Updated June, 2020
It was time to buckle up and get back into freelance digital marketing.
My other project had failed. The three months and thousands of dollars I had spent on the project were wasted. I had nothing to show for it and it was time to call it quits.
Not only that but at the same time, my contract with the agency was up. I had been there a year or so and it made no sense to renew it because they didn’t have enough work.
I opened Upwork and started looking at freelance projects for a few days while I got myself back into it.
The last few times I freelanced, had been via other sites, but by now Upwork had become the biggest platform, even for freelance digital marketing, so it was worth a try.
Then I stumbled upon this project…
… And I decided to go all-in. I spent a couple of hours researching their online presence and politely ignored their final question “are you based in the US?”
I was based in Asia with an almost 12-hour time difference. I figured they had not worked with a freelancer that far away before, but I had helped several clients in the states and I knew it was no problem.
And sure enough, that turned into a $5,000-project. It worked.
The first thing I notice whenever someone is talking about Upwork is that the projects are terrible and the clients just want cheap work.
While there are many of those clients, there are also plenty of clients that have decent work, pay well, and are great to work with.
When you have learned the skills of landing clients it stays with you forever and you can use it, leave it and pick it up again as it fits into your life.
Some people use freelancing to consistently earn money on the side, some make it their full-time gig and others use it in-between other projects.
As friends started reaching out to me for advice, I started writing it down. This guide covers everything you need to know to earn your first $1,000 with freelance digital marketing on Upwork.
If you don’t offer digital marketing skills, you’ll be able to tailor the approach to fit your line of work as well.
Who am I?
Call me Chris. Many years ago, on a quest to figure out how to turn a potential long-distance relationship into something less long-distance, I discovered that people earn good money freelancing remotely.
Usually, we’ll see photos of how people earned $100,000 doing one hour of work with some ‘magic’ system.
To be honest with you, that wasn’t the case for me and I can’t help you do that. It took a lot of hard work.
A part of that was acknowledging that I could really help other businesses, just like I’ve done with my full-time jobs before I cracked the code to landing clients.
This guide is focusing on Upwork and freelance websites but if you’re curious, I’ve also written a case study on landing a copywriting project that paid $500/article via emailing and another where I compare the Upwork results with reaching out to businesses via emails.
Readers have used the material in this guide to get their own freelance-business going. One reader said:
He went from earning $0 to more than $1,300 a week in about 10 months!
He even learned digital marketing from scratch WHILE learning how to get clients! Not something I recommend but it can be done.
Not being spammy and going above and beyond to help his clients! He shared his story on earning $30,000 in his first year freelancing.
Another reader reported earning more money with just a few hours per week outside of her day job.
You are probably not going to earn $30,000 tomorrow — but you can use the strategy in this guide to earn your first $1,000 with freelance websites, just like many other readers have.
Who this is for
This guide is written for freelancers that are tired of sending proposal after proposal on freelance websites and never hearing back.
It requires hard work and by doing a little extra, we can stand out from the competition and get disproportionate results.
Let’s first compare freelancing to other popular online business types for digital marketers, so you’ll know if you are in the right place.
Is freelancing on Upwork right for you?
There are many ways for you to use your digital marketing skills to earn money on the side. Some of the popular options are:
- Affiliate marketing
- Selling ads
- Dropshipping/ecommerce stores
- Online courses
Frankly, they all work. The difference is how much you can earn and how long it takes before you’ll see results. Usually, the more we can make, the longer it takes.
The biggest challenge is that people get demotivated along the way, change direction too early and then never accomplish anything. That’s exactly what happened to me… Like 50 times.
A typical example is to create a blog and either earn an affiliate commission or ad revenue from visitors.
It’s a perfectly good way to earn money but it takes a long time to see any results which also means there is a high chance you’ll feel demotivated and abandon the project before you earn anything that is meaningful to you.
As I’m sure you know, it takes a while to get consistent traffic to your website if you are starting from scratch.
It also takes a long time to get the money into your bank account because most affiliate or ad programs have a minimum threshold you need to reach before they’ll pay you. Not to mention the costs of getting started.
In contrast, with freelancing, you can earn money by sending an email to your client and they will wire the money to your bank account.
In most cases, we need to do more work than that but from time to time you’ll feel like that’s all you did!
Everyone wants passive income.. and yesterday. So did I.
I have since learned that it makes more sense to learn how to earn the money first and then learn to make it passive second. It requires two different skill sets.
Below is an overview of the most popular online business models for digital marketers.
As you might notice, most of the options require a long time frame to get results because they require you to focus on finding a niche, build a website and bring traffic to your site.
What you sell and how, is the main difference between most of the options above, except freelancing.
Fortunately, with freelancing, you don’t need a website. All you need is a client to pay you, a way for them to send the money and a way for you to deliver the work.
For many, it is an excellent way to feel autonomy and getting the confidence that they can earn good money online.
Since the key challenge for most people is motivation in the early stages, standard website businesses are better to do when you are ready to wait a couple of years to see results.
When I first started out, I let my heart run away with me instead of my mind.
I built a few blogs, and while I do consider them successful projects, it took way longer than what I wanted because I had to learn a ton of new skills that I really didn’t need.
They have since become useful but it would have been much better to learn them at a later stage when I needed them.
In reality, it took me about a year and *MANY* of hours of work to make money off of a blog whereas when I was freelancing I made twice the amount of money in a couple of weeks.
My dream was to build a second income stream remotely and I could have done with freelancing. If I had done that, I would have reached my goal much faster.
Pick an epic goal: what are you going to use your money for?
It is now time to set a goal for yourself, champion! You aren’t just freelancing for the fun of it, are you?
Like me, I bet you have something you dream of. Whether that is a new video game console, those shoes that are just a bit too expensive, or perhaps a trip to Japan, now is the time to plan what you want to spend your hard-earned money on.
I recommend starting with something that costs a meaningful amount of money but not so much that you feel like it’s overwhelming. For many of us, that could be $1,000.
The idea is to reward yourself with something cool once you have achieved the first and most difficult part of your new adventure.
When you’ve decided on something to reward yourself with, it is time to pick your freelance idea. Most of you reading this guide will already have an idea. If that’s you, you can skip this chapter…
Find your profitable idea
If you don’t have an idea, start by writing down a list of things you’ve done in the past where you’ve gotten good results or testimonials that you can show.
Pick one of those or ask a few friends what they think you are good at (your mom doesn’t count).
You can also go to Upwork/Fivrr/Freelancer.com and search for projects and check what other freelancers are doing to get ideas.
If you have already had some clients, you know that they will pay for your service. If not, it is key to figure that out. Some businesses will want help solving some problems but don’t want to pay for it.
Or worse.. they can’t.
While there are always exceptions, as a rule of thumb the closer you are to the money (revenue) the more you can charge.
For example, you can often charge more for a direct-response sales page than you can for a blog article. And you can probably earn more by build ad funnels that drive sales than manage social media content on a fan page.
Oftentimes, when clients trust you with one part of digital marketing, they will be happy if you can help them with other areas, too.
That will give you the opportunity to earn more while sampling other types of projects and building case studies in related areas that you might want to move into later.
Specializing in a skill, niche or none at all?
I’m sure you’ve heard about niching down your freelance digital marketing services before. Loads of people talk about it, and it usually allows you to command more money for projects while doing less work.
That happens because you can position yourself as a specialist and re-use the same templates, etc. with multiple clients to speed up your workflow.
There is plenty of room for most types of freelancers. Facebook ads specialist in X niche is a popular example. Taking on those types of projects work pretty well if you like to do implementation work. For many of these, it is plug and play- you have a funnel or two that you replicate for most clients.
Others prefer to work on more high-level projects like as an external marketing manager. Here you might be helping with the direction, strategy, and some implementation work. You’ll typically help a certain type of business go from one stage to another.
If you know a bit of email marketing, Facebook ads, content marketing, and the other disciplines, you might want to take on broader digital marketing consulting projects early on to figure out which market fits you the most.
Doing broad digital marketing consulting has given me some of the best clients on Upwork. Clients looking for this type of help typically don’t know too much about digital marketing and want someone who can also help them understand which platforms to use, when and why.
This is an excellent opportunity to provide more value by helping them understand when to use e.g. Google search ads rather than Facebook ads, helping them set it up and manage it over time.
Pricing your services for profit
In the beginning, it is all about moving fast and getting projects, so you can learn fast.
The quick solution to pricing is to start somewhere between $15-$50/hour at first, and then adjust it once you have 5-10 projects under your belt. The exact number depends on what you are comfortable with.
If you haven’t already, go to Upwork and search for freelancers that are doing something similar to what you are (and has earned money) and start with a rate similar to what they are charging.
That way you know that other freelancers are making similar projects work on those rates.
You simply click the little carrot next to the search bar to switch between freelancers and jobs and start searching.
Below is an example. I could only fit a few freelancers into the screenshot but as you go through the list yourself, you’ll easily be able to get an idea about what to charge as you compare their price with their profile and specialization.
One thing that I like to use for my own research is the green filters button at the top (see below).
It allows us to see how many freelancers are charging each kind of hourly rate and in which categories of work.
There are many ways to play around with this. In this example, you’ll see that most people who have earned $1+ in the sales and marketing category are charging less than $10 (the gray number next to the specific rate is the number of freelancers in that group).
This also shows us that more than 5,000 people have earned money and are now charging $30-$60/hour.
As you are browsing you might feel like you are not as good as some of the freelancers out there when you see their portfolios.
Don’t get demotivated though. While many are legit, great freelancers, it is easy to fake the screenshots or have ad accounts track revenue incorrectly and conveniently not change it.
There will always be some clients that you connect better with based on your personalities. Clients choose their freelancers based on trust. Sometimes case studies help build trust but that is not always the case- and they aren’t always needed.
Generally, I’ve found that the lower your pricing is the more your projects will be focused on execution and the higher your pricing are the more you focus on strategies and communication in digital marketing.
It might be challenging to go for a project with a large payout unless you have some credentials to show (they can be from other projects or your job too, as long as they are relevant).
Generally, it works better to do hourly rates at first because you’ll understand how long it takes to do different projects. Upwork has a software tool that helps you track the time worked and it is mostly projected by an Upwork guarantee to help you get paid.
While you are probably familiar with how long it takes to e.g. write an article or build a Facebook ad campaign, freelancers typically underestimate time spent understanding the brief, updating the client, etc.
Then as you become better at freelancing, build systems and templates for your work, it makes sense to move onto a retainer or a fixed project fee.
Contrary to what I expected, I found it to be much more motivating to do hourly rates, rather than as a project fee.
Using Upwork’s tracking software, I’ve noticed I immediately had the feeling of earning money while working as I was able to see exactly how many hours I had billed (and hence how much I’ve earned).
When you’ve decided on a what to charge, it is time to get clients!
You don’t have to be a cheap freelancer to get clients
Once you have settled on your goal and a niche or skillset you’d like to work with, it’s time to get clients.
This guide is focused on using freelance websites like Upwork, so I will not be covering how to get referrals, do email, or finding clients via other tactics.
Among the popular freelance websites, I like Upwork because you can’t see other freelancer’s bids as it is the case with e.g. Freelancer.com.
I’m sure there a few platforms out there that I don’t know about but for using your digital marketing skills Upwork is a good enough place to start.
On other forums I often see people talk about how Upwork is a race to the bottom and you can’t earn any good money. As you’ve seen at the beginning of this guide, it is just not always the case.
It might be if you focus on being the cheapest freelancer but you can also choose to sell a premium service and only target clients that want that. Upwork has enough work to get you started.
Make your Upwork-profile good enough, then move on
When writing your Upwork profile, I like to look at the market and demand for the skill or niche I’m looking to serve.
Let’s say I want to help small businesses with Facebook ads as an example.
Then I’ll search around for a couple of hours to see if other freelancers are doing something similar. I like to pull up some of their profiles and check if what they earn, and the type projects they work on, are something I’m interested in.
Note of caution: you will find a TON of people that are earning pennies and you might feel like you are about to make a terrible decision.
That is normal. You’ll often see a few profiles here and there doing much better than the rest. These are the ones you’ll want to focus on.
When you find those, analyze their profile text, what they charge, etc. and imitate it. That does NOT mean you should copy it.
I like the strategy of first imitating and then innovating. What that means is you scope their profiles to find the overarching structure and use something similar.
For example, if you notice several profiles talking about how they can increase a client’s revenue or conversions, that angle will probably be a good place to start.
Starting out, I’ve found it to work well to:
- Put testimonials at the beginning your profile text
- Followed by a few brief examples of things you can help with along with a few sentences describing what each is about (e.g. setting up ads, manage them day-to-day or perhaps build a chatbot)
- And at the end, add a few sentences about you as a person, your work ethic/how you work and how it benefits the clients
- A CTA (e.g. contact me now)
That is a perfectly good starting point – again, the key here is to move fast and tweak it as you go.
You might not have any testimonials you can add, but don’t get stuck there.
Some clients will look at your profile and some won’t. Generally, you’ll want to spend more time searching for the right jobs and writing good proposals than perfecting your profile text in the beginning.
Below is an example from my own profile.
It could be better but it gets the job done. It clearly displays what I do, and I’ve added social proof through a few features on other websites that are available in my portfolio and by adding real testimonials right at the top.
Then I’ve outlined things that my clients typically want help with, to give people browsing some ideas on how I can help.
This profile text could be improved but the point is that it works. At this early stage, you want to keep moving forward: focus on the clients’ core challenges and how you can solve them.
Then return to upgrade the profile text later as you learn more about your clients.
Some will be concerned if the text is too long and think people will never read it. I am not. Some potential clients will only read a little bit and if they are not a good fit, they’ll leave. That is a good thing – I don’t want to attract everyone, just the right clients.
For your profile photo, use a simple photo of your face where you look neutral, smiling and friendly.
The Upwork-tests have not made a difference in my experience.
Finding your first freelance digital marketing project (and the ONE “trick” to find good projects)
When getting freelance projects using Upwork there are two main options:
- Invitations to private projects (invite-only)
- The general market with projects everyone can apply to
I will not cover invitations in this guide because you are unlikely to get any in the beginning. Instead, let’s talk about the general market with projects everyone can apply to. The process is simple:
Someone posts a job on Upwork and a freelancer (you) send a proposal and get the job. The best process I’ve found for digital marketing projects is:
- Search for a project
- Send a proposal
- Speak with the client on the phone
- Start the job
- Finish the job and get paid
So let’s start from the top: searching for a project.
I find this to be an underutilized skill- often people complain that they can’t find any good jobs on the platform after a while. Usually, they are just searching for the wrong keywords.
Upwork has several filters that can help you a lot in your search. I’ve found that one of the easiest ways to land a client is by focusing on writing proposals that are in-depth and uniquely relevant to the project description. That means if your proposal is copy-paste-able it isn’t specific enough.
Most freelancers write one or two proposals and spam them to every job – that’s why you’ll often see the project descriptions asking you to mention a code word to make sure you’ve read the whole description.
In comparison, more experienced, successful, freelancers will have a number of templates and they reuse parts of each to get a good balance between sending proposals for many projects and make them personalized based on what has worked for them in the past.
This is a good process to adopt as you get more experience but as you are starting out you need to focus on learning what works.
Right now, in digital marketing, there are generally three different types of projects that pop up again and again:
- The project with two lines of info
- The ad agency
- The blog that wants cheap SEO articles
This is a current trend and it will (of course) change over time. Luckily, there are many other projects but since these three categories appear, again and again, we can use them to explain the framework.
Usually, it won’t work if you the same proposal for all three project categories.
You’ll want a few templates for each and you’ll slowly build a small library of proposals that work. Your own swipe-file.
In the beginning, it’s easier to pick one category and focus on making that work. It’s similar to the approach of niching down your services.
For the sake of the example, let’s say you decide to start by helping agencies with Facebook ads.
As a digital marketer, we want to test different proposals for this type of client.. so we first figure out how to land this client type and then only after succeeding, we will crack how to land other types of clients.
This is a common example of a project description:
As you browsed other freelancers earlier, you probably noticed that most people in digital marketing on Upwork are highly focused on conversions.
If you want to send a proposal for this project, you’ll want to have something to say about conversions to cover what they will hear from everyone else and then pick a way to take it to the next level or by adding something more depending on what is important to this type of client.
Since we KNOW that other freelancers will most likely be saying the same thing, we can address that in our proposal e.g. by saying:
“[…] while many other freelancers will be focused on showing you screenshots of conversions and how many good campaigns they have launched in the past, I focus on not only that (see attached screenshots) but also A, B, C […]”.
If you know it will happen, address it! The project owner will feel like you can read their mind.
If you don’t know exactly what to do to be different, don’t worry. You’ll become better and better the more you speak with your clients and leads. Getting on the phone with them might feel uncomfortable at first but is a great way to do client research.
Until you are able to do that, list down a number of things you think they would value in addition to conversions and test each one with a few proposals.
- Friendly and easy to work with
- Speaks the same native language and is great at communication
- Can help them upsell other services in your skillset e.g. email marketing or search ads
Side-note: You’ll be surprised how many clients value being friendly and easy to work with above being the best at your hard skill as long as you are good at what you do and can get results.
Five proposals for each angle is a good place to start because roughly half the projects in the digital marketing category never have a hire in my experience.
Pro-tip: Try searching for projects in your native language or with clients from your home country and using that as part of your pitch.
It works even better if you are not from an English speaking country as competition will be a lot less and you generally connect better with those from your own country.
The smaller the country the easier it should be. If you are from a huge country like India you might wanna narrow it down even further!
Personally, I prefer to look through 85% of the best projects in 30 mins and maybe miss a few here and there – instead of looking through 100% of the projects in 2.5 hours just to make sure I didn’t miss a single thing.
Upwork has this brilliant “save search” feature so you can search every day by just the click of a button. After browsing around for a few hours, you’ll like have found some good search filters you can save for later.
I’ve found that the search filters that show good projects, can change frequently because of the keywords clients use. So it is great to do a little research for new search filters on a monthly basis. Otherwise, you might feel that all the good projects are suddenly gone after a while.
When looking for jobs, I like them to have as much information as possible because it helps me write a more personalized proposal which in turn makes it much easier for me to stand out and get the project.
This is a great example of a job with no chance to send a personalized proposal for.
I’ve noticed readers benefitting from spending 1-2 hours per proposal and applying to fewer projects than the average freelancer in the beginning.
It is obvious to the client when someone has taken the time to write a good proposal in a sea of vague template-proposals.
Generally, I’ve found it to work well to consistently apply for 2-3 jobs every single day. There are always new jobs coming and I’ve found that jobs that are more than a few days old or have 20+ proposals tend to be much harder to get.
I also like to look at the number of projects the client has hired for. If it is less than 35%, I’m reluctant to send a proposal because there is a high chance they won’t hire.
Of course, you can increase the number of proposals in the beginning if you want to move faster as long as you still spend the same amount of time on each proposal.
Often you’ll see a bunch of projects you are interested in. If you know you’ll only apply to 1-2, you’ll force yourself to pick the ones you think are the best fit which in turn will make the quality of your proposals better.
In this game, consistency is king.
When looking at projects, I always use this quick rule of thumb: does the job description give enough information for me to write a highly personalized proposal? That’s the one thing you’ll want all project descriptions to have.
If not, then I skip it immediately. If yes, then I consider if it interests me and I start writing.
You can often ignore the budget put on the project as most clients simply don’t know what to enter. Because they are afraid of getting scammed, they just put something random like $100.
In fact, I’ve found this principle to hold true for many of the features Upwork allows clients to add – another one is when they have to pick if they want a freelancer that is entry-level, intermediate or expert.
It seems kinda random what people put there and often you’ll see those that want an expert but only want to pay $5/hour.
When you’ve created some saved searches that you are happy with, it is time to send proposals…
$1,200 case study: How to write proposals that get responses (even if you got ZERO replies so far)
Let’s start with another example. Below is a client’s review of a previous project I completed, along with the project description and the specific word-for-word proposal that landed the project.
The client’s review
The project description
The proposal – note that the client will see the cover letter last and the first question at the top on Upwork.
So, what is going on here?
Note that since the client will see the first question first, that’s where I’m writing “Hi…” – I then scrolled through his previous reviews to find his first name and added that.
I started out by sharing my experience helping a different business in the same industry to show something he could immediately relate to. along with generalities about similar types of businesses based on my general experience.
Then I shared two other examples from my experience and show why they are relevant (different businesses but targeting the same audience).
If the examples you show are not 100% relevant, it is key that you show the client WHY they are relevant or what part of the projects that made them relevant enough to bring them up in the situation.
Towards the end, I talk a little bit about my interest in language learning since he mentioned that in the project description specifically along with a testimonial from another client and set the CTA as a general question to learn more.
The goal of a proposal is not to get you the job although that would be nice. Rather, it is to get you the phone call. That’s the only thing that matters.
And the first few lines at the top of the proposal has its own unique purpose: to get the potential client to click “read more” and read the rest of the proposal. Each proposal only shows the first few lines in the client’s dashboard (see screenshot below).
Generally, a good starting hook is something personal or unique to the project. This is where your project research comes in.
I like to keep the hook to 2-3 lines and then add 5-10 lines more with further explanation followed by 2-3 lines at the end that tells them about attached screenshots and testimonials.
Particularly the 5-10 lines in the middle can be expanded as I show in the example above.
It really comes down to how much you are able to show that is relevant along with how many questions they have added to the project description.
You don’t have to add the part about testimonials if you are just starting and feel stuck if you don’t have any.
Some people are afraid of giving away too much advice. I am not, I prefer to work with clients who, even if they could figure out how to do it, are too busy and want a premium white-glove service.
I always like to keep the proposal short because I assume that they are busy and have many proposals to go through.
I’d much rather get them on the phone because it allows me to get a feeling for how we communicate together and from that if we’ll be a good fit.
For the last bit of the proposal; I like to add testimonials and the CTA.
Rather than get tempted to send the perfect proposal and fall in love with a certain project, you’ll benefit more from a consistent system.
It will give you a perspective of how different clients are, which in turn will allow you to learn which type you prefer to work with and how to spot them through their project descriptions.
I highly recommend that you track your proposals at least for the first while to see how you perform. You can copy my template sheet here. Just click File > Make a copy.
I’ve seen freelancers feel bad because they felt like they were sending out a ton of proposals and never hearing back.
When you track your proposals you’ll probably feel better noticing the same as I did: that around 50% of the digital marketing projects never got hired for. It sucks but at least it is not our fault since no one got hired.
And of the remaining portion (besides the clients we land), they typically hire a much cheaper freelancer meaning that the client would never be a good fit anyway.
Another benefit of tracking your freelance digital marketing proposals is that you’ll build your intuition about which project descriptions will be a good fit for you, and which types of proposals work.
That also means if you have chosen to offer broad digital marketing services and later switch to e.g. SEO or advertising-services, you’ll want to track them seperately so you don’t mix up the results and get the wrong idea about what works for you.
I like to track the performance in batches of 20 proposals meaning I’ll run the conversion-numbers after I’ve received an answer for 20 of them (no reply is also an answer).
I usually wait 10-14 days before logging the result of a proposal to give them time to hire – that also allows me to find the person hired via the project description itself and check which pricing they went for.
Dodging scammers with the write-back
The writeback is when a potential client replies to your proposals which allows for the two of you to communicate via the Upwork chat system.
This part is more art than science and depending on the CTA in your proposal you generally have two options:
- Schedule a time for a phone call
- Ask 1-2 questions to vet them if you are unsure if they will be a good fit
For the first one, you’ll want to assume they are busy, so you’ll benefit from making it as easy as possible for them.
I like to propose two different times (in their timezone) and give them the option to suggest others if none of them work. That’s it.
That could be as simple as “I’d like to learn more about your business. Would you be able to jump on a quick 20 min-call on [DAY] at [TIME] or [DAY] at [TIME]? (in [X] timezone)“.
For other projects, you might want to know more before deciding whether to go ahead and schedule a phone call or not.
I’ve found that too much messaging back and forth at this stage kills things, so I like to carefully ask 1-2 basic questions to understand if they are in the right niche and will be a good fit.
They should either be related to the call or be something that can show you a red flag, that might make you want to avoid the call (e.g. if they want to start the project three months from now or have unrealistic goals). The goal is to avoid remove any terrible clients (or scammers) before you waste time on a call with them.
Example questions are:
- What do your products cost? (if they want help with ads, for example, this should give you an idea if it can be done profitably)
- What is the most important thing for you to accomplish with this project?
- When are you looking to get started?
When you are ready to jump on the phone with a potential client…
Avoiding crazy clients and close the deal (even if you are nervous)
The phone call isn’t needed for all types of freelance digital marketing projects. I’ve found that for things like content marketing it is less needed compared to ads management.
While you might not need it, I still prefer to do them. It allows me to get a better feel for if the client and I might be a good fit. At the very least, I’ll learn something about what is important to the client that I can then use in my next proposal to another potential client.
I can’t cover every possible phone call situation you might come across, so I’ll cover the most common ones my readers have experienced in the field.
The key is that you both get your questions answered and make sure you are on the same page in terms of the work needed to be done. It’s a red flag if the client is being evasive and doesn’t want to answer your questions. It’s a recipe for disaster down the road.
The call is a powerful way to get them to trust you and most importantly allow you to provide more value and show them how good you are (meaning more dollars to you).
It is much easier to ask questions to learn more about their business, how you can provide value, and to make them feel special rather than guessing these things.
That will usually give you an instant win and clients will like you. It is great because you can later refer back to the things they said when evaluating results and proactive ideas you might have.
I’ve found that most phone calls tend to last around 45-60 minutes which is a good amount of time for the most part. If someone tries to drag it out (it happens from time to time) to learn from you rather than hire you, you might want to let them you have another meeting about to start and tell them that you’ll follow up with them after.
This is a mix of science and art, and the only way to get good is by practicing. It is normal to get nervous before the phone calls – many people don’t like talking with strangers on the phone.
It has worked well for some readers to reframe this to be a casual coffee meeting (which it is), similarly to if you are meeting with a friend of a friend about a potential job or to learn about a new sport.
I overcame it myself by setting a goal of having the first 10 phone calls within the first month. That helped a lot.
How to talk about your experience (even if you feel like you don’t have any)
As you get more experienced, you’ll know where to direct the conversation, so for now, I’ll help you get started and you’ll want to tweak it to your own style as you go as we all have different personalities.
I like to lead the conversation by preparing some questions and focus on getting the client to talk 80%-90% of the time.
I do that by using follow up questions when they have told me something and sprinkle my related experience or knowledge in as I see fit. That way it doesn’t feel like it’s an interrogation.
Generally, you are looking for ideas where you can give the client a quick win and a way to turn that into a bigger win down the road.
If you want to do things like manage ads for clients, they will often ask for proof of your previous work e.g. screenshots of an ad account that shows performance.
I have rarely seen that happen outside freelance websites. You are much less likely to be asked about your past performance, if you focus your proposal on showing expertise and giving specific recommendations to the project – they will usually be so blown away because no one else bothers to do it.
If they are specifically asking for it in the project description, you should prepare it in advance or avoid that project altogether.
If it does come up during the call and if you don’t have some case study to throw at them, you are probably best off talking about what you’ve done at your current or previous jobs.
Below are some sample questions to give inspiration for your calls. You’ll want to tailor these to your specific service or niche as you move forward.
1) Who are your best customers?
2) What is your business goal?
(besides ‘sales’, force them to be SPECIFIC. If they don’t know or don’t know how to calculate e.g. conversion rate, that is another added value you can give them either right on the call or afterward in an email.)
3) What have you tried before? What worked and what didn’t?
4) Do you have a timeline in mind?
(What kind of budget are you looking to spend on the project? – some people don’t want to share this as they are afraid of being overcharged, so you’ve got to feel out the situation.)
5) When are you looking to get started?
(If the answer is more than 10-14 days in the future, I like to tell them that they can get back to me when they are ready – unless they want to pay me to do some preliminary work. Often something happens during the time period and the project never gets started or is delayed. Write them off as a “no” unless they are paying you already.)
6) Have you worked with any freelance digital marketer before?
(If yes, you’ll want to ask about their experience and what could have made it (even) better. It will help you understand exactly what that person did wrong and you can avoid making the same mistake.)
Should you offer a discount?
Often they will want to confirm the price. With freelance digital marketing, it is a bad sign if they focus on the price upfront instead of learning about how you can help them solve their challenges.
The best way is usually to talk about value first and pricing last, so I like to divert it as much as possible but if they keep asking you should tell them.
Starting with an hourly rate helps you avoid getting into a project where you later kick yourself because you realize it requires more hours than you expected – or even worse they try to add more to the scope of work.
If that happens when you are on hourly rates, you’ll just open up the Upwork tracking software and bill them more hours! Win-win.
Personally, I almost never change my pricing – it has to be an amazing project before I’ll even consider it. And I never (ever) do it during a call with the client just like that. You’ll want to strategically use it – not on a whim.
Alternatively, you can tell them that you are happy to send a proposal with a different price for a different scope of work and that you can send them one after the call (that gives you some time to think about it without committing to something you haven’t thought through right there on the phone).
Seal the deal (and avoid this popular mistake)
You’ll be talking about when a good starting date is. Normally, 2-3 days in advance is good.
Starting earlier might make you come across as needy, and starting later than a couple of days from now might make the client interested in choosing someone else — you have to be the judge in each situation. This also gives you some time to get access to whatever accounts or information you need on their side.
I like to close the conversation talking about the next steps.
Something along the lines of “All you have to do is click ‘hire’ on my Upwork proposal to get started. And I’ll send you a summary of our talk within the next 2 hours along with the next steps for us to move forward” (be specific and stick to it!).
If you’ve had a good conversation you’ll want to keep the momentum going and have them hire you right then and there before they get busy with other things.
I usually mention two hours because it gives them enough time to hire me and if they haven’t yet, I write that in the email.
I once had an awesome call with a lead from Upwork and even though I followed the things outlined above (and he agreed), he never clicked the hire button – even after I followed up with him several times. In fact, I never heard from him again.
My point here is that you should never assume anything unless they’ve technically hired you on Upwork – if they ask you to do anything before, tell them “sure, I’ll take care of that as soon as you have clicked ‘hire’”.
If they try to push the project off of Upwork don’t play along. Tell them you’d like to focus on the project and this makes it easy for you to do.
I strongly recommend that you don’t take projects off of Upwork. Besides it being bad taste (Upwork got you the lead), you have so many things to learn that you don’t need any headaches around getting paid on top of that.
Upwork doesn’t take care of it 100% but pretty much, which is as good as it gets. I’ve never had any problems with payments from clients on the platform.
The reality is that there is a reasonably good chance some of the clients will try to scam you if you work with them off of the platform.
Upwork is great at offering security to both you and your client, so focus on learning the whole process.