Upwork is a polarizing platform. Freelancers from all over the world can sign up here and start working. This makes the barrier to entry for freelancing much lower. For newcomers, Upwork can be a way to break into freelancing. However, some advanced freelancers believe that it’s impossible to make money on Upwork. I’m an Upwork user myself and I’ve heard several arguments for and against the platform. Want to know the truth about freelancing on Upwork? In this post, I’ll tell you about my experience. I’ll also give you an inside look at the pros and cons.
My experience freelancing on Upwork
I didn’t start my freelance writing career on Upwork. However, I did find my way to the platform pretty early on. I’ve made thousands of dollars on the platform and I still get about 10% of my business on Upwork today.
This doesn’t mean that I was always getting a great rate on Upwork and that every client I had was a dream. In fact, I usually get a higher rate from the clients I sign through other marketing methods. Today, I’m a lot more selective about who I work with. The clients I take on Upwork are the ones who are willing to pay my rate without much negotiation.
However, it wasn’t always that simple. I started on Upwork with a really low rate. My mentality at that time (because I was still in college) was that if I could at least make minimum wage that that was good enough. At one point, I wanted a gig so badly that I actually took a freelance job for about $6 an hour.
Quickly, I learned that that wasn’t worth it and little by little I raised my rate. Not that long ago, I was making a good part-time income entirely from Upwork. There are several freelancers who make a good full-time income from Upwork too. It isn’t easy, and it doesn’t work for everyone but it is possible.
Now that you know a little bit about my experience, let me explain the problems that come with freelancing on Upwork.
It CAN be a race to the bottomMany people who discourage Freelancers from using Upwork say that it’s a race to the bottom. In my opinion, that’s misleading. While it CAN be a race to the bottom, it doesn’t have to be. Yes, you are bidding against other freelancers but ultimately the rate you accept for a job is up to you. If you don’t want to take a job that pays $5 an hour, don’t.
Sure, this might mean that you have to send out more proposals to get a gig and start making money but it is possible to get jobs on Upwork that pay a decent rate. You’ll never get the chance to find them if you’re spending all your time working on jobs with an extremely low rate.
Upwork’s fees are high, especially if you’re just starting out and you’re trying to see if freelancing is for you.
Applying for jobs on Upwork used to be free. Freelancers would get a set number of free “connects” each month and use them to apply for jobs. If you wanted to apply to more jobs, you could pay to get more connects. Now, there are no free connects. Each connect costs $0.15. All jobs on Upwork require anywhere from two to six connects to apply. This means freelancers now pay between $0.30 and $0.90 for each job that they apply to on Upwork.
If you’re already making a little bit of money freelancing, $0.30 to $0.90 might not seem like a big deal to you, but there’s an additional fee structure that you also have to be aware of. Upwork also takes a percentage of your earnings and this fee structure applies to each individual client.
Upwork’s fee structure looks like this:
20% for the first $500 billed with the client
10% for lifetime billings with the client between $500.01 $10,000
5% for lifetime billings with the client that exceed $10,000
I’ll be honest with you, when I have a new contract on Upwork seeing that 20% fee come out of my rate still stings. However, once you make that first $500, 10% isn’t so bad. That said, I wouldn’t get comfortable with the idea that you’ll get down to 5% with any potential client. In all of the time I’ve been on Upwork I have never had a single client from the platform pay me more than $10,000.
No career control
Freelancing on Upwork can be lucrative. However, you’re only getting business through Upwork, you can get yourself into trouble fast. One argument I hear a lot is that if Upwork closes down, freelancers will lose their entire business. That’s true but Upwork shutting down isn’t the only danger. If you don’t follow the terms of service closely, you could get a hold on your account or worse, you could be banned from Upwork.
One of the most common reasons people get banned from Upwork is because they attempt to take their clients off of the platform. This is very clearly against the rules. Once you have a relationship with a client on Upwork, every project you work on with that client must be paid through Upwork for 2 years. The only way that you can take a client off the Upwork platform early without breaking rules is by paying a large fee.
So, taking your clients on off Upwork can get you in big trouble with the platform. Beyond that, this means that you don’t have any control over your own client relationships. Any client you have will be building a relationship between themselves and Upwork, not themselves and you, the freelancer.
If you’re interested in freelancing on Upwork, you should be following the rules. However, the fact that there are multiple ways your entire income stream could end in an instant is concerning.
I can tell you from personal experience that freelancing on Upwork can be stressful. You’re competing against other freelancers. As a result, you have to do a lot of work to make sure that your proposals stand out in comparison to the other freelancers. If you want jobs that pay a good rate, this is even more difficult. The work that you’re able to pick up is really dependent on your job success score.
According to Upwork, your job success score is:
A measure of your client’s satisfaction with your work and success on Upwork. Talented freelancers who deliver high-quality work to their clients find that the scores on their profiles help them promote their freelance businesses in the Upwork marketplace and win new clients.
Freelancers with high job success scores have a better shot at getting chosen when they submit a proposal. If your job success score drops, you might have more trouble getting hired. The worst part about this is that Upwork isn’t very clear about how to handle your job success score. While there are some things you can do to manage it, you never really know what to expect.
For me, this was a motivating factor in figuring out how to market myself as a freelance writer outside of Upwork.
I was constantly stressed about whether or not I was going to be able to do a project well or how a client communicated with me. When my whole business was on Upwork, I would keep the website open in the browser on my phone. Then, I’d check it the minute I knew that my updated job success score would be available. I was so nervous that a client would leave me a bad review and that my career as a freelancer would be over if my score dropped. Now, I can’t believe that the platform was ever such a big source of stress for me.
Now, let’s talk about the good things that come with freelancing on Upwork.
These clients need you NOW
When you use other methods to market your freelance services to clients, it can take a while for work to actually start. Often, when I take calls with new potential clients, they don’t need my help for two to four weeks. So, if you need money right now, Upwork can actually be a great place to look for work.
The people who are posting jobs here aren’t looking for someone who can start next month or oftentimes even next week. They have a specific project in mind and they need that project done. If you’re available for rush work and you need the money, this can be a saving grace.
See red flags
Just like clients can leave freelancers feedback on Upwork, freelancers can also leave feedback on clients. This makes it a lot easier for you to see red flags in advance before you even decide if you’re going to submit a proposal.
You can see the star rating and comments that freelancers leave for clients. You can also see the hourly rate or the fixed price that the client paid for each project.
Further, you can even see the feedback that the client left for that freelancer as well. This is really important because your reputation relies on the feedback that clients give you. If a client notorious for giving freelancers bad reviews, you probably shouldn’t work with them. I don’t know of any other marketing method that allows you to see other freelancers experiences’ with a potential client before you take them on.
I haven’t had too many problematic clients on Upwork or off, but it’s definitely nice to know if a freelancer has had a positive or negative experience with a client before you apply to that job. I certainly wouldn’t want to waste money applying to a job with a total nightmare client, even if I’m only paying $0.30 to do it.
It can be a source of inbound leads
When you have a profile on Upwork, and you optimize it well, people who are looking to hire freelancers can also find you via search. If they look at your profile and they’re interested in speaking with you, they can invite you to their job. This is great because it requires no work on the end as the freelancer. You simply get an email notifying you that you have an invitation and that you can apply to this job.
The best part is that submitting a proposal for jobs you get an invite to doesn’t require connects. While you have to spend money to apply for any other project on Upwork, applying to these jobs is completely free. You have nothing to lose by doing this.
Upwork + Specialization
Upwork used to be a good place for newbies. While I can’t confidently say that’s not true anymore, it looks like the tide is turning. Upwork’s main focus used to be on rewarding freelancers who have the best reputation on the site and the highest job success score. However, in recent months they’ve done a big push to encourage specialization, even allowing freelancers to create separate specialized profiles within their account. If you’re a freelancer with an established niche, there’s no better time for you to try Upwork.
Final Verdict: Freelancing On Upwork
I don’t believe that any freelancer should have all of their business through Upwork. When you have all your clients on Upwork, you’re putting a lot at risk.
However, it can be a good marketing method for freelancers who want to know what clients are looking for and need practice pitching. For more advanced freelancers, it’s possible to find high-paying jobs on the platform.
While I understand the opinion that some freelancers have about Upwork, I don’t understand all of the negative comments around the platform. Upwork isn’t for everyone. If you aren’t sure, why not create a profile and see for yourself if it’s the right place for you? You can create an account and look at what jobs are there. If you find that the platform is not the right place for you, that’s fine. Go ahead and move on to something that will work better for you.
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