#095: How to Land Good-Paying Clients on Elance and Upwork

Are Elance, Upwork and other online job boards a good place to land freelance work?

Yes and no. It really depends on a number of important factors. And it’s certainly not for everyone. But there’s no denying that some people have figured out a way to launch their freelance business with these platforms.

My guest for this episode is one of these people. Her name is Laura Pennington, and she has a great story about how she used Elance to kickstart her freelance business—despite the fact that she had little work experience, no samples, no ratings or reviews and no clear guidance on how to make it work.

She’ll give you some very useful tips on how to succeed on these sites. Plus how to use them as a way to smooth your income fluctuations.

The notes that follow are a very basic, unedited summary of the show. There’s a lot more detail in the audio version. You can listen to the show using the audio player below. Or you can subscribe in iTunes to get this show delivered straight to the Podcasts app on your smart phone, tablet or iPod.

Tell us about yourself

In 2012, Laura Pennington was working a corporate job and wanted to make some extra money. She decided to give Elance a try.

After submitting 30 bids, she landed only $150 worth of work in her first month. But she was intrigued and kept at it.

After three months, she was in the top one percent of all the writers on the site, and she had surpassed her day job income!

Since then, she has also helped Fortune 500 companies hire digital talent through Elance. So she’s been on both sides of the service, as someone hiring and someone looking for work.

Did it become easier to land work after those initial jobs?

Yes. People with experience on Elance get hired more easily because others have vetted them. So it can take time to land your first job. And when you land your first job, you HAVE to deliver. Good reviews will lead to better jobs.

Were you able to raise your fees after you accumulated some positive reviews?

Yes. Once she had some experience and found her sweet spot (working with attorneys and law firms), she could zero in on projects that were a good fit and increase her rates with new and existing clients.

People complain Elance has a lot of low-end jobs. And it does. You can also spend a lot of time submitting bids. So many people won’t try it or give up.

clicktotweet While Elance/Upwork has many low paying jobs, it also has some gems if you stick with it.

What other tips do you have for making a living from Elance?

  1. Say no. Once you have recurring clients, start saying no to low paying work and difficult clients. Learn how to identify red flags.
  1. Keep your bid submissions short. Typically, people send way to much information when they respond to a bid. Don’t send 50 links or write eight paragraphs explaining why you should hire them.
  1. Customize your bid for each potential client. Identify and speak to the prospects’ concerns. Tailoring your bid tells prospects you’re not simply copying and pasting your application.
  1. Think about your unique value proposition. Research your competition. Find out what makes you different. Laura used her background in legal writing and her positive feedback from other clients to increase her conversion rate.

What is Upwork?

Elance and oDesk announced their merger in 2013. Today, oDesk redirects to Upwork. For now, people who are on Elance can stay on Elance. New users must sign up with Upwork. Regardless of the platform, the basic premise remains the same.

If you were starting today, would you still pursue this strategy?

If you have a full time job and are looking to eventually move into freelancing, it’s the perfect way to transition.

clicktotweet Upwork is a great way to slowly build your freelance business while keeping your day job.

But if you have no Upwork experience and want to jump into fulltime freelancing right away, don’t put all your eggs into the Upwork basket. Make it just one part of your strategy.

Is Upwork a good way for established writers to smooth income fluctuations?

Yes. Some big companies (e.g. Microsoft, Adobe) use the digital talent pools at Upwork to hire writers, developers, designers, etc. Adding any of these companies to your resume, even if you’re an established writer, is huge.

Also, it’s easy to earn money relatively quickly with Upwork. It’s a great way to supplement your cash flow on short notice.

Will established writers damage their reputation by having a profile on Upwork?

If a potential client finds your profile on Upwork with positive reviews, that only helps your credibility.

But if you say you’re willing to work for $20 an hour on Upwork, you can expect to be offered low paying gigs. Instead, tailor your Upwork profile to show you’re targeting higher end clients.

What approach should established writers use to break in? 

Find a job you can crank out quickly with excellent feedback, even if the pay is less than what you’d normally require. Then leverage that feedback to get better jobs.

Any final advice for someone wanting to get started with Upwork?

  1. Create work samples. It doesn’t have to be paid work. Get some good ones you can use in bids.
  2. Make sure your profile is well written. Keep it short and sweet. Make it stand out.
  3. Don’t give up. If you’re not landing bids, find out what you need to do better.

Where can listeners learn more about you?

Laura’s website: Six Figure Writing Secrets.



  • Katherine_Andes

    Wow! I almost didn’t listen to this because I had such a negative experience with Elance years ago. Right now, I’m super busy. But the next time I see a slump coming, I’m going to give this a try. Thanks, Laura and Ed!!!

    • edgandia

      Thanks, Katherine. I know what you mean. I figure many people will overlook this one from the title alone. Appreciate your checking it out (and your comment). 😉

      • Pat Casello-Maddox

        Thanks, Ed. I am still working full time and transitioning, so this may work well to get started.
        Pat Casello-Maddox

      • Pat Casello-Maddox

        Sorry, I thought this would upload my image on the side.

  • Shebbay

    Ok, I may give this a try. Just logged into my old Elance account and was immediately redirected over to Upwork. Not sure if I am feeling this yet.

    • Laura Pennington

      Upwork is kind of a mess… I actually just put together my slides for a video about the pros and cons of Upwork! There are some good jobs over there, though! I hope you give it a shot. Like Ed said, it’s not for everyone, but you might find some great, long-term clients!

  • Susan Anderson

    Loved Laura’s story! When I got started in 2005, I did it on Guru and had an experience that pretty much mirrored hers – including getting featured on a direct mail postcard Guru sent out to users. Great advice on how to go after projects, what kind to go after, and to make sure these sites are not your only source of writing revenue (when Guru changed their ranking system, I went from #1 to invisible overnight). I always tell people who are using these job boards as a starting point to bid 5 projects a day, 5 days a week… that’s 100 in a month, and nearly guaranteed to help you get work.

    I know these boards are frowned upon by many, but they’re an excellent way for some people to get started. Thank you for doing this episode and showing people how to use these boards well.

    • edgandia

      Love that advice — 5/day x 5 days/week adds up quickly. And it’s totally doable when you’re starting out and all your time should be spent knocking on doors!

  • Good morning – I wanted to say thank you! I had always stayed away from freelance websites like upwork, but after listening to your podcast I decided to give it a try. Using the selective criteria that you suggested, (only apply for projects relevant to my writing niche, with high rated clients) I landed the first project I bid on! So far it’s going great and the company is really receptive to all of the other projects I’ve suggested (upselling at it’s finest!) So thank you for your insight and advice. I won’t make millions, but I am making more than I thought I would.

    • edgandia

      This is great news, Rachel! Way to go! Thanks for letting us know. 🙂

    • Laura Pennington

      I love seeing this!