Freelancing Sites: How can you get your first job?

Freelancing Sites: How can you get your first job?

Love them or hate them, freelancing sites like UpWork, PeoplePerHour or TopTal are here to stay. Many freelancers turn to them for their first ever project. However, with little experience and no ratings on the site, how can you get your first job when faced with hordes of freelancers all bidding the lowest amount?

Let me share my experience with you, not as a freelancer but as a regular hirer on UpWork. Here are the things that have lead me to hire others, regardless of experience.

1. Read the brief

This should perhaps go without saying – make sure you read and respond to the freelancing brief carefully. For example, I often specify that I’d like people from Europe to work on a project, mainly due to time-zone restrictions. 80% of replies will still come from India and further afield. Do I hire them? No!

You may not be aware, but those in the know (like me :)) actually include information in the brief specifically to see whether someone has read it!

Need more convincing? Even Richard Branson thinks it’s important to listen to your customers.

2. Send a personal, thought-out response

When you formulate a response, imagine you’re meeting the client face to face and give them a clear, personal response to their project.

Canned responses are easily found out on UpWork and other freelancing sites. Generic sentences like: “I have demonstrable experience in this field and would love to help you complete the project.” give me NO information whatsoever. (They also seem to be against UpWork’s rules now.)

Similarly, one line answers like “Yes, I can do this job.” only serve to rule you out of the game immediately.

Instead, refer to the brief (shows that you’ve read it!) and to the client’s needs (shows that you care) and explain your solution (shows you’re capable and have thought it through – more on this below).


Even if you followed only the 2 points above, you would still be miles ahead of 75% of the competition – and with much better chances at landing your first job at a freelancing site.

Let’s see how you can improve it even further…

Freelancing Sites Get Your First Client

3. Explain clearly how you would approach the project

The biggest issue employers face on UpWork and other freelancing sites is to figure out whether someone can actually do the job. Lots of people will say they can – but how can you tell?

By including a detailed description of how you would specifically approach the job at hand, you can truly show the client that you are able to complete the project.

Here is an example that blew me away from a recent job posting:

“I would use a linux command line script, written in Python, that polls the GMail server (there is a library on github by charlierguo). When the search string matches, I would send an email to your specified address. The address will be in a config file, so you can easily change it later.”

Specific explanations are of a tremendous advantage and will set you apart from more experienced freelancers who are resting on their laurels and relying on their rating and experience to get the job!

4. Already produce some work

This bit of advice is highly effective but goes against something I highly support – which is to say No To Spec Work. Perhaps experiment a little and see what result you can get. Adjust as you get more reviews.

The fact is that on the last handful of UpWork projects I hired for, the winning bid was always someone who had done some or part of the project already and shared the solution with me as part of their application. This totally blew me away. In all cases I hired them and paid a bonus for their work. Not all UpWork clients will be as nice as me, so test and adjust to suit your situation.

Why producing some work has persuaded me to hire on freelancing sites:

  • It proves to me that the person can do the job.
  • It proves to me that they are eager and enthusiastic.
  • It proves to me that they are familiar with the technology at hand.
  • Above all, it makes it easy for me to make that hiring decision.

My last job was a technical job – the successful applicant (who was amazing!) sent me a link to a github repository with some code in it to demonstrate her approach.

If you’re in a non-technical industry your solution will vary, how could you share a sample with your client?

5. Send a video answer

UpWork recommends using an introduction video in your freelancing profile. That article is well worth reading because it has some good video tips – but I would go even further:

Send a video as part of your job application. The technology is so easy to use and a video is an immensely powerful way to get yourself in front of these clients, explain your solution to the problem and make it easy for them to work with you.

Get started – improve your own approach

I’ve arranged the tips above in the order that they have been important for me, as a hirer. The further you work your way down this list in your next application, the more successful you’re likely to be.

Don’t stop after your first job!

Everything I’ve written above is about
offering SUPERIOR CUSTOMER SERVICE!

This is really key for any successful business, whether on freelancing sites like UpWork, or in face-to-face situations. Don’t stop after you get your first job – continue in this vein and you will build up a successful, stable freelancing career.