This is a guest post written by Jarod Spiewak.
In this guide we’re diving deep into the world of client acquisiton via UpWork.
Are you a well-established freelancer who uses UpWork on a regular basis for landing clients?
That’s fine, you’ll still get value from this guide.
Haven’t even started an UpWork profile yet?
That’s fine too…
Buckle up, you’ll learn it all in this guide.
I could write some fancy intro here. Going into who I am, talking myself up, showing you the books I keep in my garage right next to my lambos, but – I don’t feel like writing it out and you probably don’t care.
My interview with Daryl can be found here if you do want to learn more about me.
You’re here to learn about how to utilize Upwork, a platform that gets a lot of shit, but is, in my opinion, a massively unsaturated gold mine for those who want to put the time and effort into it.
Yes, there are lots of businesses looking for $50 a month services, but there’s also businesses looking for $5,000+ a month services. It’s just like cold emailing, for every 100 emails you send (jobs posted on Upwork) 5 might contact (interview) you and 1 may become a client.
But, that’s not where the real value in Upwork is…
Addressing The Obvious
shady person marketer, so I understand the suspicion.
Why would I be “revealing” something that’s unsaturated and has been doing well for me. What’s my ulterior motive?
I use Upwork a lot less now that I’ve started a new agency this year. The way that I’ve been using Upwork doesn’t scale well with my agency. I still use the platform, just not how I used to.
My profile is authoritative enough where I can generate well over 100 inbound leads a month with no effort.
This is something I’ve wanted to write for a while. But, Upwork became easy to generate clients with virtually no real competition. So I kept it to myself.
I have no courses of my own and I’m not looking for consulting calls. I’m not selling you anything, but Daryl has been kind enough to host my advanced training videos in Scientific Rankings.
A Small, But Important Side Note
What I’m going to talk about is getting SEO clients.
From the light research I’ve done, getting jobs for different marketing or digital disciplines can be incredibly different from each other. I found PPC to be much more competitive than SEO on Upwork.
Next, you’re going to be at a massive disadvantage if you’re not from a first world country as Upwork is full of $3-$5/hour SEOs that clients have hired and never gotten results. That’s where you’ll find competition on Upwork.
Pros of Using Upwork
Unsaturated For First-World Countries
When jobs have 40-50+ bids on them, close to 95% of them are low-cost SEOs pitching outdated techniques (these guys love social bookmarks.) Most of the time, looking to churn and burn.
Then there will be someone from the States with a barely completed profile that looks like shit, no history on the platform, and asking for $100/hour.
It’s not hard to stand out at that point. Clients who are looking to spend serious money will ignore most of that 95%, so you’re really only competing against a couple of people.
Assuming you stand out.
Great Place To Learn SEO, Or Execute High-Level Strategies
Because there are so many different businesses looking for different things, you can use Upwork as a training ground, testing lab, or a growth strategy.
Upwork users post jobs. They’re telling you “Hey, this is my problem and I’m looking to hire someone to solve it.”
You don’t have to worry about sales much. It allows you to focus on what you’re good at.
Not only that, but Upwork is great at helping you supplement your income. If you’re currently working a full-time job and are looking to test the waters or even if you work at a marketing agency and want to take on some side projects.
Once you have traction on the platform, you can generate as many jobs as you want and close multiple 4-figure a month projects a week.
If You’re New To SEO
Use Upwork to specialize in something specific. Only offer something like onsite or keyword research. You’ll become really good at that one thing (not an affiliate link), from there it will be easier to branch off.
Learn New Niches
We, the SEO industry, talk a lot about niching down by industry. It’s hard to know what you do or don’t like, if you’re never tried it.
Just to name some of the industries I’ve been able to work with on Upwork alone:
- Affiliates / bloggers
- Food services
- App developers
- Real estate
- White label
- Home services
- Industrial services
- And more…
I’ve learned that some industries I really like whereas others I’m not a big fan of.
Cons of Using Upwork
Just like any business model or acquisition method, there are downsides to it as well. Nothing is as simple as a “make money” button.
The Money Is In The Invite
There are two lead acquisition methods within Upwork’s platform.
Outbound – When you apply to a job that a client has posted.
Inbound – When a client posts a job and then invites you to apply to it.
Inbound leads are often more profitable, easier to sell, and generally higher quality than outbound leads.
Once you have a strong enough profile, you’ll be able to generate dozens of leads automatically on a monthly basis. It’s just a matter of building your profile up.
How long that takes depends on how much effort is put into achieving it. If you hit it hard, and by that I mean work a dozen or two jobs and receive positive reviews as well as a high success score, then it could take as little as 6-months to generate dozens of inbound leads a month.
Upwork is killer on fees.
They take 20% for the first $500 you make per client.
10% for the first $10k per client.
And then 5% from then on.
If you’re working on 4-figure monthly projects then you can reach the 5% tier in under a year, but you’re at a disadvantage if you’re working on a lot of small projects.
There are ways you can eliminate these fees, but I’ll cover that in Operation Freedom.
Now, that we’ve covered theory… let’s get into the actionable bits.
Creating An Account
If you don’t already have an account on Upwork, you may run into some trouble getting one created.
When you sign up for an account, you’ll be asked something along the lines of what service do you offer.
If you try to create an account and say you’re an SEO, you’ll get an email saying that your account was denied due to their being too many SEOs.
Choose a category that’s not marketing, something obscure. I’d mention what I managed to do this successfully on but then 95% of you would then use (and burn) that category.
Create your account using a fake category, fake info about you, etc. Complete your profile as if you really were offering that service and wanted to have a complete profile.
What’s cool about Upwork, is that even if they deny your profile they tell you that you can change what you do on it if you have multiple skills. So you can just pick something else and try again.
Keep the fake info on here until:
- Your account is approved
- Submitted your tax forms
- Linked your bank account or PayPal account for payouts
Once all of that has been set up and approved by Upwork, then switch your profile and skills over to SEO.
If you don’t want to go through all that, then just resubmit your SEO profile every couple weeks until you’re accepted.
Controllable Elements Of Your Profile
On Upwork, it doesn’t matter if you have 20 years of experience. If you have no history on your profile and your competition is someone with 1 year of experience and a couple of good reviews, you’re at a massive disadvantage.
I’m going to use a random profile to explain what to (and not) to do on yours. I have no idea who Clint L. is, but I’m gonna be throwing you under the bus buddy.
Your headline is your title tag. What exactly do you do, and why should I click on you?
It’s not inviting and it’s too technical.
Let’s break it down.
“SEO Expert” – Everyone on here is an expert. I personally don’t like using “expert” when it comes to SEO but up to you. It’s bland and doesn’t stand out.
Try “SEO Mastermind”, “SEO Overlord”, “SEO Superhero”. Put just a little bit of effort into how you present yourself.
“13 years of experience” – It’s a good footnote, but experience doesn’t mean skill. I’ve met SEOs with “20 years of experience” who barely know how to do onsite.
“Panda, Hummingbird, Penguin, Disavow” – I thought I was hiring an SEO, not a zookeeper? None of those words mean anything to most people in the context of SEO.
Let’s write something that makes Clint L worth learning more about…
It’s better, but not perfect. Adding in a number stands out even more.
Optionally, you can link to a YouTube video on your profile.
Most people don’t even use this feature, and I’d recommend filming a warm and non-salesy introduction of yourself.
Personally, I just link to a random video about SEO.
Congrats! Someone is reading your profile.
Now’s the time to bore them to death and write copy that looks just like everyone else’s.
No? Could have fooled me…
Take the time to explain how you can help the prospect’s business, how you operate, about you, and expectations.
Since there’s going to be a variety of prospects viewing your profile, it can be challenging to speak to everyone’s needs, but there are a lot of common things businesses are looking for.
As long as you talk about them more than you do yourself, and try to have a little fun – you’ll stand out.
Let’s check out Clint’s profile copy.
“My”, “I’ve”, “I”,”I”. Not once in the first 4 paragraphs of the profile does it talk about my needs.
You do SEO, cool story bro. What can you do for me?
“My name is Clint Lenard and I was born in the US (English speaker). I have spent over 14 years practicing Search Engine Optimization, for myself and clients.”
The entire first paragraph could be discarded. You want to address the prospect right away. Your first 80 characters will appear in your profile snippet when a client is viewing freelancer profiles.
Let’s give Clint some help.
“Are you tired of your competitors getting your traffic? For over 10 years I’ve helped businesses dominate on Google.”
You can also use your 80 characters to further entice a click.
“Tired of your competitors getting your traffic? Get the traffic you deserve by” (78 characters.)
I can get my competitors traffic? How? I should click to find out…
“I’ve helped many companies skyrocket their traffic in a short matter of time. I have also been involved in Affiliate Marketing for nearly 10 years, which includes SEO, PPC, Social Media, Email Marketing, Content Marketing, etc.”
The first sentence could be more appealing…
“I’ve helped dozens of businesses increase their traffic by over 250% in under 6-months”
Numbers are like beers. A couple is nice, too many will make your head hurt.
“I have also been involved in Affiliate Marketing for nearly 10 years, which includes SEO, PPC, Social Media, Email Marketing, Content Marketing, etc.”
More “I” based writing. We get it, you’re your own wet dream.
The switch to talking about affiliate marketing is also weird.
“I can help you in the planning, development and implementation of SEO, from link acquisition to Content marketing strategies, whether you’re a small mom and pop shop or a Fortune 500 company.”
The idea behind this is fine, I find the range of clients that he’s willing to work with a bit comical and I’d bring it down a notch.
“You won’t have to worry about the planning, development, or implementation of your traffic generating machine of an SEO strategy.
Whether you’re a mom & pop shop or an 8-figure organization, my onsite SEO, link acquisition, and content marketing strategies will leave you in awe!”
This is pretty much the same exact information, just rewritten in a more appealing way. The first half went from being “this is about me” to “this is about you” with just a few words being changed.
“I take my job seriously and I care about my clients’ success. I have never failed a client, because I always make sure they’re happy with the work I’ve provided.”
*Yawn*. Oh, sorry.
It’s fine to leave some room to talk about yourself, but it has to be interesting.
“I’m not successful unless you’re successful. I ensure that all of my clients are 100% satisfied with my work and frequently send satisfaction surveys via carrier pigeon”
When in doubt, use the Rule of Three.
Now, for the part of the profile that’s just complete word vomit.
WTF don’t you do, Clint? There’s a lot wrong with this.
Long list of bullet points
Break it up with some text. “Onsite SEO…” explain onsite in 2 sentences and then list 3-5 bullets about it. So on and so forth. Example below.
So Many services
SEO, CRO, affiliate marketing, PPC, Facebook ads, SMM, and blogging expert?
The list makes no sense
There’s no leading into what the list is for. It lists algorithms, SEO tactics, tools, different marketing services, and niches.
Here’s a better way to utilize the visual appeal of bullet points.
There are hundreds of tactics you can use to generate traffic, here’s just a few that I strongly believe in and use.
- Detailed audits that analyze your current assets and unique challenges
- Link acquisition through email outreach
- Content marketing for link & traffic generation
Every good marketer has a toolbox a contractor would be jealous of, here are a couple of the tools that I use.
- Screaming Frog for crawling websites
- Ahrefs for analyzing backlink profiles
- Microsite Masters for rank tracking
Spend some time and do this for your own profile. Find 5-10 SEO profiles and rewrite them into your own.
Make the focus on the results, prospect, and workflow.
Our friend, Clint, doesn’t have a portfolio.
So, we’ll use mine as an example. I tried to reflect an emotion from the viewer, greed.
3 of the 4 featured images are Google Analytics screenshots. All showing quite impressive increases.
A year over year graph showing over $2M in additional revenue and showing a 500% traffic increase are both impressive. The prospect doesn’t even need to click on these.
The average client won’t get these results. People like big numbers.
What you’ll commonly see are portfolios full of screenshots of the client’s homepage as if it was a design project.
Take your best results, and add them here. Even if it’s a ranking graph for an easy keyword that you moved up by 8 pages after changing the title tag.
It’s an attention grabber.
These are your “keywords”, essentially.
When creating a job on Upwork, the client has the ability to enter skills they’re looking for. You’re going to appear more often if you list the skills they’re looking for.
You can only have 10 of these, so keep them as close to your core service as possible. Stay away from generic ones like “Marketing Strategy” and aim for things like:
- Google Analytics
- Keyword Research
As marketers, we know that all the answers to these tests are online and don’t mean a whole lot.
To the average business owner, these are certifications that require deep industry knowledge and prove your proficiency on a subject.
I recommend getting both Google Analytics & Hubspot Inbound certified. Once you have these, you just add them to your profile and Upwork will verify that you hold them.
All the answers can be found online, not all of them are correct but they’ll usually get you in the top 10-20% of all users.
I recommend taking the SEO and English language tests. But, feel free to take as many as you’d like. Makes you look smart.
You can fill this out, I don’t think it makes a difference to those who view your profile unless you’ve worked for other agencies / companies in relatively high-regarded roles.
Personally, I didn’t have this filled out for years but ended up adding some of the agencies I’ve worked with.
I keep this blank, never saw a difference when I had it filled out.
Unless you have an MBA or attend a prestigious school, no one really cares.
No matter how many clients you have and even if you’re not currently accepting work, keep your availability on “more than 30 hrs/week”
When creating a listing, clients are able to choose how much time a job will take. If they indicate it will take more time than Upwork believes you have, you will end up with fewer invites.
As you take on more jobs, Upwork likes to be dickish helpful by changing this automatically for you. Just keep an eye on it and revert it back to 30+ if they change it.
Uncontrollable Elements Of Your Profile
There are a couple of important aspects of your profile that you don’t have direct control over.
Job Success Score
A couple years ago, Upwork switch their freelancer rating system over to the Job Success Score.
You want to keep it at 90%+ so that you can be a top-rated freelancer. You get a lot of love from Upwork when you’re in this club.
You’ll want to have top-rated status if your plan is to reap the inbound reward.
I don’t have any “real” tips about keeping job success scores up and plenty of fruitless chats with Upwork supports about some of the calculation discrepancies that I’ve found.
Basically, do good work and your score will rise. But don’t be surprised if you drop 10-points out of nowhere and support wont answer how that happened.
If you do drop, or need to raise your score quickly (it’s updated every other week) then you can take on small jobs that can be completed within 24-hours to get a positive job completion.
All the jobs you take on, and the feedback you’re provided is public, you can set these to private but I don’t recommend it.
Be careful who you work with, even if you do exactly what you said you were going to, reviews can kill your chances at getting hired.
Not too long ago, I had someone hire me for guest posting. Then fire me because all the guest posts had a PA of 1. I assumed, that because he knew what DA/PA was that he would know all new web pages has a PA of 1.
Easy for someone like us to laugh off, but if they had left feedback saying
“I hired Jarod for guest posting and all the sites were low quality.”
That doesn’t exactly bode in my favor.
Make sure expectations are 100% clear.
Want to know why I was fired and left a bad review?
After reviewing their food blog, they wanted me to tell them if their content would connect to their audience. I asked them who their personas were, they had no idea.
Apparently, figuring out who your audience is in order to determine if your content is well suited for them is too general of advice.
I saltily digress.
A big mistake I made was not following up, after jobs were completed, about being left feedback.
My profile is full of jobs with “No feedback given.” Even for clients who have worked with me on multiple engagements and provided referrals. Doesn’t matter. To Upwork, this counts against you.
So, now you understand what to expect from Upwork and how to stand out when you’re applying to jobs and when clients are looking for you.
Let’s talk acquisition.
If you want to operate at any real volume, you’re most likely going to niche horizontally.
What I mean, is your niche would be “SEO” or “Link acquisition” rather than “Law firm marketing”.
There are some verticals that you can get volume in, such as Ecom, but not a lot.
Clients are also typically looking for a specific service, rather than someone who specializes in their niche.
Scouting The Competition
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” Sun Tzu
Create a client account on Upwork and then post a job about SEO. I used to do this 2-3 times a year (post jobs just to research my competition.)
See what types of people apply to jobs, what do you like, what do you not like, what are the good & bad patterns, how can you beat them?
Once you gain traction on Upwork, it’s a lot easier to continue building momentum.
What you’re looking for are 1-3 jobs that you can complete in under 24 hours.
Search for fixed-price jobs that are quick & easy to do and wouldn’t require a phone call to close. Some great examples are:
- Exports from tools
- Onpage for a small website
- A small audit
- Setting up a tool / account / plugin
Even if you’re getting paid $20 for an audit that takes you 2-hours to finish, that positive review will propel your chances of being hired by others.
Searching For Jobs
Recap: Don’t take what people post very seriously. Most have no idea what they’re looking for.
The sales process is pretty simple. Get them on the phone & close.
I’d say that about 80% of the time, I’d close a client during our first 15-minute phone call. Sometimes I’d have to create a proposal, but not very often.
There are plenty of great templates out there, I recommend having a swipe file based on industry & service.
For example, an Ecom file, local, audit, link acquisition, and agencies. This way, you don’t have to edit your master template to fit their niche
The elements that you should have in your cover letter are:
- Right away, address their industry (or needs) as well as what results you’re looking to help them achieve
- If the ad mentions what they’re looking for, then address it here.
- A little bit about yourself, your past successful projects, and anything else that would impress them
- Scarcity. You’re a very busy person that can only take on a few more projects. So they better act soon.
- Power move. You’re selective with your clients. You only work with businesses who are serious and understand what they’re investing in
- Next steps. Link to your calendar (more on that in a minute)
There are a couple of bidding strategies I’ve seen out there on the web. The copy & paste method (what I use), the video method, and the handwritten note method.
The Video Method – Basically, you create a custom video for the prospect explaining how you’d be excited to work with them, maybe you go over their website a little, etc.
It’s too time consuming, in my opinion. I’ve done this a couple of times but only when the prospect mentions their website and it’s in a niche I’m comfortable in.
The Handwritten Note Method – Instead of using copy & paste cover letters, this is when you custom write each one. Takes too much time, in my opinion.
The Phone Call
All of my cover letters end with me asking the prospect to set up a time to chat using my calendly link.
I try to do no selling unless I’m on the phone with them.
The downside to this is that you can waste time with unqualified prospects, but if you ask the right questions, you’ll know within 5-minutes if the conversation should continue.
This isn’t a sales training, but I’ll briefly go over how I structure these calls.
- “The job you posted said….” “Can you tell me more about what you’re looking for?”
- Ask more questions to better understand their expectations
- Explain how the engagement would work & set my expectations
- Answer questions
- Talk about budget
- Close (about 80% of the time)
Not rocket science. They said “I have a problem” and you’re saying “Here’s the solution.”
Landing Large Accounts
Do good work and the money follows.
Yes, there are 7 and 8-figure companies that use Upwork to hire SEOs.
No, if you’re just starting off you will not get these accounts tomorrow.
I’ve said this a couple times, and it’s the key to using Upwork “the value is in the invite.”
Once your account has a strong history, jobs that have accumulated a decent amount of money, and a high success score, not only will there be a quantity of invites, but you’ll start to see larger accounts as well.
There’s more red tape, of course. Don’t expect to close a $5k/m deal on a short phone call.
Test everything. I change my profile copy, headline, service offerings, and cover letter templates every couple of months.
If you notice a trend of a “type” of job being posted, see if you can capitalize on it.
“Did you read my profile”
I try to set some expectations in my profile as well as explain what I don’t do (depending on the service offering).
Even with all the invites I was getting, most of the used the default invite message. I had no idea who actually knew what was on my profile.
So, add a message at the bottom “if you read my profile then say [apple] in your invite”
Anyone who I know has read my profile gets a custom message rather than a templated one. These leads are typically higher quality as well.
Upwork isn’t complicated and there’s not a lot of competition.
You just need to take the time to learn it and allow your profile to grow.
Complete a few quick jobs to jump start your profile, stand out when you’re bidding on jobs, do good work so you start getting invites, and create systems & processes.
Whether you’re just learning SEO, are looking to supplement your income, try out new tactics, or anywhere in between. There’s a gold mine waiting for you on Upwork.