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How I Went from Earning $10 to $100 an Hour on Upwork

Take a wild guess at what the number one fear of starting your own business is…

Fear of not being able to get clients!

I’ve heard it all!

I hate marketing.

I don’t know how to get clients.

The proofreading market is saturated. (Pssst… it’s not!)

It’s too hard to make money on Upwork.

R.J. Weiss from The Ways to Wealth is here to share his secrets to being successful on Upwork and prove to us that it’s possible to stand out from the crowd.

Take it away, R.J.!

How I Went from Earning $10 to $100 an Hour on Upwork

Most freelancers have a love-hate relationship with Upwork.

There are no doubt quality jobs on the platform, regardless of your profession and skill set. But the difficulty of landing your first few clients, the competition to win more clients, and the ever-changing fee structure have led many people to leave the platform before scoring their first contract.

In my case, Upwork helped kick start a full-time work-at-home career. On my first project, I made $50 writing a simple brochure, which took around five hours. By the time I stopped using Upwork as a freelancer, I had completed twenty-six jobs and was billing over $100 an hour.

Want to make money on Upwork? Here’s how you can stand out from the crowd!

How did I ramp up my hourly rate so quickly and become part of the minority that thrives on the platform? By implementing the two-part strategy that I outline below.

Whether you’re a proofreader, an editor, a writer, or belong to one of the dozens of other professions that can make money on Upwork, this formula can help you land more clients and increase your rates.

Let’s dive in…

Strategy #1: Have a Winning Profile and Proposal

As someone who now hires freelancers on Upwork, I can tell you that the majority of proposals I receive are bad ⁠– as in laugh-out-loud bad. Perhaps the most common mistake I see is the submission of a boiler-plate proposal that makes it obvious the applicant didn’t even read the job post.

This is good news for you as a freelancer because it means that putting in just a bit of effort allows you to stand out. Plus, “wowing” a prospective client ⁠by creating an Upwork proposal that’s far different than every other applicant is fairly easy.

Wowing a client is a two-part process:

  1. Create a winning profile
  2. Write a perfect proposal

Let’s dive into creating your profile…

Part #1: Setting up Your Profile

Before you apply for your first job, it’s important to separate yourself from the competition with a winning profile. Just like proposals, most Upwork profiles are quite poor. As such, going a bit above and beyond lets you separate yourself from the crowd.

Here’s how to stand out.

Use a Professional-Looking Photo

First things first: you want to have a professional-looking photo. You don’t need to get a professional head shot by any means ⁠– a good rule of thumb is to use a similar photo to what you’d use on LinkedIn.

Write a Benefit-Rich Job Title and Overview

Want to make money on Upwork? Here’s how you can stand out from the crowd!

Upwork allows you to customize both your job title and your overview. It’s natural to make this sound like a résumé, as in making it all about you ⁠– your skills, experience, qualifications, etc.

Instead, you should focus on making your profile all about your client. Specifically, how are you going to save your client time and/or make your client money?

For example, say you’re looking to get hired as a proofreader.

Instead of opting for a job title such as “proofreader,” you might say something like, “Meticulous Proofreader with a Fast Turnaround Time.”

The same concept should also be applied to the overview section.

A good shortcut for writing in this client-facing style is to take every skill, experience, and qualification you list on your résumé and ask yourself the following question:

So what?

For example, let’s use the example of having a B.A. in English.

Instead of listing this qualification, you might say something like:

“With a B.A. in English, I’m up to date on all the latest styles of writing, so you can be 100% confident the text you’re turning in will come back error-free and exactly to your specifications.”

Advanced Tip: Beyond a benefit-rich title and overview, it’s also important to include keywords ⁠in both sections. While this doesn’t help you much when you’re first getting started, once you start to deliver projects and get good ratings, this will help you get discovered and invited to job openings by potential clients.

As for what keywords to choose, aim to overlap what’s unique about you and what’s in demand on the Upwork platform. A good exercise is to simply look at a number of current job openings to see what keywords they use.

Example keywords you may want to include in your title or overview include:

  • Book
  • eBook
  • Essays
  • Application
  • Résumé
  • Manuscript

Part #2: Writing Your Proposal like a Pro

Once you have your profile set up, it’s time to start submitting proposals. When you’re just starting out, your #1 goal is earning three five-star ratings from clients. That means you want to focus on short-term projects where you can get quick feedback.

If that means bidding under what you normally charge, consider it an investment in your future. With higher ratings you can charge higher rates, so you’ll come out ahead in the long term.

Nonetheless, winning that first job without any feedback on your profile isn’t easy. Here are four tips to make it happen as soon as possible:

Tip #1: Read the Proposal Thoroughly

When applying for jobs on Upwork, think quality over quantity. Taking twenty minutes to craft a proposal that addresses the needs of the client better than everyone else is going to help you land that first gig.

Tip #2: Show Social Proof

If you’re brand new to Upwork, you lack the #1 form of social proof on the platform: client feedback. However, that doesn’t mean your proposal should lack proof demonstrating your skills.

Other forms of proof include samples from past projects, mentions of previous clients you worked with outside of Upwork, and even linking to your portfolio or website.

Tip #3: Aim to Continue the Conversation

When I would write a proposal, my goal wasn’t to win the job outright. Instead, my goal ⁠– once I demonstrated I understood the client’s needs ⁠– was to have a conversation.

To do that, I would include a question in my proposal that demonstrated I knew what I was talking about.

Here’s an example. Although I started out as a freelance writer, I eventually combined two skills (writing + design ⁠– more on this to come) to increase my rates. Therefore, I would ask a question along the lines of:

“Based on your job proposal, it sounds as if you’re looking for a design similar to example.com’s. That’s definitely something I can put together, but can you please confirm that something along those lines is what you’re looking for?”

Advanced Tip: Create a Customized Video Proposal

If there was a job I really wanted, I would take five minutes and create a customized video proposal for the client. The video was by no means professional. I used my computer’s webcam, would record for 2–3 minutes, and then upload it to YouTube (making sure to mark the video as private).

I’d then send the link over to the client, opening my proposal with something like:


I imagine you’re getting a lot of proposals looking and sounding exactly the same. To stand out, I created a quick video just so you can get to know me a bit more, and to show you how enthused I am about potentially working together.

{Insert link here}

Strategy #2: Acquire Skills in a Fast-Growing Niche

Having a profile and proposal that stands out will help you land quality jobs on Upwork. You might even earn a slightly above-average wage compared to others in your niche.

However, say your goal was to earn an hourly rate that puts you in the top 5% of freelancers in your field. How would you move from average to the top?

While there’s no surefire formula, there are certain principles you can use to help you achieve that goal.

Personally, I started out as a freelance writer on the platform. As someone who had worked in financial services for five years, I had a good knowledge of the field and was able to land a few clients.

At first, the earnings were less than life-changing. I earned $50 for my first job, spending hours writing a brochure. I continued to earn hourly rates within the $20 to $30 range on similar gigs once I gained positive feedback.

Where things really changed for me was when I heard of a concept called The Star Principle, developed by the author and investor Richard Koch. Koch got himself named to London’s Rich List (the London Times’ version of the Forbes 500), with a net worth of over $500 million, by investing in what he calls Star Businesses.

Unlike other investment philosophies, his method for finding Star Businesses was pretty simple. By his definition, a Star Business was a business that was in a fast-growing sector and was #1 in its market.

My thought was to take this same concept and apply it to freelancing. My goal was to become the #1 freelancer in a fast-growing niche.

At the time, there were a number of drag-and-drop landing page builders coming to the market. I noticed that on a few of my writing assignments, clients had uploaded the copy I had written into a landing page platform called Unbounce. And a brief search showed that no freelancer on Upwork was specializing in Unbounce landing page design.

As such, I signed up for a free trial and started to learn the basics of the software. I was then able to combine my skills in writing with a new skill: creating landing pages inside the Unbounce platform. From what I could see, few freelancers offered a combination of both writing and design, which allowed me to quickly stand out from the crowd.

Once I had a few gigs completed in this new niche ⁠– again working at a low hourly rate to build my portfolio ⁠– I started to quickly ramp-up my rates. This wasn’t gradual either: I was able to move from $25 to $75 an hour within just a few jobs. Soon, I was earning over $100 an hour. Even better, I stopped applying for jobs; instead, I was typically invited by clients.

As a proofreader, you can use the same principle to increase your rates. The idea is to add a new skill that, when combined with proofreading, can allow you to become the top freelancer in a fast-growing niche.

Good questions to ask here are:

  • What skills can I add as a proofreader to make myself 10X more valuable to a client?
  • What are some overall trends I’m aware of that are growing fast?


Want to make money on Upwork? Here’s how you can stand out from the crowd!

A good piece of career advice that I read a while ago came from Scott Adams, creator of the comic strip Dilbert and author of How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big.

His advice isn’t to become the best at one thing. Instead, it’s to be very good at two things. For me, this made a lot of sense because becoming the best is hard. However, being in the top 25% in two things is something I could see myself doing.

There are many proofreaders out there vying for clients. That’s why being an expert in a certain niche ⁠– especially when that niche is growing in demand ⁠– can provide you with better pay and more job security.

If you’re interested in learning about a few other in-demand skills, you can check out this article I wrote highlighting some of the best part-time jobs for making money fast. These can also be solid, flexible options if you need to supplement your income while bidding low on your first few Upwork projects.

Our Take

Wow! Thank you for sharing that really helpful and actionable advice with us, R.J.! I really hope y’all are pumped to go out and implement these tips to get clients and make money on Upwork. A word of warning though: Make sure you’re 100% confident your proofreading skills are up to scratch before you search for clients or else you may not get those five-star ratings you’re hoping for!

Your Turn

Want to verify your skills before you look for clients? Find out how you can hone your proofreading skills by taking our FREE Intro to Proofreading workshop!

RJ Weiss

R.J. Weiss is the founder and editor of The Ways To Wealth, a Certified Financial Planner, husband, and father of three. He’s spent the last 10+ years writing about personal finance and has been featured in Forbes, Bloomberg, MSN Money, and other publications.

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  1. Great article! Lots of awesome and useful insights! Thank for sharing some of your knowledge to help others.

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