How a High School Grad Became a Top Rated Freelancer in 6 Months

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Hi, I'm Chris and I'm super glad you're here. 7 years ago I taught my self-web design and freelancing. Now, I do my best to teach others what I've learned so they don't have to struggle as much as I did.

Every week, I write an article and release a podcast episode. Sign up if you want to get notified when that happens.

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Most high school seniors automatically think their next big life decision is choosing which college to go to. They graduate dreaming of the fun they’re about to have from dorm life or fraternities or the general “college experience.”

But, not Michael.

Michael knew that even if did go to school for computer science he would end up freelancing as a web designer when it was all said and done. So, he decided to skip the degree and go straight to freelancing.

As a result, he became a top-rated freelancer on UpWork in 6 months and he’s sharing how he did it on this week’s episode of the Self-Made Web Designer podcast.

How He Became a Top-Rated Freelancer on Upwork

Michael was like everyone else when he was first getting started on UpWork. He submitted dozens of proposals and got nothing but rejections.

But, he kept at it.

Finally, a client gave him a chance and he jumped at the opportunity. That client gave him a 5-star review which lead to more clients and more 5-star reviews.

One day, he logged in and he had gone from having no clients to becoming a top-rated freelancer.

How did he do it?

He was patient.

He didn’t get frustrated by having to lower his fees to get those first few clients. He did good work no matter how much he was getting paid.

When he mad a mistake he didn’t put it back on the customer. Instead, he worked even harder to give his client a good experience.

He went above and beyond and little by little he inched his way to becoming a top-rated freelancer.

I’m super excited for you to hear Michael’s story this week. I hope it inspires you to go for it and who knows you might be the one being interviewed on a web design podcast in the future.

You’ll Learn

  • How to skip college and go straight to building a web design business
  • How to get your first client on UpWork
  • How to write a good proposal on UpWork
  • How to become a top-rated freelancer on UpWork


Chris: [00:00:00] This week's guest went from graduating high school to becoming a top-rated freelancer on Upwork in only six months. How did he do it? Well, he's sharing that with us this week. Are you ready? Let's go

What's up, everybody. Welcome to another episode of the self-made web designer podcast. So good to have you, sorry if that was a little over-ambitious overzealous intro. Hey, I'm glad that you're here. I get excited. Every week and especially this week, because our guest is a listener that's right. He reached out to me to thank me for all of the insight that he has found through the guest on this show, through this podcast, because he's taken that advice and he's putting it into practice.

And because of that, he's become super successful. In fact, he's become a top-rated freelancer and only. A matter of a few months and here's the kicker. He's not even old enough to drink yet. And he is still crushing it. And so he's got a lot of insight. He's learned a lot of things in this short amount of time, and I'm pretty excited for him to share what he's learned with you along the way before we get there.

Start it. I want to take a second and invite you to subscribe to the self-made web designer podcast. Leave us a rating, leave us a review. Tell us what you think by doing that. You're going to help other people find this podcast to know that. Quality content so that they can themselves become operated freelancers on Upwork and crush it as freelance web designers as well.

Before we go any further, I think we just got to dive in and hear from Mr. Michael Groff on how he became a top-rated freelance answer on Upwork and only six months. All right, let's go well. Hey, Michael. Welcome to the self-made web designer podcast. So good to have you, man.

Michael: [00:02:10] Hey, Chris, thanks so much for having me.

This is really awesome. Um, just seeing your stuff before I been listening to your podcast for a few months, like a long time since I started on Upwork and. And on here, this is like a real pleasure.

Chris: [00:02:34] So, so talk a little bit about your Upwork experience. What was it like getting onto the platform? What was it like getting those first few clients?

Was there a struggle or did it kind of just come naturally?

Michael: [00:02:45] It was kind of a little bit of both. I had already had a little bit of experience in like marketing, so I knew that it was going to take time. I had actually signed up for an Upwork account. I'd like a year before. I kind of forget why I think I just saw the platforms like, Oh, this is cool.

I'll see what it is. I kind of created the account and left a B, but basically, I was like, you know what, I'm going to get serious about this. So I'm just going to go on there and start submitting proposals like left and right. So that's what I did once I started really going in on Upwork and submitting proposals.

It took about a month, a month and a half till I got my first client. But in that month or month and a half, I submitted probably. 60 or 70 proposals to different jobs on Upwork, just trying different things, trying to figure out how you should word it. The ProSal light, just things like that. And it took about a month and a half until I got my first client and it was like $200.

Web design project, where they already had WordPress set up and everything. They just needed five pages design in there. Got it done. The client was really happy with my work, gave me a five-star review and that's kind of how things got started.

Chris: [00:03:34] That's awesome. And it's, it's real similar to the experience that I've, I, myself experienced only it took me like three months before I actually got anything.

So you beat me well done. Um, And, uh, and you know, it, it takes a little bit of like what you're saying to dial in how you're pitching your proposals. Um, projects you're actually applying to. So you said you, you kind of figured out a little bit of a process to use. So, what are some best practices that you learned as far as the types of projects to pitch to and how you would write up those proposals for each of them?

Michael: [00:04:11] I started out talking, I guess like about myself and the experience that I had so far, how I could build them a site or whatever the project was. I was. Submitting a proposal for, it was usually about design or something along those lines. But then I started listening to others like your podcast, some other people's podcasts, and reading up on how you actually like to submit yourself to a client.

So I started kind of changing the wording that how I'd word a proposal I'd start using less. Like I and me, I started using less personal pronouns and more talking about them, their business, their website, how. A website that I could build actually benefit their business and a fun tip. I actually learned on your podcast.

I forget who the guest was that you had, but they said when you're submitting a proposal and Upwork, one of the keys is showcasing a lot of confidence. So I started using words like I'm extremely confident that I can get this project done for you or. I'm extremely confident that the website I'm going to build for you can actually help build your business and not just be a pretty website or something like that.

But then I had a client who I was building a site for was one of my larger clients at that point. And I needed something done with their logo. And, um, and I wasn't really like a graphic designer in Photoshop at the time. So I went on Upwork as a client and I was going to hire out. This logo to be redesigned.

I'd actually, here's a cool thing that actually suggests every per the upward to the job as the client, I'd let the proposal be submitted to you. Because it's kind of like when you do that, you kind of get an insider mindset on how clients think. And when I submitted this job that I wanted this logo redesigned within just like minutes, all these proposals started sliding into my inbox and I was like, Whoa, like there is a ton of competition and it, through the mind of like the client and not a freelancer, I started.

Seeing how I thought as a client when I was picking the proposal. And when I go through and I'd see a proposal that was as long as a book, I think upper gives you like 5,000 characters to submit a proposal. I kind of just skim over that one and go to the next one. And I found out that concise proposals, like short and concise, but to the point, and also just a few examples of someone's work was like all I needed to make a decision to message them.

And we're talking about the project. So then from there, when I'd submit, promote proposals to clients, For web design. I try to make my proposals as short and concise and to the point as possible while also showcasing the confidence, I can build what they're looking for. I think that has really helped my proposals and leading up to being more top-rated and not having to submit as many proposals.

Chris: [00:06:45] I've had the same exact experience. And that's why I'm always a little confused by some of the people who I have heard. Talk about. Getting really in-depth proposals or pitches about what they would do with the project and how they would do it because mine has always only been maybe two paragraphs at most, um, where it's a real big, uh, hello.

So excited to submit a proposal to this. Here's why I'm perfect for the job. And here is a few links for you to check out some recent stuff that I've created. And from that, you know, like that that's, that's pretty much it, you know, as, as much as people try to, over-complicate it? I think, um, like what you're saying, realizing that our clients, especially if you've got a job where it's kind of in the window of a lot of freelancers who are competing for it, Um, you have to figure out a way to stand out and whether that's with being confident about who you are, whether that's with being short and concise and to the point, and really clearly showing them that you're the perfect person, um, or like what you're also saying with making sure that you're keeping it about the client and not about yourself.

And I remember when I did the same exact thing with submitting. A a, uh, a job posting to for freelancers and just the amount, the sheer amount of people that I saw was, was really eyeopening and, and how I, myself like weighted through people and, um, what stood out to me versus what, what didn't. And so, uh, it's, it's, it's a really unique experience to be on the other side of the camera, so to speak, but it's really important for us as freelancers to, to realize that, to realize.

Hey, you know, you've got to think about this from the client perspective. That is the only way that you will consistently win proposals. So I wonder if you could just talk about going from that $200 job to I'm sure you're probably making more than $200 per website currently. So what did that, what did that progression look like?

Have you, where, where are you at now with. How you're pricing your projects and did it take you a long time? Are you still kind of figuring that out? What does that look like for you?

Michael: [00:08:59] Yeah, so basically when, since my first job was $200, I started like trying to incrementally with each new client, trying to raise my prices a little bit until they were more like, I would say maybe industry level prices or like more of the norm.

I know a lot of people out there kind of like, especially in the freelancer community, there's a division like on, should you underprice yourself or should, you know your worth. But in my case, I was like, I don't have near as much of a portfolio as other people charging. Um, what I wanted to charge. So I knew about the only way I was going to get these clients was to start charging lower price work.

So like I said, that client was a $200 client for like five pages on a site that slowly started going up and up with, um, each client, I would say my first and second clients were around the same price, 200 bucks for a website. And it was kind of frustrating at first because you're doing all this work for like a measly $200 and then Upwork takes out their fees.

So it's more like $150. But I slowly started raising my prices and one of my biggest price, upward jobs was a client, wanted me to design a single page on their website. And I was like, okay, um, how does $400 down. And he was okay with it. That just went up getting bigger and bigger to where five or six projects.

And I landed my first client who ended up being a thousand dollar contract on Upwork. And that's kind of my cap right now. And Upwork doing like smaller jobs for people, but. For an entire site. That was the largest I've got so far.

Chris: [00:10:29] Honestly, that's, that's great progress, man. We're talking about from, you know, essentially a little bit at the beginning of the summer.

So going six months from $200 for an entire website to a thousand dollars for a website is, is great progress. And if you think about going another six months, You know, with the amount of increase you've made, you're, you're going to be sitting really, really well. So, um, so that's, that's definitely good work.

So talk a little bit about maybe some likes and dislikes with the platform. What do you, what do you like about it and what, what do you wish? Was it the case with?

Michael: [00:11:03] So I would say one of the things I dislike about Upwork is just the fees they take. Now. That's just my personal, like dislike. I know they do take a large portion of like actual marketing out of the equation.

So I guess it's fair. I mean, that's just a personal dislike. Like I want to expect them to take away their fees or anything. Cause they gotta make money. But like I said, I kind of used thought of Upwork as a way to like jumpstart my business. Another thing that kind of sucks about Upwork, but you can't help it.

Anytime you have a freelancer community like Upwork or Fiverr, you're going to have this. Is people who really come in and they're, they're going to want to do the job for almost zero back to my example, where I hired some freelancers to do some logo work on the side for my, one of my projects. When you submit a job posting on Upwork, you can submit it to an attachment.

And I submitted the attachment and the logo. And then when proposals started coming in, I literally had people changing the logo the way I wanted it before I even paid them. And I mean, you have people like that on Upwork. Who's willing to do the job for like nothing, but at the same time, It's not that big of a hindrance because Upwork is more of a mature platform.

And that's one of the things I like about it. Like you actually have large companies like Dell and some other huge companies who actually go to Upwork to find freelancers. For example, one of my clients, he's a plumbing business. He sells plumbing tools and he ships internationally clients like that.

They are willing to pay more. And that's kind of what I like about Upwork. That's why I kind of chose Upwork over or just because you have clients on there who are. Serious clients. And they're not really wanting to pay the people who have, are willing to do it for nothing

Chris: [00:12:35] How do you differentiate yourself from those types of freelancers on the platform?

Michael: [00:12:41] One of the lines I'd like to use in my proposals is something like, say the client wanted a business site built for them. I'd be like, Hey, I'm having to build this site for you. I don't just design pretty websites. I designed a website that's designed to not only look good, but. To convert as well, because like what's a website.

If it's not going to send you customers, because that's ultimately the reason why business owner is looking for a website or really anybody really, because me and you and other people listening to the podcast, think of websites as something fun. And they do on the side and almost as a hobby, but like your average business owner out there, they don't wake up one more and be like, Oh, I want to pay.

$500, a thousand dollars, whatever the case is for website today, they weren't a website because they think it's going to help the business. So they might have someone, so many of puzzles saying I can design your pretty website, and then they have someone else saying, Hey, I'll design your website. That not only looks good, but one that will actually build your business.

Um, that's kinda what I led with when. Writing up proposals.

Chris: [00:13:43] Oh, you about a free course that I have available at self-made web Over 1000 people have been through this course, and I am talking about the web designer. Starter kit course, I map out in four videos that you get through email, all the steps that I took to get to where I am as a web designer.

And I went from knowing absolutely nothing. I was clueless to in two years, doubling my income with a freelance web design side hustle. I made this because I know you can be successful. Doing the same thing. And the web designer starter kit course is the first step for you on your journey to being a successful thriving, freelance web designer or having a full-time career.

So I can't wait for, for you to check it out, go to self-made web and sign up today. You've recently become a top rated freelancer, which is. Coveted little badge on the Upwork platform. And, uh, I, I know that it, it takes a lot of work to get there. It takes a lot of, a lot of grinding and, uh, they don't, they don't give it out easily and sometimes they don't even tell you how they're giving it out.

All of a sudden the badge just disappears and you're like, what happened? So talk a little bit about that journey for yourself. What was it like going from not having any experience on the platform to being a top rated freelancer? What did you do to get there? So,

Michael: [00:15:21] yeah. Appearance is kind of like that. I knew I was getting close to a top rated freelancer status cause I was watching it like on your profile, but I just went in and logged into Upwork one day to check messages.

And all of a sudden this thing popped up saying you're top ready? And I was like, Oh, cool. I knew I'm getting close, but I didn't know. Is this closed things I've used to get to that point is basically just treating your clients really well, trying to solve, like if they didn't understand something, try to explain it to them, trying to encourage them to leave feedback.

Basically, I tried to really prioritize customer service as a freelancer. Like I had one client who was one of my larger clients. I forgot to clarify something in the contract. It was about an e-commerce. The store. I didn't think to clarify that I wouldn't cover shipping for him. Like it was up to him to figure out how to design his shipping and what he should charge for shipping.

I knew I was the developer and I kind of just took that for granted that I didn't have to clarify that to him. He ended up thinking I was going to set up all of his shipping, like. Determining what they should charge, like by weight or whatever. I knew that technically it was my fault, cause I didn't clarify it.

So I tried to help him the best I could without like charging him extra. And we got all figured out. He's a great client, but just things like that, trying to take the responsibility, if something in the contract wasn't clarified because I'm the freelancer, I should have clarified it in the contract and kind of how I've got five star reviews, just trying to keep them satisfied.

And, and if, if they are satisfied to leave a five star review, which is always awesome.

Chris: [00:16:47] Yeah. That's awesome, man. Well, Michael, I really appreciate your time and just coming to chat with the community. I wonder if there's one piece of advice that you could give to somebody out there trying to get started on Upwork or trying to build a web design business.

What would that be?

Michael: [00:17:05] I guess one of the things I would say is be patient because me, it took a month and a half. It took you three months just because someone like clients aren't accepting your proposals doesn't necessarily mean you're doing something. Wrongs that kind of have to grind through four through for a little bit until you get that portfolio or you get those first few clients to show that you have some reviews and some legitimacy on the platform.

Another thing that I would highlight, suggest people getting on new to Upwork is to not necessarily look at all the bad things about Upwork. You go on Reddit or are you going online forums and everyone, they charged too much for connects or they're charging too much of a service fee for freelancers to use the platform.

And. Maybe that's true. That's but if you're constantly looking at the negative sides of the Upwork platform, for one, it takes up a lot of mental based and that's not good. And if you're constantly thinking about all the negative things of a platform, you're not really going to put your whole effort into your work and just getting the clients.

So that's another thing I would say.

Chris: [00:18:03] That's awesome, Michael. Well, again, really appreciate you being on the show. If anybody is trying to connect with you online or reach out to you in person, where would they go?

Michael: [00:18:11] I'm everywhere on social media, like personal profiles at the Michael Groff, G R O S S um, or my agency's website fit or F I T R

Chris: [00:18:23] And I love Michael's attitude. I love the fact that he just went for it. It's proof. That no matter where you're at, no matter how much you feel like you need, no. Or you don't know the first step, even though it's scary is not as bad as you're thinking it's going B if you keep going, if you keep pushing, if you don't, you give up, you're going to find yourself one day.

Just like Michael, just like a lot of the other guests here on the show who have become successful as freelance web designers. If I can do it. If they can do it, I know that you can too. Well, I can't wait for next week for you to hear from another person. Maybe me, maybe a guest. I don't know. I haven't figured it out yet.

We're going from week to week here, guys. Okay. So, but until then, I hope you have a great week. I hope you crush some amazing goals. That you're working to accomplish in this new year. And don't forget if you don't quit, you win.

high school student working on laptop to signify a high school student becoming a top-rated freelancer on upwork


Hi, I'm Chris and I'm super glad you're here. 7 years ago I taught my self-web design and freelancing. Now, I do my best to teach others what I've learned so they don't have to struggle as much as I did.

Every week, I write an article and release a podcast episode. Sign up if you want to get notified when that happens.



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