AttitudeEarnEntrepreneurshipFreelanceGuest Post

How to Get High-Paying “Whale” Clients on Freelance Platforms like Upwork and

The Inuit’s discovered that catching a fish would feed them for a day, while catching a whale would feed the entire village for a year. Although a lot more work, catching a whale was far more rewarding. Freelancers can learn a thing or two from these fishermen! Today’s guest post is by Biron Clark of Career Sidekick — and he’ll be discussing how to land whale clients. Over to Biron…

Finding large, successful clients as a freelancer can transform your business. One of the biggest benefits is that they’re more likely to provide ongoing work or additional projects in the future. Instead of constantly chasing new work, you can spend more time on tasks that actually earn you money! These clients also tend to appreciate high quality work and pay well for it, instead of trying to drive your price down.

This article will explain what you need to do to make yourself credible and attractive to the best clients as a freelancer so you can start taking advantage of this.

Identifying “Whale” clients

If you’re using a freelance marketplace like Upwork or Freelancer, look at a client’s hiring history and how much they’ve spent. Ideally you’d like to see that they’ve spent thousands of dollars.

Also look at how they describe the project. Do they seem focused on cost or quality? You need to find clients that see the benefit and potential payoff of high quality work and are willing to pay a premium for it.

Most freelance sites will also let you filter jobs by hourly rate or total project rate. So you could adjust your settings to only see jobs paying above a certain amount. Here’s what the settings look like on Upwork:

Find Upwork Whale Client

Your Freelance Profile

Before you apply for jobs, you need a great profile to impress potential clients. Whether it’s on a site like Upwork or on your own website, your profile needs to speak to what they care most about- the quality of your work and the benefits it will bring them.

If you’re providing SEO services, talk about how you can help their business use search traffic to bring new customers to their website. Business owners don’t care about ranking in Google specifically, they care about getting qualified leads and turning them into customers.

Also, I’d recommend niching your services down. Using the SEO example, you could specialize in local SEO, SEO for restaurants, SEO for ecommerce businesses, etc. If you find this isn’t working, you can back off and go a bit broader, but most freelancers start out too broad and get overlooked because of it.

Next, you’ll want to show a track record or talk about past successes. If you can display past work as a portfolio, do that as well. Upwork has a portfolio feature built in, as do most other freelance sites. If you do not have past work, try to complete a sample project on your own so that you’ll have something to showcase. Make it as relevant and realistic as possible to what your ideal clients would hire you for.

Also take a look at some of your competitors. Find the freelancers who are charging premium rates and delivering high quality work in your field. How do they describe themselves? Notice the language they use and how they present their services, and borrow some of what sounds best.

Finally, consider adding a video to your profile to increase trust and familiarity. One of the most memorable things about a freelance designer that I hired on Fiverr was a simple video where she introduced herself and said “I’m a designer and I take pride in the work that I do.”

Your Pitch

You should open your proposal by showing them that you’ve read their job posting and understand what they need. Reaffirm that you fully understand the project and can deliver a great result. Remember to present yourself as a specialist and an expert in what they need, not a generalist.

Then talk about how your skills and experience will help you succeed. If possible, mention past projects you completed.

One of the most eye-catching proposals I received when looking for a virtual assistant on Upwork was this simple message: “I would like to apply for your job. I have completed two very similar jobs in the past. One required me to compile a list of over 100 law blogs and one required me to find 200 blogs of different categories like fashion, travel, science, sports, etc.”

For a job paying thousands of dollars, you’d need to say more than that. But having this type of information near the top of your proposal is highly recommended. One other thing that caught my eye later in the proposal from this same freelancer was a simple line saying, “I could do this for you within 48 hours.”

If you don’t have any past work to refer to, send them the sample project you created when making your profile. Don’t tell them it’s a sample; just say it’s a project you recently wrapped up.

Then, to make sure they see you as an expert and somebody who knows more than them, you should highlight a few opportunities you see. Be clear and straight-forward. Use phrases like, “here’s what I’d recommend” or “here are a few opportunities that immediately stood out to me.”

Consider sending a video proposal or a mockup of what you’d provide them if you really want to stand out. Make sure they can tell it’s customized for them, and not a general video you send to everyone.

As a final step, once you have a pitch you’re comfortable with, edit it so that you’re using the word “You” at least as much as the word “I”. Talk about their needs more than yourself. Remember they want results and benefits above all else. Don’t sell SEO, copywriting, design, etc. Sell more leads, more sales, more engagement, or whatever their underlying objective is.  

I’d also recommend every freelancer post one job as an employer on Upwork just to see what the experience is like. Most jobs will receive 15-20 applicants or more, so it’s important to see first-hand what really stands out in a pitch. You don’t need to hire anyone to see this.

The Interview

Before going into the interview, make sure you’ve checked out their website. Also make sure you understand their business and how the project you’d be working on fits into this.

They’re likely to ask you to tell them a bit about yourself at the start, so you should prepare a quick elevator pitch ahead of time… a 30 second description of what you do and why they should be interested.

Then, go into the interview with excitement and don’t be afraid to offer up ideas and tell them what you’d do. They’re looking at you as an expert, so the last thing they want is someone who seems hesitant, reserved, or unable to offer up any new ideas.

Have a few past examples in mind that you can talk about too. It’s very likely they’ll ask something like, “Tell me about your experience with SEO?” You need to be able to dive in and share some of your experience without hesitation.

Finally, prepare a few questions you want to ask them. What do you need to know to decide if the project is a good fit? That’s what you should ask. The best freelancers don’t accept every gig they’re offered, so you need to seem careful about selecting the right jobs. This will impress the potential clients you speak with.

Final Tips

As a final word of advice, don’t be intimidated by the number of freelancers you’re up against. You’ll often see that 20 people have applied for a single job on Upwork, but only a handful are sending well-written proposals that are tailored to the client’s needs, and even fewer are sending a video or mockup.

Sure, it’ll take more time upfront, but landing even one of these big clients makes it very worthwhile, both from the business they’ll give you and the other clients they can refer you to.

By offering premium work, presenting yourself as an expert, and charging a price near the top of the market rate, you’ll attract better clients without having to compete with the vast majority of freelancers.

About the Author: Biron Clark is an online marketer and location independent entrepreneur who left his job as a Recruiter in 2015 to travel full time. He created the blog Career Sidekick to help job seekers achieve more with the skills they already have, and also authored The 40 Minute Job Interview Cheat Sheet.

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  1. Couldn’t agree more with your post Biron.
    Better to have a few quality clients that numerous low ballers.
    On upwork, profile, portfolio and the first 2 lines of the proposition are the key.
    As a client there myself sometimes, it is true that the number of proposals can sometimes be astonishing but that the well crafted ones represent maybe only 10% of them : mostly generic ones.
    Craft your proposal and you’re already above 90% of your competitors. I find it fairly easy to find work there. Probably get the jobs I apply to 80% if the time.
    Also I do tend to suggest to only apply to jobs that you feel confident you can get: upwork will see that your proposals have a higher rate of being selected, and therefore you’ll have more chance to appear on the top of the list when you apply. (At least that’s what I think)

  2. Thanks for writing this! One thing I’ve noticed when applying for design jobs on UpWork is that it seems so many applicants apply — often times a job was posted 20m ago and there have already been 50+ applicants. Any tips for how to address this?

  3. Great tips and my experience as well. I just started doing Upwork a few months ago and have had a mixture of low & high-paying clients. I have been blessed with one long-term client.

    I also think it is good advice to not take every job offered. I have turned down some due to money or time. Sometimes I am too busy with other projects to take on more & other projects are good opportunities but are not worth the pay.

    Sometimes it stinks saying no, but, if you wait & look hard enough, something better will come along soon. My general rule of thumb is that it has to pay the equivalent of $10/hour for me to consider. I have only done fixed-price work.

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