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How to win Upwork: profile optimization

All right, nobody likes to pay fees for their work. But the fact remains that Upwork is a very powerful tool for freelancers, particularly those that don’t have an existing book of business. Having an Upwork account allows you to drop numerous proposals per day on jobs from all around the world.

There’s a reason Upwork is able to charge the fees they do: because the clients are there, and they know it. A freelancer can go from having absolutely zero work to having a paying project in one working day. Hit it consistently for long enough, and you can use it exclusively as your single source of new business (though I wouldn’t recommend it).

However, Upwork is more than just a system of clients posting jobs and freelancers submitting proposals. Though proposal writing is a very important skill to have, it’s not the number one thing that you need to be focused on at first. As an Upwork freelancer, the biggest obstacle to your success on Upwork is not your proposal getting approved. It’s your proposal being viewed. If nobody sees your proposals, nobody can approve them. Therefore, getting your proposals viewed is the biggest thing to worry about in the beginning.

Fortunately, Upwork now allows freelancers to see when their proposal has been viewed. If you’re new to the Upwork scene, you’re lucky—this wasn’t always the case. For most of my time on Upwork, we freelancers have been shooting in the dark. Being able to track opens is a valuable feature that, if used correctly, will help you increase your effectiveness very quickly.

Here are the factors to focus on to help your Upwork proposals get seen more often.

Profile optimization basics

Your upward profile consists of your:

  • Headshot
  • Headline
  • Hourly rate
  • Metrics (such as total jobs, total hours worked, and total earned)
  • Badges
  • Work history (reviews)
  • Job success score
  • Writeup (profile description, including specialized profiles)
  • And a few other things
How your Upwork profile appears to the public
How your Upwork profile appears to the public


This one should be self-explanatory. Your Upwork headshot is essential, so use something high-quality, and professional. Smile wide (not just your mouth, eyes too). Dress according to your brand—if you’re working for suits, wear a suit. If you’re working for skate shops, you can wear a backwards hat. But keep it simple. Plain background, no hand signals, no selfies with your friends. Just make an effort and you’ll be fine.


When it comes to optimizing your Upwork profile, the headline is one of the most important elements to consider. It’s the first thing potential clients will see when browsing profiles, and it needs to grab their attention and convey what you have to offer.

A strong headline should be clear, concise, and showcase your expertise in your field. Consider including your job title, relevant skills, and any unique selling points that set you apart from other freelancers. Avoid using buzzwords or vague language that doesn’t provide value to clients. By crafting a strong headline, you’ll increase the chances of clients clicking on your profile and ultimately hiring you for their projects.

Hourly rate

Your hourly rate is tricky. Position yourself too low and you run the risk of being disregarded on general principle because you are out of many people’s price range. Set it too low and you run the risk of being panned by the folks looking for professionals and only spoken to by the bargain hunters who are going to be the most annoying types of clients.

This may sound like a lose/lose scenario, so the best thing that you can do is set your hourly rate to something that is appropriate for someone of your skill level. Whatever your skill level is. If you are a veteran professional, it’s okay to set your hourly rate high, even if you don’t have a history on Upwork (Note: you must have a history elsewhere. If you don’t, you’ll have nothing to back up your high rates and you won’t be able to close).

A good starting point is to research the hourly rates of other freelancers in your field and adjust accordingly. Be honest with yourself about your level of expertise and the value you can provide to clients. It’s also important to consider the type of clients you want to attract and tailor your rate accordingly.


Unlike other elements of your Upwork profile that can be directly controlled, your metrics (total earnings, number of jobs worked, and hours worked) are automatically calculated by the platform. Therefore, the only way to increase these metrics is by earning more money and working on more projects.

The higher these figures are, the better (obviously). While it may be tempting to take smaller jobs solely to increase these metrics, this strategy won’t be beneficial in the long run. Taking on smaller jobs may result in a lower perceived value on your profile. It might be hard to charge $1,000 for work in the future if it’s apparent that you’re charging $200 for it on average.

Additionally, it’s important to prioritize projects that align with your skills and career goals. Focusing on quality projects that showcase your expertise will ultimately lead to higher earnings and a stronger Upwork profile. By prioritizing quality over quantity, you’ll be on the path to building a successful freelance career on Upwork.

Job Success Score

The Job Success Score and your work history are two critical components of your Upwork profile that potential clients will evaluate when considering your services. The Job Success Score, calculated on a scale of 0 to 100, measures your success in completing projects and satisfying clients. The score’s formula is not public, but it takes into account factors such as client feedback, contract cancellations, and missed deadlines.

A higher score is always better of course. That said, there are many extremely successful Upwork professionals with job success scores in the nineties, eighties, seventies, and even lower. Likewise, there are many Upworkers with perfect job success scores who make very little money (I was in this category for a long time). At the end of the day, the best way to work on your Job Success Score is to just focus on consistently delivering quality work and satisfying your clients.


Badges, such as Rising Talent, Top Rated, and Top Rated Plus, are valuable components of your Upwork profile that can help you stand out from other freelancers. These badges are earned by meeting certain criteria, mostly completing a certain number of projects, maintaining a high Job Success Score, and receiving positive client feedback.

The Rising Talent badge is awarded to new freelancers who demonstrate potential and are active on the platform. It can help new freelancers build credibility and attract potential clients. I have no idea how to earn this badge—I never had it. But the Upwork website says you need to have a 100% complete profile and regularly submit proposals. The rest is up to them.

The Top Rated badge is awarded to freelancers who consistently deliver high-quality work, maintain a high Job Success Score, and have a long-term history on the platform. This is the money-maker—it’s a prestigious badge that showcases your expertise and reliability as a freelancer. You can earn this badge by doing good work, but you need a JSS of 90% or better over the last 16 weeks, more than 90 days on the platform, a 100% complete profile and $1,000+ in billings over the last year.

The Top Rated Plus badge is awarded to freelancers who meet the criteria for the Top Rated badge and have earned at least $10,000 on the platform. This badge is a sign of excellence and can help you stand out to clients looking for experienced and successful freelancers. You get this badge by working on big projects (the exact specs of “big” vary by industry, but for web design/dev it’s $15,000 or higher. Check Upwork for stats for your service).

Having one of these badges on your Upwork profile can significantly improve your chances of landing high-quality projects and building a successful freelance career. Do good work, make your clients happy, and you’ll get one in time.

Work history

Your work history is also crucial in demonstrating your experience and reliability. Clients will see the titles of the jobs you’ve worked, how much you earned on them (except for Upwork Plus users), and the feedback earned from your client (a star rating and an optional written review).

It’s very important to ask your clients to give you good reviews. If you don’t, a client might give you a 4 star rating despite having had a great experience. Fortunately, it’s easy to catch the clients who are going to give you a less than perfect review before they do so. You can do this with a simple script. Here’s mine:

As an Upworker, I’m very dependent on my client reviews, and it’s important to me that I do work deserving of an excellent reputation. Before we close out this project, I’d like to know if there’s anything that I have or haven’t done that would prevent you from leaving me a perfect five star review? I’ve never had a client leave me a sub-five star review since I started asking this.


This is your description that appears under the headline. This is one of the less important parts of your profile. Here’s why: when a client posts a job, they see their proposals in the form of a list. The list shows dozens of freelancers, each with their name, profile pic, headline, metrics, skills, and the first two lines of their writeup. Plus a big pretty “hire” button.

How proposals appear on the Upwork client dashboard
How proposals appear on the Upwork client dashboard

You’re shown head to head with everyone else, which means very few of your prospects will actually click into your profile and see what it is you have to offer. However, just because it isn’t seen often doesn’t mean that it’s not important. The small percentage of clients that read your profile consists of your dream clients. You don’t want to miss out on any of them, so take your time to write a good profile, but don’t expect it to yield the most results.

A few other things

There are a ton of other little things on your profile that can be helpful, but aren’t important enough to bother putting in this article. I tried, but it didn’t really add much value. Here they are:

Video introduction on your profile, verifications, languages spoken, available hours per week, education, work experience, the Available Now badge (worthless in my experience), your portfolio section (sometimes helpful but usually not seen), off-platform testimonials (same), certifications (same), and “other experiences.”

The big one is your skills section. You can tag your profile with specific skills you offer your clients. This will pair your profile with specific job types as they’re posted so you’re recommended to your dream prospects. Ensure you’ve selected skills that match the jobs you want.


As of 2023, Upwork notifies you when a proposal gets viewed. This is verygood information for you to have, as it helps you figure out how well your proposals convert. But before you worry about getting your proposals approved, you need to worry about getting them seen. Optimizing your Upwork profile is the way to do this. By crushing elements such as your headline, hourly rate, metrics, Job Success Score, Work History, and badges, you can create a profile that stands out to potential clients and gets you hired.

Next week, we’ll go over writing killer proposals that get views and approvals—including the proposal that I used to close a $9k deal in 146 words.

Have a great week my friend.


I'm John Kakuk.

I’m a brand designer, web developer and marketer working with architects, engineers and construction companies. My purpose is to help others achieve the best versions of their businesses and themselves.

Here's how I can help you: