How to Become a Top Rated Freelancer on Upwork

How to Become a Top Rated Freelancer on Upwork

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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.

Don’t want to read almost 3,000 words on what you need to do to become a top rated freelancer on Upwork? No worries I got you. Here’s a podcast:

Becoming a Top Rated Freelancer on Upwork was a game-changer for me.

It was like almost overnight I went from clawing and scratching to find and win clients over on the platform to having them show up in my inbox ready to pay me.

There’s something magical about having that little badge next to your name on your profile.

A picture showing I'm a top rated freelancer on Upwork

BUT, they don’t hand out that status to just anybody.

It takes some work and intentionality BUT in this post, I’m going to tell you exactly how you can become a top rated freelancer on Upwork. I’ll even share some mistakes I made along the way so you can be sure to not make those yourself 😉

The Benefits of Being a Top Rated Freelancer on Upwork

Before we dive in too deep let’s chat about the benefits of what you get from being a top rated freelancer on the platform. Consider this a carrot to keep you motivated to finally reaching that milestone yourself if you haven’t.

The big things are:

  1. You get reduced fees on featured projects
  2. More control over your Job Success Score (Upwork’s freelancer rating system). You can even request that certain client’s feedback be removed
  3. Invitations to propose on jobs picked for you by Upwork Talent Specialist
Top rated freelancer on Upwork badge

And, listen those things are great BUT the best thing about being a top rated freelancer on Upwork is that you will get more work.

Hands down.

There are clients out there looking only for freelancers with a top rated status.

Client’s can’t specifically request for top rated freelancers BUT they can request that you have a Job Success Score of 90% or above. Which is basically like saying, “Don’t apply if you’re not top rated.”

For me personally, the number of jobs and interest from clients that I got as a freelancer went up drastically when I became a top rated freelancer.

So, this is no small thing and it can really change the game for you on the platform.

Okay, so now that you’re sufficiently motivated let’s talk about what it takes to become a top rated freelancer on Upwork.

Two Sides to Becoming a Top Rated Freelancer on Upwork

There are really two parts to becoming a top rated freelancer on Upwork:

  1. Upwork’s Requirements
  2. Your strategy as a freelancer

Upwork has a list of things they want you to do before you’re even considered for the top rated program BUT that’s just the tip of the iceburg.

You can’t just memorize what it takes to become top rated and expect that it’ll just magically happen.

That’s like learning everything you can about nutrition and exercise and expecting to lose weight without actually working out or eating right.

You’ve got to have a game plan and you’ve got to stick to it!

So, we’ll go over what’s required of you by Upwork to become a top rated freelancer BUT almost more important than that is just you learning how to become a really, really good freelancer.

Upwork keeps a lot of how they calculate things secret because they want you to worry less about status and focus more on treating your clients really well and doing really good work.

If you just do a good job as a freelancer and treat your clients with top-notch service you will almost naturally become a top rated freelancer on Upwork.

Okay, that’s my stump speech. Let’s first talk about what Upwork is looking for

Requirements to Become a Top Rated Freelancer on Upwork

Okay, here’s what Upwork is looking for

1. A Job Success Score of 90% or above

Your Job Success Score is Upwork’s rating system for freelancers. They base the score they give you on a number of different things.

BUT the main idea is that they are looking for freelancers who earn good money, get good feedback (both public and private) and have customers that stick around for a long time OR come back for repeat business.

They say they calculate your JSS (Job Success Score for short) like this:

It takes a bit for your JSS to be calculated. So, it won’t show up right away.

They say they want you to have maintained a JSS of 90% or above for 13 of the last 16 weeks. That means you don’t just become top rated if you have a 90% rating UNLESS you were given a Rising Talent rating and you maintained that for the last 13 of 16 weeks.

The rising talent rating is a status they give people who are new to the platform, have a demonstrated history in the skills they’re freelancing in BUT don’t have enough work to show a JSS.

2. Your First Hire on Upwork Was More Than 90 Days Ago

Read that again. That isn’t when you signed UP for Upwork. That’s when you got your FIRST JOB on Upwork.

They’re wanting to make sure that your success on a project wasn’t an accident. The only way to do that is by waiting until some time has passed.

It’s similar to the advice I give my young daughters:

Wait at least 24 hours before you decide if you like a boy. By then meds will have worn off and you’ve got a better chance of seeing their crazy.

3. 100% Complete Profile

When I was first given top rated status I actually got an email from an employee that told me they wanted to give me top rated status BUT I had to finish my profile first.

Listen, I’m not the best at filling out forms AND I’d rather be out there looking for work OR DOING the work. So, I get if you have hesitancy to fill out your profile completely. BUT, it’s an important step in becoming a top rated freelancer.

4. Earned at least $1000 in the last 12 months

There’s a very real tie between the amount of money you make and how good of a freelancer you are. Think about it: if you’re good, you’ll get more jobs and be able to command higher rates from clients which means…you’ll make more money.

5. Up to Date Availability

You have the option of turning on or off your availability on your profile. That let’s Upwork know that you’re open to new work and can send more clients your way.

So, be sure to update that as it changes.

6. Activity on the platform (proposal, accepted invitation, or earnings) in the past 90 days

Upwork is looking to reward freelancers who are actively using their platform. After all those freelancers are making an effort to use the platform AND they’re earning the company money.

I once lost my top rated status because I hadn’t bid on a project in 90 days.

I got the notice. Went in and bid on a project and POOF the top rated status showed up again.

Alright, so that’s all of Upwork’s requirements to become a top rated freelancer. NOW, let’s talk about what it takes to actually accomplish all of those things.

1. Don’t Say Yes to a Project Without Digging a Little Deeper

It may seem counterintuitive but you need to be careful about which projects and clients you actually say yes to.

At first, it’s easy to get sucked into the idea that you just need to take whatever project you can. You get excited when someone’s interested in working with you and then all of the sudden you’ve got rose-colored glasses and you start ignoring warning signs.

You need to make sure that you are really looking into a few things before you make the decision to move forward with the project.

There are really 2 things you should look at:

  1. Whether or not the client will be easy to work with
  2. Whether or not you can give the client what they really need

There are nightmare clients everywhere. So, you’ve got to be careful that you don’t say yes to someone who has impossible standards and is equally impossible to please.

So, make sure that you’re looking for signs all throughout the process.

Do they have harsh language in their job posting?

Do they constantly talk over you in the interview and dismiss what you have to say?

Do they have impossible expectations that no one could adhere to?

These are all things you need to look for as signs that you’re about to deal with a nightmare client.

You also need to make sure that you are able to give the client what they really need as a freelancer.

That means you’ll be able to deliver the type of thing they’re asking you to deliver within the time frames they’ve given you.

If a client needs something done within a month and you know you won’t be able to get to their project for 3 and 1/2 weeks, it’s not a good idea to say yes to the project!

You also need to be fairly confident that you’ll be able to figure HOW TO DO what they’re asking you to do even if it’s somewhat outside of your skillset.

This doesn’t mean you have to be an expert freelancer with expert-level skills.

In fact, I had only been freelancing as a web designer for a little over a year when I got my top rated status. Trust me, I was not an expert.

BUT, I knew the general idea of things I could figure out if I were given the chance.

I also knew the things I should not say yes to.

When I didn’t know for sure, I’d ask my friends who had been doing what I was doing for longer than I had.

I would straight up say, “Do you think this would be too much for me?”

Sometimes the answer was “Yes, you shouldn’t do that.” And, sometimes they would encourage me to go for it even though I didn’t feel super confident.

Either way, you have to have the confidence that no matter what you’ll figure out how to deliver what the client needs when the client needs it.

Saying yes without going a bit deeper on who the client is and what they need can be detrimental to your Job Success Score. Trust me it is not worth it to take on a job with a bad client or a project that’s too far outside of your skills to pull off.

It will come back to haunt you in the worst way and could be the difference between you becoming a top rated freelancer on Upwork or not.

2. Overcommunicate and Set Clear Expectations Up Front

I can’t stress this enough: you have to make sure you understand EXACTLY what you’re client is looking for and communicate EXACTLY what you are able to give them before you say yes to a project.

Tell me if this sounds familiar.

Sometimes when I’m really excited about a project I find myself having a tug of war with my brain.

My brain says, “But wait Chris, this thing they’re asking for isn’t really clear. You should stop and ask them to clarify.”

My response is, “Shut up brain. We can figure this out. Stop being such a dork.”

You need to have a crystal clear idea of what the client’s expectations are from the very beginning.

Here are two questions that will help you with this:

  1. What does done look like?
  2. What would a homerun on this project look like?

The first one, “What does done look like?” tells you the client’s minimum expectations. That way you don’t have to guess at whether or not you should ask for the contract to be closed or for them to release a milestone.

The second question, “What would a homerun on this project look like?” tells you what you can do to go above and beyond the client’s expectations.

And, that’s what we’re trying to do for them!

We’re trying to wow them with our final product so they go and give us some really good feedback.

On your end, you need to make sure that you clearly communicate your limitations.

If you’re unsure of whether or not you’ll be able to do something they’ve asked you to do: tell them.

If you’re going to go on vacation right in the middle of the project: tell them.

Something a friend of mine coached me on as a freelancer was that you have to underpromise and over-deliver.

You should never pitch yourself to a client as a freelancer that can make all of their dreams come true.

That’s impossible for anyone to accomplish no matter how good of a freelancer you are.

So, make sure that you are clear about your limitations and you’re honest with your clients about your abilities.

I would often tell clients, “I’ve never done that before. I’m pretty sure I can figure it out. But, it might take me a while. And, if not we can try to come up with another solution.”

That leaves you sounding confident in your ability to figure things out without overselling your abilities.

Clients will appreciate the honesty.

3. Do Exactly What You Say You Will and Then a Little Bit More

Once you’ve vetted your clients and their projects, then communicated clearly with them about their expectations and your limitations it’s now time to get to work and deliver 5-star service.

This means you stick to things like deadlines and deliverables. BUT, it also means you go a little bit above and beyond to bring that wow factor.

Does this mean you let a client take advantage of you and work for free? Absolutely not.

BUT, it does mean you do something unexpected OR something that most other freelancers wouldn’t.

You’re trying to stand out to your clients in such a way that when you ask for them to give you feedback on Upwork they don’t have any hesitation about talking you up.

So, how can you do that?

If you’re rebuilding a website for a client, throw in some social media templates for them that match their new brand.

If you’re troubleshooting an issue, fix that issue and then fine-tune something else within their site.

You don’t want to go too overboard. After all, you might do something they didn’t ask you to do and it messes up some game plan for them.

I had a boss in high school that told me “Good employees do the things you ask them to do. Great employees do the things you DIDN’T ask them to do.”

The same is true of freelancers.

4. Communicate the Importance of Feedback When The Project Closes

Finally, every time I close a project I make sure that a client knows just how impactful their feedback, both public and private, can be to my career as a freelancer.

Am I trying to manipulate them into giving me good feedback? Of course not.

But, you have to remember, you are not on the top of your client’s mind even if they are on the top of yours.

In other words, you aren’t their priority. They might not even realize just how important good feedback is to you as a freelancer.

SO, you’ve got to make sure that you communicate how helpful it would be if they would close out the contract and leave some good feedback for you on the platform.

Stay Focused and You’ll Naturally Become a Top Rated Freelancer on Upwork

My encouragement to you is to think less about gaming the Upwork rating system and focus more on having a good strategy to deliver the type of service that make clients more than willing to give you the type of feedback that makes you a top rated freelancer on Upwork.

At the end of the day, Upwork’s goal with their Job Success Score and all of the other requirements is to make sure the best freelancers are given the best opportunities.

That’s good business for them and it’s good news for you.

So, be careful who you say yes to. Make sure you overcommunicate to your clients at the beginning of every project. Do what you can to go above and beyond with your clients. And, when it’s all said and down finish it up with an appeal to the client for good feedback.

Do that long enough and you will one day find yourself with that fun, little, magical top rated badge.

Man climbing side of mountain to illustrate the climb to become a top rated freelancer on upwork

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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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