Upwork can be a great platform for those looking to launch their freelance career quickly. But having a middleman comes with some drawbacks — namely high fees and a lack of complete control over your business.
As we explore the pros and cons of Upwork, think about whether you see yourself using the platform to test the waters with freelancing, or if it’s something you want to play the long game with.
Is Upwork Legit?
Yes, Upwork is a legitimate platform where freelancers are paid for their services.
The premise is simple: clients post a job, freelancers bid for the work, and the client selects their preferred contractor. After the project is complete, the client will leave a review for the freelancer so they can build their reputation on the platform and gain more work in the future.
The arrangement is fairly safe in itself.
Upwork offers Hourly or Fixed Rate Payment Protection for freelancers, where both parties agree on certain milestones and deliverables before the project starts. Money is held in escrow for added security, so you know there’s little chance of the client ghosting you. (If that happens, you can raise a dispute with Upwork to release the money to your account.)
Then, why would anyone ask if Upwork is legit? The answer is scammers — scammers everywhere!
How to Identify Scammers on Upwork
- Scammers often ask for writing samples — they take the free content, publish it under their own name and never pay you for the work. I’m ashamed to say this is a ploy I fell victim to when I was much greener. Avoid this issue by padding out your portfolio with examples of your work so you won’t need to create new samples.
- Scammers may ask for your account information — would you hand over your bank account details to a stranger? No way! Then why do that with your freelance account? Once the scammers log in, they’ll swiftly lock you out and access your financial information.
- Scammers may try to move you outside of Upwork — this one is tricky. There are financial advantages directly working with the clients since you’ll avoid the Upwork service fee. But be wary when clients push for this arrangement, as some Upworkers report being asked to download unusual apps to continue the relationship.
- Scammers may ask you to pay them first — wait, what? Surely clients pay freelancers, not the other way around? And yet, some Upworkers are asked to pay for access to a program or material that is ‘vital’ to complete the project they’ve been hired for.
Sure. These scams can make anyone leary about getting into Upwork. But remember: you’re just as likely to come across these red flags on job boards, or job offers that land in your LinkedIn or Twitter DMs too. The key is to keep your wits about you!
Is Upwork Worth It? The Pros of Upwork
For every scam story you hear on Upwork, there’s someone else enjoying incredible success. Like Louis Smith, who hit $200k in Upwork earnings in just two years with his small team. Or Ryan Clark, whose amazing experience of earning $1 million in Upwork over five years was covered in Business Insider.
Other advantages of Upwork include:
Plenty of Job Postings Available
At the time of writing, there are 176,526 available jobs on Upwork. Filter these down into categories like Web Development, Writing, or Game Design to find the type of work you’re looking for.
And if nothing catches your eye? Post your own project – with these ready-to-start services, you’ll offer a deliverable, a turnaround time, and a fixed price on the project. For example, this 500-word SEO article or blog, delivered in 24 hours, is priced at $20.
Clients looking for freelancers on Upwork often need their projects completed, like, yesterday. While this does add to the pressure to turn the work around quickly, it also means a shorter route from winning bid to payment received.
Clients post a project, shortlist their preferred contractors, maybe ask a couple of questions, pick a freelancer, and you get to work. It’s in your best interests to complete the work quickly, get paid, and receive that glowing testimonial.
Easy Payout and Payout Protection
On Upwork, you can work for a fixed price which you and your client will agree on at the start of the project. For larger projects, divide the project into milestones and be paid in increments as you progress. The alternative is to charge by the hour for the work you do. This makes sense if you’re unsure how long the project will take.
Payment protection is offered in both cases, and if you’re a top-rated freelancer or agency working on an hourly contract, Upwork now waives the five-day security hold on payments, so you receive your earnings faster.
The Problems With Upwork
On the flip side, this article wouldn’t even exist if there weren’t countless freelancers who’ve shouted their bad Upwork experiences from the rooftops. There are whole podcast episodes dedicated to helping freelancers get off these platforms. So, what are the main issues?
High Service Fee
Ah, the elephant in the room – yep, if you hadn’t heard, Upwork’s service fees as of 2022 will eat right into your earnings. Here’s how it works:
- 20% service fee applied to earnings of $0 to $500 for a single client.
- 10% service fee applied to earnings between $500.01 and $10,000 for a single client.
- 5% service fee applied to earnings of $10,000.01 or more for a single client.
An example? If you sign a $750 contract with a new client, you’ll pay a 20% fee on the first $500 and $10 on the remaining $250. Your earnings after the service fee would be $625.
But that’s not all, because you also have to pay payment fees too, for example, using Payoneer or Paypal. As third-party payment vendors, their fees will vary depending on your location and the amount of money you’re transferring.
Rebecca’s top tip: Wise (formerly TransferWise) can save you heaps of money, especially if you need to be paid in different currencies.
Underpayment is Everywhere
Boy, there are some lousy paying jobs on Upwork, and newbies to the platform often scoop up some of this work to try and build their rating. This is commonly known as a race to the bottom in the freelance world.
Example: This Technical Writing job ad is looking for a freelancer to gather screenshots from a web app and then describe these features in terms of flow and functionality. The job requires ten descriptions and pays a fixed price of $5 (don’t forget the service fee and payment fee that will come out of this grand total.)
Upwork Can Kick You off Their Platform
Upwork’s kinda like social media in that you don’t own your profile. When you create an account there, you serve at the pleasure of Upwork. Any conversations, projects, contacts, or content posted under your profile remain Upwork’s property. And while that isn’t necessarily a problem if you play by the rules, there’s always the threat that Upwork could close down your success at any point.
Imagine you’re one of the Upworkers making six figures each year, and then one day, Upwork pulls the plug on your business. You’ll lose your reviews and your exposure overnight. Game over.
How To Make Upwork Work for Your Freelance Business
We’ve looked at both sides of what it’s like to work on Upwork – the good, the bad, and the ugly. If you’re tempted by the volume and variety of projects available on this mammoth freelance marketplace, you’ll want to know how to succeed using Upwork. And it is possible!
Don’t Waste Your Time With Low Paying Clients on Upwork
The $5 or $10 projects will sap your time and energy, and there’s no guarantee that clients offering these rates will be generous with their reviews anyway. So stand firm, even as a beginner, and focus on snapping up projects that pay what you deserve.
Don’t Use Upwork as Your Only Freelance Income Stream
It’s easy to get sucked into Upwork and forget there are other ways to find freelance work that aren’t as competitive. And without paying those service fees!
Instead, set up a writer’s website on WordPress for less than $100 a year in hosting. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, just a few pages including your services, portfolio, and contact details. Voila – here’s mine!
Then promote it — share your work on LinkedIn and Twitter, do some guest posting, and add your website in your author bio to drive clients straight to your inbox rather than your Upwork DMs. Far more profitable!
Work on Building Your Upwork Reputation
The hardest part of getting started on Upwork is winning your first client, but once you have, make sure you do a great job. Reviews are everything on this platform, so it’s worth going above and beyond with your project delivery to earn 5-star reviews.
Get off to a flying start and expect repeat clients, referrals, and a 100% Job Success badge to proudly display on your profile which is excellent social proof that you produce amazing work.
So Is Upwork Worth It for Freelancers?
Personally, I only lasted about four months using freelance platforms. I couldn’t stand the constant bidding, the low-priced projects, and the high fees. But Upwork definitely works for some people. Heck, if you can make six figures each year off Upwork, then obviously something’s working well! But these success stories are probably the exception rather than the rule.
And as a bonus tip: spend some time building connections outside of Upwork, creating a solid portfolio, so you can eventually find clients with no middle man taking a cut.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of any entities they represent. Freelance Theory is not affiliated with any of the aforementioned entities.
Rebecca Noori is a freelance writer crafting long-form blog articles on HR, careers, productivity, and leadership, with bylines in places like Insider, Zapier, Zavvy, Clever Girl Finance, and many more. When she's not writing, you'll find her helping beginner freelancers and raising her 3 kids (who are quite a handful). Connect with Rebecca on her website or LinkedIn.