How to find wonderful freelancers on Upwork (and other platforms)

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I’ve seen several articles on how to make money writing for Upwork. They’re helpful.

I’ve picked up nice chunks of change by writing for Upwork during a slow period or when I see a job that seems really interesting. For instance, I saw a job for writing a small website on cybersecurity — something I wanted to learn about. That was a fun project and the client loved it.

But all too often I see a lot of frustrated clients and even more frustrated freelancers.

You, the client, think, “I want the job done well — and I want to pay below market.

Your writer is thinking, “I want to be paid well and I don’t want to be burned.”

Here’s what I wish I could say to all clients seeking freelancers. This article focuses on writers because…well, that’s all I know.

Some people won’t write for certain industries. They hate pharma. They think real estate is boring. They love lawyers.

They’re busy. So they won’t waste the credits applying for a mystery job

One client asked for an analysis of a topic from a published book…but hadn’t thought how he’d get the book to the writer. If he expected the writer to buy the book, he needs to say so.

Another client added a PS after the project contract had started: “Please add references in MLA format.” Not every writer knows MLA. References? That wasn’t part of the job.

Experienced writers will read your project history before submitting a proposal. They won’t take a chance on working with you if it’s likely you’ll leave a bad review — or worse, no review.

So if you haven’t bothered to review your last three writers, you may have trouble getting a fourth. And then you won’t get the best, and you’ll be unhappy, and the cycle continues.

Naturally, freelancers will also see what other writers said about you! They want to see raves like, “Best client I’ve had!” “Easy to work with!” “I’d love to work with him again.”

When you see a job post that looks good but nobody’s applying, blame the reviews.

If you post a healthy fee, you’ll be bombarded with offers. But if your fees are too low, you won’t get experienced writers. A confident writer will bid on the low job but ask for a higher rate.

An experienced writer won’t work for $20 an hour, unless she’s curious about your industry and wants credits for her portfolio. Remember Upwork takes 20%. So that hourly rate is really $16 an hour.

One of my first clients told me, “I learned a long time ago: don’t go with the lowest offer.” That has turned out to be true.

Here are some recent postings:

“Experienced, native English speakers … who take their work seriously… research and write a series of articles. Citing sources, especially for science-related topics, will be required. Pay will be at $0.01 cent per word and no more than $15 per article. If you go over 1500 words, you won’t get more money.”

Writing a 1500-word article with research will require at least 2–3 hours to do a good job. Your writer will be earning $12 after Upwork’s cut. I can only wonder where the writers are coming from; they’d earn more in tips as baristas in coffee shops. To be sure, a few of these articles might give a brand new newbie some experience, but you’ll be getting a lot of turnover.

Tip: Try to find the market value for an experienced writer. For a 1000-word blog post, you should expect to pay an experienced writer a $150 to $250 flat rate.

Tip: Go fixed-price when possible. Do you want to pay more to get slower writers?

It’s not unusual for clients to negotiate along the lines of, “I need a website. But I don’t need a lot of words — just make each word carry a lot of power.”

There’s a famous quote (attributed to Blaise Pascal and Winston Churchill, among others): “I didn’t have time to write you a shorter letter. So I wrote a longer one instead.”

Don’t wait for them to come to you!

Look through profiles. A lot of people who charge at the higher end aren’t looking actively for work. Review their portfolios. Find out if they have their own businesses. Visit their websites and LinkedIn profiles, if you can identify them.

Here’s a trick to identify freelancers to invite. Set up an identity as a freelancer (if you haven’t already). This set-up won’t affect your role as a client.

Look at similar jobs posted by other clients. Go to the proposal section. Scroll down to the section where you can see feedback from previous jobs. When you see a freelance writer praised for doing a good job, look up that person’s profile. Maybe they’ll do good work for you, too.

Don’t be afraid to approach the writer directly through their websites. Often it’ll make sense to stay on the Upwork platform, especially if you have ongoing work. Some freelancers will prefer to stay on the platform to gain exposure to other good jobs. But good writers often leave the platform and you’ll want to maintain the connection.

Freelancers make their money with ongoing or larger flat-rate projects. When you’ve got a project that’s less than $500, with no opportunity for more, you’re asking the freelancer to take a risk — and accept a 20% commission for Upwork.

If you’ve got an interesting job with decent pay, and you’re easy to work with, you might have a great experience. If you do, leave a glowing review for your writer.

All it takes is one disgruntled client to send a freelancer’s rating tumbling down a star or two. Freelancers who take risks (like me!) will get ratings ranging from spectacular (“She walks on water”) to the politely negative (“We were disappointed”).

Be sure to read the freelancer’s responses. I once got a negative review for a job that was supposed to be a test to see if we were a good fit. We weren’t. There’s no place on Upwork for those nuanced situations, so the client either leaves no review or leaves a negative. A lot depends on the client’s mood of the day.

Even worse, a client who refuses to leave a rating, or abandons a job midway through, will impact the freelancer’s ratings. If you intend to see a job through, you’ll be fine.

There’s nothing worse than spending time on the phone, only to hear, “Frankly, I’m not ready to hire. I was just testing to see what was out there.” You’re insulting the freelancer, who could use that time to bid on another job.

One client sought a writer for a fairly technical project. Not wanting to talk to freelancers, he asked his daughter to conduct phone interviews.

That was a bad idea for two reasons. She had no idea what to ask. And one of the reasons for the phone interview is to see if your personalities click.

As you work with one freelancer, your needs may change. Or you may change.

Or you bring on a new team member who now works with the freelancer. That new team member wants something different…but they’re not sure what it is.

It’s not the freelancer’s fault. Don’t beat him up in the reviews.

Dr. Cathy Goodwin is an experienced copywriter and online marketing strategist. She helps service-based businesses establish their online presence and attract ideal clients with storytelling. Cathy has lived all over North America (including Alaska and Canada). She is now happily settled in Philadelphia with two adopted cats who refuse to share their stories.

Originally published in my blog,

Helping entrepreneurs and independent professionals grow their businesses one story at a time.

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