10 Tips for Applying to Jobs on Upwork and other Freelance Websites

As I’ve said in previous articles, I have been able to earn between $20-$60 an hour writing freelance articles online. Meanwhile, I have observed other freelancers who are only able to make $10-$15 an hour with their writing. What’s the difference? How am I able to earn five times as much per hour as other university educated, native English speaking writers? Because I know the strategy necessary for applying to jobs on Upwork.

If you take a moment to read through this blog, and any of my other writing, you will notice that my writing is far from A+ academic material. So why do I get such great writing jobs? Because I know how to apply for them. Many writing positions on websites such as Upwork have upwards of 20-30 applicants. So how in the world do you set your application apart?

Let me tell you.

*Note: Odesk is now Upwork

How to Stand Out When Applying for Freelance Jobs

Whether you are a writer, programmer, photographer, or any other type of freelancer, there are several steps that you can take to ensure that you receive more jobs than the average applicant – at a higher than average rate (the average writer on Upwork makes $8-12 per article – my average is $35)*. If you are interested in winning high-paying freelance jobs, read the rest of this article and you should be a step closer to receiving a livable wage online.

* This is an older post, my rate for a blog post now sits at around $200.

A Sample Odesk Job Application

To help you learn how I win contracts on Odesk, let me start with a sample job application cover letter that I would send to a client when applying for a job. We will assume that the job is for a leadership consultant website.

As an MBA graduate with some doctoral experience, I believe that I am more than qualified to write for your website. I have written on a variety of business related topics and you are welcome to view samples of my writing at roberterich.com, roberterich.hubpages.com, and moneynomad.com.

I would like to write a trial article for you to evaluate whether or not we are a good fit. How about I write an article entitled “How Exercise Enhances Your Ability to Lead” and have it for you by tomorrow afternoon. If you like the article, you can pay me and I will continue writing for you. If, however, you are not satisfied with the article, I will not charge you anything and we can happily part ways.

Can you send me a link to your website so that I can observe your current style and focus?

Thanks and have a great day!

Rob Erich, MBA

Tip 1: Have a Portfolio to Show People

One very important element of my application above is that I mention website where I currently have samples of my writing posted. Sometimes I will send people to a specific article that I have written, but usually I send them to my websites and/or website that I have written for in the past.

If you are a writer, consider posting articles on HubPages – it’s an easy place to post content, it looks professional, and you even get paid based on the number of views that your articles have. Although you won’t get rich, I have made $600+ from HubPages over the last few years. More importantly, it’s an easy place to send people for samples of my work. You can learn more about HubPages with this article that I wrote a while back.

There are a variety of websites that other freelancers can use to post their projects. No one wants to hire a freelancer without being able to see their work. If you don’t have any paid work yet, then simply show samples of your own projects for school or fun. Furthermore, consider doing a few volunteer projects – these are great ways to build up a portfolio while making a positive difference in the world.

Tip 2: Consider Having Your Own Website

If you are at all serious about freelancing, then setting up your own website is one of the most important steps you can take. This is an easy place to show samples of your work and make it clear to potential clients that you are a professional. Anyone can apply for a freelance job – but someone who takes the time to develop their own website reveals that they are serious about their work.

To get started, I recommend using iPage – as they have great hosting with excellent bonuses (including $100 of Google advertising that you can use to promote your business). You will then want to install WordPress (which you can do from your iPage account) to set up your website. It is relatively easy – and I’ve developed a guide to help you get started with this.

Although it takes a little bit of work, setting up your own website will make it much easier to pick up freelance jobs.

Tip 3: State Your Qualifications and Past Experiences

If you have any type of degrees, certifications, or previous experiences that are related to the job you are applying for, be sure to briefly mention it. Even mentioning a book you have just read or mentioning something insightful about the topic can give you a leg up – as it shows that you are at least relatively aware of the subject.

Even though I dropped out of the PhD program, I still mention that I have taken doctoral classes – and this gives me a leg up against much of the competition. Of course, even without a college degree, you can pick up writing jobs. The key is to constantly be learning and developing yourself – and then mention these activities when applying for jobs.

Tip 4: Offer a Trial Article With No Commitment

I have hired freelancers in the past for my own projects – and it is very risky. If I pay you to design a logo for me and it costs $100 and takes 2 weeks, only to come out looking terrible, I’m in trouble. I’ve just spent a lot of money and time waiting for something that is worthless to me.

Therefore, I always offer a trial article to my clients. It completely eliminates the risk! If they don’t like the article, they don’t have to pay for it. If, however, you are as awesome of a writer as they hoped, then it’s a win for both of you.

Although I have written a few articles that the client turned down, this practice has earned me far more writing jobs than I would have had otherwise.

Tip 5: Keep Your Rating High

Another benefit of writing trial articles is that it prevents ratings from clients who don’t like your work. And this is incredibly important. A 4-5 star rating is absolutely necessary for winning high-paying contracts. If past clients think you do shoddy work, why should anyone else hire you?

The key to keep your rating high is to tell people that the rating matters. After I finish a project, I mention that my rating is very important for me to be able to receive future projects, so I ask that they provide me with a positive rating.

I have had several projects where it was clear that we were on different pages when it came to expectations. In these cases, I go out of my way to please the client as best as possible – sometimes even stating that they don’t have to pay me at all. Sometimes its best to drop a project entirely and refund a client to ensure that your rating remains in tact.

To develop a 5 star rating you may need to start with small contracts. I did several $10/article jobs before moving my rates to $25-$50 per 500 word article. These positive ratings helped me get additional projects at a higher rate.

Tip 6: Keep Your Applications Short

I’ve discovered that a 2-3 paragraph cover letter is the most affective way to get a project. A few times I have written incredibly long introductions – and I believe that most people skip over these. Meanwhile, one or two sentence applications won’t do for most jobs.

I believe that the key to writing a great application is to keep it relatively short, write content that is related to the job (don’t ever just copy and paste), and ask a question or two at the end.

By asking questions about the job, you are encouraging the client to respond to your post. 75% of applicants that interview me end up hiring me. Therefore, my goal is to get them to respond – then I can continue to work my magic through conversation.

Tip 7: Apply to Recently Posted Jobs

Once a job has been up for a couple of hours it will likely have 20+ applicants. At this point, it is unlikely that you will ever be noticed. I attempt to be one of the first people to apply to the job, as I know that clients are most likely to notice the first few applicants.

If a job has been posted for a while, and only has 3-5 applicants, you could still apply, but the best jobs to pick up are the ones that have recently been posted and have under 3 applicants.

Tip 8: Charge More Than You Anticipate the Job Costing

I’ve discovered that it is always a better idea to charge more and provide a high level of service than to attempt to be the cheapest freelancer. Remember that you are spending time applying to jobs, interacting with clients, and developing your writing skills – you should consider all of this when setting your rates.

My most difficult clients have been the ones that paid me the least. There are some people who want to pay $10 for a $50 article – and that can end up hurting you in the long run because they end up rating your poorly. If you try to compete by being the cheapest writer, you will be applying to the same jobs as low-skilled writers offering blog posts for $1. You can’t live in the US and afford to make $1 an hour.

The best way to make your clients happy is to charge enough that you can make revisions if necessary. If you want to make $10 an hour, and an article will take you around an hour, charge $20. Therefore, if the client needs a revision, you can make the changes and still earn your desired rate. If no revisions are needed, then you’ve just made $20 in an hour! This is far better than quickly writing an article for $5 only to discover that you will either need to revise it or receive a bad review.

Tip 9: Do Great Work

As I have mentioned multiple times, your ratings from previous clients are essential for acquiring future jobs. Therefore, do every job well. Spend the time and energy needed to perform with excellence.

I have realized that I can only write for about 4 hours in a day before I start losing it. Therefore, I write hard in the morning (my prime time) and then stop at 1 or 2 pm. This allows me to give my clients the best possible articles, and I am able to do other activities in the afternoons.

If you charge a premium rate, but deliver premium content, you will discover that your client base will continue to grow.

Tip 10: Maintain Relationships with Clients

I have a few clients that I have made $500+ from. These guys are great! While I may pick up a single job for $20 here and there, it is the repeat business that really earns you an income.

As you develop relationships with clients, it is likely that they will send repeat business to you – which is great for 3 reasons: 1) You don’t have to spend time finding new clients, 2) You know that they are familiar with your style of work – and appreciate it, and 3) You are confident that you will get paid.

Develop relationships with your clients and your revenue will continue to grow – both because you have more clients, and because you are able to charge more for the clients that you add later on.


Rob is enthusiastic about everything related to money and investing. A financial analyst and instructor, he enjoys using what he’s learned from 10 years of studying business and money to help others achieve financial stability. He founded Money Nomad in 2014!

Related Articles


  1. Some great tips here, Robert! Allow to suggest our platform too, that is a little like Odesk and Elance, except members don’t look up for jobs. Jobs are automatically matched to members according to their skills and past experience. So basically, you don’t compete, you get picked. If you want to know a little more about DOZ, I invite you to visit our site here: http://www.doz.com/experts.

  2. Hey Rob,
    I love to read you article for freelancing tips, I found your article in “Upwork tips” search, but really like Tip6 and Tip4.
    Please write such more good article about Cost estimation of projects.

    1. Thanks for being specific about what you are interested in reading more about! I always enjoy know what readers want. I will certainly write a few more articles in the near future about determining how much you should charge and how to best estimate the cost of a project.

  3. Hi,

    I have only been freelancing for a few months and I find your tips to be very true, It is really the long term projects with clients that we earn from and those clients help to build us. We improve on our skills and increase our ratings.

    Thanks much!

    1. Very insightful comment Shasha. Thanks for sharing! And great job taking the leap to freelancing – best of luck!

  4. I am happy that google search ended up with your article! So great tips for me as a beginner at upwork. Hope, they will help me and thanks a lot for writing 🙂

    1. I’m glad you came across MoneyNomad as well! Let me know if you have any spexific question. I’m always happy to provide what insights I can.

  5. Thanks for the tips! Can you help me out on how to start on upwork as a new freelancer and get my first job!!

    1. Feel free to let me know if there are any particular questions you have and I would be happy to lend you a hand! The basics are easy, but it does take time to grow your ability to land jobs.

  6. Hey Rob, thank you for sharing your experience on Upwork. I’ve been working with clients through Upwork for about six months and once I left behind the mindset that only the cheapest freelancers get the job, I was able to turn work via Upwork into a well-paying resource.
    How do you determine which jobs are worth your time to apply to?

    1. Yes, it’s a bit tricky to feel confident in charging $50-150 for 500 words when you see some people offering to do the same for $1! However, as you mentioned, once you recognize that you can write those higher paying articles it can become very profitable.

      And that’s a great question! I’ll actually write an article about how to choose the right jobs on Upwork later this week – just to answer that for you. But in short, I would recommend 1) Find jobs that you’ll enjoy/feel confident doing; 2) Check out the client to see how they pay, what other freelancers say, and what they expect; 3) Recognize that you’ll have to apply for multiple jobs for every one that you land.

      Thanks for stopping by – and great blog yourself! Good luck paying off that debt.

  7. These are great tips Rob. I especially like the one about providing a sample article with no strings attached. Who could turn that down in their right mind?

    1. Thanks for stopping by Derek! And you’re absolutely right. The free offer works extremely well — especially if you’re able to deliver something exceptional.

  8. Hi Rob, thanks for your article. I am a beginner trying to register with upwork to render legal services in contract law, corporate law & paralegal services. Kindly put me through. Thanks.

  9. “If you try to compete by being the cheapest writer, you will be applying to the same jobs that Filipino writers are offering to do for $1.” You keep pointing that filipino freelancers offer the cheapest rates, where in fact, $3 is the min rate for upwork? any good reason for that? Don’t get me wrong, you write beautiful, meaty contents which help a lot of people. You’re a wonderful writer. However, with the way you categorize people, it also leaves an impression on how you see these people. For sure, there are also other culture, race, working not only in upwork and you describing how worthy they are, isn’t helping them at all. Don’t you realize you are adding hatred by doing that? not to mention other view you as racist too..

    1. Thank you for your honest feedback. This is an older article and probably needs additional editing (regarding Upwork’s current minimum of $3/hr). And you’re right, I have no intention of coming across as culturally insensitive, and have changed the verbiage to match. Talented writers, regardless of background, should focus on charging rates in line with those listed above — provided they have exceptional English writing abilities. Thanks again for pointing out my ignorance with this, Yhel.

  10. Great tips! I’m planning to do freelance work by next month, and definitely, Upwork is one of my choices to apply for. Thank you for sharing this tips and will surely take note of it. Cheers!

    1. Glad you found this helpful! Between Upwork, Freelancer, FreeeUp, and Fiverr, you should certainly be able to find a solid start to your freelancing work.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *