5 Tips to Stand Out as an Upwork Web Developer/Designer in 2021

Updated on | Sign up for learn to code tips

Upwork holds a special place in my heart. It’s where I started freelancing when I was first learning tech skills, and also where I’ve hired freelancers to help me run Learn to Code With Me!

If you’d like to make money on Upwork as a web developer or other type of freelancer, it’s key to know how to set yourself apart from the competition. (Because Upwork has plenty!)

In today’s guest post, Chris Misterek shares his tips for how to be successful on Upwork.

You can also join Chris’ free masterclass here, covering even more Upwork freelancing tips & tricks to become a top freelancer on the platform!

Here’s Chris!

Disclosure: I’m a proud affiliate for some of the resources mentioned in this article. If you buy a product through my links on this page, I may get a small commission for referring you. Thanks!

You’ve heard of Upwork, right?

If you’ve ever so much as googled freelancing, then of course you have. Pretty much everyone, give or take, has heard about Upwork. It’s the biggest freelancing platform in the world. 

💰 Freelancers on Upwork got paid $2.52 billion in 2020…that’s billion with a B. 

Upwork revenue
Image source: Backlinko

Wanna guess what the top 15 in-demand tech skills on the platform are?

They ALL have to do with web development. There’s not even one that is in a different category. It literally starts at JavaScript and ends in React. Everything in between…you guessed it, has to do with web development.

So what does that mean for web developers?

It means that if you’ve got any kind of web dev skills and you’re not on Upwork right now, you are missing out on a huge opportunity.

Upwork Freelancing Can Be Tough

Before you drop everything and start bidding on Upwork projects, hold on a second.

As much opportunity as there is for web developers to find great projects on Upwork, it’s not like stealing candy from a web-developing baby.

After all, you’re up against some fierce competition. Some of that competition is willing to accept a much lower price than you would to work on the same type of project. For instance, contractors from countries with lower costs of living can afford to work for low rates and underbid US workers.

We’ve probably all heard horror stories about how someone struggled on Upwork. They fought tooth and nail and just couldn’t make any traction.

In fact, there’s not a lot of things more hotly discussed in the freelance world than “Is Upwork worth it at all?”

Freelancer working from home

But, what I’ve found is that the issues people have on Upwork don’t have a lot to do with the platform itself. They have to do with the person who’s looking to make money on Upwork.

Some Upwork web developers have figured out ways to really stand out from all the other freelancers on the platform. These Upwork freelance pros command rates of four to five figures per project or hundreds of dollars per hour.

Those Upwork web developers go on to have a consistent source of high-quality freelance projects that come TO THEM from the biggest freelancing platform in the world.

Freelance Starter Guide

Sign-up to get my ultimate guide for getting started as a freelancer.

Don't worry. I'll never, ever spam you! Powered by ConvertKit

5 Tips to Stand Out as an Upwork Web Developer

So, how do you stand out on Upwork as a web developer and get really good, high-paying projects on the platform?

I’m so glad you asked.

First of all, it’s not enough to just BE a web developer on Upwork. You have to know how to STAND OUT as an Upwork web developer if you’re going to get really good, high-paying projects on the platform.

The good news is that there are some very consistent and simple things that top Upwork freelancing professionals do every single project.

So, let’s dive into how to be successful on Upwork. Here are five things that you can do to stand out as a web developer and start seriously making money on Upwork.

1. Be a Consultant, Not a Task Manager

There are two types of freelance web developers (be it Upwork freelancing or any other platform/independent worker).

The first is someone who is basically taking a to-do list and finishing it for someone else.

Let’s call them the “task manager” freelancer.

“Task manager” freelancers don’t think very critically about how to solve their clients’ ACTUAL problems. 

They get a job. They do it. End of story.

And listen, there’s nothing wrong with this type of freelance web developer. They get the work done!

But if you’re going to really stand out as a web developer and learn how to be successful on Upwork, you’ve got to be more than a task manager…because THERE ARE A LOT of other freelance web developers who fit into that category.

If you’re going to stand out and really crack the code of how to get hired on Upwork, you’ve got to go deeper than just what’s on the surface level of the project. You’ve got to see the big picture. You’ve got to understand how you fit into the overarching goals of the client’s business.

The Upwork freelance pro who can see the bigger picture and do more than just help a client with a surface-level issue is what I like to call a “consultant.”

These are the types of freelancers that stand out and are able to earn a lot more money on Upwork.

Let me give you an example to make things a bit clearer.

Let’s say a client comes to you and says, “I need a new website.”

A task manager would say, “Great, I can finish it in 1 week.” Done.

A consultant would ask deeper questions that really get to the heart of the client’s needs. “Why do you need a new website? What role does your website play in your business? What would you like to improve compared to your old website? Where can you put your website budget that will get the biggest return for your company?”

Ultimately, a task manager is only concerned with their to-do list. A consultant is concerned with the overall outcomes of their client’s company.

They want them to succeed as a business and so that means thinking a bit deeper about what you do and how you can really help someone.

Approaching a project like that will really help to differentiate yourself from all the other freelancers on Upwork. The client might get 30 proposals from web developers who just say “yes I can do this,” but only one or two from people who ask those important questions and demonstrate deep knowledge and care for their needs. 

➡️ If you can connect the work you do back to the overall success of their company, that’s worth a lot more than a code monkey.

Going this extra mile to establish yourself as more of a specialist will allow you to make money on Upwork charging much higher prices.

Most clients won’t know what they need and probably won’t realize the difference between the two types of freelancers. So, they might not come out and say, “I’m looking for a consultant” in their project description. In fact, most clients will only put task level deliverables in their description.

And, that’s okay. You don’t need to shy away from bidding on those types of projects.

But, you do need to help them understand how much more of an impact a “consultant” freelancer can have on their project. Doing this will help you stand out AND will likely make the client much more willing to increase their budget.

Going this extra mile to establish yourself as more of a specialist will allow you to make money on Upwork charging much higher prices.

2. Develop Your Soft Skills

When most people begin to think about how to stand out as a freelancer, they instantly think about becoming more proficient in the “hard skills” of their craft.

So as a web developer, that’s things like getting a better understanding of the languages you’re working with like JavaScript, PHP, Python, or maybe even adding some more knowledge in a different area to be more well-rounded.

And, listen, those things are important. 

You can’t be a bad developer and become a freelancer on Upwork for very long—the bad reviews will take you down. But even so, most of the time people over-emphasize the hard skills and under-emphasize the soft skills!

Soft skills are things like how well you: 

  • Communicate
  • Hit deadlines
  • Show empathy
  • Collaborate
  • Pay attention to details

Believe it or not, there are a lot of freelancers who are horrible at soft skills.

I’ve been on the other side of the table trying to hire freelancers. Many of them don’t even take the time to read through a job description. It’s so clear that they’re just sending a boiler-plate, generic letter and don’t understand my unique needs at all.

  • They don’t take the time to read through a job description and it’s easy to tell.
  • They don’t answer questions you’ve asked them to answer.
  • They use a copy/pasted template for every one of the projects they pitch on. 

The Upwork freelancers who stand out the most are those that take the time to really think about and read through my project description AND communicate clearly AND see from my perspective. 

AKA, they’ve got good soft skills.

Now, historically, developers aren’t well known for having great soft skills. We can be pretty awkward sometimes.

But, if you want to stand out as a web developer on Upwork, you’ve got to put effort into growing your soft skills just as much if not more than you do developing your hard skills.

Freelancer working in an office

The idea that we are born with soft skills and develop hard skills over time is silly.

A skill isn’t something you’re born with. It’s learned. 

Granted, for some people, it’s easier to learn certain skills than others. But, that doesn’t mean you’re INCAPABLE of learning those skills.

I have a friend who is the awkward developer type. And I’m not letting you in on some embarrassing secret by telling you that. He knows it and is pretty open about it.

BUT, he’s also been open about how he’s intentionally worked to develop his soft skills by putting himself in situations that he knows will challenge him and help him grow in that area.

And guess what?

This last year he went full-time into freelancing, and he’s crushing it. He’s not done any marketing at all and is fully booked.

All because he took the time to develop his soft skills and connect with people in a way that most people don’t take the time or effort to do when joining Upwork to become a freelancer.

3. Get Specific on Your Upwork Freelance Specialty

When a client is looking at Upwork for freelancers to hire, they typically aren’t looking for someone who is somewhat decent at a lot of different things.

We have a great saying that reinforces this idea: “Jack of all trades. Master of none.”

Think about going to a primary care physician for brain surgery. No thanks. Get that scalpel away from me. 

Most of the time, clients want someone who can do a really good job at a really specific thing.

There are a ton of freelancers who have a laundry list of skills that they throw at clients in hopes that something will stick.

“I do HTML, CSS, JavaScript, PHP, React, C++, Java, Video Editing, Data Entry, UX Design. I can clean your house and I DJ on weekends!”

When clients read something like that they almost instantly think, “This freelancer has no clue what they’re doing. Nobody can be good at all of those things.”

Most of us aren’t that extreme. But, if you want to stand out as an Upwork web developer, you have to get really specific about what you do AND who you do it for.

You can’t just say, “I’m a web developer.” 

You have to say, “I’m a web and mobile application developer who’s proficient in React and primarily serves the health and fitness industry.”

Super specific.

As much it might seem that getting specific decreases your chances of landing projects, it actually INCREASES your chances. 

Because, again, clients want someone who knows their pain points specifically. They want someone that can knowledgeably speak to their unique challenges and knows how to avoid roadblocks that are common in their specific scenario.

And, I get it, it’s scary to narrow down what areas you’re going to focus on when you’re first learning how to get hired on Upwork and don’t have a ton of freelancing experience yet. But once you do find your niche, you’ll actually open yourself up to a lot more business and distinguish yourself from the competition.

Join the free portfolio course

Sign up below for my *free* course on how to build a portfolio site as a web developer/designer.

Don't worry. I'll never, ever spam you! Powered by ConvertKit

4. Focus on Feelings, Not Features

When I’m not freelancing on Upwork or helping people learn how to become awesome freelancers themselves, I’m working at a SaaS (Software as a Service) company.

We have a saying in the SaaS world: “Features don’t sell, feelings do.”

A lot of SaaS companies mistakenly focus on how their features are so much better or different than other companies.

The problem is, most people don’t really buy a product for its features. Let’s talk about something maybe even more hotly debated than Upwork: Android vs iPhone. 

Android users are very quick to point out that all the new features the next new iPhone is coming out with have been available for a while on Android phones.

And, listen, they’ve got a good argument.

So, why do so many people line up at Apple stores the morning a new version of the iPhone is coming out?

It’s because Apple has figured out how to make people feel a certain way. And that’s what they focus on in their marketing.

Apple store

They don’t say, “Look at what our new camera comes with!”

They put out a commercial of a breathtaking video filled with adventure, emotion, and a group of people that you can tell feel so connected to one another.

Then at the very end, a tiny line of text pops up that says “All shot on an iPhone.”

It’s very effective marketing that shows someone what they’ll feel when they buy an iPhone.

If you want to stand out as a web developer on Upwork, you’ve got to do the same thing.

I’m not saying get cheesy and talk about how hiring you will make your client feel similar to how they felt on their wedding day.

But there are some things you can do to focus on feelings that will make a client more likely to hire you.

How do you do it?

You say things like, “I’m going to build you a (fill in the blank) that you and your company are PROUD OF.”

…Or “The process I take all of my clients through is PAIN-FREE.”

…Or even, “At the end of this you’ll have a (fill in the blank) that makes your competition JEALOUS.”

Is this a manipulative marketing strategy?

Not if you deliver.

You can’t say those things and not follow through. That would be manipulative.

By focusing your attention on the feeling your client will get from working with you, all you’re doing is speaking in a language that makes the most sense to most people.

When you do that, you’ll have happier clients and you’ll stand out as an Upwork web developer.

5. Make it All About The Client

Have you heard of the freelancer golden rule?

It goes like this “Do unto your client what…actually just stop talking about yourself.”

Okay, that’s not a real thing.

However, so many freelancers make the mistake of focusing almost completely on how awesome THEY are.

When they pitch to work on a new project, they talk all about how many years of experience they have, what kind of projects they’ve worked on, or who they come recommended by. Me, me, me, me, me.

Here’s a secret that will really help you to stand out as a web developer on Upwork.

Clients care way more about themselves than they do about you.

Your job as a freelancer is not to convince them how great you are. Your job is to make THEM great.

You have to think of yourself as a guide to your clients’ own awesomeness. In other words, you’re Gandalf and your client is Frodo.

Gandalf wasn’t the star of the film. Frodo was. But, Gandalf played a very key and necessary role in shaping Frodo’s journey and success.

So, how do you do this on Upwork?

You start by making sure everything you write has more “you’s” than it does “me” or “I’s.”

If you’ve already signed up on Upwork, become a freelancer, and have a profile, go and re-read what you’ve written right now. (Otherwise, use this advice whenever you’re setting up your Upwork freelancing profile!)

If you can go seven or eight words without there being a “you” or “your,” you haven’t focused on your client enough.

Is there a time to talk about yourself? Of course! Past experience and skillsets are important. But they’re not the star of the show.

The star of the show is how you’re going to help your client become even more awesome. Even when you do talk about yourself, you should try to always bring it back to how that relates to the success of the client.

It takes work and practice to think this way, but if you work on it, you’ll be able to attract new levels of freelance clients and stand out as a web developer on Upwork.

How to Get Work on Upwork? Stand Out!

There is a real need for high-quality web developers on Upwork. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not an oversaturated freelancer market. 

In fact, the CEO recently mentioned that there’s a “skill gap” between what companies are looking for and what the majority of their freelancers have to offer.

So, there is in fact a large need for high-quality web developers that know how to deliver awesome products and services to their clients.

If you do things like:

  • 🖼️ Focus on the big picture rather than the small tasks
  • 🗣️ Learn how to communicate and empathize with your clients well
  • 💻 Niche down in your skill specialties or the tools you use
  • 😃 Focus on what your client will feel after they’ve worked with you
  • 🤝 And make your value proposition 100% about the client

…Then it won’t be long before you become a top-rated and top-paid web developer that stands out and has a consistent source of high-quality, high-paying projects on Upwork!

There’s still so much more to learn about how to get jobs on Upwork and make it as a freelancer. 

🌟 Make sure to join my free masterclass here to learn more secrets to success on Upwork! 

3 Simple Steps to Land High-Paying Clients on Upwork

We’ll cover tips for creating a profile that attracts clients, writing cover letters/pitches, narrowing down the client pool to ones you actually want, getting paid more on Upwork, and more. Can’t wait to see you there!