How to land clients on UpWork (template for approaching clients included)

The last blog post I wrote focused on how a self-taught developer can beef his/her developer profile with some real-world experience before applying for a job as a developer because most starting jobs for developers ask for experience. One of the methods through which I recommended landing projects was via freelancing platforms such as UpWork and Fiverr. Out of those two, the one I used and had the most success was UpWork. The purpose of this blog post, therefore, is to take you through the steps in which I approached clients on UpWork, pitched my services and landed projects.

How UpWork works is pretty simple and can be described in these steps.

  1. Create an account and fill in all the details on your skills and offerings 

  2. Verify account with the UpWork representative 

  3. Search for projects that match your skills

  4. Apply for a job that you like

Let’s dissect the above.

1. Create an account and fill in all the details on your skills and offerings 

This one is pretty self-explanatory. Make sure you fill in your correct details as it is those details that go into your income certificates from UpWork and tax filings. 

Try to populate fields such as about me, projects, expertise and anything else that you think would impress a client. Remember that this profile is what your clients will see should they want to see who made a bid on their project.

2. Verify account with the UpWork representative 

This is the stage at which a representative from UpWork will reach out to you to verify you are in fact who you are, and try to gauge your expectations, skills for being on the platform. It's nothing to be worried about much as it's pretty straightforward. 

3. Search for projects that match your skills

The search functionality on UpWork is pretty basic. You can enter the kind of work you are looking for and it will return a list of jobs that match that criterion. You can also filter by the experience level of the developer the clients are looking for, the price of the job, whether it's paid by the hour or per-project basis. 

Screenshot 2021-12-12 at 21.38.56

4. Apply for a job that you like

Okay, this is one of those times where the first impression you make has got to be the best one, as the client you are reaching out will probably get 50 developers writing to them. And this 50 is me estimating low. Remember that when you are bidding for a project on websites such as this, you are effectively entering a commodity market where price might have a big impact on whether you land the project or not. I say this as the estimate of a project from a developer based in a nation where the GDP is not so high will be lower than yours if you are from a nation with a higher GDP. 

But don't get caught up trying to be the lowest bidder. Most clients are aware that what they pay for is what they get, and are very careful about picking a developer just because they quoted a lower price. What any client wants is to get successfully have their project completed at a reasonable cost within a reasonable timespan. And who can do that? You. but you have to convince them of this. 

This is where a lot of developers fail. Most of the developers I have talked to and complained about not finding work on UpWork were not even reading the job description. They were simply copy pasting a pitch that introduced themselves and mentioned they were a react developer and can take projects on for X price. 

This is not okay. This quite frankly to me is quite lazy as it's only right to read a clients requirements and respond in kind when writing back with a proposal. Sure it takes time, but trust me when I say that any client who reads a spammy impersonal pitch will just bin it as you failed to show interest in their project from the beginning. What you need to get a client attention and hold it is to read the description. Get an understanding of what they are looking for, the problems they have so that you can in turn propose solutions. Such thinking is important when making a pitch for a project as the clients are looking for someone who can solve a business problem for them.

Think about it. If you were looking for someone to help solve a problem, would you rather pick

  • Someone who took the time to read what your problem is, introduced themselves, their skills, projects and mentioned how they intend to solve your problem

Or

  • Someone who copy-pasted message with no reference to your particular problem and how they intend on solving it

I’d go with option 1, any day of the week

I know this as before becoming a front-end developer and pitching for freelance projects such as this, I spent over 4 years in marketing and public relations. Those 4 years taught me that clients like to work with people who understand their problems, empathise and propose solutions.

A kickass project pitch doesn't have to be a very long essay. At this stage where you don't know the client and the client doesn't know you, the objective of this pitch is to break through the noise and get the clients attention. Once this is done and the client replies to you, this is where you scope the requirements of the project in more detail. With this in mind, my project pitches usually contain several set elements and look like below.

cover letter

If you have read the above, let's break it down. 

1. The salutation

If you can find the name of the client in the job description, mention it. Addressing a potential client as Dear sir is not a good start if the client happened to mention their name which is Jen. 

Another good way to find the name of a client is to head over to the reviews of the client left by previous UpWork contractors. They usually mention something along the lines of “Working with Jen was a pleasure..” etc. 

You might also find useful info about the client in this manner, as if this client has poor reviews for not paying on time or rudeness from previous contractors, it might be time to move on and pitch for another project. 

2. Introduction to self 

You expect the client to trust you with their work. So mention who you are, where you are based and your speciality. You don't have to write a resume here. Just enough to keep the client's interest till the next section, which is the hook of your message. 

3. Acknowledgement the clients business requirements 

This is where you mention what the client is seeking to achieve and how you can help with it. The amount of detail that you would go here depends on the amount of information the client mentioned in the job description. Don't write too much, keep it concise, with just enough content to ensure the client is aware that you read his job description and you understand what is required. 

In the above example, the client wanted to move his existing website which was using Contentful as a content management system to Next.js. So I used that as the hook to get the clients interest and prove that I am aware of what is required and capable of delivering. 

The client didn't provide much detail about the project? Or do you have some doubts about a certain part of the project? Ask them! Below is what I would add to the message if the job description wasn't as clear as I would like 

“I possess the skillsets and would love to be a part of your team, but would like to get more information about the expectations of the role. Doing so I feel would make our working relationship a much better one since we are both aligned on what needs to be done. I'd be glad to jump on a call regarding this if you propose a time. ”

4. Produce proof of skills via the showcase of several projects you have worked on previously. 

Clients like to see proof of previous work as they like to see their project being handled by an experienced professional who has experience in front-end development. The best way to achieve this is by mentioning your previous projects that match the project you are pitching for. If you don't have any that match this project, it's fine, mention those which were complex and is enough to impress the client. 

5. Upsell your other services 

Do you have some other skills that you think might be useful for the client? Mention it!

In my case, I was also offering design services, so I pitched that. Clients like it when contractors make their life easier, and this way he wouldn't have to go liaise with a designer and a developer. 

For me, it is a win as I also get paid for designing the app in addition to developing it. 

6. Offer a call to discuss the project in detail and sign off

Now that you’ve made our case, it's time to close the deal. Do not ask the client to reach out to you if they are interested as that's not a strong closing statement. You can instead ask the client to jump on a call to discuss more. 

Before you start sending this template off everywhere, remember to customise. Personalised marketing and approach is the best way to get a clients interest. You can then use your technical skills to seal the deal. 

Now that you have the cover letter ready, it's time to think about the cost you are proposing. There are two ways you can go about this: payments by the hour and payment by the project. 

If you opt for payment by the hour, UpWork has a handy dashboard where you can log the hours. You can read more about this here as it's a rather large but important topic you need to be aware of. 

If you opt to quote for the whole project, I recommend breaking the project into several components and quoting prices for those. This will ensure that you are paid by deliverables and not at the end of the whole project (not ideal if the project takes several months for example). You can find more information on such payments here.

PS- I will be writing an article on how to scope client requirements and estimating time and costs for a project soon. Will place that link here.

Conclusion 

UpWork in my opinion is a great platform for freelancers to find work. What you as a freelancer needs to understand, however, is that when you work in UpWork you are competing against many other freelancers who might be as skilled or even more skilled than you. To get a clients attention and convert it into a paying project, you need to be able to cut through the noise created by other freelancers. Do this by making sure your profile is always updated and shows you in the best light. Pick projects that fit you, look to be of good quality and make a good, personalised pitch to the client. 

Once you do the above, land a few projects and have a few reviews from clients on your profile, you can use those to showcase your skills and get more clients. The beginning does tend to be hard, but after a few projects, it will get better. Personally, the clients that I found on UpWork liked me well enough to be coming back to me with more projects, so I ended up not needing to depend on UpWork after a few projects!

Hope you found my experience on UpWork useful. If you have any comments, feedback or just want to say hi, you can find me on LinkedIn.

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