Upwork gets a bad rap in the freelancing community, and there’s certainly no shortage of horror stories and tales of misfortune.
As someone who spent their first few freelance years on Upwork, I’ve come to my own conclusions about the viability of such a marketplace.
So does Upwork suck, or is the golden goose you’ve been looking for? Let’s get into it.
Why Even Consider Upwork?
On the topic of Upwork, veteran freelancers are always quick to say:
“Don’t rely on third-party platforms to find freelance work. Instead, work on building your own client acquisition channels.”
While that’s not terrible advice, I don’t necessarily agree with the notion of boycotting Upwork altogether. At least not if you’re just getting started.
Truthfully, Upwork allowed me to get my feed wet in the freelancing world without investing tons of time and money, and I still believe that holds true today.
My (Honest) Upwork Review
When looking at any freelance platform, including Upwork, there are really 7 key categories you need to consider:
- The barrier to entry
- The technology
- The rules
- The fees
- The competition
Let’s break them down, one-by-one.
The Barrier To Entry
Does Upwork allow anyone with an internet connection to create an account and start pushing their services?
You’ll first need to spend up to a few hours filling out your profile and making sure everything is up to scratch, including your bio, employment history, qualifications, work portfolio, and more.
Once that’s done, you can send it off for review and cross your fingers that you meet the requirements. This process has certainly gotten stricter over the years but a high quality profile will eventually get approved.
Note: Some categories in marketing and development are very crowded, so Upwork is extra critical for those offering services in those verticals.
The upside to this is that it prevents floods of low quality freelancers from entering the marketplace, which would ultimately deter clients from posting jobs and eventually lead to the demise of Upwork.
In other words, a strict approval process is annoying but necessary, and few alternatives exist today that haven’t already adopted this approach.
At the heart of it, Upwork is really just a glorified jobs board.
Clients post jobs, and freelancers respond to those jobs. Everything else you see are merely layers of extra features designed to make both parties’ lives easier, even if the execution isn’t always on par.
Upwork has been notoriously bad when it comes to UI/UX, leaving both clients and freelancers confused over the simplest of contractual changes. The endless complaints on Upwork’s own forum is a testament to this.
Fortunately, the interface has been improved in recent years, and the platform is easier to use on the whole — though the days of freelancers walking their clients through Upwork’s interface are far from gone.
Despite all this, the underlying technology has always been reliable, and certainly more reliable than many self-governed solutions. For all its flaws, once you know how to properly use Upwork, it really does work.
Every platform has rules and limitations, and Upwork is no exception.
These include little things like only being able to structure your profile a certain way, not being able to share accounts with other people, or having to go through Upwork’s dispute process in the event of a conflict.
Then you have the whole review system that gives clients way too much leverage over freelancers, where receiving one negative review can be crippling. This is further amplified by the sensitive “Job Success Score” rating.
The biggest rule, though, and the one that trips a lot of people up, is that you can’t take clients off-platform.
This is something you might be inclined to do as it gets you around paying the Upwork service fee (which we’ll get to), but getting caught will leave you permanently banned from Upwork.
And no, making another account isn’t going to work since every account is eventually ID-verified.
There’s also some issues around simply communicating with clients off Upwork, since you aren’t allowed to do so until a contract has been negotiated and secured through Upwork itself.
Unfortunately, if you want to benefit from using Upwork, you need to get to grips with these rules and follow them accordingly. That’s just how it is.
Upwork has always taken a cut of the money you make on the platform, which is why they’re so hellbent on stopping freelancers taking clients off-platform.
Once upon a time this was a flat 10% fee across the board. Now it’s a sliding fee that goes from 5% to as much as 20% depending on how much you earn for each new client.
Your first $500 with a client is subject to 20% in service fees, and anything above that is only subject to 10%. If you manage to exceed $10,000 in earnings from a single client, this will drop to 5%.
On top of this, Upwork “connects” are required to apply for job opportunities, and freelancers only get 10 of these each month for free. Buying more connects will set you back $0.15 per, keeping in mind that many opportunities require multiple connects.
When you consider that clients also pay 3% in fees, you very quickly start to see how Upwork makes their money.
The fees are on the most common reasons people refuse to use Upwork, and while they can be seen as somewhat aggressive on this front, it’s important to remember a few things:
- Upwork is about on par with (or better than) comparing freelance marketplaces. For example, Fiverr is a flat 20% across the board, with no discount on higher volumes.
- Acquiring new leads for your business will always come at a cost. It’s easy to overlook Upwork as an advertising platform, but that’s ultimately what it is — and 20% isn’t unreasonable in terms of advertising costs.
- Many freelance platforms suffer from job opportunities being overwhelmed by irrelevant spam applications. This makes it very difficult for clients to properly vet candidates, and forcing users to pay for ‘connects’ significantly cuts down spam, giving legitimate candidates more visibility.
Did you know, the number of freelancers on Upwork almost matches the entire population of Australia?
So yeah, there’s plenty of competition.
But Upwork also has one of the highest (if not the highest) concentrate of job opportunities of any freelance marketplace.
In other words, while it’s true that a huge number of other people are gunning for the same opportunities, there’s also a huge number of opportunities to meet that demand.
Does that mean everyone wins? Well… no.
Like any job market, a small portion of the contractors on Upwork always end up getting most of the work. (This is called Pareto Principle, and you can see this phenomenon everywhere once you start to look for it.)
It’s a case of picking a service that’s in-demand, crafting a profile that hits all the right notes, having a portfolio that screams quality, picking the right opportunities, responding quickly.
If you get all that right and don’t cut corners, the competition becomes irrelevant because you’ll find yourself in the top 20% of service providers that gobble up 80% of the opportunities.
Verdict: Upwork Still Works!
To answer the title of this post. No, Upwork certainly isn’t that bad.
Despite what you might read from other Upwork review, it is very possible to earn a good living on this platform, with some freelancers earning $100k+ a year doing what they love.
Why not try it for yourself?