Courtney Allen/Ryan Clark/Evan Fisher
- Freelancing allows people to channel their talent into a job that fits their schedule.
- Insider spoke with four freelancers who have earned seven figures in payments on Upwork.
- They shared their tips for using the platform, setting rates, and building client relationships.
Throughout the pandemic, many Americans have quit their jobs to become their own bosses. This rise in solopreneurs and freelancers is, in part, due to a newfound ease of access to entrepreneurship — in many cases, all you need to start a business is a website and Internet connection.
Sixty million Americans, or 39% of the workforce, freelanced this year, up 3% from 2021, according to a study by work-for-hire site Upwork.
As a freelancer, you can channel your talents and experience into a job that fits your schedule. Plus, it allows you to work from anywhere in the world — the software-automation freelancer Ryan Clark has worked remotely in Hawaii, Italy, and Brazil.
“The best time to start a business was yesterday,” he told Insider. “Which means the next best time to start a business would be today.”
Clark used Upwork to build his business, Mr. SharePoint, and has earned more than $1 million in payments on the platform since 2017, which Insider verified with documentation.
Insider spoke with him and three other freelancers who have earned seven figures in payments on Upwork. They shared their tips for using the platform, including how to determine your rates and build client relationships.
1. Low rates will help you land jobs when you’re starting out
Clark is a freelancer and entrepreneur.
When you create a profile on Upwork, you’re starting from scratch. Regardless of your skills and work experience, clients typically book freelancers’ services based on the projects and reviews listed on their page.
To have a competitive edge, all four freelancers started their rates below the average for their services, knowing that it was the best way to initially get jobs on the platform.
“On Upwork, you’re competing with people from all across the world,” Clark said. “One of the ways you can get a client to hire you is just to lower your rate.”
While Jamie Hollander, a copywriter, had 17 years of experience in marketing, she started charging between $10 and $15 an hour to build up her clientele.
“You’re not committing to staying at that rate forever,” she said.
2. But don’t keep your rates low for long
Jaime Hollander is a copywriter.
Once you complete several jobs and have plenty of five-star reviews, you can raise your rates. As they increased their prices, all four freelancers found that top-tier companies were more willing to work with them because they equated higher prices to higher-quality work.
Courtney Allen, a presentation designer, started on Upwork in 2014 with an hourly rate of $27 and now works for $150 an hour. In her experience, raising her prices got her more gigs.
“My rate gave them more confidence in my expertise and the value that I bring,” she said.
When he started freelancing in 2017, Evan Fisher, a pitch-deck creator, charged $300 for a project. Now, he doesn’t accept jobs for less than $15,000.
“You are able to accelerate yourself so enormously fast,” he said. “Even people that I have spoken with four or six months ago, that price is no longer the price today.”
3. Specializing makes you stand out as an expert
Allen is the owner of 16X9.
When Fisher started freelancing, he took nearly any job he could, including crafting business plans, financial models, Excel tasks, and PowerPoint presentations. When he noticed a lot of entrepreneurs needed help telling their founding stories to raise capital, he narrowed his focus to pitch decks.
Having a specialty can also establish you as an expert in your field. Allen found the same was true in her industry: As a graphic designer, she focused on presentation design for corporate leaders and keynote speakers.
“There are tens of thousands of graphic designers, but presentation design was a much smaller subset,” she said. “I know of other people who have narrowed their focus down further into just working with dental clients or within the film industry.”
4. Sometimes an hourly rate is better than a fixed rate
Fisher creates pitch decks for startups.
While some freelancers take fixed-rate jobs, many work on an hourly basis. Clark found this was the best way to maximize his time and profits for his line of work, which often involves being on call to fix clients’ issues with the software as they come up.
“Some clients try to squeeze as much value out of you as possible within that fixed-fee project,” he said. “It’s good for the client, but it’s not necessarily good for me.”
If a client isn’t sold on the hourly rate, Clark will offer them a fixed hourly rate. He gives them a range of the total hours it will take him to complete a project, so they know what to expect for the total, while giving Clark some flexibility.
5. Remember, success takes time
Building a successful freelance career takes time. Allen started on Upwork in 2014, while Fisher and Clark started in 2017.
Hollander, the earliest to join the platform, started freelancing part time in 2012 until she quit her corporate job in 2020. Even with 17 years of experience in marketing, she said it took her three years to hit six figures in total earnings.
“If you’re committed, you can find work, even if you don’t have years and years of experience,” she said. “But it’s finding where you belong that I think is super important.”
An earlier version of this story appeared on June 10, 2022.