If I had a nickel for every time some random person sent me this:
“Hey John. Send me your Skype ID and let’s chat.”
“Hey John. Here’s my code. Can you fix it?”
“Hey John. Send me some clients.”
I’d be sitting on a beach somewhere, slurping a tall rum and coke, listening to some old-school hip-hop.
My answer to all of these: NO.
A few years ago, I was on the verge of giving up freelancing and web development all together. Funny thing was… it wasn’t because I was lacking for work or income. It was the opposite.
I had more than I could handle.
And by the end of that year, I was waaaaay burnt out. I ended up taking a 2-3 month sabbatical. I told all my current clients that I wasn’t taking any new work from them. I stopped taking new clients.
And, I just crashed.
What I hadn’t yet learned was how to say: NO.
I bring this up because at some point in your career, NO… will become the most important word in your vocabulary.
And, so many people struggle with it.
Hell, my wife still has a hard time saying NO to friends and family. I’ve noticed my kids struggle with as they get it older. I mean, I had a hard time with it.
But, you’ve got to do it.
Because the NOs YOU are going to say will be hard ones. Saying NO to a $3,000 project because it’s not a good fit. Or because you already have too much work. Or because the client seems like trouble.
Trust me, that is HARD to do.
But you need to do it. Otherwise, you’ll end up like I did. Overworked, overwhelmed and on the verge of throwing it all away.
And, that’d be bad.
Now, let me give you a little tip on HOW to learn to do this.
Of course, start saying no to little things now. Doesn’t even have to be related to web development. The more practice, the better.
But, the real trick is to learn how to say NO without giving any reason.
Just NO… and that’s it.
It’s harder than you think. Because, often times, the “askers” will expect a reason. They’ll kind of look at you like, “why”. Cause. That’s why.
Try it… and see how uncomfortable it can be.
But, if you can get good at that… you’ll have a good foundation for later when you need to say NO to one thing so you can say YES to another… that’s a better fit.
As always, I want to give a shout out to supporting listeners of the John Morris Show on Patreon. I appreciate all the support you’ve been giving and I love chatting with you all over on Patreon. So, again… thank you!
If you haven’t heard, Upwork just changed the fees it charges to freelancers. It moved from a flat fee of 10% to a “sliding fee structure” like this:
First $500 of lifetime client earnings – 20%
$500+ up to $10,000 – 10%
$10,000+ – 5%
And boy oh boy did the kids get angry!
Check out some of these comments:
“go hang yourself. I hope all your people leave and you are dead.”
“U evil. Stahp.”
“This is the worst policy any market place have ever taken.”
“Moderate your greed. (Even God has commented on this move)”
“Stop this greed.”
The most sane comment of them all (even though this person probably doesn’t quite realize what they’re saying) was this one:
“Time to collect personal clients!”
Funny thing is… everybody who has asked me about this only told me Upwork raised their fee to 20%. They conveniently forgot to mention the rest of the fee structure. Hmmmm. Should tell you something about their approach.
Like I said, nobody owes you anything.
Upwork offers a service for freelancers and clients and they’re absolutely within their right to change their pricing… even if it were terrible.
You don’t like it… don’t use it. No sympathy from me.
Thing is, though… it’s not terrible. At least not for me.
When I was on Upwork if this had been in place… the majority of my revenue would have quickly crossed into the 10% range. So, they got an extra 50 bucks per project. Meh. If that’s what they need to stay in business… so be it.
You should actually be excited about this.
If you’ve been listening to anything I’ve been saying… this should be welcome news. Why?
Because, it seems clearly aimed at the lowballers.
The developers that go around just lowballing project after project, giving terrible service (so the lifetime earnings with that client never break $500) and moving on to the next sucker they can lure in with their low price.
If those people are angry and “vow” to leave Upwork… GOOD! Hell, I might even jump back on there if they really do.
But they won’t.
That’s because they don’t have anywhere else to go. They don’t have a long-term mindset, so they’re not building a real freelance business. And, they’ll find life “off” the freelance site is even less forgiving.
I tell you this all the time…
Go get your own clients. Do NOT rely on Upwork or whatever other site to bring you all your business. Because when they make changes… it hits you hard. You are at their mercy. Why do that?
Anyway, there’s a way out of all of this. I teach it in Module 3 of my course, Lightning Responsive. I show you how to build an actual freelance business… not a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants, whine-when-Upwork-changes wannabe business. Get that way out as a supporting listener on Patreon here:
I remember what it’s like. When I first started freelancing, I had no clue what to write on my profiles and services page. What was I supposed to say? What questions did clients need answered? Was there some big secret?
Let me now go deeper into the full 12-Step Freelance Profile Template I use, cover the ten questions your clients need answered, and share the tricks I’ve learned for answering them in a compelling way so clients say YES to hiring you:
If you’d like access to the exact template I showed in the video, become a supporting listener on Patreon at the “Template Level” and you’ll get this one plus each new one I release very month. Go here:
But, it’s also good to take it a bit deeper and get personal. I like to start my profile pages and bios with this line:
“Hey, I’m John Morris. I’m a freelance web designer of 10 years from Omaha, NE. I’m married with four kids and I’m a rabid Husker fan.”
Simple, but it accomplishes a few important things:
“I’m a freelance web designer” communicates that I do what they need and I’m likely available for hire.
“of 10 years” subtly communicates experience and stability.
“from Des Moines, IA” communicates I’m an American because right or wrong many clients are looking for someone from the U.S.
“I’m married with four kids” speaks to reliability and a reason to deliver because I have mouths to feed.
“rabid Husker fan” communicates some personality and a special affinity from anyone who happens to like the Huskers, as well. (There’s lots of us, ya know!)
So, those three simple sentences communicate a lot and do it in a way that is subtle and likely to get past your client’s “skepticism radar”.
3. What Do You Do?
Again, specialization is something I harp on constantly.
Saying you know PHP, HTML, CSS, MySQL, etc… means nothing to most potential clients.
Plus, every other web designer and developer on the planet says that same thing.
To stand out, you need to position yourself as a specialist. Now, understand what I’m saying here because I get a lot of people who misconstrue what I mean.
I’m NOT saying you should only a very narrow skill set. I’m saying in your marketing, you should position yourself that way.
You should learn everything you think is important for you to know. But, when you market yourself and sell your services, you want to position yourself as a specialist.
Specialists naturally stand out among the sea of “me-too” developers
Specialists naturally get paid more
Specialists are often appreciated more for their work
Specialists only work on projects they enjoy and are good at
Specialists can change what they specialize in to fit a changing market
Specializing will make your life a heck of a lot easier and you’ll make more money.
So, in this section of your profile, bio, etc… you want to talk about your specialty. You want to cover two things:
What you do
What you don’t do
Each is equally important but I often say that I spend more time telling people what I don’t do than what I do do.
On my own hire me page, you’ll notice that I spend a good portion of my introduction video talking about the projects I won’t work on.
Clients actually appreciate that because it naturally positions you as someone who knows what he’s good at and does that one thing extremely well. It creates a deeper level of trust than somebody who pretends they know how to do everything.
4. What Work Have You Done In the Past?
Your portfolio is the single most important piece of “on-site” sales material you can have. Clients almost always look for your portfolio first. THEN, if they like what they see, they might read your copy.
But, if your portfolio stinks… no amount of slick copy will change their mind.
Now, if you’re a seasoned web designer with a number of projects under your belt, then you simply need to put your best work on display.
But, if you’re brand new and don’t have any clients… that’s okay. Nothing says your portfolio has to be filled with projects you did for clients. A portfolio is about showing off what you’re capable of.
So, build up a bunch of samples that showcase your talent and use those as your portfolio. They can be made up companies or a “study” of what you would do for an existing company.
Then, your clients will be able to see what you’re capable of and make an more informed decision about whether or not you can help them.
5. What Do Your Past Clients Say About Your Work?
This is the second most important piece of “on-site” sales material you can have because clients don’t just want to see what you can do… but also what it’s like to work with you.
Are you a pain in the butt to work with?
Are you reliable?
Do you communicate well?
Are you open to ideas?
Can you adapt to change?
These are some of the key non-technical questions clients will have about your character and you want to work toward having testimonials that answer these questions.
It’s one thing for you to say you’re reliable but if you have a real client testimonial that says it, that’s much better.
If you’re new, you likely won’t have these from web design clients. However, you can acquire testimonials from people you know or have worked with who can speak to your character.
For example, I served 11 years in the Army. Do you think that my direct supervisor’s comments about my work ethic during those 11 years would be relevant to someone looking to hire me?
Just make sure you don’t pretend these are client testimonials. Be upfront and let people know these are general testimonials and be sure to include exactly the context in which that person knew you.
Then, over time, replace these with client testimonials.
6. What Are the Benefits of Your Services?
When you consider the context of someone who’s viewing your profile or services page, you’ll notice there’s two primary things you’re really selling:
You. So, why they should hire you.
Hiring. That is, why they should hire anyone
Try as you might… to target as efficiently as possible, your sales pages will inevitably have people with two different mindsets:
Someone who already knows they want to hire someone and they are just figuring out WHO.
Someone who is still a bit uncertain about hiring someone (vs doing it themselves) but would hire if presented with the right who.
The mix is substantial enough that it’s worth taking some time to sell the idea of hiring an expert in the first place.
And, that’s when you get into talking about the benefits of your services. Here’s where you get to hit them with a 1-2 punch of why they should hire AND why they should hire YOU.
So, why should a client hire a professional?
It’s worth taking some time to think about this on your own because it helps you more clearly see what your core value proposition is; however, here’s a few reasons I’ll share with you:
They’ll get their project done faster
They’ll avoid the potential for serious mistakes
They’ll be able to do things they likely wouldn’t do themselves
They’ll avoid hassling with technical stuff that frustrates them
They’ll have re-course if something does go wrong
And, there are plenty of others. The key is to speak to benefits not features. Notice I didn’t say anything about SEO, optimized code, responsive design or any of the other buzzwords you’ll find on many freelance profiles.
That’s because those things mean nothing to potential clients. For every one of those buzzwords a client will ask themselves, “What does that mean?”
So, just skip the middleman and answer their question the first time.
Once you’ve sold them on hiring then you can sell them on hiring YOU. Again, you want to stick to benefits not features… and you want to look for things that make you unique AND better.
Now, keep in mind EVERY developer will say:
I communicate well
And, so on. Saying those things alone won’t make you stand out. You need a way to distinguish yourself. One technique I like to use is the “Weird Personality” trick.
So, instead of saying “I’m reliable”… I say “Blame my 11 years in the Army, but I have this thing about doing what I say I’m going to”.
That stands out more because there’s something unique to my experience incorporated into it. How many other developers have spent 11 years in the Army? Some, but not many.
And, people naturally associate reliability with the military, so it bolsters the claim.
Another way to do this would be instead of saying “I’m detail-oriented” you might say, “I’m a bit OCD… so yeah… me and details we’re like this: ||”.
It add personality and gives a subtle element of proof (someone who’s OCD will obviously pay attention to details). Again, these things alone won’t win you clients but they’re just enough to set you apart from what everyone else is saying.
And, when you couple them with a great portfolio, testimonials, sales copy, etc… they add up to make a difference.
Never put yourself in a position where you feel ashamed of your pricing. You’re worth it!
Not only will it show to your clients and cause them to get antsy about working with you, but if you’re charging people more than you think you should, you’ll start to feel REAL guilty. And, it will kill your productivity.
Either lower your prices or own them.
Chances are, you’re not charging enough, though. It’s a major problem in the web design community. Designers and developers who aren’t sure how to market themselves and lower their prices to ridiculous levels to get clients.
Let me state this unequivocally so there’s not mis-understanding:
NEVER, Ever Compete on Price
As long as you’re a web designer (or in any services industry, really) don’t do it! It rarely works and you’ll make yourself miserable.
How do you figure out what’s the right price? I ask myself two questions:
What’s everyone else charging?
What’s it worth to me?
You DO need to have a sense of what the market price is. If everybody else is charging $3,000 for a site and you charge $5,000… unless you’re bringing something compelling to the table you’ll likely struggle.
Then, you have to ask yourself if the market price is worth it to you. I’ve turned down plenty of projects because the going rate wasn’t something I was willing to accept for the work.
8. How Is It Delivered?
Have you every bought anything online? Especially, outside of a big trusted marketplace like Amazon?
Maybe it was some obscure site or a seller you don’t know on eBay. Do you remember what that was like?
I remember the first time I bought something from nomorerack.com. It’s a legit site and a Google Trusted Store, but it just looks like a rip-off waiting to happen.
I obsessed over every detail of their TOS, checked all their security badges and ready every detail of how my purchase would be delivered.
I’m guessing you’ve experienced this before.
Now, put yourself in your client’s shoes. They’ve found somebody they know nothing about online and are about to drop several thousand dollars to have you build their “baby”.
You NEED to tell them exactly how you will deliver!
Tell them step-by-step how the process will go, at what points you’ll make sure to communicate with the, what will happen if something goes wrong, etc.
They need re-assurance.
And the more detail you can give them, the better. Then, make sure you actually DO deliver in that manner.
8. How Are Payments Made?
Here’s what I used to do:
10% for me to start doing anything.
60% once I have it built and they want it on their servers
30% once everything is done
First, ALWAYS have a contract. Don’t do anything until you have a signed contract. Then, still don’t do anything until you get 10% down.
I didn’t start anything until I got that 10%. There’s too many people out there who don’t have the money and will waster your time. If they’re serious, they’ll have no problem paying the 10%.
I don’t care what they tell you! If a client won’t pay you 10% upfront, they’re NOT serious.
Move on before they waste your time.
Also, I NEVER build on a client’s servers. Once something is on their servers, it’s their property and you can’t legally remove it without their permission. You’re asking for disaster if you build on a client’s servers.
Build on yours but make it available online so they can see and use it for demos. They’ll be more comfortable because they can actually see what you’re building, but you’ll eliminate the risk of them not paying.
They had to pay another 60% for me to transfer it to their servers.
Once that payment was made, I moved the project to their servers and if they run at that point, at least I’ve got 70% of the payment. It’s not ideal, but it’s better than 0%.
I helped them with any setup and polishing that’s necessary and once they were satisfied with everything, the remaining 30% was due.
While I have had clients disappear after the second 60% payment, I’ve never had someone have me help with all the setup and polishing and then NOT pay the final 30%. If they’re going to run, it’ll be once it’s on their servers.
Did I mention… NEVER put a client’s project on theirs servers until you have a majority of the payment!
Finally, this entire payment schedule should be in your contract. If you don’t have a contract, here’s the one I use: Contract Killer.
10. What Happens If Something Goes Wrong?
The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.
At some point in your career, something will go wrong with one of your projects. It may be your fault; it may be your client’s; but ultimately it doesn’t matter.
You need to have a process for handling issues.
Now, if you use the payment terms I laid out previously you’ll eliminate 90% of your problems. If you or your client backs out at any point, you’ll know exactly where you’re at in the process and whether or not a payment is due.
I should mention that I make my 10% upfront payment non-refundable. That way, if my client backs out after I started I’m not completely out of luck.
That said, you make sure you want to address explicitly how you handle issues. Think of this as your guarantee. What do you do if something happens:
While you’re building their project?
After it’s on their servers?
Months after the project is complete?
Address each possible scenario and specify in advance how you’ll handle those scenarios and alleviate your client’s fears upfront.
11. How Do I Get Started?
Finally, tell your client exactly what they need to do next. Don’t think this is obvious. You need to include language on your services page that tells them exactly what to do.
Often times, this will involve a potential client sending you a quote request. Make sure your quote request form is simple.
Your goal is to get submissions so don’t make it like crawling over hot coals covered in shards of glass!
Another one to dive into the video on, but even with everything you’ll now have covered in your sales page some people will still have questions.
Make sure you have a way for them to get those questions answered.
Whether an FAQ section, a contact form or both (recommended) you’ll want to tie up any last objections and push your prospect over the edge to hiring you.
So, there you go. Use this 12-step template and follow the advice I’ve shared and you’ll be light-years ahead of most of the developers you’ll be competing with for clients.
If you’d like access to the exact template I showed in the video, become a supporting listener on Patreon at the “Template Level” and you’ll get this one plus each new one I release very month. Go here:
They just don’t. Clients, bosses, customers… whomever you plan to get to pay you for your code… it’s not your talent they want. It’s another 6-letter word that people have paid endless amounts for since before the first computer sparked a single bit across the interwebs.
When I built the Business Owner’s Council website for Inc. magazine, their guy who was managing the entire project had blasted through a litany of “talented” developers. A few of whom I knew.
And, they were talented.
Smart people who could build most anything you might want. Yet, two years later he didn’t even have a functioning beta site.
Well, to put it nicely… he was a bit opinionated. And, I could see how quickly a project might get derailed if you had a developer who had a problem saying no… strongly… as in hell no.
Once I got an idea of what he was after… I just ran with it.
Didn’t consult him on too much… and had a working beta site within a month. A site they launched to their clients (who paid quite a bit for membership) and is still the same site they’re running to this day.
And, what were his comments at the end of it all…
“I can’t thank you enough for the excellent work and WISDOM you’ve brought to this project.”
That’s what they really want.
Direction… NOT information.
The people you write code for want someone who can inform and guide their decisions. And, that takes a certain bit of risk. It takes having an opinion and not being afraid to put it out there.
You will always earn more respect (and business) by having an opinion.
You’ll be wrong at times… but if you’re willing to admit that… you’ll earn even more respect.
Unfortunately, I see too many developers who want their clients to tell them exactly what they want. Most clients don’t know exactly what they want. They need someone to guide them.
Anyway, let’s get down to business for today. To get access to source code, freelance training and PHP tutorials that will make you a much wiser developer, become a supporting listener of the show here:
They have a way of bringing the know-it-alls out of their mom’s basements and into the light for everyone to see (or point and laugh at). This guy, though… as far as trolls go, he takes the cake. Here’s a snapshot:
Normally, I’d let this twitty-bird fly off without a word from the J-meister… but I see a lot of freelancers who deep down believe this same non-sense.
Be honest, a lot of you reading this right now believe this:
That’s the crux of it, isn’t it?
It’s just way too easy to believe, “It’s not MY fault. It’s that cheap SOB client!” That line of thinking is alluring… seductive. And WAY too many freelancers fall for it hook, line and sinker.
And that’s why they HATE me when I say, “au contraire!”
I got some statistical-ese for you here in a second, but I want you to just think about this on its face. Put your anger and your bias aside and just imagine it was YOU about to spend a few hundred or a few thousand dollars to hire someone.
To build your baby…
The website or application you’ve dreamed of getting up and running… you’ve spent months… maybe even YEARS… planning, tweaking, adjusting, re-configuring… to get just right.
Would you really only be concerned with finding the lowest bidder?
I mean yes… budgets matter. You have the money you have. You can spend what you can spend. But, I’m telling you right now… most clients don’t lowball because of their budget. Some do… but not most.
They lowball because it’s less money they’re risking. Period.
Now, as far as I know nobody has done a comprehensive study and statistical analysis of freelance clients to determine WHY they lowball. So, to Stevey-poo’s point about not having “quantifiable evidence”…
No s!@# Sherlock!
But, let’s see if we can not be nit-picking twits and take a look at some related data that might help us figure this out.
According to research done by Defaqto, 55% of customers would pay extra to guarantee better service.
89% of consumers have stopped doing business with a company after experiencing poor customer service. (RightNow Customer Experience Impact Report)
Ugh with them only caring about cost!
A customer is 4 times more likely to buy from a competitor if the problem is service related vs. price or product related. (Bain & Co.)
Wait… I’m starting to sense a pattern here.
In 2011, 7 in 10 Americans said they were willing to spend more with companies they believe provide excellent customer service (American Express Survey).
Hmmm… I’m starting to think Stevey-boy might be confused.
Look, I could do this all day.
Fact is… clients WILL PAY if they believe it’s worth it.
YOU have to make them believe it’s worth it. That’s all there is to it. If you don’t, then yeah… you’ll be stuck competing on price. And, when you get kicked off Upwork like poor little Stephanopolous you’ll find someone on Twitter to harass to try and make yourself feel better.
Of course, you could avoid all the heartache. You could take the J-meister’s advice. You could join the inner circle of web developers fast-forwarding their careers. You could start actually living the life you dreamed of when you first got into coding. You could get my step-by-step freelancing blueprint, The Upwork Checklist, as a supporting listener on Patreon… right cheer:
Here’s the big thing to get to succeed as a freelance web developer:
If you and your buddy are hiking in the forest and are suddenly attacked by a grizzly bear… you don’t need to be the fastest guy in the world. You just need to be faster than your buddy.
There’s your uber-secret, stop-the-presses secret to success.
Freelancing is a competition. To win, you don’t need to be perfect… you just need to be better than the next guy. And, let me tell you… most of your competition is epicly bad at this.
The grizzly would be five bites into a thigh bone before they took two steps.
You just need to do some simple things that others aren’t willing to do. Here’s my 5-point “dominate freelance sites” checklist. Don’t overlook this. It’s nothing earth-shattering… the gold is in the doing:
1. Pick a Niche
Ohmahgawd John! Quit talking about this niche thing. It’s all you ever talk about… blah, blah, blah… I get it.
I get that response all the time. THEN, I check their profile:
Everybody says that… and it means NOTHING to a client. They don’t even know what half that stuff is. They do not “understand the words that are comin’ out of yo mouth!”
What is the end result you deliver?
“A profit-generating membership site your members will love.”
“A smooth registration form that’s a dream to complete.”
“A dead simple blog you’ll crank out quality content on.”
NOW you’re speaking my language.
Pick a niche, specialize in it and best the best at it. This is the 2nd most important thing you can do to be a wealthy freelancer (#1 is coming).
2. Build a Compelling Profile
You can’t make people hire you. There’s no magic secret to make every client hire you every time. Instead, it’s about making your best case… and, believe me, most freelancers do NOT.
Here’s some obvious stuff most aren’t doing:
Fill out the whole profile.
Use a professional-looking picture
Write more than two sentences in your description
Have a portfolio
Take relevant tests
Brain-busting stuff I know… but you’d be shocked how many freelancers just don’t do it. Then, of course, come to me bewildered about why they’re not getting clients.
Here’s a hint…
If you’re not willing to spend more than 10 minutes on your own profile… chances are you’re not going to put much effort into my project. True or not… that’s what a client thinks when they see it.
Now, I have a video (I’ll tell you about in a moment) where I give you my 3-step formula for writing my service description that I’ve found works like gangbusters… but simply being complete is yuuuuuuuuuge!
3. Bid Intelligently
Here’s another head-scratcher…
I get a lot of freelancers who complain to me about all the “junk projects” on Upwork or Freelancer.com, etc.
You can filter all that junk out right? In fact, there’s a filter right on Upwork when you search for projects… that lets you only see projects from clients who actually hired someone before.
And you can toggle it between:
So start off by only toggling the 10+ hires option.
Those are presumably the cream of the crop in terms of clients… and avoid all that junk. Plus, there’s filters for client Experience Level, project Budget, Job Type and a lot more.
Finding the right projects to bid on is the “dirty secret” to winning at bidding.
Of course, writing your bid is a whole other animal. But, I recently made a video for you where I go into that. I’ll get to that in a minute.
4. Do Good Work
The #1 most important thing you will do to have success as a freelancer is to do make your clients over the moon about working with you.
It’s about the code you write…
It’s about how fast you get stuff done…
It’s about how well you communicate…
It’s about how easy you are to work with…
It’s about how reliable you are…
It’s the WHOLE thing. You can’t use one to Trump the other. All of them combined will ensure clients love you, hire you again and again and tell everyone they know about you.
But, you’ve likely heard a lot about that… so let’s move onto:
5. Build a Funnel
This is the thing almost every developer balks at:
“I just want to put up my profile and get work.”
“I don’t want to do all this marketing stuff.”
“Selling is evil.”
(Said in my whiniest Gilbert Gottfried voice)
But, it’s THE fastest way to start getting clients.
Let’s say you build those dream-like AJAX forms…
Put a video on YouTube showing how you built. The exact code. Point people to your profile at the end of it if they just want it done for them. Throw a $1/day in YouTube advertising at it for a month or two until it gains traction.
Just don’t give away the source code like I do.
And, that’s it.
You’ll start getting viewers, subscribers and eventually clients. And it’s cheap and easy as hell.
Don’t be afraid of this.
You don’t need to be Tom Cruise. You just need to have something that actually works and be able to explain it fairly well. And, clients will see you can do exactly what they need and want to hire.
I get multiple quote requests every single month doing this.
So, that’s all simple stuff… but the trick is in DOING it.
Now I mentioned a video where I get into more detail about this. It’s a 30-minute whopper where I go into a lot more detail about these five steps, including:
My 3-part formula for writing my service description
How to write your bids to get hired
The critical part of your profile everybody gets wrong
And a bunch more.
It’s this month’s Patreon-Only e-course. If you want to keep going with this and get access to the video, just become a supporting listener of $10 or more per month over on Patreon… and you’ll get it.
I’m finishing editing it and it’ll be up on Patreon in the next few days.
My first few months on Upwork (Elance) were a disaster. I wasted a lot of time bidding on dead-end or low-payout jobs, working with horrible clients and making much less than I wanted (read: needed).
About a year later, I was doing well enough to leave Upwork forever and get all my clients through repeat business, referrals and my own website… charging what I wanted and clients seeking me out.
I’m not special or overly smart. I just figured out how Upwork works and changed some simple things about my approach and it made all the difference.
Anybody can do this. If you’re struggling on Upwork or would simply like more from your effort, then study this page closely. I’m going to share what I learned.
Step #1: De-Mystify Upwork
Upwork seems to confuse a lot of freelancers. They think it’s this overtly complex system with convoluted goals and impossible for newbies to break into.
Upwork’s goals are simple: connect the best clients with the best freelancers (for their project)… profit.
Trust is the most important currency on Upwork and every feature, algorithm and best practice is designed to increase the trust potential clients have in a) the freelancer they hire and b) as a result Upwork itself.
They want to be the go-to network for hiring the best freelancers.
So, the two most important things for you to focus on with Upwork is:
Building your credibility
You build your credibility by having a killer portfolio, looking professional in your photo, communicating fully and clearly in your bios and descriptions, taking relevant tests, having a long, successful job history, getting 5-star ratings, good client testimonials, etc.
There’s no trick or gimmick to get around this. You have to put in the work, wow your clients and do a good job.
So, does every other freelance developer on Upwork. And frankly, most clients don’t even know what those languages really are or what they mean.
The words you use are critical. You should be saying things like…
“I specialize in building membership sites.”
“I’m a user-friendly forms expert”.
“I build the best e-commerce sites on the web.”
Those phrases are specific to the end result a client is after… and clients actually understand what they mean.
Once you get this about Upwork, you can start to see how you need to rework your profile and your entire strategy to maximize your opportunity to get hired. But, we’ll get more specific…
Step #2: Research and Craft Your Brand
Now that you know how Upwork operates, it should be obvious that the first thing you need to do is hone your pitch to attract and convince your most ideal clients.
That is, you need to know:
What end result can I give my clients?
Who wants that end result the most?
What do they need to see to believe I can do it for them?
This takes research and a little bit of soul-searching. First you need to uncover your niche. Your niche is that perfect space in the market where you can do what you do best and others will pay you handsomely to do it for them.
You uncover that niche by accurately answering these questions:
What do I love to do?
That I’m great (or willing to work to be great) at?
That others will pay me for?
If you’re honest with those questions, you will get a much clearer picture of the value you have to offer and exactly what you should be doing.
From there, you need to research your ideal client. Who are they? What is their life like? What are their hopes and dreams? What’s their ideal scenario? Where to they hang out online?
Everything you can uncover about them to know them intimately…. better than they know themselves.
So, you can accurately implement the last part which is to craft a brand that naturally appeals to your most ideal clients and messaging you know speaks to them and will convince them you are the man/woman for their job.
Step #3: Build Your Profile
Now armed with an attractive brand and loads of intel on your ideal clients, building your profile is a cinch.
You know how to get their attention.
You know exactly what your ideal clients want to hear.
You know exactly what matters to them.
You know exaclty how to speak to them.
You know exactly what portfolio items will appeal to them.
You know exactly what testimonials will influence them.
You know exactly what tests they’ll check for.
The keys here are simple:
Fill out your entire profile in fine detail
Make your entire profile relevant to the specific niche you’re targeting
You’d be surprised how many freelancers who contact me asking what’s wrong with their profile… and when I check it’s only half or three-quarters filled out.
Look at that from the client’s perspective. If you’ll half-ass your own profile what makes me think you won’t half-ass my project?
Also, be relevant. Everything on your profile should speak to the specific niche you’re targeting. If you’re a forms-builder… then the only items in your portfolio should be forms you’ve built.
Nothing less. Nothing more.
Step #4: Win Job Bids
A great profile will help you to show up in the search results when clients search for freelancers related to their project. And, you’ll get invites to bid on jobs as a result.
Also (especially at first) you’ll want to search for jobs pro-actively and bid on the ones relevant to what you do.
To win the bid, you need to do these things (in this order):
Verify it’s a real job (unfortunately, there’s a lot of riff-raff)
Get the attention of the job poster
Get them to trust you
Get them to decide for themselves you’re their best bet
Get them to act now using scarcity
Blow them away and make them never want to hire anyone else and say all kinds of great things about you
Before I get into the details of this… know this… the way you succeed on Upwork (or anywhere else) is through repeat business and referrals. So, 100x more important than the other 5… #6 is above is where 99.9% of your focus should be.
Everything else is pointless unless you’re doing #6.
That said, clients do need to go through a fairly standard emotional process in order to hire you.
First, you need their attention. The key phrase here is: “stick out in a good way”. I’ve found the most fail-safe way to do that is to simply be overly helpful.
In my job bids… instead of telling them all the reasons I’m awesome and why they should hire me, I would just try and help them a little bit.
Give them info, point out anything I saw could be a problem with their bid (in a nice way), answer questions and so forth.
Yes… some clients would take advantage of me. But, the overwhelming majority ended up hiring me and I know I got more work than I would have had I not taken this approach.
This also happens to be how you get them to trust you and convince them you’re the best option as a freelancer. And, it’s simple. Just be helpful.
You have to think about clients beyond the one job they’re posting right this second. Don’t worry about getting that one job. Worry about winning the client over and establishing a relationship with them.
Then, you get all their jobs. I’d gladly give up the one job they’re posting right now for the 10 they’ll need help with down the road.
Take that mindset and it gets easy.
In order to get them to act now… simply “always be walking away”. Always seem like you have one foot toward the door. The more you seem like you don’t care if you get the job… the more they’ll want you to take it.
It sounds backwards I know… but it’s true.
Of course, don’t overtly say you don’t want it or offend them… just don’t be overly eager. Of course, the best way to do that is to simply have a lots of work already so you’re genuinely not concerned if you get that one job or not… but you’ll get there.
Step #5: Make Your Clients Happy
I’ve mentioned this several times now. It’s that important. But, how?
Here’s the un-sexy dead simple way to ensure your clients are always happy:
Do what you say you’re going to
Talk to them
Brilliant stuff there, eh?
You’d be surprised how many freelancers (especially web developers) don’t do a great job of either one of these.
Here’s the secret to knocking these out of the park:
Build things you’re really great at
Have a step-by-step plan for how you build stuff
Have a day-by-day schedule for how you’ll talk to the client
That is… pick a niche and ONLY build things related to that niche. So, if you identified your niche as “form-building”… don’t take on membership site projects.
If you do that, you’ll be building really similar things project after project. You’ll get really good at doing it AND you’ll be able to create a…
Delivery schedule. You’ll know exactly how long it takes you to build the project and what you’ll have done on what days. Write that down and give it to your clients when they hire you.
Then, since you know the key points in your delivery… you’ll know the key points at which you need to communicate with the client. So you can build a…
Communication schedule. Write down exactly what days you’re going to communicate with your client about key points in the delivery. Give that to your clients AND actually communicate with them on those days.
Trust me… you do this and your clients will LOVE you.
Step #6: Get Traffic to Your Profile
This is my secret weapon. I have an emal list of over 24,000 subscribers, a YouTube channel that gets ~100,000 video views a month and has over 20,000 subscribers and a website that gets roughly 20,000+ visitors/month.
Any time I choose I can point all the traffic to my profile in order to get freelance work. And, it has nothing to do with Upwork’s “algorithms”.
I’ve worked hard to build that audience.
Point is… don’t rely on Upwork to bring you all your freelance work! Get out in your market and build your own audience and then leverage that audience to win on Upwork.
After a few months on Upwork, most of the work I got came from my own website… and I’d simply tell those people to hire me over on Upwork.
Those jobs still count toward my job history. Those 5-star ratings still counted. Those testimonials still showed on my profile. And, the more of all those I got… the better I ranked on Upwork.
So, bust your butt outside of Upwork to build an audience that then helps rank better inside Upwork.
Post YouTube videos, answer questions on Quora or StackOverflow, write articles on your blog, etc.
It’s the simplest way to outflank the Upwork algorithms that do reward higher rated freelancers. Just become a high rated freelancer without them.
All of this culminates with your exit from the wild world of Upwork. Look, Upwork is great and all but you’ll be miserable if you try to only get jobs from Upwork the rest of your career.
The competitive nature of freelance sites dictates that you’ll make less doing more.
Ultimately, you want to get off of Upwork and get all your clients through your own website.
You do this in two ways:
Transfer clients from Upwork to working with you directly
Get enough clients directly you don’t need Upwork
I know Upwork has terms that say you can’t encourage clients you acquired on their site to work with you directly. But I also know that clients don’t care what Upwork wants and usually move to working with you directly anyway.
Also, if you’re following step #6 like you should… eventually, you’ll get enough clients through your own website that you won’t need Upwork. That’s what happened to me. It took about a year but after that I never looked back.
Moving Forward From Here…
There’s a lot in those seven steps… no doubt. So, where do you start? Here’s the first three things I recommend you do:
Know yourself (what you love to do, what you’re great at)
Know your client (what they want, how to find them)
Start a blog (it takes time to get going so get started now)
If you do just those three things, you’ll be way ahead of 99% of freelancers out there and well on your way to a full-time income on (and off) Upwork.
It boils down to how freelance sites work. They are designed to surface the best freelancers on their platforms.
That doesn’t meant you’re not good if you’re struggling to get any traction. It means if you’re new to Upwork you’re at a big disadvantage.
But, it’s also not hopeless. With the strategy I’m about to show you, you can quickly gain momentum and rise to the top where getting work is a whole lot easier.
Think of this like an “Upwork Fast-Start Guide”.
The benefit of following this formula is you virtually eliminate the advantage veteran Upwork developers have so you can:
Rank higher for relevant freelancer searches and get in front of more potential clients…
Eliminate the natural skepticism a potential client will have about your profile not being as “robust” as other developers…
Strategically grow your presence on the platform until you end up ranking high on the list for the biggest search terms…
Here’s why this formula works…
Imagine you’re shopping for a new computer. Let’s say you’re looking for a fast computer that can handle a lot of HD video editing.
You’ve narrowed your search down to two options.
The sales page for computer 1 reads like this:
“High powered computer that can handle the most resource-intensive tasks with ease.”
And, the sales page for computer 2 reads like this:
“A 3.2GHz Quad-Core Intel I-7 process with 16MB RAM designed specifically for editing massive HD videos with ease.”
Almost universally, people will instinctively choose the second computer because it’s messaging is aimed right at what they’re after.
This is the advantage you have as a new developer on Upwork.
Most of the well-established developers on Upwork market themselves as “generalists” and have generic profiles. They’re marketing themselves as the “high-powered computer”.
You can out-maneuveur them by marketing yourself as a specialist which will accomplish two things on Upwork:
Cause you to rank higher for specific keywords because your profile is more relevant to that search
Appeal to potential client’s instinct to choose the more targeted option
This is critical when you first start because you simply cannot compete with those developers based on the authority algorithms Upwork uses.
They have a longer job history, more reviews, ratings and so on.
And, they’ll continue to suck up all the work and leave none for you unless you implement this fast-start formula.
So, here’s what to do:
1. Choose Your Target
Pick a very specific niche to go after. Don’t market yourself as a “web designer”. It’s too broad and dominated by established developers.
Instead market yourself in specific terms…
“html and css guru”
“mobile website specialist”
I marketed myself as a “WishList Member Developer” who built (only) membership sites using WordPress and WishList Member.
I was able to rank in the top 3 consistently for the keywords “wishlist member” and won most of the jobs that came through for that term.
The way to do this is to think of 3-5 aspects of web development that you enjoy.
For example: jQuery, WordPress themes and AJAX forms.
Then, go on Upwork and search the job posting for related terms. I’ve found that a new job posting once every 24 hours is usually plenty of potential work to sustain what I want to make each month.
Look at the different terms and decide on the one that is the best combination of what you enjoy, volume of jobs, and potential revenue.
2. Market Yourself as a Specialist
Relevance is how you’re going to win in the beginning. So, now that you’ve chosen a targeted niche to go after you’ll want to build your profile around that niche:
Your title should include your main keyword (WordPress Theme Developer instead of Web Designer)
Your keywords should all be related to your niche
You should naturally sprinkle relevant keywords throughout your description
Your portfolio items should all be projects related to this niche
Any test, certifications, skills, etc… should all be relevant to the niche
Everything should point to you being an expert in this very specific area of web development.
Not only will you rank higher in searches but you’ll be more appealing to clients looking for specifically what you offer.
3. Build Your Job History
With your niche targeted and your profile set up, don’t sit back and wait for jobs to come to you. You need to start building your job history so you can gain authority like the more-established Upwork developers.
Search for job postings related to your niche and bid aggressively. At this stage, it’s not about making money… it’s about building your profile.
Here’s a quick tip…
When you bid on a job you can bid whatever price you like while keeping the price on your profile the same.
So, keep the your profile price at your ideal rate. But, in the beginning don’t be afraid to discount your rated in order to get the job when bidding on individual projects.
Just be sure to say in your proposal something like: “I’m new to Upwork and wanting to establish my credibility here so I’m willing to take this job at a 50% discount on my regular rate. Any future jobs will be at my regular rate.”
That way, if a client is really impressed with your work they know that they’ll be paying your regular rate going forward and it’s easy to transition them over.
No… not all clients will hire you again because of that.
But, many will… and regardless getting the job will help you build your authority on Upwork so eventually you no longer need to discount your fee.
As you get more work, you’ll begin to notice your profile ranking higher for relevant searches and more job invites flowing in.
At that point, you can then consider reworking your profile to target larger, more general niche if you wish.
Although, I never did because I liked working the projects I was getting.
If you follow this formula, you’ll be much more likely to have success on Upwork and get clients instead of wondering why everyone else is getting them and you aren’t.
We’ve covered a lot… what do you need to do to get started with this formula quickly?
I like to think up a few niches I want to target and do the searches on Upwork to see how many jobs are there.
It gives me a good indicator of the kind of volume I can expect and whether a particular niche is viable or not.
So, write down 3-5 web development niches you’re interested in, head over to Upwork and search the available jobs to see what’s available.
When I first got into the online business/internet marketing space (way back in 2004) one of the ideas I saw thrown around a lot was this notion of getting business on “autopilot”.
I always thought it was a little silly. It sounded like straight up hype to me. I mean how is it possible to get traffic, leads and sales on “autopilot”… the same numbers week after week without a lot of input on your part?
Didn’t seem possible. And, for a lot of years I simply wrote it off as hype and didn’t think much more about it.
Then, I started getting serious about my online business. I started putting a lot more effort into creating content and focusing and getting traffic and leads, in particular.
And as I started to track all the numbers, I started to notice something interesting.
When I first entered the web design world, I felt like a fish out of water. For a long time, I felt like I really didn’t belong.
Admittedly, my background is probably a bit atypical. I wasn’t born a “geek”. I grew up in a military and sports-oriented family.
My first job ever was working construction for my dad. I was a star football player in high school. And, I had a fairly extensive background in sales my first few years in the workforce.
I certainly wasn’t in the Mark Zuckerberg mold of learning to code from age 7. I was 23 before I even know what web design was.
So, there were a lot of things that those who’ve “grown up” in a tech-heavy environment take for granted that really stood out to me.
More specifically, a lot of ideas that get accepted as dogma… that aren’t necessarily looked at the same way by the rest of the world.
ONE of those ideas is incredibly dangerous for your freelance career. I’ve literally watched it kill the careers of some of those most talented coders I know because they refused to change their thinking.
I’ve also watched mediocre coders ignore this dogmatic advice and go on to have fantastic careers without ever really becoming what I’d consider a highly-talented developer.
You gain popularity by doing more work and getting good reviews and recommendations from the clients you work with.
Elance uses a sophisticated algorithm to determine an individual freelancer’s level. You can see this level displayed on the side of your profile here:
This level is important because it plays a major role in how you show up in profile listings throughout Elance. In general, the higher your level the more likely you are to show up at the top of those lists and get seen by potential clients.
How to Consistently Outrank Popular Freelancers on Elance
However, there is an equally important ranking factor that I see many new and even advanced freelancers miss…
I was recently asked: “How do I fill out my profile on sites like Elance and oDesk? How do I fill them out in a way that’s honest but more impressive than leaving them blank?”
Here’s the simplest way I can put this…
Your unique situation can and SHOULD be positioned to highlight your advantages. For example, when I started looking to get hired for freelance IT jobs I was completely self-taught and I believed that was a disadvantage.
I believed coders who had gone to school were in a better position than me and would have an easier time convincing clients to hire them.
But, I quickly found out that clients were often MORE impressed with someone who was self-taught and so I began using that to my advantage.
I would highlight that I was self-taught and I learned by working on REAL projects (instead of fake scenarios in some college “lab”).
And guess what… it works!
Since then I’ve come to understand that whatever situation you’re in… you can position it to your advantage. It’s “all about how you tell the story”… and it’s your job to tell YOUR story and not worry about anyone else’s.
So, how can you tell your story in a way that is compelling… that highlights your unique skills, qualifications and experiences?
Got a Question?
Call (515) 344-3163 to ask me your most burning coding question right now?
Segment 1: Web Design Trends You Need to Watch Out For (2:56)
Several years ago when the “Web 2.0” movement hit, I lost my entire freelance business because I didn’t actually know how to code. I had been using MS FrontPage to build static HTML web sites for clients.
And the move to dynamic database-driven web sites killed me.
That taught me to pay close attention to web trends and to break them down to understand the larger motivations at work. So, I could begin to predict trends and stay ahead of the curve.
In this segment, I break down 8 of the hottest web design trends in 2014 and show you the larger forces at work… so you can begin to predict what’s going to happen and adapt your business accordingly so you don’t get destroyed like I did. (more…)
When I first started out on Elance, I really had no clue what I was doing. In fact, I was pretty nervous about the whole thing. I had this sinking feeling that nobody was going to hire me and I’d quit the whole thing feeling like a failure (and maybe give up on coding for good).
And, at first… that’s exactly what happened.
The first few freelance jobs I bid on I got undercut by another developer willing to do the work for a price so low it made me question if I’d be able to every make any money as a freelance coder.
And it really burned me!
It made me angry that a potential client was willing to give control of a huge chunk of their business (and livelihood)… to the lowest bidder. It just seemed so stupid.
Then, a friend of mine (another coder who was killing it on Elance) showed me what he was doing and how he was able to get clients to hire him over and over… even though he was often the highest bid on the project.
And, he laid out a 3-step plan for me to kill it (like he was) on Elance. Here’s what it looked like: (more…)
remarkable(adj): worthy of attention; unlikely or surprising; likely to be noticed
It was Iraq 2005 and there was a girl I liked. Problem was… so did every other guy. In fact, you could say she was overloaded with guys trying to get her attention. She was gorgeous… as you can see from this picture:
And, she had an intriguing personality. She was the kind of person everybody just wanted to get to know. So, it was no surprise every guy was “after” her.
And, I was stuck.
I wanted to get to get her attention. I wanted to impress her. I wanted to get her to like me. But so did everybody else. And, so I kept trying to figure out…
Build Better Websites Using a Separation of Concerns
Easily one of the biggest mistakes new coders make… inter-mingling content, presentation, and behavior… making it a nightmare to maintain and update your code. In the first segment of this episode of the John Morris Show, I reveal how to avoid that whole mess by building your websites using a “separation of concerns”.
What is MVC? How Do I Use It?
I get this question every day. MVC has become a buzzword in the developer community and many developers have been told they need to build their applications this way… but don’t know what it is or how to do it.
In the 2nd segment of this episode, I answer those questions and show you how to start building your applications using the MVC pattern.