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Episode #66: How to Make Money on Upwork With Victor Ramirez

Victor Ramirez featured on an Upwork billboard in Times Square.

Victor Ramirez joins me to talk about how to make money on Upwork. Find out how he made almost $7,700 part-time in less than two months’ time, mistakes he made early on and what he learned, and tips you can use. Plus, hear how he ended up on a billboard for UpWork in Times Square.


Show Notes


Victor Ramirez.Victor Ramirez began his foray into the interwebs building websites and email newsletters for various high school art projects. Recently, he was at Dow Jones defining WordPress at News Corp. He now is a lead product analytics engineer at The Knot Worldwide. On the side, he runs An Abstract Agency (a WordPress agency), co-organizes the WordPress NYC MeetUp and teaches high school students to code.

Victor and I know each other originally through WP Elevation.


Getting to Know Victor Ramirez

Colleen Gratzer: Welcome to the podcast, Victor. I’m delighted to talk to you.

Victor Ramirez: Hey, great to be here.

Colleen: I thought we would start off with some fun questions.

Victor: Okay, yeah, that works.

Colleen: So are you an early bird, or are you a night owl?

Victor: I am trying to be an early bird. Part of my routine now is I get up at 6 AM. But I have an alarm clock that is a long-haired chihuahua.

Colleen: I have two of those, but they’re a little bit bigger than a chihuahua.

Victor: Got it. Yeah, at 6 AM, he wakes me up. He wants to go for a walk. He wants to play. So it’s just better to get up at 6 AM and get my day started.

Colleen: And what’s your favorite video game?

Victor: Man, I don’t have a favorite video game because they change all the time. But my favorite video game type to play—right now— is Red Dead Redemption. Before that, it was like a game called Horizon Zero Dawn.

Anything where you just can explore the world and kind of hunt and do games that I can jump in quickly and I don’t need to I play for months. Because a lot of new games, it’s really frustrating… You join the game, and people are so modded and so upgraded that you die in seconds.

I like games that take hundreds of hours just to hike around and have fun. It gets my mind off of work.

Colleen: Yeah, I was a big fan of Zelda, but those games those take a long time to get through.

Victor: Yeah, exactly.

Colleen: I’m really into the vintage stuff.

Why Victor Got On Upwork

Colleen: Well, so many people are so excited about this episode, because so many creatives are hesitant to try platforms like Upwork.

You joined a couple years ago, and you made almost $7,700 part time in less than two months on there. I’m wondering what motivated you to try Upwork to begin with?

Victor: I had originally been doing work on… Just finding clients the standard way. I am in New York City. I met people through an app called WeWork. It’s a coworking space, but they had an app at the time.

I was meeting people through that, running workshops, running the Meetup. But then I just wanted to try to get a new profile out there and try to find a new way to get clients.

There was an article in Copy Hackers. It was called the “Hidden Upwork Economy.” The guy essentially talked about how if you look at Upwork, in a traditional way, it’s not great.

But if you look at Upwork in the sense of using it as a profile to rank highly on SEO… You are trying to just get smaller clients to get good reviews to land big whale clients.

For example, on Upwork, I get invited to a lot of invite-only jobs or enterprise-level jobs that are not on the open market.

I don’t even pitch anymore. I only just get invited to work.

Early Mistakes on Upwork

Colleen: Did you do well on it right away, or did you try out some different things and see what worked and what didn’t?

Victor: I took advice from the article, and I actually ended up writing my own article to show my own experience.

I messed up in the beginning, where to get a review and to try to get some kind of traction, I charged $35/hour, just to get something out the door. That was just a bad move.

Then every time anyone would ask me, like for work, they go, “Well, you charged $35/hour before, for the previous job,” because your job history is open.

Then I was like, “No, but my new rate is $75/hour.”

They were just like, “Well, I looked at your profile for $35/hour.”

I’m like, “Well, my profile even says $75.”

It led to a lot of debate. So it took me a while to get started again. But I did learn to get better at communicating the value.

I would say to people $75 is my base rate—and I even do that now. 75% is my base rate, where I will come into your site, do some basic things. But if you want more availability, if you want actual coding, if you want development, you want coaching, it goes anywhere from $75 up to $250/hour.

What Makes a Good Upwork Profile

Colleen: Okay, cool. Well, what kinds of things do you think make for a good profile on Upwork?

Victor: Being keyword friendly, being focused. A new feature they recently rolled out was multiple profiles.

You’re allowed to have three profiles. I have one profile for WordPress. I have one profile for landing pages. I have one profile for CMS development, which is general, beyond WordPress. For each of those profiles, I have really well defined for certain keywords.

But then also even before that, I made sure I knew what I wanted to rank for. I would say “WordPress,” I would say “landing pages,” “conversion marketing,” because I knew those were competitive niches.

I always tell people Upwork releases reports of the most in-demand work. They send out an email on an annual basis as a promotion because they want people to come on there. If people are looking to skill up… Even myself, I was mainly WordPress.

But then I saw, according to their rankings, people were looking for conversion-focused marketing. So I rebranded my original profile to be a WordPress developer with marketing specialties.

Adding certifications… Essentially making your profile as complete as possible…

One of the problems is a lot of people think “I’m not going to put any effort into this profile, because I just want to get one or two clients, and I’m going to focus on doing marketing outside, elsewhere.”

But they forget that Upwork makes it so that people don’t go look elsewhere. They want as much on the profile as possible.

But I didn’t really do anything special. All I did was look at my LinkedIn, looked at my other profiles, and I just cut and paste it in there.

I essentially maintain a Google Doc. I have that saved as a Text Expander snippet. So when anyone asks me for my bio, I just type in “x bio” and it spits it out. If anyone asks me, “Why do you charge so much?,” I say, “x fees.” If someone says, “How do I get in touch with you?,” I do “x call.” I have those snippets ready.

Even though it sounds difficult to maintain an Upwork profile, you’re just maintaining it like anything else. You may never get clients on Upwork.

I had a dry spell recently, where I didn’t get any new clients for three or four months. With the COVID-19 crisis going on, I’m getting a lot of new invites.

Colleen: Oh.

Victor: I actually stopped getting clients for a while because I kept turning down work. All the work that people wanted was like $1,000 landing page, one $500 landing page. They wanted an email marketing setup.

But for me now, I look for LTV (long-term value) in a client, and I essentially try to look for a client that’s going to be able to spend $20,000 over two years with me, because if I’m going to invest…

When I do a $1,000 landing page, I’m upselling the whole time.

I’m going and putting the landing page into WordPress. I’m saying, “I could go and put your landing page mixed in with your regular pages. But that’s gonna be really hard to find later. Why don’t I make you a custom post type of “promotion” or “landing page,” and we could separate it out?”

Colleen: Ooh.

Victor: “Your site’s really slow. Why don’t we migrate hosting after we get the landing page done?”

“Your images are not optimized. I optimized the images on the landing page. But there’s this cool thing called Imagify or Smush, and I can optimize all your images.”

Essentially, when I’m building a landing page, it’s a selling opportunity. I know to look at everything else they do. But there are certain clients where someone comes to me on Upwork, they’ve never owned a business before, they’ve never worked with an agency before, and they’re like, “I’m completely new to this. I need someone to build a landing page and you look like the perfect person to work with.”

They’re trying to choose me for my experience, but in my opinion, I’m saying, “You have no experience, even working with a business or even owning a business. So you’re not the right client for me.”

Not only am I spending so much time trying to educate them on how to do a landing page, then they’re asking me, “What should I do with my product? How much should I charge?” blah, blah, blah.

That’s beyond even just building a landing page. So on Upwork, I even build that into my profile as well, where I even say like, “Here’s the services I offer. Here’s what I’ll do.” I try to put negative language in there. I don’t think it’s on Upwork right now.

Screening Upwork Clients

Victor: But when people will talk to me, when they reply or invite me, I’ll say, “I need you to answer three questions.”

I actually don’t have this in the article that I wrote about Upwork. But I should share it. I tell people, “Respond with a reply.” If they don’t respond to this properly, don’t even follow up on the job.

1. What about my profile makes me a good fit?

I ask these three questions. One, what about my profile makes you think I’m the right person for the job? If they can’t answer that, that means they didn’t read the profile.

Colleen: I love that you’re screening them.

Victor: Oh, yeah. I think a lot of people think of Upwork as this silver bullet. It is a market like anything else. It’s like Craigslist, right? I never go on Craigslist. But I know certain people have gone on Craigslist and gotten killer web dev jobs because these big agencies don’t know to recruit. They don’t even…

Ask your local dentist: “If you were to build a website, where would you go?” They go to Google and they type in “hire website developer.”

Well, guess who’s running ads for that? Upwork, Codeable, and I don’t know, whatever markets for developers, right? Oh, Toptal, because they’re hiring enterprise developers.

So Upwork is going to get in your dentist’s email. You’re not maybe, because you’re not going to rank on Google. So you’re borrowing from Upwork.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t screen, because you get people…

Just like if you were to go on Craigslist, and you try to sell an old laptop, right? You’re going to get nine people from Nigeria that are going to offer you a check. You’re gonna get one person who tells you they’ll give you $500 for a $2,000 laptop. But then after 100 emails, you get one person who’s like, “I’ll buy this laptop today for $1,800 dollars cash.” It’s $200 owes less but you can meet with them. You just have to filter those quickly.

My quick screening is those three questions. Again, one is, did you read my profile? I say, “What about my profile makes me a good fit?”

2. When do you need this done?

Victor: “When do you need this done? ‘5 PM Friday’ is better than ‘ASAP.’”

What’s great about that is some people will be honest. They’ll email me on a Friday and say “I need it Monday.” I’m like, “Cool. Do you want to pay $240/hour?” They say no and and then nothing ever happens.

3. Are you open to suggestions?

Victor: The third question is, “What platform are you hosted on, and are you open to suggestions?” If they say they’re on Wix and they’re not open to suggestions… I don’t work with Wix anymore, so I just don’t…

But if they say, “We’re on WordPress with WP Bakery on Bluehost, but we are open to suggestions because we’ve realized it’s not ideal,” that means that’s a client who’s open, right?

I’ve had clients who were on GoDaddy $5-a-month hosting. They had a terrible theme. I moved them to Liquid Web, which is great e-commerce hosting. They were a WooCommerce client. Then I changed their theme to Genesis, something easy to maintain. Then I changed them from WP Bakery to Beaver Builder, because it’s just like they want a page builder that integrates better and has developer controls. All of a sudden, that client is like the LTV that client went for like a $500 project to like $20,000 in business.

So that question is really important.

But yeah, those three questions alone…

Some people will actually reply and say, “I don’t do this. Can I just get on a call?” That’s not the client you want. Because another thing I tell people about Upwork is always have a record in the chat. Even if you get on a call with a client, take whatever you talked about in the call and copy and paste it as a recap into Upwork chat and say to them, “Can you just confirm these details we had in the call?”

That helps disputes now that I’ve had like a lot of disputes. But I’ve heard people get hosed where they got a client, they did the work, and nothing ever came of it. So that’s a big warning too. But it’s like anything else that you have on Craigslist, that can happen like, in the real world, you just have to screen and be ready and know how to manage expectations.

How to Get Your First Project on Upwork

Colleen: Well, how can somebody get their first project on Upwork when they don’t have any reviews or feedback? I mean, because I know you said that you were working for a lower rate.

Victor: Yeah. So I don’t recommend that. The number one thing I warn people…

That actually hurt me. I wasn’t doing well for the first six months because I made the mistake of working with that $35/hour client to try to get a review. Then she wanted to hire me back and I was like, “I don’t want to work for $35/hour.” How do you politely tell someone it was an experiment, right?

But what I what I did was I went and looked for jobs where I knew I could already succeed. So when I went and looked for jobs in the beginning, I went and typed in “WordPress,” “PHP,” “JavaScript,” “React,” “conversion,” or “Lead Pages integration, “Click Funnels integration,” “Google Analytics integration,” “Google Tag Manager integration.” I had the same things in Text Expander. I had a pitch template, and my pitch template was a fill-in-the-blank boilerplate.

I would say, “Hello, my name is Victor Ramirez. I live in New York City. I’ve been working with WordPress for six years. I run the WPNYC Meetup group.” In the pitch, I’m demonstrating value. Then I would do two sentences with some way to pitch them on their work.

So if they were doing Google Tag Manager, I would say “Do you already have Google Tag Manager installed? I could help you install it. I could do custom JavaScript integrations.” Little things like that.

Or if they say, “I’m using Lead Pages and I want to integrate with WordPress,” I would, in my pitch, say, “If you didn’t buy Lead Pages already, I could save you $3,000 a year by installing something like Beaver Builder, and serving landing pages from your WordPress.”

In those pitches, by adding value right away, I was separating myself from other people. And so—

Colleen: Getting their attention.

Victor: Yeah, yeah. After about three months of just doing pitches…

I would do five pitches every morning. It took me 15 minutes because I had a boilerplate. I would just go look for jobs, pitch jobs. Then, after a while, I had like five jobs. I got five five-star reviews. I had a 100% rating.

Then the jobs just come through. You don’t even have to pitch anymore.

I think if I actually hired a VA to do the pitches, I probably could get more business on there. But I do $50,000 to $150,000 a year on there.

Colleen: Wow!

Using Upwork as Part of Your Client Base

Victor: I’m trying not to live on Upwork because one of the things about Upwork as well is that the Upwork chat system leaves something to be desired. But again, I don’t want to chat with clients outside of Upwork, because then you run to the danger of, now I’m having to communicate with them on email, communicate with them on Upwork, and then it just leads to confusion.

So I just try to keep people who are on Upwork on Upwork and keep business outside of Upwork. But, also, people will have my name, Victor R., WordPress, New York, and they’ll have that from Upwork.

They’ll go type into Google “Victor R WordPress New York,” and they’ll find me. They’ll say, “I found you on Upwork” and they contact me outside of Upwork.

Now, if they’re like a smaller person, and they’re like, “Oh, yeah, can we work with you directly? We’ll pay you the $75/hour on your profile.”

Then I’ve had some people say, “You’re not going to pay the fees on Upwork now, so we’re going to pay you $55,” and I’m like, “Noo.”

But then I did get a huge lead off Upwork, where someone found me on Upwork. They didn’t want to hire me through Upwork. They liked my profile. They contacted me outside of Upwork and said, “We found you on Upwork and we want to hire you.” There are no rules against that. I don’t have to tell them, “Come onto Upwork.”

But then there are some clients… Where it helps with enterprise… I had an enterprise client find me outside of Upwork. They had previously worked with me with another client on Upwork. I didn’t have to work them on Upwork. But because Upwork allows credit cards, she didn’t have to go and get approval on budget. It was much easier, and Upwork took care of that. Her agency already had an Upwork account. I was on board in a day.

Upwork is actually really helpful if you want to land enterprise clients, because Upwork does the due diligence. Your reviews are already there. You already have great rankings. You have 100% positive, and Upwork keeps money in escrow. So then, for you as an individual, it leads to a lot less work of having to get validated and get approved by a legal team or an accountant or something.

Colleen: Well, you were saying if you have good profiles elsewhere on social media… You’re just copying and pasting from them.

I did an episode with a LinkedIn expert to help creatives with their LinkedIn profiles.

But do you think that your social media profiles and your website—which for designers is going to have their work on it—do you think that what’s outside of Upwork is going to help you get hired through Upwork?

Victor: Yes. So interestingly, on Upwork, you’re not allowed to link to any outside sources. I’ve had a lot of people complain to me, “I tried to get on Upwork, and they kicked me off because I put links to outside profiles.” They don’t like that. So you can reference that. People are going to Google you. People Google their dates. People Google every business, right?

So just say that: “I’m a designer based in New York City. Feel free to Google me.” There’s nothing against the rules about that on Upwork. You can’t link to outside profiles. So I literally say that my profile: “Feel free to Google me.”

Colleen: “That’s a good idea!”

Victor: That gives people a lot of confidence.

How to Compete on Upwork

Colleen: That’s a great idea. How do you compete with others who’ve already had success that are working on Upwork? I know you were talking a bit about specializing and having these specialized profiles.

Well, you also said though, putting in there about adding value in the pitching. Are there other ways, though, that you think you can stand out?

Victor: Well, Upwork’s trying to do this. I don’t play that game. But making sure you let people know exactly where you’re based.

Upwork does have now geo preferences. I always tell people… They’re like, “Man, how am I going to compete with someone from India for $5/hour?” Well, if hiring someone from India was so easy, Google would not have a single U.S. employee. But 90% of people who work at Google live in the U.S.

Other business owners think they’re going to get a deal on Upwork. They hire someone for $5/hour. It’s a complete disaster. Upwork realized that, so now what they do is, when a person builds a job, they’ll say “U.S. only.”

They also do “Europe only.” They also do “region only” because people want to work with people in their own region, with their own language, with their own culture. Not a lot of training and stuff. You can stand out that way.

You can stand out by sharing other things in your profile like:

  • Have you won awards?
  • Do you have portfolio work in there?
  • Do you have a particular niche?

The same way as anywhere else on the web, just make sure you do that.

I’m niched not in an industry but I niche in a service, which is conversion marketing, enterprise development.

This one guy I know who was a database administrator ended up really specializing in Salesforce. Now he ranks… I think he’s like the number one Salesforce developer on Upwork.

I met him at like an Upwork Jam. They had an event in New York where they invited some of their top Upwork freelancers.

Colleen: Oh, wow.

Victor: Yeah. He’s one of the top… I think he does like a quarter million a year in revenue on Upwork just doing Salesforce.

Colleen: Wow.

Victor: Yeah. So I think if you stand out just by doing a niche, the same way you do online, it’s nothing different. It’s just that Upwork has its own kind of little ecosystem. If you go on there and don’t think of it as “I’m going to get rich…”

If you went on Upwork and did nothing except for get six $500 projects, which, for the first $500 dollars, it’s 20% (that’s the fee). After $500, it’s 10%. After $10,000, it’s 5%. So the longer you work with a client, the better it is.

But the other thing to keep in mind is if you just got six clients and Upwork, did $500 work for them each, got a five-star review, that alone looks great.

If you google “Victor Ramirez WordPress,” my Upwork profile is actually one of the top ranking things. That’s the first thing people see.

I’ve had people outside of Upwork or contact me. They were like, “Oh, our lawyer wants to do due diligence.” Whatever. I’m like, “You know what? Look. Google me. Check out my Upwork account. I’m not going to sit through meetings. I’m not going to prove myself to you. Go and Google me. I bet you no other freelancer or agency work you with can do that.” And they can’t.

So it’s just building a really great online presence. Upwork helps with that. If you just got six, $500 clients, that’s $3,000. That’s nothing to sniff at. But it also helps with your online presence.

Upwork is kind of like you’re borrowing their validity, right? You’re borrowing their system. The same way you’re on Yelp or restaurants are on Yelp, but they shouldn’t put all their eggs in one basket, right? They shouldn’t put their entire advertising budget into Yelp, or into Seamless or Grubhub or any of those.

Specializing on Upwork

Colleen: Well, I’ve done one job on Upwork, and it was a big job. It had to do with accessible InDesign files. That’s the only job that I’ve done on there. But it was just to get a presence out there and see what happened with that.

So I agree about the specializing because there are so many generalists on Upwork—and everywhere else, outside of Upwork too.

They actually went with someone else at first because of price. But then they came back and they said, “This didn’t get done in time, and it wasn’t getting done properly.”

Victor: That happens all the time on there.

Colleen: Yeah. So they were like, “Are you available?” I was like, “Yeah.” Actually, it’s one of the best clients that I’ve ever worked with. I mean, they were really great. They were totally respectful. There were times where it was like, “Look, after getting into the files more and remediating them, this is what’s going on. So it’s gonna cost this much extra now because of that.” They were just so understanding.

I offered them training as well as part of and they found that to be very beneficial. So it’s kinda like you saying, when you’re taking on maybe a landing page job, and then you’re upselling with another service, “I can remediate these files for you, but what are you going to do later when you’re updating them? You have to know something about how to do that.”

How to Get Exposure and Pitch on Upwork

Victor: Right. And I think with Upwork, a lot of people think they post a profile and the work is done, right?

There’s a great book called Get Clients Now. It essentially talks about sales as a habit, and what is your sales routine every day?

Now, I know “sales” is like a dirty word to people. But sales is part of marketing, right? Right now, this is marketing, if I go on a podcast. I don’t have an Upwork product to sell. I’m not selling coaching.

But if people Google my name, and they see this podcast, it adds legitimacy to the “Victor Ramirez WordPress” business.

Colleen: Right.

Victor: Oh, this guy must not be full of crap if he’s going on a podcast, and he’s being asked to speak on these podcasts.

One of the things that that book talks about, it’s like habits are:

  • go and speak at an event,
  • go and try to be in a podcast,
  • go and contribute to a chamber of commerce event and
  • give free coaching.

That’s part of your individual marketing, right. But on a daily basis, as a salesperson, you should be saying to clients, “How’s it going? What have you been up to? What can I help with?”

With Upwork, I always say to people, “What do you do every day to get new clients?”

And they’re like, “Oh, I rebuilt my portfolio.”

I was like, “What if a tree falls in the woods? Does anyone hear it?” Right. Whatever that saying is.

Colleen: Right. Yeah.

Victor: So what I tell people is, if you’re not going on Upwork and you’re not pitching—again, which it takes 15 to 30 minutes a day. Give it three months. Pitch for 15 to 30 minutes every day. If it doesn’t work out, then drop it. Right?

That’s what that book Get Clients Now

Actually, I was reading Get Clients Now when I started Upwork, where it talks about sales as a habit. You should be, every day, doing one hour of something to try to get new clients. If you’re not doing anything right now, especially right now with COVID-19… Everyone’s sitting home. You can’t go speak at a conference. You can’t go speak at an event.

Just do 30 minutes of Upwork pitches every day, or spend 30 minutes updating your profile, 30 minutes updating your LinkedIn, 30 minutes writing a blog post that you could add to a newsletter.

Eventually, you may get a client from it. I can’t guarantee it, but it’s better than doing nothing.

Colleen: Well, when you’re saying “pitching…” Earlier, you were talking about searching for certain keywords and then jobs that you would be qualified for. So are you having to pay if you’re the one reaching out?

Victor: I forget. I haven’t done in a while. But I think you get 10 credits and it’s two credits per pitch. You get 10 credits for free.

But what you have to do is you have to make sure you pitch the right job. People you can pay $25/month and you get 100 credits’ worth of pitching. The problem is, if you go out and pitch too many jobs that are too varied, it triggers an Upwork alarm. Upwork will actually pause your account. And say you’re pitching to—

Colleen: What?

Victor: Oh yeah. I’ve had it happen to people. I guess my number one warning to everyone listening is do not create a general account.

If you remember in the WP Elevation Facebook group, I gave a lot of people the advice to go on Upwork. Every single person that said, “Can you look at my profile? They’re not accepting me,” they put in “I’m a designer, developer, ice cream maker…”

I’m just joking, but they put too much stuff in there.

Colleen: Right.

Victor: I said, “You have to niche.”

Upwork doesn’t want generalists anymore. They want specialists.

With that, when you go and pitch… If you pitch really niche specific… Pick three niches. You can make three niche profiles. Again, I did WordPress, conversion marketing and CMS management or something.

I would just go and look for those three types of jobs. I would go pitch those three types of jobs. Because my profile matches when they go and visit me, I have a higher chance of closing, especially when you look at most people’s profiles on Upwork. They’re really poorly done.

You might think to yourself, “Well, there’s probably 1,000 WordPress developers on there doing a killer job.”

A lot of those Upwork people are overwhelmed and not taking on new work. They’re someone like me, who’s only doing 10 hours of work a week or 20 hours of work a week, and we’re very particular about clients.

I had the same problem. I’m currently on an enterprise project where I needed to hire someone that knew React, SASS and a bunch of other advanced technologies. I couldn’t find anyone on Upwork because every single person that had ranked for that was not looking for new work. So I had to lower my expectations. I ended up hiring a developer from Brazil. She was a student and she knew enough. Luckily, because I’m an engineer and I train engineers, I was able to onboard her and skill her up.

But other people have the same problem where they’re looking for someone with those advanced skills. It’s easy to stand out if you have those skills, update your profile, and when you pitch, make sure you just include that.

I’ve seen people pitch and they’re like, “I’d love to help you their job” and they just give the most general bio about themselves. It’s almost like when you go and…

Troy Dean from WP Elevation always says “WIFM,” what’s in it for me.

Colleen: Mm hmm.

Victor: Think of Upwork as a party. Instead of going to the party and talking about yourself, you go to the party, and you’re the person who knows how to make nice drinks. That’s the best way to make…

I used to be a bartender. When I go to parties and there’s a bunch of stuff on the table, and everyone’s just drinking sodas and vodka, I’ll say, “Let me make people some drinks. Who wants a margarita? Who wants a Malibu Bay Breeze? Who wants whatever?”

All of a sudden, I’m the coolest guy at the party. So when you pitch, make sure you’re adding value. Don’t say, “I’m this. I’m that. I’m this.”

Colleen: Right.

Victor: Give one paragraph of that and then say, “…and here’s how I can help you.” That’s how you stand out.

How to Get Notified of Potential Jobs on Upwork

Colleen: How do you get notified of potential jobs that you will be suited for?

Victor: They send you an email every week after you get like a certain rating of 100%. But remember, Upwork is a search engine. As long as your profile is highly rated, you have good keywords, I just get invites. I’ll log into my email and it will say, “you’ve been invited to this job.”

Upwork, remember, their job is to connect really great freelancers with great clients. They will kind of almost harass you via email to get you to take certain jobs. I even get personal emails from Upwork—I guess handlers or internal team members…

This just happened on Monday, where they reached out to me and said, “We have a big enterprise client. They need a WordPress developer. They prefer East Coast based. You’re the only person who could find that knows React, Gutenberg, JSX and a bunch of other stuff. Are you available for a phone call?”

They were looking for someone for $60/hour. We’ll see what happens. But I essentially said, “Look, my minimum is $75. If they want custom React and Headless and whatever, it’s $120/hour. If they want the $75, I can do that. But I’ll sub it out and I’ll just work with other developers and QA their work. They’re open to it.

I did nothing to get that. I just have a profile that is a 100% rating and high stars. The business just comes in. So that’s why I said:

Get a profile on there, pitch, get three or four jobs, and the jobs just come in.

People are looking, especially now, even outside of Upwork and on Upwork. I’m getting a ton of leads right now, because everyone’s laying off their core teams, unfortunately, with COVID-19, and they need to contract out. So they’re all joining and starting Upwork accounts.

Colleen: Wow. Somebody actually just asked me that the other day if that was the case, so that’s interesting.

Victor: Yeah. And even like yourself, right? You said you found a great client on there, right?

Colleen: Uh huh.

Victor: If you only have one client on there, work with that client, and just keep doing 30-day projects with them, closing the job and getting great reviews. I don’t know the exact algorithm, but the 100% rating is based on, I think, 12 weeks of active work and active reviews. So if you don’t get any reviews or work at all over 12 weeks, your profile won’t rank.

Other Mistakes Freelancers Make on Upwork

Colleen: What are some other mistakes you see people making on up work?

Victor: Yeah, I mean, like the other mistakes that people make on Upwork thinking they have to compete with for $5/hour. I made that mistake, because I said $35. I thought I had to charge Midwest prices. Now I even have a script in Text Expander. “Why do you charge so much? You’re kind of expensive.” I send them a quick snippet that says, “I’m based in New York City. I can only freelance 20 to 30 hours a week. If I was doing it full time, I would need to charge $85/hour just to pay for a studio apartment, a new laptop every two years, health insurance and whatever. So I can’t work for you if I want to maintain my business over time.”

I tell people, “I’m not a fly-by-night freelancer. I’ve been doing this six years. So if you want to make a commitment to a freelancer who’s been doing this for this long and is going to stick with you that long, then we can do that.” And it’s worked. That pitch has worked, because people are like, “Oh, I never thought of that.”

Someone working for $30 in New York, they’re going to leave the city. Yeah, they’re not gonna make it in New York for $30/hour.

Colleen: Right. I wouldn’t even defend the price. I would just say, “The price is the price.”

Victor: Well, some people do want to know how you came to that number, because $75/hour on Upwork sounds expensive.

Colleen: My rate’s twice that on there right now.

Victor: Right. Well, so here’s what you do. You actually—and this is one of the things I learned—you have a profile rate and then you have an actual rate. So by putting your rate at $150/hour, you’re scaring away people who filter.

If you remember, the people that you worked with, they went for the lower-cost provider. Then they came back to you, right?

Colleen: Mm hmm.

Victor: There’s maybe dozens of people looking for accessibility work. They see your profile for $150, and they’re like, this person must work with Coca Cola and all these big brands. I don’t even want to talk to them, because I’m scared that they’re going to also go from $150/hour to $250/hour.

Colleen: Why would they think it would go up?

Victor: Because that’s how it goes on Upwork. People always charge higher rates. They never go down.

Colleen: Well, why would it go up just because they contacted me?

Victor: So I have a range of services, right? A landing page could be $1,000 up to $5,000. Right?

If they just want a Lead Pages landing page, it’s a template. I’m going to consult. I’m gonna just get it done in a week. It takes 10 hours of my time. I’ll charge you $1,000.

But then they say, “We want Marketo integrations. It has to have multi-lang. It has to have geo targeting.” All of a sudden, it goes to $5,000.

By having that $75/hour profile, it gives you an opportunity to educate clients, because people, like I said, they’ll filter you out. The minute it says $150/hour. But remember, a lot of people that are going on Upwork, they’re looking for a lower price, right?

Colleen: Mm hmm.

Victor: It’s almost like you’re flipping the script, by having them contact you on the $75/hour profile. I do this all the time. They contact me for the $75.hour profile and then they ask for the moon in the stars. I say, “You’re asking for a lot. I can’t do it on my own. So I want you to rescind the interview offer you just sent me and I want you to invite my agency, so I could bring on another person. But for me to manage other people, it costs a lot more money, and I’m gonna have to charge $120/hour. But you’re not just going to get me at $120/hour. That allows me to afford overseeing another freelancer or two. Does that work?”

They’re like, “Yeah, that’s great” and they’ll do the $120/hour. So that actually then helps rank my profile even higher, because more people are interacting with my profile, clicking my profile, saving my profile. Even if they never become a client, I rank higher over time.

Freelancer vs Agency Profile

Colleen: Interesting. You mentioned an agency profile. What are the pros and cons to having an agency profile versus a freelancer profile?

Victor: So I have both, and no one ever invites my agency. They invite my freelancer profile. I always try to get them to go to the agency, because Upwork has no rules against outsourcing your agency. Once they hire me as an agency, it is assumed that I can farm out to whoever I want.

Colleen: Oh.

Victor: In the end, I’m responsible for whoever I work with, but it doesn’t break the rules. Whereas if you hire someone on Upwork, or let’s say I’m the freelancer, and they hire me as a freelancer and I farm it out, and they want to report me, they can. They can kick you off Upwork forever. You could lose all your clients on there. You could lose all your business on there. It’s very difficult, I’m assuming, to go and say to clients, “I got kicked off Upwork because of some reason.” The client may not know you. They may not feel comfortable then rehiring you outside of Upwork.

Hourly vs Flat-rate Projects

Colleen: Right. And do you ever do any flat-rate projects?

Victor: I prefer flat rate.

Colleen: Yeah, I do too.

Victor: Just because that way I can keep very hard guidelines and say, “Okay, you get one revision, two revisions, three revisions.

But for new clients, I only do hourly. The reason for that is, you’ll get a client who comes in, you’ve never worked with them before. For $1,000 for a landing page, they will keep expanding scope. They will say like, “Can you add multi-lang?”

“Well, no, that’s not covered in this initial scope.”

They’re like, “But Lead pages is multi-lang. You said that it would be just like Lead Pages.”

I’m like, oh, man, I didn’t even know Lead Pages had added that feature.

“Oh, but Lead Pages pages has this.”

You can get beat up. So what I recommend is start hourly. Then what I will do is use that as a first date with a client.

Clients will come to you and they’ll go, “I have a three-month project. I want to hire you for three months at the $120/hour.”

Baby me/beginner me would have been like, “Let’s do it. $120/hour. Sign the paper. Do it.”

What you don’t realize is you’re signing up for a three-month potential nightmare. So what I tell clients is, “Let’s do a quick consultative call. Let’s talk about 15 minutes about the entire project. I know you want to do a big WooCommerce integration and all these other things. You said the number one problem is speed. I want to migrate you from GoDaddy WooCommerce hosting to Liquid Web hosting. I think it could take five to 10 hours after cleaning everything up. Can we do that?”

Again, educating the client. I will say to the client, and this is true: “One of the most important things is Upwork wants me to close jobs and get reviews. Can we just do this migration and at the end, you give me a review, and then we can continue doing more work together?”

For one client in particular, it was a great win. She had a product that she was selling for $500 per unit. She sold 20 a month. She went from being on really slow hosting to migration to Liquid Web, where I did image optimization, I installed WP Rocket and did lazy loading, a bunch of other stuff and moved all her videos to Vimeo.

It was a huge win for her, but she was an overly communicative client, where every morning, she’d be, “How’s it going? What’s the status? What’s this?”

Colleen: Oh, gosh.

Victor: I can’t deal with this.

Colleen: No.

Victor: At the end of the project, I got a five-star review. I said, “Thanks for working me.”

She asked, “When can we start the new work?”

I was like, “Something came up. I can’t work.”

It’s an easy escape. That’s the same thing with hourly clients. Then there’s some clients who come along and after that first date of 10 hours, they’re a great client.

Like I said before, I find a bunch of new work. I say, “If you give me a monthly allowance of 20 hours, at $120/hour, so $2,400 a month”—and they can do limits on there—”I think we could roadmap these projects.

I have some clients where I just meet with them once a week. Then I just do whatever I told them I was going to do.

Then, other clients, I’ll pitch them quarterly, or I will do flat-rate projects, but it’s much easier to do a flat-rate project because I trust them, I know they don’t expand scope. If I tell them, “This is exactly what I’m going to do,” they don’t ask for more. They know I’m busy.

It’s kind of like a relationship, right? Well, a client relationship. You want to manage expectations, but I only recommend flat-rate projects for like clients you’ve worked with before, and you know they’re not going to waste a lot of your time.

Benefits of Upwork

Colleen: What about taking projects off of Upwork before you’ve worked with them or go off Upwork after you’ve worked with them?

Victor: I’ve never taken a client off Upwork. I’ve had clients ask me to go off Upwork. For me, that rings an alarm just because, for the client, they gain nothing by taking me off Upwork. I think they pay like a 1.5% fee.

When they want to take you off Upwork, you lose a lot of the protections. The protections include things like escrow, the client actually has to dispute why they want to take away your pay, and if you’re constantly tightening the scope, logging your hours properly, there really shouldn’t be a reason for you to take someone off Upwork, especially after the first $500, it’s only a 10% fee.

But some people are like, “Only a 10% fee?!”

But FreshBooks, it’s 3% to 5% anyway, right? You figure it’s like the other 5% is a finder’s fee. After $10,000, it’s 5%.

I just see it as peace of mind. After two years, you can take a client off Upwork.

Colleen: Right.

Victor: That’s actually their rules. After two years, you’re still only paying 5%, and that handles the credit card fees. They handle everything. You don’t even need to do 1099s [U.S. tax form]. They have like a “for hire” statement that they send you every year. It’s easier for your taxes.

The only thing I don’t like about Upwork is that it doesn’t integrate with Jira or Asana.

Colleen: I didn’t know it integrated with anything.

Victor: I think it integrates with Slack.

Colleen: Really?

Victor: Yeah, via web hooks or something.

Colleen: Oh.

Getting Featured in an Upwork Ad

Colleen: So how the heck did you end up on an ad in Times Square?

Victor: Yeah, so two years ago, I got recruited by Dow Jones to do WordPress. One of the ways they found me was Upwork. The recruiter even told me, he googled “WordPress developer NYC,” “best WordPress developer NYC,” “React WordPress developer NYC,” and not only did I rank really high on LinkedIn, I ranked really high on Google.

He knew about my Upwork profile from Dow Jones. When the recruiter recruited me at that time, Upwork had their IPO (initial public offering) going on. An Upwork person reached out to me before they went public. They were going to be on the New York Stock Exchange.

Upwork reached out and said, “We want to have a couple interviews with some people. Would you be willing? Can you send us a photo? Or can we use your profile?

I said, “Sure.”

So interestingly enough, Upwork even now does enterprise resourcing. If you’re Coca Cola, Black and Decker, one of these big brands, you get special treatment, and Upwork will find the Upworkers for you.

I had a choice. Upwork contacted me and was like, “We had the IPO. You’ve done a phenomenal job online. You did $100,000 last year. How would you like to double that? We want to put you on our roster.”

But then I was like, “Look, I’m taking a job at Dow Jones. Is that a conflict? Or can I farm it all out?”

And they were kind of like, “No. We need someone to be the face of Upwork.”

They wanted me to do webinars and all this stuff.

Colleen: Wow.

Victor: And I was like, you know what? Dow Jones was a more interesting opportunity to me. But they were like, “We still want to feature you because you still have a great story. Can we feature you in these ads?”

So my profile was on these ads, and then a friend was like, “Man, do you know that you’re on a billboard in New York City?”

And I was like, “What? What do you mean?”

Because my office at Dow Jones was around the corner. I was at Rockefeller Plaza, and this was in Times Square. So I was like, “Let me go look.” Then I went and got a photo. I waited for it. It took like two minutes because there were a bunch of other freelancers showing.

But, yeah, they featured my profile. I’ve been featured in other ads.

Colleen: Wow.

Victor: If you do really well, they want to showcase you. They want to show that there are valuable freelancers who are making a living because it attracts other freelancers and it attracts clients. So if you are willing to play the game, you can do really well on there.

But, again, like I tell people all the time, and I think I gave you that article that I wrote to share…

Colleen: Yeah.

Victor: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Put your eggs in the Upwork basket, Google Local basket, put it in the Meetup basket, Chamber of Commerce…

For me, most of my clients I’ve gotten through Upwork, running the Meetup, speaking at WordCamp conferences, speaking at other events and doing free workshops at WeWork, before that whole thing imploded.

That’s it. Just being out there and doing.

It’s interesting because so many freelancers consult clients and tell them to be active, always be doing something. They themselves are not doing what I just said before about the sales habit.

You don’t lift weights once a year. You don’t lift weights when all of a sudden you’ve gained 30 pounds. You lift weights three times a week. You eat healthy six times a week, with a cheat meal or something. You should be doing the same thing.

Colleen: Good point.

Victor: You do want to have your own website, where you want to process things, communicate with clients, get your online online presence going.

But you cannot beat Upwork for the keywords “WordPress Freelancer New York.” You’re never going to beat The Knot for “wedding photographer.”

But when they get to Upwork’s site, you can beat other freelancers, because you may be the only “WordPres freelancer Gutenberg React New York five years experience” on there because people type that into Upwork. That will help you be successful.

Colleen: That’s very cool. Very good information. Well, this is all been very interesting and insightful. I’ve learned so much, and I know others will too.

So where can listeners find you?

Victor: Yeah, if they just google “Victor Ramirez WordPress,” they can check out some of my WordPress TV talks. My Meetup videos are there of what I spoke about, Every time I’m on a podcast, people ask me if there’s something that I have to promote, but as long as people find stuff interesting, and they go and read some articles and go watch my videos, that actually helps me rank higher on Google because they Google my name and click the links. I’m very proud of my Google foo because “Victor Ramirez” is the “John Smith” of Latino names—

Colleen: Right. It is!

Victor: Yeah, there’s 3,000 Victor Ramirez registered to vote in New York City. He’s a salsa player, a serial killer—

Colleen: Geez.

Victor: If you google “Victor Ramirez,” I don’t rank at all. But for “Victor Ramirez WordPress,” I rank very well. So just by them googling me, it helps me out.

Colleen: Well, that’s awesome. Well, thank you so much for coming on and talking about this. It’s been fun.

Victor: Yeah, thank you for having me.

2 comments

  • Brilliant article/podcast! I’m not doing a whole lot on Upwork, but some of my very best clients have come from Upwork or referrals from Upwork clients. I agree 100% that picking the right jobs and screening potential clients is the key. Even when you get invitations, many of them are full of red flags if you look closely. This makes me think more about how I can leverage Upwork in the future.

    1. Thanks for checking it out and for sharing your thoughts about it, Kate! I really appreciate it and will let Victor know as well.

      About the screening, definitely. Just because you use a different platform doesn’t mean you have to change your process.

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