/How to build a freelance business on Upwork and make $1 million

How to build a freelance business on Upwork and make $1 million

  • Ryan Clark was laid off from his sales-engineer job in 2017 and started freelancing on Upwork.
  • He started a business, Mr. SharePoint, to help firms with digital-process and workflow automation.
  • Clark earned more than $1 million in payments in the past five years on Upwork.

One of the first things clients ask Ryan Clark on a call is, “Where in the world are you today?”

Some days, the answer is Aruba or Brazil; others, it’s Italy or Hawaii.

“I could be working from the beach, or I could be just landing off of a helicopter from touring a volcano in Hawaii,” Clark told Insider.

While he’s based in Chicago, the 33-year-old entrepreneur has the freedom to travel, set his own hours, and work from anywhere in the world. Clark is the founder of Mr. SharePoint, a business that automates manual processes and workflows. He gets his clients through Upwork, a platform that connects freelancers with companies that need to outsource tasks.

But Clark didn’t always have the lifestyle many only dream of: He worked as a sales engineer before he was laid off in 2017. After that, he sought a job where he would have more control and flexibility.

“I didn’t like the fact that another company had so much control over the trajectory of my work life,” he said. 

In five years, Clark has earned more than $1 million in payments on Upwork, which Insider verified with documentation. He told Insider how he established his rates, expanded his clientele, and managed his time.

Start out small to gain customers

Clark got his first client from networking in person, then discovered Upwork as a way to reach people more efficiently. 

He didn’t have a reputation on the platform, so he set his rate low at $45 an hour when he started out, he said.

“On Upwork, you’re competing with people from all across the world,” he said. “One of the ways you can get a client to hire you is just to lower your rate.”

It took him about two weeks to get his first Upwork client. Then, as he gained more clients and reviews, he gradually increased his prices. Initially, Clark thought he might lose business because of this, but he said he not only kept his clients but also found they took him more seriously. Now, his rate is $135 an hour.

Ryan Clark in front of colorful steps

Clark in Brazil.

Ryan Clark


Know your selling points

An Upwork profile is similar to a résumé in that it introduces prospective clients to your expertise and previous work. 

“When people first view your profile, that’s a natural, inexpensive way to gain new business,” Clark said. 

He established clear selling points to set himself apart. For example, he majored in business accounting and minored in technology and management in college. He said being “both functional and technical” appealed to clients because he could work with people on both the business side and the developmental side of projects. 

“In my world, typically, you find people that are one or the other,” he said.

Sixty percent of his clients are repeat customers, and he’s done work for companies in the fashion, pharmaceutical, grocery, and cannabis industries.

Establish a strategy

Anyone interested in freelancing on Upwork needs a strategy, Clark said: “If you don’t know how to execute something, you’re not going to be very successful in entrepreneurship.” 

When he bids on a project, one of his approaches is to quote a price slightly lower than his regular rate to stay competitive with all the other freelancers bidding on the same project. Bidding was a necessary step in establishing his business, but he rarely does it today since most of his clients come directly to him.

No two days are the same, but Clark typically responds to emails and inquiries in the mornings before diving into the projects he has for the day. His job often requires moments in between to troubleshoot and help clients fix any problems that come up. To make the most of his time, he requires retainer fees for some jobs.

“It doesn’t make sense for me to go back and get a corporate job if I can earn more with just a baseline of my retainers,” he said. “Anything I do on top of that is just extra.”

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