“How do I get [paid] experience as a writer/blogger? How do I get my name out there?”
Over the last six months, several of you have asked similar questions as I have begun to blog more about my experience as a freelance writer. I call myself a professional not because I necessarily know it all – successful writers never truly stop learning – but because I have spent the past few years slowly building up my portfolio and expertise, both through writing and studying communications at the graduate level (ALMOST DONE).
How have I managed to do this? Many months of writing and blogging for free, at the start. But as a short answer to this question, specifically, I use Upwork as a platform to gain experience, build relationships with clients and, yes, earn some $$$ to pay back all those student loans.
For those interested in learning more about how this service works and why it’s worth looking into for gaining writing experience and slowly building up your career, here are a few things, from the perspective of someone who uses the platform daily, you can do to get started.
I am promoting Upwork’s services in this post as a member who has found great success and continues to gain experience as a freelance writer, and nothing more. What you will find below is all based on my professional experience with the platform. Upwork has not asked me to say all the nice things I have written: that’s of my own accord. :)
Create a profile all about you and your writing
You can try linking people to your LinkedIn profile and your website and your blog – etcetera, etcetera – but when it comes to writing experience, and trying to build some kind of professional brand that’s still all about you, it’s much easier to have one profile that focuses on just you as a writer, without any interference or distractions. You get one picture. You get to list your education and experience, just like any other online resume profile. But it’s all there for the specific purpose of showing potential clients who you are and showing them exactly why you are the best fit for the work they need done.
Specify your area of ‘expertise’
If you spend enough time searching on these kinds of freelancing platforms, you will find there is a lot of work that needs doing, in many different niches. It can be overwhelming if you do not know exactly what kind of writing you want to do and therefore which jobs you will submit proposals for. My profile says I am an expert health, fitness and nutrition writer and editor. Does that seem like a mouthful? That’s because it’s specific. It tells potential clients exactly what I’m interested in writing/qualified to write about. Potential clients are less likely to ask me to write for their fashion websites (which has happened before) and more likely to approach me if they need an experienced health writer or editor for their website. The rest of my profile – my experience and past work – also reflects that as best it can.
House your portfolio, or start building one
As you may or may not yet know, when it comes to hiring freelance writers, clients usually want to see writing samples to determine whether or not your writing style and level of expertise are a good fit for their work/company. Sometimes it’s better to be able to provide a portfolio, or a collection of writing samples that relate to your preferred niche. Upwork has a space on your profile just for this purpose. The more projects you complete, the more you can add to your collection of writing samples.
Start clocking hours/completing jobs
There are two kinds of freelance writing jobs available on Upwork: fixed-price jobs, and hourly jobs. Fixed-priced jobs are usually project-by-project jobs, in which a client specifies the rate they are willing to pay you to complete the job in full. Hourly jobs use the hourly rate you specify as part of creating your profile to determine how much you will make based on how many hours you log each week. The more jobs you complete and/or the more in-progress hourly jobs you have, the better – as long as you are capable of juggling multiple jobs at once.
Do top work, get top ratings
Each client, at the end of a project, will rate you on the quality of your experience based on areas such as communication and reliability. The more projects you complete, the more ratings you will have displayed on your profile. From these ratings, Upwork generates a job success score, which is displayed on your profile. Maintain a consistent score of at least 90 percent for several weeks, and you might get a Top Rated badge – meaning clients are more likely to hire you, relevant jobs are easier to find, and more professional development opportunities become available to you as part of an exclusive top rated freelancers’ network.
Focus on experience before you focus on earnings
Clients using Upwork to post jobs and hire freelancers cannot (at least they are not supposed to) ask for any work for free. You do set an hourly rate as part of your profile based on your experience, but some fixed-price projects are based on the client’s budget. (If you want a separate post about negotiating rates, I can either provide that here or find someone with more experience to write up a post to give you more information – let me know if you are interested.) While Upwork is a way to earn money for writing, often what matters more, especially in the beginning, is your quality and quantity of work completed.
That being said, here are a few things to keep in mind as you start writing through Upwork:
- You should not expect to be able to make large amounts of money fast. Many clients hire based on your level of experience. Everyone starts out as a beginner. Do good work, maybe for a little less than is ideal, find clients who value you and your writing and earn the experience often required to earn larger paychecks.
- However, know the value of your own experience. I was told, through some searching, that charging $0.02-0.03/word is a reasonable rate for beginning freelancers, and that was what I stuck with for the first few months. That comes out to about $10.00 per 500 word article or blog post, which isn’t much. But you have to start somewhere. I would not recommend settling for anything less than that, but others in the field may have different opinions. Look around and see what others recommend as well.
- Never take on more work than you can handle. Ask specific questions as clients are interviewing you (figuring out whether you are a good fit for their job, whether it is a more structured interview or not). How many articles do they expect per week? What is the word count minimum for these articles? How do they want you to submit work? The best you can, know what you’re getting into before you agree to a contract.
- Expect to ghostwrite more often than you’d expect. The majority of clients I have worked with have either specified directly or have simply assumed that they or their company would take credit for the blog posts and articles I provide. This is common in the health space, as health information often needs to appear as reliable as possible. It may also be common in other niches; I cannot confirm that. The point is, it’s likely going to be the case for a large portion of the work you do. You either need to learn to live with that or steer your career away from freelancing – that’s just the reality of modern online publishing. Remember: not having your name on something doesn’t mean it’s worthless.
If you have any further questions about anything I’ve covered here, leave a comment and I’ll either elaborate there or create an entirely new post to follow this one up and answer your query in more detail. Keep in mind that I’m not an Upwork expert: I just use it for my own professional work. But there are definitely things I didn’t have room to cover here that you may be interested in learning more about.
Turning your passion for writing into a career is a job within itself. Always remember that every successful writer starts with nothing – no experience, no clients, likely little or no income (from writing) – and works their way up article by article (or post by post; story by story; whatever kinds of writing projects you work on professionally or personally). It’s not always glamorous or fun or fair. But it’s writing. You like it enough to want to try and do it for a living. That’s something, right?
Have you ever used Upwork, or another freelance writing platform as a means for gaining more writing experience? Did you find this or other sites helpful? What advice would you give to someone who wants to start freelance writing?
This post was written as part of the Problogger: 7 Days to Getting Back Your Blogging Groove challenge. If you have been struggling to write the engaging, well-thought-out posts your blog is known for, or have abandoned your blog completely but are ready to get back into posting more regularly, consider joining the challenge today.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.
3 thoughts on “How to Start Using Upwork to Earn the Experience You Need to Upscale Your Writing Career”
Great tips and insights Meg! I started off with Upwork (when it was oDesk) back in 2011 and found a lot of success too. It really does come down to being consistent on there, applying for jobs daily and making sure your profile is complete, right down to your portfolio and tests.
Ugh. The tests were the reason I gave up my senior year of college, hahaha. Once I had time to sit down and make it a priority obviously I realized how important those are. It takes some time but it’s definitely worth it, all but one of my current clients I found through Upwork and it’s what I plan on sticking with for as long as I freelance or as long as the service is around.