eBiz Facts is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn a commission. Learn More

How To Be Successful On Upwork

Susan Earns $1,375 Her First Month

Below is an interview from March 2016 with a member of Freedom Business Builder.

Meet Susan

  • How to be successful on Upwork: SusanJoined FBB in February and started pitching for jobs in March as a freelance editor and proofreader.
  • Found her first client the first day of pitching.
  • Earned $1,375 in March, her first full month working online, despite spending just 11 hours per week on her business.
  • No formal qualifications in proofreading or editing, but was pleasantly surprised to find plenty of well-paid work available to her online.
  • From Ireland.

1) Did you have any experience working online before joining FBB?

I’ve been freelancing since 2013. Most of that work was done remotely and was delivered via email, but “online work” wasn’t something I was focused on.

I had used sites like Elance, oDesk, Freelancer, and PeoplePerHour to pick up work here and there. I never used them with any kind of strategy or consistency, so obviously I didn’t see any consistent results. I’d usually just abandon the account after a few weeks and then occasionally jump back into them.

2) Did you have any major concerns before you took the plunge and started working online? (For example, were you worried that it was all a scam, or that you didn’t have enough skills, or that there was too much competition out there, etc.)

To be honest, because I had tried these freelancing sites before, I thought they weren’t for me. I was going to use the course content to help my pitching skills and keep me on track with my freelance goals.

I wasn’t worried about it being a scam on your side of things. You’ve put your name and face and your reputation out there with this course. It’s fairly clear that this is a long-term business that you’re planning going to grow and build. It didn’t seem like some quick and easy way to make cash before you move onto the next thing.

I knew the competition was fierce, especially because the skill I chose to market has quite a low barrier to entry.

I decided to give it a go as a 30-day experiment for the month of March. I swore full effort for 30-days, and if I couldn’t make it work then, that would be real feedback to move on with.

3) How did you decide what kind of work to freelance?

My background is graphic design and also arts and heritage management which is related to the business management side of historical institutions like museums and galleries. I had worked and had been freelancing across both fields as a designer and also as a researcher/writer. I knew that offering both was really confusing, and I also knew I wanted to drop design entirely.

Proofreading and editing was something that was common to both sides. I considered writing, but I’m not a good copywriter or sales writer. I checked out the jobs that were coming up on Upwork and didn’t think there would be enough interest in academic research and writing.

I saw that proofreading was in demand. Because the writer is the one with the niche knowledge, proofreading would allow me to work across a wide variety of topics. That was my thinking at the time. Editing came into the mix in the second week when I discovered that people say they want a proofreader, but what they actually need is an editor.

4) Did you have to do much groundwork before you started applying for jobs online?

I started working through the course in February, but I wasn’t planning on doing the Upwork part of it. On March 1, I decided to do a 30-day experiment to see if niching down as a proofreader and editor would actually bring me enough work.

As it was just a 30-day experiment, I didn’t put too much time into making it perfect. I went through the lessons and set up my Upwork profile as best I could. I didn’t have a website, portfolio, or any samples. I have no formal qualifications in proofreading or editing, but I knew from experience that it was something I could offer that would be of value.

5) How did you find your first paying client, and how much did they pay you?

Well, not that I would recommend this or that you teach it, but I sent about 20 pitches the first day.

Looking back, most of those job postings were old, abandoned, or they had already hired. I should have just followed your lessons to take it slow and apply to a few select jobs, but I’ve never been able to do what I’m told.

I got my first job on the first day to proofread a brochure for a sustainable packaging company in the forestry industry. They had sent me a message with their competitor’s brochure attached and they were interviewing a handful of people. I sent them a message to say what I liked and didn’t like about their competitors brochure. I also did a sample proofread on their competitor’s brochure, which gave them a tangible idea of what they would get from me. They hired me and asked my advice on their writing.

The brochure was 450 words long, and I was paid $50 for to proofread and edit their writing to align with what they said they wanted to achieve. It took me 15 minutes to complete, and I would say I spent about 20 minutes on pitching and proofreading their competitor’s brochure. So, that was 35 minutes work and $50, which gave me a good sense of what kind of things people value in a proofreader and what they are willing to pay good rates for.

Altogether in March I…

  • applied for 82 jobs on Upwork
  • received 14 replies
  • and closed 11

In other words, I closed two out of every 15 jobs I pitched.

As I’ve refined my pitching and became more selective over the past 30 days, I think this ratio will improve in April.

6) How much have you earned online since you started?

So, my 30-day experiment is almost up. I’ve closed and completed $1,375 of projects, which is €1,226. I’m calling that enough of a result to keep going down this route.

I made so many mistakes this first month. I’m developing a much better eye for which jobs and clients I have the best advantage to win. That’s something you only really get a feel for when you do it, so I’m glad I pitched a lot this month. I think next month will be even better as my selecting and pitching have been refined.

This morning I closed a job worth $450 that I will be working on next week. That’s April, so I’m not including it in my March total, but it gives me a little bit of hope that this hasn’t all been a 30-day streak of beginners luck.

7) About how many hours per week have you been working as a freelancer? (Including time spent pitching for jobs.)

I worked a total of 29 hours this month on projects. I had an average of 60-90 minutes on certain days looking for jobs on Upwork and pitching. If it’s a well-paying job and they’ve attached something, I will do a small sample proof which usually grabs their attention. I just figure this time into the price I bid. I offer to do a sample proof in some of the pitches which some people take me up on.

I would say that all my pitching and samples came to about 15 hours max over the month.

Result: I worked about 44 hours total over the month. It doesn’t divide equally, some weeks were heavier but averaged out it’s 11 hours a week.

8) Why do you think clients hire you instead of hiring cheaper freelancers from places like India or the Philippines?

There is a lot of competition in this particular category because you’ve not only got cheaper freelancers from India and the Philippines (not that I begrudge them at all), but also, you’ve got other categories of freelancer who offer proofreading and editing on the side of their main service.

You would often see writers, journalists, translators and virtual assistants who offer it. It’s a category that has a really low barrier to entry and is considered by some to be low-skill or low-value work. It’s not uncommon to see jobs looking for a proofreader/editor for a 100k word novel for $20.

What’s amazing is these people get plenty of really low bids. What they’re really getting is someone to run spellcheck on their document for them. Which is great if they know that, and they’re happy to pay a small price for someone to sit there and do that.

  • Advanced Upwork Proposals
    If you’d like to further improve your Upwork proposals, check out this highly-rated course on Udemy: How To 10X Client Responses Fast. It has hundreds of reviews, a 4.8 star rating, and was created especially for freelancers brand new to Upwork.

I’ve got my rate set at $35 per hour, which is definitely in the mid-high range for this category. Most of the jobs in this category are fixed price so I make sure that I’m in the right range when I bid. There are seasoned editors offering developmental editing in the $50+ category, but that’s not a skill or experience level that I have.

I focus on two kinds of work:

  1. Editing academic work at Masters or Ph.D. level, and other projects in the education space. Native English or near-perfect English.
  2. Skilled professionals and entrepreneurs. Native English or near-perfect English.

Both these categories are willing and able to pay a higher rate to get a quality result.

Academic work is usually someone who is overwhelmed with their research and is having trouble structuring a concise argument. This happens when researchers have too much information, and they lose sight of their research question.

For skilled professionals and entrepreneurs, what they really want is someone who is their equivalent. Professional, educated but a native English speaker. They want the peace of mind that they are coming across as professionally as they would if they had written the same document in their native language.

I definitely think there is work available at all price points in proofreading and editing, and that it could be adapted to many people’s existing background and skills.

9) Has working online been much different than you expected? (Easier? Harder? Any unforeseen benefits or drawbacks?)

I didn’t think there would be as much work available as there is, which is great.

The benefit for me is that I get to further develop and use a skill that maybe I wouldn’t have kept up much longer. It’s like exploring another potential career path, or a taster of what might have been if you had gone a different direction.

10) What advice would you give to other people who are eager to replicate your success?

Give it a try for 30-days. The worst case scenario is you try really hard, make no money, and learn a lot.

I would also say, don’t undervalue yourself and the experience you naturally have built up over the years. Maybe you’re really into paranormal romance novels; there’s a niche that’s hiring. Maybe you were a web developer and it didn’t suit you. There are lots of people writing books on technical subjects who need a technical mind with good proofreading and editing skills.

I’m really bad at grammar and punctuation (you’ve probably noticed), and I have bad writing habits, but I’m good at organising information and understanding complex topics. You can buy a book and learn as you go.

11) How has FBB helped you get to where you are now?

FBB is great. I’m very all or nothing. I need to be immersed to get going, which must be annoying for the others in the Facebook group who have to listen to me, but it helps me stay on track. (Sorry guys!)

The benefit of FBB is that it makes your existing skills online compatible. There are probably thousands of really skilled people out there who are struggling to get freelance work (online or offline), and this course could make them compatible with the online workplace. It’s like a bootcamp for digital freelancing skills.

I wouldn’t have stuck with this 30-day experiment if I didn’t have the course. There’s always someone to answer your questions, give you feedback, talk you down when you get all nervous about something. I would challenge anyone who thinks they don’t have any marketable skills to go through the course. They might surprise themselves.

12) Would you be willing to share a couple of winning proposals you submitted on Upwork?

No problem.


This is a job I did last week. I bid $125, and it was accepted immediately. This job took me 90 minutes to complete and 30 minutes to double check. As this was a legal document, I was careful to edit in a way that did not change the meaning of any of the sentences. This Swiss lawyer had English that was near perfect.

I delivered the files within 2 hours and the client added a $40 bonus to my payment and left me 5-star feedback. $165 for 2 hours is a pretty good rate.

Job description:

How to be successful on Upwork: job description

Things of note / things I picked out of their proposal:

  • Native English speaker for a 9-page legal document.
  • The price was good. $150 for less than 4000 words.
  • The deadline was strict and fast completion was really important.
  • Confidentiality of the document was also very important.
  • Requested that applicants add a code to their pitch to show they had read the description and not just copied and pasted a standard pitch.
  • They had 5-star reviews and plenty of previous hires.
  • Based in Europe so we’re on the same timezone.

My proposal:

How to be successful on Upwork: cover letter

And here’s the review they left for me on Upwork after the job was complete:

How to be successful on Upwork: review


A bad example that worked out okay.

They hired two people and split the work between us. This was my second job on Upwork. There are parts of this pitch that I no longer disclose while pitching, such as the base rate that I was using for calculating job bids, and also the part where I talk about being new on Upwork.

They paid me $133 total to proofread 4 academic articles in the maritime engineering field. These articles were written by European academics with near-perfect English. We are still in touch as they submitted a tender for work that was conditional upon me being their proofreader/editor. Hopefully, it will mean ongoing work from them.

Job description:

How to be successful on Upwork: job description

My proposal:

How to be successful on Upwork: cover letter

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on reddit
Share on email
About The Author

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. Hi Niall and Susan,

    I am also trying to start a proofreading business via Upwork so, your post was of special interest to me. Susan, do you use the two proposals that you shared as templates or you write a new proposal for each job? Also, how do you find jobs on Upwork? Do you use the default searches for writing/editing jobs and proofreading jobs or do you also use some other keywords. Thanks, that’s all for now. I wish you continued success with your endeavors.

    Vaughn in The Bahamas

    1. Hi Vaughn,

      1) Those proposals are from my first month starting out. Over the last six months, the proposals have changed quite a bit. I write up a new proposal for each job based on the information I have available. They do all end up being similar in structure, though. I’ve found it best to tailor every proposal. Niall has great lessons on this in the course.

      2) Nothing unusual by way of keywords. I have my job feed set up to include all the obvious keywords and phrases for this category. With the limited volume of proofreading jobs posted on Upwork, there’re no real narrow niches in this category. Specific keywords are not as crucial in proofreading unless you are going after something very specific.

      Thanks for the questions and good luck with your proofreading business!

      – Susan

👆 leave a comment