I am in the software development industry and I'm an experienced software engineer.

I am new to freelancing websites. The problem is I have zero rating and I can't get any projects even if I bid the lowest amount.

This in turn prevents me from getting any rating which prevents me from getting any new projects(even if I bid the lowest amount).

I am stuck in this cycle. How do I get my first job at a freelancing site?

EDIT: Like most of you are mentioning,I tried the approach where I bid the lowest possible amount.The problem is there are many people with 5 star ratings(max ratings) that are offering to do the job with the lowest possible rate.So there's me with no ratings and lowest rates and there's others with max ratings and lowest possible rates.So at the end I don't get the project.

  • 6
    Have you ever done freelancing work that wasn't on one of those sites?
    – jmort253
    Commented May 22, 2013 at 6:06
  • 2
    I have some experience in the industry but no freelancing experience.
    – zzzzz
    Commented May 22, 2013 at 6:09
  • 3
    There are some alternate suggestions here.
    – almostflan
    Commented May 22, 2013 at 6:12
  • 13
    My advice honestly is to start through family, friends, and the like. I haven't found freelancing sites worth my time. Not posting this as an answer because it doesn't answer the question. Commented May 22, 2013 at 13:51
  • 2
    this whole page gives me a lot to think about :D Commented Oct 23, 2013 at 16:54

10 Answers 10


I absolutely understand what you mean. A couple of years ago I faced the same dilemma. No matter how low I bid, I could never get a project. But as of today if I bid on a project, 90% of the chances are that I will get it. Thanks to more than 110 Five Star Ratings.

I was almost on the verge of giving it up but then someone gave me some advice which helped me get my first project.

So how did I manage to do it?

A. Create a proposal where you explain why you should be picked even though you are new.

It could be some thing like

Dear XYZ

I have been in this industry for XX years and such jobs are my daily practice. This is my first time on this site and hence you can see that I do not have any ratings/testimonials to show you. I can assure you that if you work with me once, you will always work with me for these kind of projects.

Now you mention stuff here on why the employer should choose you.... Attach a sample and tell the employer that it can be delivered the moment he chooses your bid...

B. Submit samples of your previous work

Don't just submit any sample. The sample should be relevant to the current project you are bidding on

C. Submit working sample of the current work.

If you do not want to do that then attach a video of the working application. I use CAMTASIA to record a video to show how the completed project looks like. Trust me this almost will seal the project for you.

Start with these 3 and you will see results very soon.

  • 3
    This post was mentioned in our Freelancing Chat room
    – jmort253
    Commented Nov 12, 2013 at 4:59
  • 2
    I've hired freelancers before and everyone claims they can do it even though they are new and says "trust me". You'd have to prove it one way or another.
    – Muz
    Commented Apr 21, 2014 at 5:00
  • @Muz: True and hence Point A,B and C play a major role :) Commented Apr 21, 2014 at 8:50
  • 1
    Can you elaborate a bit further on "Submit working sample of the current work." Since this is for a bid pitch to get work
    – Ghoul Fool
    Commented Feb 9, 2015 at 16:01
  • I guess #3 is for when the job is to create something similar, like "create a blog for me" and you've already made other blogs. Commented May 26, 2017 at 3:48

Since I work as both a contractor and employer, I will share my experience by combining both roles.

  1. Sometimes I have too little money for some project, so I'll tell the guys that I am seeking someone good who needs experience. Try to look for such jobs. Apply by telling how much experience you have and how you plan to finish the job.

  2. Seek for smaller jobs first. Try finding those you can finish in 1 day. Create a solution at home, take snapshots and apply, saying something like "I was free to finish my solution. Here are the snapshots. If you like it, I can adopt it to your need in a couple of hours". I remember this is how I got my first job. Of course, offer smaller price than the rest of the guys.

  3. If nothing works, try finding jobs you can finish in a couple of hours. Present yourself saying that you will do it for free since you need experience.

  4. If you are good, try finding project with very few applicants. Those are hard jobs that most lamers will never apply to. Present yourself by explaining how good you are and how you plan to finish it.

  5. When I am a client, I like contractors who ask me concrete questions. I especially like when someone asks me questions about some feature which I forgot to include. This means that this person thought about my project. This person gets short-listed in 1 second.

  6. Create a killer portfolio of apps you did in the past. If you don't have paid projects, then take a week or more of your own time and create these killer projects in-house. Try to publish these works somewhere or even create a public project. Users or download number will be a good reference.

  7. Make a bunch of small sample projects which encapsulate most wanted features your clients demand. Next time you see such project, just apply with your sample asking the client if this is what he wants. I guarantee that you will not be unnoticed. This is how I got my first job ever as a freelancer.

  8. When you come across the project you know you can make a killer result out of it, then don't spare your words. Write about it and describe your approach, propose new or cool features to the client. Each time I got a "click" with some project and I wrote a long proposal, most of those times I got a job or the client returned to me saying that he liked my approach in my previous bid.

  9. Don't try to win the project with the lowest bid. Such clients will usually make you hate yourself and will try to abuse you. If you want to bid with a nice price, then either wait a bit for others to bid, then take the average bid price and propose only slightly smaller price. The second approach (I never got lucky with this one, but I know people that did) is to approach to a client saying how good you are and that you are just starting on that freelancing site. Then telling him that your regular price would be X dollars, but since you are a new guy here, you are offering a 50% or some other large discount.

I will add to this list as I come up with more advices...

  • 1
    #6 seems to be the most important one to me. You must be able show you can do that, either through past projects or sample/pet projects. Commented May 26, 2017 at 3:55

Not a direct answer, but hopefully a helpful one.

I've found most of those sites to be impossible to book work from. I tried it for a few months and just gave up after awhile. Most of the freelancers on those sites are working at dirt cheap hourly rates, sometimes as low as 5.00/hr.

Not sure where you are or type of quality of life you expect, but I know I could not even afford to live.. assuming I was able to book a "typical work week" at 40hrs of that rate.

I suggest talking with local businesses. To build my initial portfolio I spoke with business owners of places I frequent, explained to them I was about to jump into freelancing and offered discounts or barters to build them websites.

And don't forget the power of side projects. For instance, if you build websites.. build a website for a passion or hobby of yours. Pour your heart and soul into the functionality and design. Make it showcase quality, then showcase it.

  • I disagree. Although there is high competition on the freelance job marketplaces, they are quite profitable once you reach a certain level of credibility (e.g. enough 5 star ratings or positive reviews from previous clients). I believe they are not that much different from working with clients outside these sites - the only difference here is that your credibility is measured up in real metrics (numbers, stars, etc).
    – Dzhuneyt
    Commented May 24, 2013 at 19:58
  • 8
    I just don't see the type of clients that are willing to pay $100+/hr coming from these sites. Perhaps I'm wrong? Quite curious now. Commented May 24, 2013 at 22:33
  • 6
    If by '5.00/hr' you mean $5/hr, not €/£/etc. you should say so. Not everyone is based in the US.
    – smci
    Commented Jun 5, 2013 at 8:34
  • @DrewPoland My thoughts exactly. I'm in the US and was trying to book a fair (for the US) rate on Elance or oDesk on a UX project last year. The client decided to hire 2 freelancers at $3/hour (USD) who were offshore and didn't have the skills between them to do the job - let alone my skill set (I was at least qualified to do the work, possibly overqualified). I went the local business route after that for a while before settling into one target industry where I could build deeper expertise and charge more.
    – David
    Commented Dec 15, 2013 at 15:57
  • Some people want dirt cheap services and some want better services. People are people no matter where you go.
    – c..
    Commented Mar 9, 2018 at 18:13

Most of these sites have a reputation based system, meaning that your chances of being hired are drastically increasing as you complete more jobs.

Generally, from the client's point of view he has two choices:

  1. To hire an expensive freelancer with great reputation
  2. To hire a cheap freelancer with little or no reputation

As a new freelancer on the site, you need to try to fall as much as possible in the second target of the client, meaning that offer as low rates as possible. You can gradually increase your rates as you gain reputation and returning clients.

  • 9
    I think this approach can bite you in the ass if you do it blindly - since you will attract customers that are willing to accept lesser quality for lesser price (that is the risk of choosing someone with no reputation), they might force you to do cheap solutions - thus you will have to do low quality work to remain cheap. So if you have couple of clients like this, you will end up being cheap with weak reputation as you have nothing high-quality on your "display case". It wont be your fault, but you will fail to build the reputation and it will be harder and harder to reverse that direction.
    – Erchi
    Commented May 23, 2013 at 14:16
  • @ColorWP.com I try as much as possible to fall into the second category.However,the problem is there are many bidders with 5 star ratings that offer the lowest rates.
    – zzzzz
    Commented May 24, 2013 at 5:35
  • You should consider lowering your rate even more then. It's the only way to be competitive in the IT sector, just as with any market. That's probably the way these 5 star rating bidders you refer to did it.
    – Dzhuneyt
    Commented May 24, 2013 at 19:54
  • @Erchi: I agree with you, but it is one of the best strategies to overcome competition (in real life as well, not only freelancing). In general, to avoid getting "bitten in the ass" by this approach, you need to set clear goals or milestones for exactly when you will increase your rates (e.g. "when I reach 10x5 star ratings I will increase my rate by 30%"). Don't just stick to offering low rates, which yield higher hire rate, but throw some higher offers as well from time to time. Try to mix your raputation with high-end (for increased quality) and lower-end (for increased quantity) projects.
    – Dzhuneyt
    Commented Jul 31, 2013 at 11:30
  • 1
    @Muz: In that case they beat newcomers in two fronts: price and reputation. However, there are many more places where a new freelancer can stand out: quality, availability (as in being available for bigger chunks of time during the day for work), better English and communicational skills, higher quality portfolio outside the freelancing site and so on.
    – Dzhuneyt
    Commented Apr 21, 2014 at 9:43

We had luck sending very personal customized proposals. We do iOS apps, and have found a lot of the (cheaper) competition uses a very cut-and-paste system of submitting proposals to EVERYTHING. We have had several people thank us for actully reading their full job descriptions and responding appropriately.

Good luck!!


A detailed, personalized project proposal is a big plus, and was what got me over the hump of getting the first job on a freelance site. Be as specific as possible about how you would tackle the project and attach a sample of your work that is relevant to the project. It is a lot more work for each proposal, but it is more likely to be successful than a shotgun approach of bidding with stereotypical proposals on everything in sight.

If the freelancer site lets you see the range and average of other bids, try to set your first bids a little below the median bid for the job. I don't recommend going for the lowest bids unless you are prepared to compete with freelances bidding $2-5 per hour. In my experience, if you bid a little below the median at first you will not have trouble raising your rate as you build a reputation.


I would definitely advise you to start building reputation. You can usually link to your blog or web from freelancing sites. And that should contain free know-how, that will show that you know your stuff.

You can describe tricky challenges you solved with attention to quality of the app or reusability. You can demonstrate that you do take into account user experience when designing a piece of software. You can put your certficates on display.

Once you have this, you can start actively looking for work. There are sites where you can find inquiries for services (companies describing the request and asking suppliers to contact them with their offer). You can approach companies directly with suggestions how you can help them (backed up by evidence - you should have that as "senior") When you strike a deal and complete the work properly, ask the client to rate you and give you testimonials - preferably on sites where you are looking for work, but personal or email testimonials which you can display on your site are very valuable too.

If you will focus on doing this all the way, things will start to move in the right direction at one point.

EDIT: Just expect that it will take some time. Building reputation is a process. And it never ends, if you want to stay in the business.


Try seeking out smaller-scale projects, particularly projects that require a higher-level of expertise. Choose projects that you have specific experience on. These might be as small as a few hour or few day projects. Be sure to mention your prior experience with software and the specific task at hand in your PMB.


I hire on UpWork, so can answer this from the other side of the equation.

As a general rule, 80% of applicants will send generic applications that may as well come from a robot. By sending personal replies that are specific to the job you're bidding on, you are already 'winning'.

The one single thing that has made the biggest impact for me on software development projects are people that have done some of the work already. This easily beats people that have higher ratings and more experience.

It's not about me getting free work - in every case I have paid them more than the original bid. A small part of up-front work quickly addresses the questions of trust and whether the freelancer has the skills to complete the work. It also shows a high level of personal commitment and the interest to deliver work quickly.

In a nutshell:

  1. Read the project description very carefully.
  2. Write a personal response.
  3. Explain how you would solve the problem.
  4. Do a bit of work up-front [optional - you'll already do well with 1 to 3]

[mostly taken from here, which also has more good advice: http://freelance-survivor.com/freelancing-sites-how-can-you-get-your-first-job/]

Best of luck & let us know how you get on!


I would advise to only try the projects that are taylored for you, and keep the rate you deserve.

You will feel in a better position to introduce yourself and you will seduce the customers by showing good fitness to the task.

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