If you’re here it’s because you’re considering becoming a freelancer for Upwork.
First – congratulations on taking a bold step by becoming a freelancer. You’re one step closer to gaining more freedom and autonomy over your life.
You’re not alone on this journey. I’ve been in your shoes, and can provide a little guidance when it comes to navigating the turbulent waters of freelancing.
Second – I’m going to assume you’re very early in your journey. You’ve probably gotten 1 or 2 clients so far and you’re looking to expand your portfolio.
If you’re considering Upwork, and want to know if it’s legit, and if you can actually make money, then you’ve come to the right place.
Yes – Upwork is a legit marketplace for you to find clients and build your freelancing opportunities.
They’ve been around for 10+ years and have one of the most solid reputations in the space.
Is it easy to be successful?
No. It will take effort and time. You will need to be gritty, especially in the beginning.
Is it worth the effort?
Absolutely. You will finally learn what it means to be making money online with real independence.
Why should you trust me?
Because I made it work for me. I’ve been in the trenches getting my teeth kicked in finding clients and getting projects, all while working a corporate “career”.
I’ve been a freelancer since Odesk days (more on that in a bit) and I helped pay my way through college with the money I made.
It’s taught me a lot of skills. In fact, I leveraged the experience to get a lucrative job at one of the hottest tech startups in the Fintech space.
And I’m still freelancing and bringing in side income on a consistent basis.
Starting with Upwork was one of the best decisions I made in the 2010’s.
In this review I’m going to give you the good, the bad, and the ugly of working with Upwork.
Here’s an overview of what I’ll specifically be talking about:
- What is Upwork?
- Is Upwork Legit or a Scam?
- How Does Upwork… Work?
- Can You Actually Make Money From Upwork?
- Upwork Tips & Tricks
- Most Common Upwork Complaints
- Will Upwork Work For You?
Let’s get rolling.
What is Upwork
Upwork is a marketplace for freelancers and clients to connect. Put simply – a client will post a job indicating what kind of work they’re looking for, what their budget is, and what their timeline is for completion.
You, as a freelancer, will get the opportunities to send proposals to those clients and bid for the work.
After bids have been placed on the project, the client will begin the hiring process for their preferred candidates.
In this process the client will message the freelancer, review their portfolio, have an interview, and eventually choose which freelancer they believe will do the best job.
Upwork essentially created the world’s first gig economy. They were the company who’s contributed most positively to the work from home concept.
A little bit of history about Upwork – because it’s actually fairly new.
Upwork is the product of a merge from two sites called Elance & oDesk. At the time those two sites controlled over 80% of the online freelance traffic.
At the end of the day, the goal is simple. Connect high-quality freelancers with reputable clients. (Emphasis is important and I’ll explain why below.)
Is Upwork Legit Or A Scam
Upwork is a legitimate company with a long history of quality. Yes – they’re legit.
I’ve personally earned over $50k+ from them, and have met many $100k+ (per year!) earners while working on the platform.
They’re a publicly traded company with strict regulations and controls. Otherwise the SEC would shut them down.
They’ve been mentioned in dozens of high quality publications like Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Business Insider, and beyond.
Upwork is just a marketplace. They provide you with an opportunity to connect with clients who need work. You would have most likely never had this connection opportunity without Upwork’s help.
With that said…
YOU DO NEED TO BE CAREFUL
Upwork can’t control everything. They do their best to keep the quality high on both sides. However, this doesn’t mean you’re completely secure from getting scammed or dealing with scumbags.
That’s the nature of working with people in the end. Some suck, most are great.
If a situation happens where either party in the contract, let’s say the client, causes harm to the freelancer, Upwork will do it’s best to provide remedy and mediation for the party.
They have a good reputation in that regard (almost too trigger happy if you ask me).
Is Upwork a perfect company?
In fact, as you advance in your journey as a freelancer you’ll find it more lucrative to generate your own leads and clients.
However, most of the horror stories you read on Upwork comes from the freelancers incompetence in my opinion.
They didn’t read the rules, tried doing shady stuff themselves, and suffered the consequences for it.
That’s on them. Not Upwork.
At the end of the day – Upwork is a job board with accountability. You’re going to be tracked based on your success, job completion, and reputation.
Can You Actually Make Money On Upwork?
Like, double Yuh.
I’ve personally made over $50,000 on the platform myself. I did it just for a year and decided to break out on my own without using these connecting services.
I know 30 people who make over $100k per year working with Upwork.
Here’s the caveat though. You’ve got to have skills, otherwise you’re not going to make any money.
Upwork won’t show you how to be successful on their platform. You’re just another freelancer to them. What it wants is to connect the best freelancers with high quality clients.
It also doesn’t matter what skill you have either. If you’re a writer, designer, accountant, financial modeler, coder, voice over actor, and beyond. There’s hundreds of thousands of jobs needing work.
Don’t worry if you don’t have the skills just yet. You’ll build them with time and practice. Plus you get paid to learn in my opinion!!
How Does Upwork… Work?
If you’re at this point you’re comfortable making big money moves to stack your income.
Good. Now we can get to the nitty gritty.
Like I mentioned, Upwork is a marketplace with accountability. So the process to get work is fairly simple (I’m going to assume you know what your skills as a freelancer are):
- Find work
- Send a proposal or bid
- Interview and get the job
- Complete the project
- Get paid
It really is that simple. Those are the basic steps. Below I’ll go into a little more detail.
Step 0: Sign Up For Work
Before you can get any work, you need to create an Upwork account and profile.
The sign up process is fairly simple, create a username and password.
IMPORTANT: A word of warning. Upwork has every right to deny you access to their program. This is just my experience, and I’m in no way or shape saying Upwork does this, but I’ve found it more difficult for people outside the United States to become a member. You might want to use a VPN when you’re first signing up.
They are very strict with their sign up process.
I haven’t had to sign up in many years, so I can only speak from what I’ve been told recently.
However, I do know Upwork is incredibly strict due to a surge of imposters. In the late 2010’s freelancers from different parts of the countries would purchase accounts of U.S. natives in order to increase their odds of getting accepted for a job. It led to so really bad experiences for clients, and ultimately caused Upwork to crack down hard.
I’ve had to go through a vetting process for my account many times.
Good news for you though… This means once you get accepted it’s much easier to be successful!
Step 1: Find Work
Once you’re in – and you’ve completed your profile – it’s time to find work .
At this point you’ve given them your interests and skill sets.
This is where you’ll meet your first mountain of an obstacle.
Prepare For A Slow Start
You’ve come into a marketplace with zero reputation. You’re going to need to build it up to gain trust within the marketplace.
You see those 5 stars on your profile?
Whether you like it or not, those 5 stars will determine if your application even gets read. I know this because I’m also on the other side of Upwork as a client doing the hiring. Anything below 4 and I don’t even pay attention.
Here’s the trick:
Start with jobs you can low ball – and are easy – so you can quickly build a reputation.
For example – when I first started I knew I wanted to write and learn copywriting. It was a skill I’ve always wanted to understand (and am still learning to this day).
But I knew nobody would trust me. I was a 19 year old college student.
That’s why I decided to get transcription jobs I knew I would knock out of the park. They were the perfect gigs for me to build a reputation.
Do this and I promise your experience with Upwork will be 100% better.
Work With Verified Clients
If you see a client with zero stars, no verified payment method, and no client history hiring freelancers you need to run for the hills.
In my opinion there’s less than a 20% chance they’re real paying clients. The way I see it these clients typically go one of two ways:
- They’re a legitimate client with ability to pay, but they’re brand new to hiring freelancers and don’t have any processes worked out. Not a bad scenario, but not the best either.
- They’re scammers looking for free work. They’ll make you take “test” scenarios in order to piece together work for free.
What you’re looking for are clients with at minimum 4 stars as a review, they have multiple jobs hired for, and have at least $1,000 spent on Upwork. Length of time can also play a role too.
Please Read The Reviews
Just like how you’ll be reviewed by the clients, you’ll get the chance to give honest and authentic feedback too.
Most of the time freelancers give 5 stars for clients when they provide clear instructions, reasonable deadlines, and legitimate opportunity for work.
You’ll find this information in the review section.
You’ll also find weak spots the client has which you will need to pull out on the interview. Remember, you’re not just being interviewed for the job, you’re doing the interviewing too.
What Are The Different Contract Types On Upwork?
There are two different types of contracts you’ll find on Upwork.
Hourly – These are going to be contracts where you charge by the hour for the work provided. Upwork has a system in place to track your screen while you work in hourly jobs. It’s called Work Diary and provides proof to the client you were actually doing work during the hours you charged. These are great for a variety of job types like coding, virtual assistance, film editing, and anything with a high(ish) hourly rate for job completion.
Fixed – A fixed job is a contract with a predetermined amount for the work. It’s usually for finite projects with a hard deadline and clear cut directions. Most of the time the client has a budget in mind for the work, and they typically don’t want to deviate from that budget. The client will preload payment into escrow, you’ll complete the gig, and payment gets released.
Personally – I would start with fixed projects to begin. You won’t need to have you desktop scanned nor will you deal with disputes. Your objective is to create and deliver a final project.
Step 2: Send A Proposal Or Bid
So you’ve found the right job type for you and you’re all ready to go!
Here’s where the fun comes in. Now it’s time to send out your bids to the market and make an impression.
To limit spam and a flood of messages for clients, Upwork created a system called Connects.
These connects are basically tokens you can use to apply to job openings.
Upwork does this to prevent users from spamming the board. Yes, it sucks for newbies who aren’t earning a single cent from the platform, but it keeps clients much more satisfied because it means the freelancer is committed to the job post.
Good news is if your application gets accepted you get your Connects back!
The Connects are sold in bundles of 10 and typically cost $.15/Connect. Options include:
- 10 Connects / $1.50
- 20 Connects / $3
- 40 Connects / $6
- 60 Connects / $9
- 80 Connects / $12
The bad part about Upworks system. Most jobs will cost more than 1 Connect. In fact, nearly all jobs will cost between 3-6 connects.
Here’s the breakdown:
- <$50 job (1-2 Connects)
- $50-$600 job (2-4 Connects)
- >$600 (4-6 Connects)
This means for $9 you have only 10 chances to land a quality gig.
This is why I brought up going after small jobs you know you can land first. It’s the winning strategy.
There is another option…
You can spend $15/month to be a Plus Member.
This means you’ll receive everything in their basic package plus:
- 70 Connects per month.
- Never be set to inactive
- Earning confidentiality
- View your competitor bids
- And more.
Is This Fair For Newbies?
No, not really. You will need to pay a little to play their game. It’s part of the reason why so many people dislike Upwork.
However, you most likely would have never had the opportunity to work with these clients unless you were on Upwork. So they do provide a valuable service.
Step 3: Interview & Land The Job
So everything has worked out swimmingly so far. You’ve found the right role, you sent a great application, and the client is interested in hiring you.
Now it’s time to understand the role a bit better and go in for the close.
Use Upworks Messaging & Video Service
Try your best to not let the conversation move off the Upwork platform (not until you’re ready to breakout on your own).
Upwork provides a messaging and video chat service for their users. Make sure you leverage it.
It houses all the communication about the project in case of payment disputes. If you got moved off Upwork, talked about the details of the project on Slack or Skype, and then ran into problems, you’re out of luck. You’ll lose the dispute.
If you stay on the platform, get clear communication about the project, deliver on the project, and get payment problems, you’re in the clear. Upwork will fight it for you.
As with anything on the internet, be skeptical.
Be Casual, But Professional
You’re not interviewing to be the next consultant at EY. You’re doing a gig to help a small business (typically the case on Upwork).
You won’t need to be formal. You don’t need to wear a suit and tie or anything like that. Clients are aware that you’re not a full time employee.
You still need to impress your audience. Ask insightful questions about what the job entails. Really dig into it because you MUST NOT take the job if you can’t complete it successfully.
You’ll want to get the full details, establish expectations and boundaries, and learn if the client will be a good fit for YOUR skill sets.
Step 4: Complete The Project
Not much to be said here.
Get the work done. Use good time management skills. Be early.
Step 5: Get Paid
Make it rain!!
You’ve just completed the work and now it’s time to get paid.
When you set up your account, you should have been asked to input your deposit method. If not, make sure it gets completed.
One of the nice things about Upwork is they’re quick to pay their freelancers. There’s no minimum you need to earn in order to receive payment, and they’re consistent about disbursement.
Here are the various payment methods they provide:
- Direct Deposit Via ACH – free
- U.S. Wire Transfer – $30
They offer a couple more, but those are the main ones.
I personally preferred having it deposited directly into my bank account, but to each their own.
Upwork Service Fees
“Wait a second”, you say. “There’s something funky about my deposit. It doesn’t match the amount the client paid!!”
Yes. 1000% yes.
That’s one of the frustrating parts about Upwork. Not only do they require you to pay for Connects in order to get the job, they’re also forcing a service fee on top of the money you earned.
Good news: it works on a sliding structure.
Here’s how the structure works:
- Earnings less than $500 (per client) – Upwork takes 20%
- Earnings between $500-$10,000 (per client) – Upwork takes 10%
- Earnings over $10,000 (per client) – Upwork takes 5%
It looks like this.
This is why so many people complain about Upwork. They’re going to get paid, one way or another, for your hustle and work.
Yes – the sliding structure encourages you to build long lasting relationships with your clients. This is a win-win for everyone involved.
This doesn’t mean the work you get will be long-term, or worth $10,000+. Most of the time work will be in the range of $2,000-$5,000 for larger level projects.
How Do You Opt-Out Of Upworks Fees?
Upwork is pretty good about finding out. Even if you make your email address or phone number funky.
They’ll just ban you outright if they discover you’re trying to take clients off the platform to avoid the transaction fees.
That’s another reason why you’ll hear horror stories about Upwork. It’s usually the freelancer trying to avoid the fees, getting caught, and losing their money they earned on the platform.
Upwork does have an opt-out clause within their terms of service.
You have to pay either:
- $3,500 upfront, or
- 25% of the yearly pay if offered full time employment, or
- All service fees Upwork would have earned from the project
Sometimes you just gotta eat the fees until you’re good enough to strike out on your own.
Step 6: Repeat
Repeat this process until you’ve got a system in place providing serious side income!
Upwork Tips & Tricks
Here are some of the best hacks, tricks, and tips I found when working with Upwork. Trust me, you’ll want to follow these guidelines to avoid getting your teeth kicked in like me.
Fill Out Your Profile Completely
Here are some important things to have on your profile:
- Professional photo
- Portfolio of previous work (if you have it)
- Previous education
- Video Intro
All of this plays a part in determining if you’ll get the role.
Get certifications from the field you’re working in. For example, I work in lead generation so I got certified in Facebook Ads, Hubspot, Google Analytics, and beyond.
All of this proves I’m committed to the work I’m selling.
Whatever your industry is, find those certifications and add them to your Upwork profile.
Make Your Upwork Proposals POP
You need to capture the reader’s attention. Convince them on that proposal why they should consider you.
Most freelancers use a spray and pray method for their proposals. They’ll just copy and paste their proposals to the ones they’re interested in. I would recommend doing the opposite.
Dive deep into your clients background and niche. Try to understand why they’re asking you for help.
What exactly do they need to accomplish when hiring for this role?
This will set you above and beyond your competition.
Pro Tip: Speak the second person in your proposal. Nobody cares about what you want, only about what you can do for them.
Make Your Profile Page Awesome
Most profile pages will just go into what the freelancer can do and their specialties.
Tell a story. What helped me secure more clients on Upwork than my competitors was my profile page. I told a story about how I never gave up when playing baseball until I succeeded, and this was to be the same grit I would provide them.
Trust me – it worked really well.
Read The Job Description
A lot of times clients will have special instructions on the bottom of the job description. They’ll say: “Please use the phrase ‘I love baseball’ in the beginning of your cover letter” and it’ll be the last sentence in their job description.
How do I know this?
I do it myself all the time, and it really separates those who actually read the description and followed the instructions from those just copy & pasting applications.
Most Common Upwork Complaints
Upwork Kicked Banned Me
Hate to say it. You probably violated one of their terms of service.
When you sign up for their platform, they retain the right to terminate your account without reason.
It’s particularly common if you’re logging in from different country IP’s or radically changing your job type (like going from selling photography services to backend Python coding).
I’m a big fan of accountability. Which means you probably did something wrong on your end for them to ban you.
Upworks Service Fees Suck
Yes they do. It’s the biggest problem I have with Upwork, and I’m not alone in this regard.
You have 2 options:
- Eat the fees and enjoy easy access to clients.
- Build your own lead generation channel for bringing in clients.
There are pros and cons to each. Personally, I would recommend the latter once you’ve gotten your system flushed out and know your niche.
You Have To Be Cheap To Succeed On Upwork
Only in the beginning when you don’t have any reputation.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a client try to haggle prices with me, I refuse, they go with the cheaper option, it’s absolute garbage, and now they’re paying me to fix the problem AND do the project.
That’s called being an authority.
It’s also your right to say “No” to clients. Especially when you’ve got a good reputation and you’re busy with work.
Will Upwork Work For You
Only if you make it work.
You will need to put in sweat equity in the beginning to make it work. There’s no getting around paying the tax of success.
You will need to have a high level of responsibility and accountability to make it work. That’s true for freelancing, your career, and any sort of business you run.
Just remember, you’re not alone in this battle.
There are hundreds of people more than happy to share the “secrets to success”, if you’re willing to listen.
There’s no better time to start than now. You’re probably already working remote because of COVID-19 and this is just another source of money you can make consistently with the right mindset and hustle attitude.
If you have any questions, feel free to ask below!