so important to keep an accurate record of your finances so that you know how much money you’re bringing in. Bookkeeping is also the best way to record invoices and check who’s paid and who hasn’t.
Track your expenses
In order to have all of the info you need to do things like file your Self-Assessment tax return, you’ll need to keep track of your expenses. Here are some of our top tips:
- Get good habits started early
- Open a business bank account so you can keep business and personal payments separate payments.
- Look into things like business mileage and travel expenses, etc. There’s a load of useful information on the gov.uk website.
- Make sure you’re registered for the right taxes
- Keep a record of everything you spend (for work). That includes both receipts from shops and anything you purchase online.
- Set aside some money for tax earlier on in the year, so that you have it available if you run into a cash flow situation close to the assessment deadline.
- Keep your records safe and make sure you don’t miss any filing deadlines.
Setting payment terms
Payment terms are another important part of being a freelancer. While you can set the terms, you may need to be flexible, or be willing to change your terms depending on the client. You may also need to have quite short payment windows, in order to stay on top of your cash flow. It’s always a good idea to discuss your payment terms with a client before you work with them so that you can try and avoid surprises or problems.
Stay on top of invoicing. Tell your clients when you’ll be invoicing them and stick to that. Otherwise, your payments will be delayed and you may find yourself struggling with cash flow. Also, don’t be shy about chasing people if they forget to pay on time.
As mentioned a few times in this piece, your cash flow is one of the most important things you’ll need to keep an eye on as a freelancer. If cash isn’t regularly coming into your account, you could find yourself desperately chasing funds.
How to make money as a freelancer
Although it’s perhaps one of the most important parts of working for yourself, knowing how to make money freelancing isn’t necessarily one of the easiest. For example: how do you know how much your work is worth and how much should you charge?
As someone looking to break into the world of freelancing and find your first client, it can be tempting (or easy) to underprice yourself. If you’ve been salaried up until this point, it can be difficult to figure out the value of your work.
However, it’s important to remember not to try and price yourself into jobs by asking for too little an amount. By that, I mean that if your rates are set too low, potential clients will begin to wonder why. If you don’t value your work, why should anyone else? The other issue with underpricing yourself is that some people may take advantage and you could find yourself working for next to no reward. While you’d gain experience, this doesn’t pay the bills.
The best way to charge when freelancing
There are two options when it comes to being paid as a freelancer: by the hour and per project.
In order to decide which is the best option for you, you’ll need to do some market and competitor research. See if you can find out what other people in your sector are charging. How does their work compare with yours and what extra skills or added value do you have that will let you charge more? Always make sure that your pricing structure is clear to potential clients before you start a job.
Setting an hourly rate
One way to calculate a freelance hourly rate could be to start with a target ‘salary’ in mind. Then, work out your expected outgoings, which could include capital expenditure, rent, utilities, travel, etc and add that amount to your target salary.
You’ll also need to think about the amount of time that you’ll be working. Remember: freelancing isn’t necessarily a 9 to 5 job; clients often expect projects to be delivered in a shorter turnaround and work isn’t always constant. Divide the total of your target salary and your costs of business by the number of billable hours you think you’ll be working.
Billing per project
As with charging by the hour, charging per project can leave you open to underpricing yourself. So it’s always worth making sure you’re happy with the amount you’re asking for, before you agree to take on a job.
If you decide to bill per project, please be aware that you’ll most likely need to take responsibility for unexpected delays from the client side.
Raising your rates
Once you’ve set your rates, it isn’t a case of that’s it forever. Pay rises in freelancing don’t work the same as with traditional, full time employment. Instead, you’re responsible for deciding when you need to charge more. You’ll need to review your rates regularly and look at raising them before you miss out. Conducting annual rate reviews with your clients, based on the experience you’ve gained in that past year, should allow you to ensure that you’re charging the right amount for your skills and experience.
You may also choose to raise your rates, depending on a specific project. For example, if a client requires a ‘rush job’, they’ll need a certain amount of work on a shorter deadline. In that case, it would make sense for you to up your rates. Another example of when you might raise your rates would be if you are working at close to your capacity. While you may still have time available, it’s now at a premium, because there isn’t much of it.
Platforms for freelancers: The best freelance websites (UK)
Now that we’ve looked at what freelancing is, how to set yourself up as a freelancer, and how to work out how your fees, it’s time to look at where you can look to find work. As well as word-of-mouth, social media, and searching on Google, it’s definitely worth signing up to a freelance platform, or two. A 2016 study by the McKinsey Global Institute found that 15% of independent workers used online marketplaces to find work. In this section, we put together a list of the best freelance websites in the UK.
Perhaps the most well-known freelancing platform, Upwork is for both freelancers looking for work and clients looking for freelancers. It doesn’t matter if you’re a freelancing expert or if you’re looking for your first gig, Upwork has something for everyone. You can apply for both short- and long-term projects and hourly or per-project work in a variety of skills.
Fiverr offers micro gigs, which are predominantly short-term freelance tasks. The platform got its name because it started off as a place where people could get or offer work for $5. This approach received a lot of criticism, especially when coupled with Fiverr’s 2014 “You’re paying too much for design” Facebook ad campaign. Since then, the base rate has been limited, allowing freelancers to charge more realistic rates for work.
One magazine editor used Fiverr to find freelancers from across the world to contribute to a special edition of Elsie Magazine. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SLfgO0ljbeE
PeoplePerHour is free for freelancers to join, all you need to do is complete an online application. If your application is approved, you’ll be able to check out a stream of projects from the platform’s international client community.
This platform offers freelance jobs from a wide range of sectors, from delivery to website development.
Have you used any of these freelancing platforms? Let us know about your experience by leaving us a comment below.
My experience on Upwork
As part of my research for this piece, I decided to join Upwork and see how I got on. I signed up and set up my profile, which probably took around 30 minutes to set up and be approved. You can add as much or as little information to your profile as you’d like, but obviously it’s a great way to grab the attention of potential clients, so it makes sense to spend a bit of time getting this part right.
I talked about my skills in the following areas: Creative Writing (I have an MA), Marketing (I’ve worked in Marketing for 6 years), Slogan (I’m interested in short form advertising and copywriting), Blog Content (SEO, proofing, research), Social Media Content Creation (Hobby).
Then I had a look through some of the available job listings for the skills I’d added and found this one which I decided to send in a proposal to:
You need ‘Connects’ to be able to submit proposals to jobs. When you set up your account, you’re given 20 Connects and applying to a job can cost you between 2 and 6 to apply for. You can buy more if you run out. I don’t know yet if there are other ways to earn them but you can roll over any unused Connects to another month (up to a total of 140).
Connects can be returned to you if a project is cancelled by the client without them making a hire, or if a job post is removed by Upwork for violating the Terms of Service. Please be aware though that you won’t get your Connects back by withdrawing a proposal you’ve sent.
I have no idea how long you have to wait to hear back from a job, so I’ll keep an eye on my messages.
I waited a couple of days but unfortunately, I didn’t hear anything back from the jobs I applied for. I’ve read a few things about it being really difficult for new Upwork members to get work. The advice seems to be to apply to the really low-hanging fruit and work a couple of gigs for much less than the rate you want to be working at. This isn’t a long-term strategy because you do deserve to be paid your worth, but I wondered if it worked in terms of kickstarting your Upwork career…
To test this theory, I thought I’d put in for a random job where the pay seemed very low for the amount of work. I picked a job but completely underestimated the amount of work the client was looking for. Typically, this was the only one that I heard back from.
The job asked for 400 words of copy for 263 pages on an ecommerce site, with a budget of $600. Now, Maths isn’t my strong point, but that sounded like a lot of work for little pay, especially when Upwork would take $110 of that for their fees. I know that was kind of the point of the test, but I’m sure there’s a much less labour-intensive job I could have a go at. This one was working out at 105,200 words for 0.0046 pence a word! I politely declined and decided to keep looking.
As I didn’t have much success in finding a job as a freelancer for this piece, I decided to approach things from the other side and use Upwork as a client in order to ask other freelancers about their experiences.
First, I spoke to Bethany. She’s pretty new to the world of freelancing, so I was interested to find out how she’d got past some of the hurdles I’d experienced in terms of setting up a profile on Upwork.
Bethany’s experience of Upwork
“I have been freelancing for four months. I entered the freelance market after quitting my full-time job as a journalist to travel. I needed work which worked around my schedule, that I could do wherever I was in the world. Freelance also offered a big variety of jobs to keep me engaged and broaden my resume.
For my first two months on Upwork I was working as a journalist, which accounted for around 80% of my income. During this time, I freelanced in the evenings, and supplemented my day-job salary by about 20%. At first, I charged a low hourly rate of around $15 an hour to build up my reviews, but have since raised this to $25 per hour. Upwork freelance now accounts for 100% of my earnings, and I find it easy to support myself on this, given the large volume of jobs coming in.
My most positive experience on the site has been working with a food blogger, who was looking for a regular ghostwriter to turn her recipes and ideas into engaging articles. We have a great working relationship – she’s always very clear about what she’s looking for from each post, gives me plenty of notice about deadlines, and was understanding when I needed a few days off to move house last month. She recently employed a couple of other ghostwriters who charge a higher hourly rate than me, and she immediately offered me a raise so I was earning the same.
However, not all clients have been this helpful. In my first month I took on a contract with a product review website, which offered just $15 per 1,000 word article. There was a huge amount of research involved, and on submission the client sent back a long list of changes he wanted. The whole job took me more than 12 hours – I ended up taking an hourly rate of around $1!
Another criticism I have of the site is the high commission it takes. Although I appreciate it is free to use the platform, the 20% fee adds up, especially on high ticket jobs.
My specialism is lifestyle, travel and fashion articles. Often these call for a strong focus on SEO. My travel writing tends to be inspirational, destination specific information for people trying to decide where to go on holiday. These centre on attractions, money saving tips, and descriptive trip itineraries.
A recent article required me to outline adventure travel in the Swiss Alps, with detailed information about how to hike in the area, skiing resorts and the area’s history. This was particularly interesting.
When I first started, I struggled to get work. For every 40 connects sent I earned about $20, which didn’t feel like good value. However, since building up reviews on my profile I am having a much higher success rate – earning more than $100 for every 20 connects spent. Connects are fairly good value, although for new freelancers it does feel like a steep investment with no guarantee of work as a result. However, on balance I like that Upwork has this system, as it means people think more carefully about which jobs they apply for, which keeps competition focused.
Before my profile was accepted on Upwork I used freelancer.com. The site is a lot less professional than Upwork, and profiles are not screened before they go live. I had a lot of illegitimate clients contact me on there, including men looking for sex. This is very different to Upwork, which has a strict application process for clients and freelancers. There seemed to be a lot more competition on freelance.com. The jobs I applied for often had 30 + applications, compared to Upwork, which is normally in the region of 5 – 10.
I generally keep my rate the same – $25 / hour or 500 words. If someone is offering long term work or wants more than 10 articles, I will sometimes knock $5 off per $25. Fairly often people aren’t willing to pay this, but I get enough job offers that this doesn’t affect business.
If someone states they are looking for new freelancers willing to write 1,000 for $15 I won’t bother sending an application.
I generally look for jobs which fall in my specialism of travel, lifestyle and fashion. There are a lot of travel blog clients on Upwork. I also seek out jobs which promise long-term work, as my ideal situation is building up a rapport and regular schedule with a client. I also look at how much the client has previously spent, as this adds authenticity to their advert. I don’t mind where the client is based, but always look for jobs which call for native English speakers, as generally they pay a fairer rate.
My top five tips for getting work
- When you first start don’t be afraid to ask your clients to end the contract and write a review before sending more work. Reviews make a huge difference to the amount of interest your profile will attract, and also the rate people are willing to pay you.
- Always send examples of your work with an application, even when the listing does not call for them. It shows you can do the job, and will make you stand out. If you don’t have any published work yet then write some based on listings that interest you – around 500 words should be fine.
- Apply for as many jobs as possible when you first sign up, and be prepared to work for a lower rate while you get your reviews up.
- Written a blog post for a company? Find their social media, and offer your services to increase their followers. If they don’t have social media then offer to set one up. Or, offer to improve their landing page and about us sections. Look for opportunities to increase your involvement with the brand.
- Keep your applications short and specific. Clients don’t care about where you went to college, unless it’s very relevant to the job. I try to keep my applications to less than 150 words.”
It’s great to hear that you can quite quickly settle into a freelancing routine that’s within your comfort zone and allows you to work on projects that fall into your interests. I’d heard that it could be quite difficult to get started as a freelancer on Upwork, but speaking to Bethany shows that it is possible.
To see if there’s the potential for long-term freelancing opportunities through a platform like Upwork, I wanted to speak to someone who’s been doing this for a while.
Jamie’s experience of Upwork
How long have you been freelancing?
On and off to varying degrees for about 10 years, since I completed my degree in journalism at university. Currently, I am a full-time freelancer and I was also a full-time freelancer for a couple of years between around 2014 and 2017. I’m applying for some full-time jobs but would intend to continue with some freelancing on the side if that was possible, depending on the role.
Why did you decide to do freelance work?
Initially, some work fell into my lap towards the end of my time as a student and then I needed to freelance during a period of unemployment after university. While in full-time employment I’ve used freelancing as a chance to earn some extra money on the side and that encouraged me to give freelancing a go full-time in 2014 when I decided to leave a job in marketing.
Freelancing always appealed to me due to the flexibility offered – being able to work for myself, pick and choose my projects and take time off whenever I wanted. So when I became extremely unhappy in my job last year it felt natural to return to freelancing for a period of time to regain some work-life balance. I’m about six months into this latest period of freelancing now.
What percentage of your income would you say comes through Upwork? (and how do you find the rest?)
It varies but at the moment it’s a large majority – perhaps over 80%. When I first joined Upwork in 2016 it was a small percentage but over time as I have become established on the platform it has become easier to win work from clients. I still have working relationships with clients I met on the platform years ago, so there is a decent base level of earnings I can rely on.
Can you tell me about one of your most positive experiences of Upwork?
Some Upwork projects have reminded me that I have a wide skill-set. Most of my work – on and off Upwork – is as a writer, but I have worked in the past as an editor as well.
Last year I applied for a project editing a children’s book and I won the gig. The client was happy with my work and it opened a door for me – there’s no reason why I shouldn’t branch out further into editing work. Without being on Upwork, it’s unlikely I would have had a chance to prove that I can do this type of job, whereas now I would be very comfortable bidding for other similar projects as I have successfully completed one.
Can you tell me about one of your most negative experiences of Upwork?
Generally, I’ve been lucky with my clients on Upwork and there’s only been small issues with most of the people I have worked with.
One of my most negative experiences was when I was hired for a project that looked set to give me a decent chunk of well-paid work over a long period and then the client decided to go in another direction. I’d been holding off on bidding for other projects due to thinking I had this other work in the bag, so this was a setback, but the client was apologetic over it and it did not take me too long to be able to move on by winning other contracts.
What kind of topics have you written about? Is there anything you’ve found particularly fun or unusual?
I specialise in sport/betting/casino content and most of the content I produce for clients on Upwork fits into one of those three categories. But I also work on some travel/SEO content and I find this is something I enjoy a lot. I used to work on travel content a lot a few years ago before drifting towards sport, so it has shown me I can be flexible and work in other areas.
I have also done some work on CBD, which looks to be a big growth area on Upwork, and have considered pitching myself as a specialist in this area as well. In quiet periods, I’m not fussy at all and I’ve done a chunk of work on cryptocurrencies in the last few months as well. I’ve been working as a writer for long enough that if the rate is right, I’m comfortable working on almost any type of project, though I refuse to work on academic papers for moral reasons.
What is it like being a freelancer on Upwork?
It can be a slog. There are a lot of clients who claim to be looking for quality work but don’t want to pay the rate required to secure that. Obviously, it’s a global platform so you can be competing with people who are willing to work for very low pay. But being a native English speaker usually gives me an advantage over people and it isn’t impossible to find clients willing to pay a decent rate. Some clients try to haggle over my rates, which is never fun, and that is always a red flag that they are going to be difficult to work with. I have 100% job success on Upwork so I clearly don’t need to be taking very low paid work, but some clients will still try their luck. Clients also often seem to think placing big orders should result in them paying a lower rate, but actually that just gives me less time to work on orders at my standard rate.
It’s difficult to say what my success rate looks like as I don’t know what it is for others but according to my profile, I’ve applied for 50 jobs in the last 90 days. I’ve been hired about 15 times in that period, though some of these were from being approached directly by clients rather than bidding on projects. Since I became Top Rated I find clients approach me regularly – around once a day I’ll receive an invitation to a job but they often won’t be of interest for varying reasons. In terms of connects, I have to top them up about every six weeks, so I’m spending $10-15 on them a month. While this is a small amount compared to my earnings, I do resent having to pay to bid for jobs, with Upwork also taking a large chunk of my earnings. Last month, after Upwork fees and converting from USD to GBP, I earned around £2,000 through Upwrk.
On the plus side, not having to worry about getting paid or sorting out invoices is a big tick in the box for me. I’d rather spend the time I would be using for admin on actually working and earning, so I don’t resent the Upwork fees too much, though I think 20 per cent to start is quite steep.
Have you used any other freelancing platform? (If so, how does your experience there compare with Upwork?)
I signed up for People Per Hour but didn’t find a lot of appealing jobs being listed, or work that was in line with my specialisms while being new on that platform was always going to make it harder to win work than on Upwork, where I have a proven track record over a number of years. But I am aware that at the moment I am too reliant on Upwork and if I needed to come off the platform for whatever reason I would find myself in a difficult position where I would have to try out other similar options. It was also a massive faff joining PPH as my profile kept being rejected and I couldn’t find out why. That put me off it quite a bit.
How do you decide your rates or which jobs to send proposals for?
Presently I’m trying to establish a higher starting rate – $0.05 per word – as I have enough regular gigs that I think I can be more ambitious with my earnings. I’ll only bid for jobs where I think the client is going to accept that rate, or close to it, and I always check their reviews. Clients who are new to Upwork are trickier but I’ll often take a gamble on working with them.
I am flexible with my rates as some work is obviously easier to complete. If it’s something I’m going to be able to do quickly, I don’t mind lowering my rate a little, but if I need to do a lot of research then I have to try and charge more. If it’s easy work and on something I want to write about then I don’t mind earning less for some projects.
I have various search terms for my specialist areas that I check 2-3 times a day, so hopefully, I’m seeing them before any rival freelancers. I don’t usually send proposals for jobs listed more than a day ago, unless there haven’t been a lot of bids and I think I’m a strong fit for the work.
What are your top 5 tips for getting work through Upwork?
- Get a niche. Generalists will never be able to work for the same rate as specialists.
- Be selective applying for jobs. Time spent bidding on jobs you won’t get is time wasted.
- Tailor your proposals. Find relevant samples and don’t just send the same cover letter.
- Pick clients carefully as a bad review from a difficult client will hurt your JSS badly.
- Update your profile regularly to make sure it’s showing your work in the best light.
While going freelance requires a lot of hard work, if you have valuable skills and are willing to put in the time it takes to find jobs and manage your own invoices and admin, it could be the career path for you.
If you’re looking for an extra income on top of your day job, rather than a total career change, there are lots of other ways to make money online that you might want to consider, many of which are less labour-intensive and don’t require as many skills or experience. Matched betting allows you to generate an income by using the free bets offered by bookies, and you don’t need skills or experience to make money — all you need is free time. You can also use software to make the process even easier. To learn more about this, read our matched betting guide.
Other options for making money online include completing online surveys in exchange for cash, dropshipping, and retail arbitrage. You could also try your hand at becoming an influencer on social media: take a look at our guide on how to make money on Instagram and read our interview with a real influencer to learn more.