Upwork

by Team Nomadstack
Last updated: Jan 25, 2017

Overall: 3 stars

TL;DR: One of the world’s biggest freelancing marketplaces

Formed after the merger of two of the biggest freelancing platforms (Odesk + Elance) Upwork is one of the most well-known platforms where you can find gigs and/or hire workers.

The fact they’ve got over 10 years in the industry and they’re immensely popular is only fuelling their growth. Right now there’s over $1 billion being earned every year through the platform, and a huge talent pool that can be tapped for pretty much anything you can imagine needing to be done via a computer.

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The Good

  • You get access to millions of employers posting new gigs everyday
  • It’s relatively simple to setup a profile and get verified (though it can take a couple of days)

The Bad

  • There is no vetting process for scammers, and there’s many “dodgy” gigs posted that then get deleted
  • You’re competing with freelancers the world over, so you’ve got to be competitive
  • The fees taken out of your projects reward longer-term client relationships, not one-off gigs

What the Press says

Upwork’s been featured in everything from Forbes to the Harvard Business Review, discussing things like the most hirable digital skills to trends they see in the freelance industry. I mean, who isn’t going to want to talk to one of the world’s biggest outsourcing platforms when needing a source for an article about freelancers.

What Other People Say

Now this is where it gets interesting, because the reviews on Upwork are pretty bad.

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When you start to do a little digging, you’ll find many people claiming their accounts have been deleted, or they’ve been banned from the platform for no reason whatsoever.

Others have had issues with non-payment of milestones, or funds not being released. They also seem to have a major difficulties reaching out to the customer support team at Upwork.

But on the flip side, there’s just as many people who love the platform, and have made decent money working at it. People talk about how they’ve been able to secure enough “side-gig” income to leave their day jobs, and are thoroughly enjoying their experience on Upwork.

What I think

Honestly, it really is a mixed bag.

The amount of scammers using the platform is a direct result of how popular it has become, but by trusting your instincts and doing things properly you’ll be just fine.

Oh and don’t try to do things like getting paid outside their system. They come down hard on freelancers who break the rules, and it’s not worth it if you want to be around for the long term.

What is difficult is the level of competitiveness you’re going to face applying for jobs. It feels like every man and his dog is applying as new gigs come up, often at ridiculously low rates. You’ve got to find your edge, and leverage this to build your hourly rate up.

Overall, I don’t think there’s any reason to avoid Upwork, and it can be a great way to get some additional experience as you begin a freelance career.

What’s it cost?

Freelancers can sign up for a basic account for free, which gives you the ability to try the platform, create a profile and start applying for jobs. You get 60 “connects” in your free account, which are basically an electronic currency Upwork uses to determine how many jobs you can apply for.

To get more connects, as well as access to additional features like seeing what other freelancers are bidding on a project you’ve got to upgrade. It costs $10 per month.

But where they really get you is in the fees, which are taken out of your total price for a project.

If a project is under $500, you get charged 20%
If a project is over $500 but under $10,000, you get charged 10%
If a project is over $10,000, you get charged 5%

Oh and don’t forget the withdrawal fee, it’s either 2.75% for each payment, or a flat $25 a month.

Ouch.

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What they offer

You get access to a massive database of gigs, on almost every topic imaginable. It’s mostly all freelance work on a project basis, though I’ve found that gigs will often become regular if you’re able to impress the client.

My experience

I made my first $100 back when it was Elance. Arguably a better platform (but that’s neither here nor there as it no longer exists), I still have a couple of clients I complete work on Upwork for, every single week.

It’s a nice bit of money that I know will continue to come in, reassuring me that I’ll be able to pay things (like my rent) each month no matter what happens in my other projects.

There’s a few tricks to keep in mind though:

If you’re serious about finding work pay the $10/month to get visibility into what other freelancers are bidding. This helps you judge what a “good” rate will be, even if you’re quoting more than everyone else on the gig.

Then you’ve got to get to work on your profile. Fill out everything they ask for, putting in clear descriptions of your experience and background, so a potential employer can get a “feel” for what you’re good at. The more specific the better, using terms like “Frontend WordPress Developer” instead of simply “Web Designer.” Oh, and don’t forget a great picture. Smile nice for the camera.

You should also complete the Upwork tests. It can feel a little mind-numbing to knock these out, but completing these lets you apply for more jobs, and also helps you stand out in your niche. It’s worth it to at least do the ones relevant to your experience.

Now you’ve got to get some projects under your belt. As you’re still new you’re probably going to get paid a little less than you want initially, but do a great job so you can get positive reviews. These will help you land better (read: higher paying) gigs.

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I had to write a heap of $20 blog posts before I was able to start charging $50-$100 apiece, and now my going rate is $100 / hour.

Be patient, do good work, and slowly you’ll be able to bring your rates up.

Unexpected benefit

As you use the platform more, you start getting a “feel” for the exciting projects.

When I was focusing on finding new gigs on Upwork I landed a massive writing job with a global travel company, earned over $10k writing blog posts for a well-known startup, and much, much more.

There are definitely good jobs to be found in among the masses, and if you’re on there actively looking, you’re sure to find them.

Unexpected problem

But it’s not all sunshine and roses. Scammers are the bane of any freelancers existence and they’ve flocked to Upwork in droves. You’ve got to be careful when working on Upwork, but it mostly comes down to common sense.

The first rule is to never give out free work. If a client is asking for it, report them. It’s against Upwork’s terms of service, and isn’t a smart thing to do anyway.

I also recommend making sure you only apply to jobs where the client has a proven track record, has positive reviews from the freelancer’s they’ve hired before, and have a verified payment method. Oh and don’t do any work until they’ve funded that particular milestone.

If you’re particularly concerned, you could always setup the Upwork tracker and get an agreed amount of hours per week. These automatically get paid into your account if you log your hours properly.

Of particular note

One thing I always recommend is to tailor your application for each job. There’s a ton of spammers out there sending cut/paste applications (I know, I’ve hired many people through Upwork too), and the easiest way to stand out is to write something that shows you read the job description.

Oh and if you ask a couple of questions and can demonstrate you actually know what you’re talking about, you’re going to be in a much better position than 95% of the other applicants.

Sounds simple right? You’d be surprised how many people don’t follow even this basic advice.

Final Word

All up, I’d definitely recommend Upwork as a great platform for a digital nomad who is just starting out.

Yes, it’ll be hard. Yes, you’ll be competing with freelancers the world over. But you’ll also be bidding on projects from companies you’d have never thought to reach out to.

You’ll also quickly learn what it takes to do a good pitch, start building your portfolio and getting a feel for what proper freelancing is like, all tools you need before you can branch out on your own.

Overall: 3 Stars

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