How to Build a Freelance Business on Upwork and Make $1 Million?

  • Ryan Clark was fired from his job as a sales engineer in 2017 and started as a freelancer at Upwork.
  • He started a company, Mr. SharePoint, to help companies automate digital processes and workflows.
  • Clark made more than $1 million in payments on Upwork over the past five years.

One of the first things customers ask Ryan Clark is, “Where in the world are you today?”

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

“I could work from the beach, or I could just land from a helicopter touring a volcano in Hawaii,” Clark told Insider.

While living in Chicago, the 33-year-old entrepreneur has the freedom to travel around the world, set his own hours and work. Clark is the founder of Mr. SharePoint, a company that automates manual processes and workflows. He gets his clients through Upwork, a platform that connects freelancers with companies that have to outsource tasks.

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

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

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

To start small to win customers

Clark got his first client through personal networking and then discovered Upwork as a way to reach people more efficiently.

He had no reputation on the platform, so he set his rate low at $45 an hour when he started out, he said.

“On Upwork, you compete with people from all over the world,” he said. “One of the ways you can get a client to hire you is by lowering your rate.”

It took him about two weeks to get his first Upwork client. As he got more customers and reviews, he gradually increased his prices. At first, Clark thought he might lose business because of this, but he said he not only loved his clients, but found they took him more seriously. Now his rate is $135 per hour.

Ryan Clark for colorful stairs

Clark in Brazil.

Ryan Clark


Know your selling points

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

“When people view your profile for the first time, it’s a natural, inexpensive way to bring in new customers,” Clark says.

He set up clear selling points to differentiate himself. For example, he studied business accounting and took a minor in technology and management at university. He said that “both functionally and technically” appealed to his clients because he was able to work with people on both the business and development sides of projects.

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

Sixty percent of his clients are repeat customers and he has worked for companies in the fashion, pharmaceutical, grocery and cannabis industries.

Determine a strategy

Anyone interested in freelancing on Upwork needs a strategy, Clark said, “If you don’t know how to run something, you won’t be very successful at entrepreneurship.”

When bidding 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 setting up his business, but he rarely does it these days because most of his clients come directly to him.

No two days are the same, but Clark usually responds to emails and questions in the morning before plunging into the projects he has for the day. His work often requires moments in between to resolve issues and help clients resolve any issues that may arise. To make the most of his time, he charges commissions for some jobs.

“It makes no sense for me to go back and get a job with the company when I can earn more with just a base of my regular holders,” he said. “Anything I do on top of that is just extra.”

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