Should you ever close out a job, refund all the money, and let the client go?

Of course, the answer is: it depends.

A Quick Note on Canceling Upwork Jobs

 In general, I don’t recommend that people cancel Upwork jobs. It doesn’t help your job success score – and of course, I never want people to give up their freelance money – but I want to talk quickly about the law of averages and how that factors into making this particular decision.

I’ve been on Upwork for many years at this point in time, and I’ve had lots and lots of clients, but only recently did I even hit the 100% job success score mark. Let’s say today, I go, and I get a client and they blast me. They leave me a one-star review. It’s terrible, right. Well, being on the site for so long and being a pro and premium freelancer there, once every so often – I feel like it’s once a quarter maybe – you can have your feedback removed.

But even if I didn’t – let’s say that I left this one-star feedback on my profile. I’ve had hundreds of jobs on Upwork and if I had a bad feedback review, it would not destroy my Upwork rating because I have had hundreds of other client reviews. That’s the law of averages.

However, if this is my first Upwork job. Let’s say that I got this Upwork job, I did what I thought was a good job, but the client left me a one-star review. I effectively have a 0% job success score. Now that’s not exactly how Upwork is going to calculate it but I did one job and it didn’t go well, even if it wasn’t my fault, the client was unhappy. So from the perspective of Upwork, this was not a successful job, I should not get a good score.

Let’s say I got another job and I did really well with that and they left me five-star feedback. So now I might have a 50% job success score or a 60% job success score because I’ve only ever had two jobs. So how can I ever get another job if all the Upwork clients see is that I’m 50% or 60% successful.

The number is inaccurate. I’m not only 50% or 60% successful but that’s what it looks like on my profile and this is why I counsel people to be really careful with the first couple of Upwork jobs you do because if they go bust, it’s going to hurt your rating, it’s going to hurt your job success score a lot more than if you have lots of jobs and those averages can kind of even out. So I want you to keep that in mind.

Using the Fast, Cheap, and Simple Method to Land Your First Upwork Gig

This is why I often recommend that your first job be something fast, cheap and simple. Something you can do easily that’s not going to be a lot of hassle, something where it’s a quick and easy win so that the client is thrilled. When you take on an initial Upwork job, make sure it’s something you can do kind of quickly and easily. I posted recently about doing sample projects instead of jumping right into retainers because you want to know as much as possible if this client is a nightmare or not before you take the gig.

Because if you end up with a huge job, you either have to refund that money – you have the option to refund that money – or they leave you a bad review. And then it looks really bad if you’ve had a big job where you’ve billed a lot of hours or had a lot of milestones but then the client was mad and left you really terrible feedback. So it’s a lose-lose all around.

Let’s say that I had these two jobs. I had one where I did well, and I had one where the client left me one star. I’m going to say that the one star was $500. Of course, I don’t want to lose the $500. I did the work. I didn’t do anything wrong. It’s the client’s fault that I lost that. But if I keep that $500, if I fight for that, it could block me from making thousands down the road because my profile sucks, my job success score is low even if it’s not accurate. So you want to be careful about how much you fight for particular amounts of money.

Why I Let $700 Go in an Upwork Job Once

I had a job once where it was $700. The client — I actually added a clause to my contract specifically because of this client so I completed all this work, I sent it in – it was new webpage copy for them – and it was just really bizarre. The woman called me and said “this is extremely poorly written. You have issues with grammar.”

 It was just weird and there was no way we could fix this. While it wasn’t accurate what they were saying, I knew that if I tried to fight for this $700, I was going to lose the money and I was also going to lose a lot of other money in the future because they’d leave me a bad review and I’d have that feedback to contend with forever. And this was kind of like early on in my Upwork/Elance career and I did not want the negative feedback.

So I simply said, “You’re obviously not happy with this work. I’m going to keep it and use it as sample work – I still use this allegedly bad writing as some of my writing sample and it’s landed me a lot of work – but I said I’m going to keep the copyright to it. It’s my work. I’m going to refund your money and we’re going to cancel the job.”

I did that very specifically because I did not want this client to leave me bad feedback because the feedback is not just about the money in the moment. It is about all the money you could potentially be blocking yourself from. Now I’m not saying to make a habit of this. The best thing you can do is screen these clients out before you even work with them so figure out what the issues are with them and whether you want to work with them to begin with, and then say no.

When to Say No To Upwork Clients Before You Even Work Together

I’ve definitely said no to Upwork clients before. I’ve done sample projects to make sure that the client is right for me. I actually had a client two weeks ago that wanted to go full on and wanted me to write this copy. And I was like, let’s do one blog post first. Let’s make sure we work together well.

And that always sets you up for success because if you can over deliver, deliver early and they see what your work is like, they are much more likely to expand the contract anyways. But then you also know, do I even want to work with this person? Were they easy to work with? Do they have hassles and drama and endless revisions? Did they have issues funding the milestone? I don’t want to deal with any of that crap.

Nobody has time to deal with this nonsense when you’re running a business. So then that client came back and that project turned into a $6000 one-time project that I’m in the middle of working on right now.

There are good clients on Upwork. Sometimes you have to train them how to use the platform and you’ve got to protect yourself.

But I didn’t want to be in a position where this client funded a $6000 project and then it went south, and it was a nightmare and I either had to refund the money or cancel it or do something. So I don’t recommend cancelling jobs on Upwork. Yes, it’s going to hurt your job success score, however, in certain circumstances, it might need to be what you need to do to protect yourself from a crazy client.

If you had no idea how nuts this person was, they’re going to leave you a one-star feedback and if this is like your third job, that could really hurt you because if your job success score drops especially below 80%, you’re going to have problems getting jobs. And if you’ve only had a couple of jobs on your profile anyways – every client who sees your profile is not going to understand the context of that bad feedback. They’re going to be like, it was obviously the freelancer’s fault because it’s a one-star, two-star, three-star feedback, and you’re not going to have that opportunity to explain what happened to the client. They are not even going to look at your profile or pitch.

So even if you wrote it in your pitch, oh I know you can see on my profile, I had this one bad gig- they are not even reading that because they see your success score and they see that it’s lower and if you’re competing against other people who have a high job success score, it’s all about the context in that moment.

Recovering From Back Feedback

Can you recover from bad feedback? Of course, you can recover from a lot of stuff on Upwork. But be very careful about who you take on as your first couple of clients. Set yourself up for success by taking one small, easy, fast, simple job where you can definitely deliver it. One example I give a lot is I just did a job the other day. It was copyediting two pages of someone’s brochure. It literally took me less than 30 minutes to do that. That would be a perfect job for someone who is looking for a fast, cheap and simple gig because it’s an easy win and it’s an easy opportunity to get five-star feedback.

And then one other thing I want to share — if you’re new and you’re like I haven’t had my first job on Upwork yet — I was actually at a conference for one of my other businesses this whole week and I met a woman there.

We were kind of talking about the platform and I was telling her and her mom that this is going to be the easiest way for you all to get her started on the platform is if she already has a client outside of Upwork that she can bring onto the platform for one job or something and get the positive reviews and feedback from that because she’s already working with this person but she has no feedback on the actual site. That would help to get that first initial feedback.

Some people are like, oh it’s gaming the system! No, because you’re already working with this person or you already have a client and you’re using Upwork for the purpose of getting feedback that’s positive. That first feedback, that first job is really hard to get and if you do not nail it and knock it out of the park and make the client super happy, it’s going to be very hard to recover from that.

Now the situation that was shared in this group where I did recommend that the person cancel the job and refund the money — and it was a lot of money too — was very context specific because this was the first job this person had ever had on the platform and it’s always going to be a judgement call that you make whether it’s worth cancelling a job and refunding someone’s money.

Of course, don’t do this every week. Try to screen these clients out and figure out whether they are the right fit for you. Get them on the phone, have a good conversation, send them a scope of work, send them your plan of attack so that there’s very little room for miscommunication. But sometimes you do just need to guard yourself against someone who is crazy.

One of my worst client every story and it is from Upwork. Thank god it’s from my first three months doing this and I’ve never had a client this crazy. I had a client where I did a bunch of work I billed hourly. He actually lived 45 minutes from me, but it was through Upwork and I had to file a restraining order against this guy because he flipped out.

Upwork automatically bills clients on Monday after the work is done and we’d talked through everything. I was like, here’s what’s included, here’s how long it’s going to take me, but he just lost his mind because he couldn’t control the money aspect of it. He couldn’t fund the escrow and then release it. It was like Upwork just automatically said, ten hours were billed and that went directly to his account. He took it to the tenth level and left me voice mails that he was going to steal my identity and destroy my life.

It was crazy. So I have definitely dealt with situations like that before and that is another case in which I said, let the money go because I literally don’t want to interact with this person again. I do not care about the money. It is not worth me arguing with someone over $300, $500, $1000 if that’s going to block me from taking tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars on the platform.

It’s always a judgement call but I just wanted to clarify that because I know some people are like, why would you ever refund a client’s money, why would you cancel it. That’s because if you cancel the job and no money has changed hands, that should not show up on your profile.

Any feedback they leave you should not show up on your profile. If you make a habit of doing that, Upwork is going to figure it out. But this so rare. Probably one out of every 50 jobs would have this experience, but I wanted to explain the strategy behind it.

You might want to guard yourself against that bad feedback from a client by just saying, you know what, you’re not happy, this isn’t working, I’m going to cancel this contract and we’re both just going to move on. And sometimes in those cases, you can also negotiate and say, why don’t I refund part of the money because you’re not happy, I’ll give you 50% back. Sometimes the client might be happy with that and still leave you positive feedback but it’s a gamble because you don’t know what the client is going to say. And sometimes I just don’t trust particular clients.

So hopefully a situation like what happened this week for this poor freelancer in our group is rare. I do believe it’s very very rare and only two times out of hundreds of clients I’ve worked with on Upwork have I cancelled a job and refunded the money. But it was essential for me to do that and just say, hey it’s a business loss. I’m moving on from that and I’m going to land other business.  


Hi, I’m Laura!

You’ll find all my best advice about building a fulfilling and sustainable business here. It’s where I’ll give you all the juicy details about building a strong digital team or using project management to stay on top of tasks.

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