Earning potential: 5
Quality of the opportunities: 2
Quality of the platform: 3
Overall star rating: 3
Upwork is an online marketplace where freelancers create and post profiles, and clients create and post jobs. Freelancers can search, sort, and filter contract jobs and apply for them on the platform, and clients can search freelancers and invite them to apply for their gigs.
Upwork works by creating a platform where freelancers and clients can connect and get work done, with a comprehensive set of communication tools for every step of the process, and then they take a percentage of the earnings for every job in fees. They take 20% of every job up to $500 lifetime billing with a client, then 10% of every job up to $10,000 lifetime billing, then 5% for amounts over $10,000.
For example, if you take a job on Upwork for $100, you will get paid $80 of that amount (in theory, the client could pay these fees, but they never do. The freelancer always does). If you work with a bunch of different clients, Upwork will continue to take 20%. If you do a few more jobs for that same client, and do more than $500 worth of work, then the fee drops to 10% for all jobs you do with that specific client. The fee reduction is intended to reward freelancers who do such good work that they develop a lasting relationship with that client and stay on the platform.
What’s Great About Upwork
A lot of things are really great about Upwork, actually; it has a lot to offer.
- Huge variety of freelance gigs in nearly every specialty. There are jobs for freelance writers, illustrators, video editors, virtual assistants, programmers, and every other kind of thing. If you want to get paid to write someone’s erotic novel, or fake Amazon reviews, or draw a logo, or make sales calls…. there’s a huge range of gigs on Upwork all the time.
- Upwork goes to great lengths to make sure you get paid. The platform lets you know that your earnings are already being held in escrow for you, ensuring that the client already has the money for your work and it’s already set aside for completion of the project. For remote freelancers working with unknown clients all over the world, this assurance is incredibly valuable, and helps to alleviate the risk of taking on a new project.
- They have a really good search/sort/filter system. You can search for jobs by keywords, rate, client rating, location, and a number of other factors. It helps to quickly weed out the garbage jobs.
- Huge range of freelance gigs
- Lots of measures in place to make sure you get paid for approved work
- Excellent search parameters and filters
- Good client communication system on the platform
- Good tools to build your profile and make yourself appealing to clients
Upwork also has a lot of downsides. I’ve been on this platform for many years now, and, from my perspective, it has changed for the worse, and I think I would have a worse opinion of it if I were newly signing up now.
- Low rates. Because Upwork is a global marketplace, freelancers are competing against each other for jobs, and there is always someone who will work for less money than you. I have seen rates steadily decline over the years, as clients keep offering lower and lower rates and still finding someone who will accept the job.
- Garbage jobs. There are a LOT of garbage jobs on Upwork. Really scammy/spammy clients. Invitations to write dozens of fake Amazon reviews, or do someone’s term paper, or… just really sketchy jobs for really low rates. Upwork is also one of the favorite platforms for people who are themselves freelancers/contractors but are hiring someone else to actually do the work, so they are looking for someone to execute their jobs for less money than they are worth. There are some good jobs on Upwork, but you have to really search for them and be selective.
- Weird review system. There is a system where clients review/rate freelancers and vice versa after every job. This used to be a useful piece of information. But of course there’s always a strong incentive for freelancers to rate clients highly in case they ever want to work with them again, regardless of what their real opinion is. Somehow over the years Upwork has implemented a secret review system; clients can give you a star rating that you see and respond to, and then they can give you a secret review rating that only Upwork knows about. I myself apparently got some secret negative feedback a few months back, and because of that some of my scores are penalized on the site. Because it’s secret feedback, I don’t know exactly what it was and don’t have an opportunity to respond to it. So public, visible reviews and ratings for clients are pretty meaningless, since clients always get a high score, and public, visible ratings for freelancers are meaningless, since there is also a secret score that the site actually employs.
- Surveillance. If you agree to take on an hourly job with Upwork, you install an app on your machine that logs your keystrokes and monitors your behavior for the entire time you are “logged in” and billing the client. On the one hand, this makes sense, because the client doesn’t know or trust you, so this constant monitoring is intended to make sure you are “working” for the entire time they are paying you. However, as a writer, I know that a lot of my “working time” is actually “thinking time”. Just because I’m not actively typing every moment doesn’t mean I’m not working. For this reason, I have never accepted an hourly rate project with Upwork, and have always done project rate jobs (for example, I don’t do jobs that pay you $10/hour. I do jobs that pay per word, or per blog post.)
Upwork is Recommended For:
Honestly, Upwork is a really good resource for everyone who wants to do/find remote freelance gigs. There are so many jobs on the platform, for such a wide range of clients/specialties/rates that I think it’s a good idea for entry/midlevel people to spend time on Upwork and get their feet wet in online freelancing.
Upwork is Not Recommended For:
People who can’t spot a scam. Also, because of the secret review system, you need to be very sure that you can do a good job with the gig as it’s described in the initial posting; if you have doubts or questions, it’s better to skip it.
Tips for Success with Upwork:
Upwork is super paranoid that freelancers and clients will meet each other on the platform and then communicate elsewhere and just transfer money by PayPal. Doing that cuts Upwork out of the middle and deprives them of their fees, so they do everything they can to prevent it. It is a violation of the terms of service, but clients and freelancers still suggest it all the time. That’s why, if you use their messaging system to exchange direct contact information, it gives you all kinds of notices and popups. It wouldn’t surprise me if, in the next few years, they found a way to electronically prevent it altogether, so that you never really know who you are working for.
Have a good, strong profile. If you have a good profile and good public feedback and reviews, clients will invite you to apply for their jobs. You don’t need to accept those jobs, but it’s good to reply to them right away, even if you are declining the job, in order to keep a high responsiveness score.
Be selective. I know I keep saying this, but set good search parameters and be wary of garbage jobs and garbage clients on Upwork. If it feels off or weird, just don’t do it. The best strategy on Upwork, because of the fees and secret reviews, is to find really good clients and really good projects that are a good fit for you and stick with them. You are better off doing one solid gig on the platform than 10 questionable ones.
I honestly feel like Upwork itself, despite being controlling and annoying, is a good platform, by and large. The market forces that attract lame, sketchy clients and drive rates lower and lower aren’t entirely their creation, and they aren’t to blame. They have really gone to great lengths to try to ensure that freelancers get paid for the work they do, and that’s nothing to sneeze at.
Because of the huge variety of global jobs, I don’t think any online/remote freelancer should completely ignore Upwork.