How I became Top-Rated on Upwork

Are you a freelancer just starting on Upwork? Learn how to level up with these insights from a top 10% freelancer and become Top-Rated on Upwork!

Rafael Botelho

5/17/20248 min read

How I became Top-Rated on Upwork
How I became Top-Rated on Upwork

Joining the top 10% Upwork freelancers

Last May, I started freelancing on Upwork, the world's largest freelance platform. I initially thought it would amount to nothing major, but I was glad to be proven wrong...

A few months ago, I woke up to the news that I had earned the "Top Rated" badge, which means I am in the top 10% of freelancers on the platform and got a neat little blue badge next to my profile picture to flex it.

In this article, I will offer advice for those of you who are new to Upwork, and hopefully, you won't make the same mistakes I did!

Key takeaways

  • Underpromise and overdeliver.

  • Invest in long-term clients and projects.

  • Regularly update your profile and portfolio.

  • Communicate effectively and continuously improve your skills while also learning new ones.

  • Read the job descriptions thoroughly and write personalized proposals. Don't recyle cover letters.

The beginning

When I first joined Upwork, I was curious and slightly apprehensive. Everyone has heard the same stories about freelancing on Upwork:

"It's a race to the bottom..."

"They barely make a living..."

"They struggle to find clients..."

"There's too much competition..."

But because I am stubborn to my core, I was determined to make it work. I knew that freelancing wouldn't be a walk in the park, otherwise everyone else would have been doing it and they would all be rich by now!

I knew it would require dedication, hard work, and, most importantly, smart work.

Obviously, I had no idea what I was doing at first (just like you and everyone else starting), but after a while, I started to get the groove of things. I quickly realized how important it was to create a compelling profile that conveyed trust to potential clients.

After all, that's the currency of the world: trust. I selected the few skills I was good at and also included what little experience and expertise I had. After landing a few gigs (God bless my first few clients) I now had some work to include in my portfolio.

I soon realized that it wasn't about trying to do as many different things as possible but actually focusing on one specific area. Fast forward to where I am now, and this does not necessarily apply, in my opinion, but that's a blog post for another day.

In the beginning, you need to focus on your strengths and unique selling points. USP sounds like a fancy technical word if you've never heard it, but all it means is: Why should a client choose you and not others? What do you offer that most freelancers don't?

As I began to land projects and work with clients, I quickly realized the importance of communication and collaboration. I made it a priority to respond promptly to messages and inquiries, and I always kept my clients updated on the progress of their projects.

The middle of my Upwork journey

I constantly asked for feedback and made any necessary revisions to ensure the satisfaction of my clients. This dedication helped me build strong relationships with my clients, leading to repeat business and those precious 5-star reviews we all seek.

In addition to delivering high-quality work, I invested time in building my online presence and reputation. I created a professional website and blog (which you are reading right now - hey!) where I share valuable insights and tips related to my field.

As my reputation grew, so did my client base. I started receiving direct invitations to work on exciting projects, and my hourly rate increased.

I was able to be more selective with the projects I took on, focusing on those that aligned with my long-term goals and interests. This allowed me to refine my skills further and deliver exceptional results, attracting more high-quality clients.

Build a strong profile

Creating a compelling profile is the first and most crucial step in establishing yourself as a successful freelancer on Upwork. Your profile is your digital resume and is potential clients' first impression of you.

Complete all the relevant sections, including your education, certifications, and employment history. You want potential clients to see that you are a professional who can deliver high-quality work!

Make sure to highlight your skills, experience, and expertise clearly and concisely. Include a professional profile picture and showcase your portfolio or past work samples to demonstrate your capabilities.

Take advantage of Upwork's skills tests to validate your skills and enhance your credibility. By showcasing your proficiency in relevant areas, you are more likely to attract clients and stand out from the competition!

When building your profile, it's important to consider your target clients' specific needs and preferences. Research the types of projects and clients you want to work with and tailor your profile accordingly.

For example, if you are a graphic designer specializing in logo design, include logos you have created. Sounds obvious, right? You would be surprised... This targeted approach helps you attract clients who are looking for the services you offer.

In addition to highlighting your skills and experience, it's important to convey your professionalism and reliability through your profile.

This one might vary depending on the niche, but clients don't want to read too much about your work ethic, excellent communication, and ability to meet deadlines. If your whole profile includes you talking about how you never miss deadlines, it's weird.

That said, clients want to work with freelancers who are not only talented but also dependable and easy to work with.

Your pricing and hourly rate are important aspects to consider when building your profile. While setting your rates low to attract clients can be tempting, it's important to value your skills and expertise appropriately.

Research the market rates for your services and set your rates accordingly. Clients are often willing to pay more for quality work, so don't undervalue yourself. The hourly rate you set is a form of brand positioning.

Regularly update and optimize your profile. As you gain more experience and complete new projects, add them to your portfolio and update your skills section. This shows potential clients you are actively engaged and continuously improving your skills.

How to write a proposal

Next, start bidding on projects that align with your skills AND interests. When it comes to landing gigs on Upwork, writing a well-crafted proposal is key. I will write a separate article on this in the future and go more in-depth, but I will cover the basics here.

Take the time to thoroughly read the job description and tailor your proposal to address the client's specific needs. Highlight your relevant experience and explain how you can add value to their project.

Personalizing each proposal shows that you are genuinely interested and invested in the client's success. Another crucial aspect of the proposal process is to showcase your unique selling points:

  • What sets you apart from other freelancers?

  • Do you have any specialized skills or certifications that make you an expert in your field?

Highlighting these strengths can give you a competitive edge and make clients more inclined to choose you for their project.

It's also important to provide evidence of your past work. Emphasize your relevant experience and provide examples of your past work demonstrating your ability to meet their requirements.

Attach portfolio items or relevant samples to your proposal. This allows potential clients to see the quality of your work and gives them confidence in your abilities.

Also... Dude, don't talk with people like you are in the 19th century. Just be cool and act normal. Speak like you would to a friend or an acquaintance, there's no need to refer to everyone as "Mam" and "Dear Sir". Don't even get me started on "Dear hiring manager."

Address any potential concerns or questions the client may have. Anticipate their needs and provide clear and concise answers. This demonstrates your professionalism and attention to detail, making you a more attractive candidate.

Underpromise + overdeliver = long-term clients

If you want to succeed on Upwork (and outside of it), you have to build strong and long relationships with your clients. Take the time to understand their goals and objectives, and consistently deliver value that aligns with their vision and then some!

Once you've landed a project, it's crucial to deliver exceptional work that exceeds client expectations. Maintain clear and open communication throughout the project, and seek clarification whenever necessary to ensure you fully understand the client's requirements.

Meet deadlines and provide regular progress updates to keep the client informed. Attention to detail and a commitment to quality are essential in building a solid reputation as a freelancer.

Going above and beyond to deliver outstanding results will satisfy your clients and increase your chances of receiving positive feedback and repeat business.

When delivering exceptional work, paying attention to the little things is important, because they can make a big difference.

This includes double-checking your work for any errors or inconsistencies, ensuring that all formatting and styling are consistent and professional, and taking the time to proofread and edit your work before submitting it.

Go the extra mile by offering suggestions or improvements that could enhance the final product. This shows your clients that you are proactive and invested in their success, and it can help differentiate you from other freelancers.

Be responsive in addressing any concerns that may arise during the project. If the client has any feedback or requests for revisions, respond promptly and professionally and make the necessary adjustments to ensure their satisfaction.

By consistently providing exceptional service and demonstrating your reliability, you can establish yourself as a trusted partner and increase your chances of receiving those lovely 5-star reviews and testimonials on your profile.

Remember that word-of-mouth referrals are a powerful tool to grow your freelance business, so always try to exceed expectations and impress the people you work with!

Maintain a professional attitude at all times. Treat your clients with courtesy and respect, even (and especially) in challenging situations.

Disagreements and conflicts are part of life, but it's important to handle them in the most professional manner possible. After all, your reputation is on the line at all times. Remember that.

Above all else, you need to deliver high-quality work and strive for excelence consistently. Lastly, it's essential to nurture your relationships with your clients even after a project is over.

Follow up with your clients to ensure their satisfaction and inquire about any additional needs they may have. This ongoing communication and support helps you build long-term partnerships and position yourself as a trusted advisor!

Keep learning

Never stop learning. Take online courses. Numerous platforms offer courses on a wide range of topics, from programming languages to digital marketing strategies. Coursera and Udemy are some of them.

These courses provide in-depth knowledge and practical exercises that can help you sharpen your skills. Additionally, many of these courses offer certifications that can add credibility to your profile and attract potential clients.

Attend webinars on the Upwork forum that cover specific topics and are conducted by coaches and experts. These sessions provide an opportunity to learn from experienced professionals and ask important questions.

Many webinars are free or available at a minimal cost, making them accessible to freelancers of all levels. Ask questions, and answer questions once you have more experience! All of this helps increase your visibility and credibility.

Networking with other freelancers is also crucial for continuous learning. By building connections with professionals in your industry, you can tap into their expertise and learn from their experiences.

Wrapping up

Writing this today as a Top-Rated freelancer on Upwork, I am grateful for the opportunities and success I have achieved on the platform. There have been many challenges and learning experiences, but it was 100% worth it.

I have not only been able to build a thriving freelancing career, but I have also gained valuable skills, expanded my professional network, and found a sense of fulfillment in doing work I am passionate about.

If you are just starting on Upwork, be patient and persistent. The beginning is always the hardest part. Succeeding on Upwork takes time and effort, but you can do it with the right mindset and strategies. If I did it, there's no reason why you can't.

"To beginnings and endings... And to middles! The unsung heroes." - Some guy who worked in an office...
"To beginnings and endings... And to middles! The unsung heroes." - Some guy who worked in an office...
"Just be cool, dude." - Bob Marley, probably
"Just be cool, dude." - Bob Marley, probably