One of the biggest complaints I hear from people who read my book is: “Upwork only has a bunch of $1 per hour data entry jobs. I can’t believe you actually made a career on Upwork (aka oDesk).”

To these comments, I usually respond: “You have to invest time into identifying high-paying opportunities – or those that could lead to high-paying engagements.”

When I say this, I typically get a blank stare.

In this post, I’m going to show you how to find high-paying jobs on the Upwork marketplace. (It is possible.)

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Filters Help You Find High-Paying Jobs

Let me start by giving you the secret to finding the highest-paying jobs on Upwork: take advantage of job filters.

When logged into your Upwork account, click “Find Work.” Click on a job “category” or enter a search term into the “Search for Jobs” box. On the left side of the page, you should see something like the following image. Learning how to use these filters is your key to identifying better Upwork jobs.

Upwork Job Filters

Category vs. Search

Your instinct for finding clients might be similar to shopping on the Amazon marketplace: identify the nearest search box, type in a keyword, and press “Enter.” I’ll admit that I’ve probably taken this approach, too. In fact, I’m sure that I’ve identified and won several jobs this way.

However, the problem with a “search only” approach is that it relies upon proper spelling and explanation by the client. For example, let’s say that you’re an SEO expert. You do a search for “SEO,” and you begin applying to jobs. While you may come across many decent opportunities, aren’t you ignoring clients who have failed to use the exact phrase “SEO”?

seo work on upwork

In short, browsing jobs by category and using the search box in tandem is probably the best approach.

Hourly vs. Fixed Price

Most freelancers are probably interested in both hourly and fixed price jobs. If I were to ramp up my own prospecting tomorrow, I would consider both types of work. Having completed dozens of successful oDesk (now Upwork) contracts, here’s my quick take on this topic:

  • Hourly: potentially more competitive, as everyone wants an hourly gig
  • Fixed Price: great opportunity to get your foot in the door with a client (if the price is right)

Fixed price jobs can be a potential land mine if you don’t know where you’re stepping. Before prospecting for fixed price jobs, you should consider the following:

  • What is the low-end of my service tier?
  • How can I use fixed price jobs to generate long-term clients?
  • What am I not willing to do?
  • How much time do I have available?

Once you’ve answered these questions, I suggest you then use an Upwork “Budget” filter to exclude those below (and perhaps above) your service tier. I personally set my lower limit at $250, but it was lower when I was just getting started in freelancing. I would probably also filter any job over $1,000, as I find it’s virtually impossible to properly scope a marketing project that is over $1,000.

fixed price upwork

Experience Level

When clients post Upwork jobs, they are asked if they are looking for a freelancer who is an:

  • Expert
  • Intermediate
  • Entry Level

Which level best describes you? Realistically, “Entry Level” is probably not going to pay what you’re looking for. I would recommend that most US-based contractors uncheck “Entry Level,” unless he or she is interested in seeing $3/hour job posts. (Don’t sell yourself short!)

upwork experience level freelancers

Client History

Here’s where many freelancers make a big mistake: they fail to use this filter. Arguably, this is one of the most important pieces of information that is at your disposal as a freelancer.

Do not work for clients with “No Hires.” Let another freelancer take the risk on new clients. Your freelancer success score is way to valuable to risk it.

client history upwork

Project Length & Hours

If you’re looking for sustainability as a freelancer, then it’s best to start with longer term projects. Filter out short-term work by utilizing the “Project Length” and “Hours Per Week” filters.

upwork project length hours

Personal preference: I would un-check “full time,” as I am not for-hire on a full time basis. This is for you to decide, however.

Sort By: Most Dollars Paid

One final secret to finding the best paying Upwork jobs: sort your results by “most dollars paid.” This is how you identify the clients who are the most serious. Money talks.

upwork sort most dollars paid freelance jobs

What’s Your Secret?

Have a secret not discussed in this post? Comment below and tell the world!

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Disclaimer: Obviously, this post is not a guaranteed strategy for freelancing success. It’s just my own personal perspective on how I go about identifying the best Upwork opportunities. 

Written by Matt Keener

Matt Keener is the original "Executive in Sweatpants," having built a successful online consulting business (from home). His best-selling book offers tips for capitalizing on outsourcing and freelancing. Matt holds an MBA and has been featured by many recognizable brands, including Upwork (formerly oDesk), Elance, Insightly, the Dave Ramsey Show, and Entrepreneur.com.

This article has 3 comments

  1. Riwaj Ghimire Reply

    great ideas matt. I believe in upwork and its making me more earning than any companies are paying for top developers. I work less earn more.

  2. Terry Reply

    Hi Matt,

    Being a newbie to both freelancing and and Upwork, your good steps here are very timely for me. I wasn’t sure about the filter process before, so thanks a whole lot!:)

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