Your Upwork Review Author
I’m Laura- a freelance writing veteran who got started in 2012 with no formal training in writing or freelancing. I used Elance/Upwork to scale my freelancing business to the multiple six-figure point before branching out into freelance coaching, podcasting, and writing books.
During my entire time actively marketing as a freelancer, I’ve been a member of Upwork. I’ve also taught over 100 students through my Upwork course, the Guide to Killing It on Upwork. My review below is based on my experiences and some of the benefits/challenges that my students have experienced, too.
What Is Upwork?
Many different freelance job boards exist online today with the primary goal of connecting prospective clients with freelancers eager to complete their projects. One of the leaders in the space is the freelance job board site known as Upwork. In this Upwork review, you’ll hear my insight about some of the pros and cons of using this job board site as a freelancer.
While my primary background is as a freelance writer, project manager, and virtual assistant, this Upwork review takes into consideration many of the different factors that any new or experienced freelancer should consider before signing up for Upwork. As an industry expert on using Upwork to land freelance job board leads, you’ll find plenty of other free materials on this website and on my podcast in relation to leveraging Upwork.
For me, Upwork has brought in over $400,000 in freelance business in the last several years so I am very upfront in this Upwork review in explaining why I like to use this site. That being said, Upwork is not appropriate for everyone. If you’d like more information about how to properly use Upwork to grow your freelance business, including a masterclass on writing pitches for Upwork, check out the link below to learn more about my online class “The Guide to Killing It on Upwork”, which has been taken by hundreds of aspiring and successful freelancers.
How Does Upwork Operate?
When writing this Upwork review, I thought it would be helpful to provide an overview of the general concept behind Upwork. When signing up for this site as a freelancer, you’ll have the opportunity to create a profile, upload work samples, add a photo and set your typical hourly rate.
Remember that all of this material can be updated later on but it is important to always put your best foot forward. Upwork is a job board site that connects clients who are interested in learning more about the delivery process and cost for outsourcing projects to a broad variety of freelancers with the freelancers who are interested in submitting a proposal.
Clients take the opportunity to review all of the proposals that come in from freelancers on the site and might decide to move forward with someone who has submitted a bid or not move forward at all. In my personal experience I have found that the vast majority of clients on Upwork are ready to hire, meaning that if they find the right person to complete their project, they are more than willing to hire and conduct business on the site.
Here are some basics about what you need to know about how Upwork operates:
- As a freelancer, you will pay a monthly membership fee to be a professional member should you choose to do so. There are many benefits to doing this, especially if you intend to leverage Upwork on a regular basis.
- Upwork will always take a percentage of every project you quote on the side so it is important to remember to adjust your pricing in line with the fact that Upwork will take 20% of the first $500 for each project with every individual client. Check out this link to learn more about how Upwork’s pricing functions and what you can expect with it. In general, you will be rewarded with reduced commissions paid to Upwork the longer you work with a client. This means that the site is slanted towards bigger projects and ongoing projects with clients.
- As part of your agreement as a freelancer on Upwork, you will be responsible for keeping clients you meet on the site for up to two years. This means that if you complete a project successfully, you cannot take the client off the platform without paying a significant fee. Click here to learn more about the various violations of Upwork’s terms of service and how you can avoid them.
- As a freelancer, Upwork acts as the middleman and contract holder for your project. You and the client must both agree to terms before working together. If you’re working on a fixed price basis, the client will fund at least one milestone. When you have sent in this milestone, such as the draft of the first part of the project and the client approves it, this milestone will be released to you either manually by the client or after a 14-day period if your client is non-responsive.
- If you work on an hourly basis, you’ll be expected to download Upwork’s work tracker. This tracker makes sure that you’re working on a client’s project and not scrolling on Facebook, but you get the added benefit of payment protection. A client cannot claim that you were not working on their project if you are able to show through the tracker which takes screenshots as you’re working randomly that you were indeed involved in working with the project. You can choose to log manual hours on Upwork if your client allows it but you should know that this involves giving up the payment protection.
- At the conclusion of a project, the contract will be ended and the client will be given the opportunity to leave feedback for you. This is a very crucial part of the process and one of the biggest reasons why in this Upwork review and in other places I continue to support this site. This is a chance for you to build your social proof and showcase your expertise. There is nothing quite so powerful as a client saying how happy they were to work with you so this is your opportunity to deliver a five-star experience for every client.
What Are the Freelancer Categories on Upwork?
As part of this Upwork review, it’s important to know what types of freelancers are likely to succeed on the site. This comes down to basic supply and demand. If plenty of prospective clients are posting jobs on the site, then there is open opportunity for freelancers to submit proposals and have the opportunity to work with those clients.
If you’re highly niched, however, it might be difficult for you to find ongoing work. In that case, I would not recommend signing up for the site as your return on investment is likely to be very low. Upwork has sorted different jobs into various categories. This makes it easy for you to do your search as a freelancer when scanning to see if new jobs have been added. The following categories exist on Upwork:
- Web, mobile and software development.
- Data science and analytics.
- IT and networking.
- Engineering and architecture.
- Design and creative.
- Customer service.
- Accounting and consulting.
- Sales and marketing.
- Administrative support.
Sometimes a client will accidentally post in the wrong category but in general, your goal is to complete a search of newly posted jobs in the categories most relevant to you. When it comes to who should use Upwork, those freelancers who see a consistent volume of posted jobs on a daily basis are most likely to be successful on the site.
Even in the event that you do not see jobs regularly posted in your category or in your particular niche, having a profile on the site that is properly optimized for keywords could increase your chances of receiving that gem of a job if a client posts one and invites you to it. This leads in to the next point in this Upwork review, which is how you submit a proposal.
How to Submit Proposals on Upwork
When you see a job you’re interested in, submitting a proposal is your next step. The client would have selected whether or not they intend to work with their freelancer on a fixed price basis or as an hourly rate.
You will be prompted to enter this information. Sometimes a client does not provide enough detail for you to submit an appropriate bid. In these cases, I enter a general number, such as $100, and type in that it’s a placeholder. I then indicate in my cover letter, also known as the proposal, that I need further information. This is a good opportunity to prompt your client to jump on a phone call with you where possible. In your proposal, you will need to:
- Write an introductory cover letter for the project, including your qualifications and how long you think it might take.
- Answer any screening questions that the client has provided.
- Add any attachments such as work samples.
- Click the ‘submit a proposal’ button.
Each proposal you submit will require you to use what the company calls “connects.” Each job will have the amount of connects required to submit a proposal directly on the job listing so that you can decide whether or not it is worth your time. You will be awarded a monthly amount of connects based on your membership to the site. And you can also invest in additional connects.
Beginning in May 2019, connects on Upwork cost 15c. Connects to submit a proposal on Upwork are usually between one and six, however, any invitations that you receive from clients are free. You should always respond to invitations received from clients even if it is just to decline the job opportunity to work together.
How Many Connects Do I Receive Based on My Upwork Membership?
Agencies and freelancers no longer receive free connects on the site so the membership plans apply connects to your account in the following manner:
- The Freelancer Plus plan costs $14.99 per month and includes 70 connects per month.
- The Agency Plus plan, which is appropriate if you have other freelancers working under you, stays the same at $20 each month. However, the Agency Plus plan does not include connects as part of the included benefits.
One of the things you might be questioning if you’re contemplating signing up for Upwork is how many of these connects you’ll need to land your first job. There is no specific and clear answer to this question because it varies by freelancer and by the number of jobs posted in your category. My general advice is to plan to purchase additional connects in your first one to two months as you’re establishing yourself on the site and working towards getting enough feedback to be able to stay competitive.
What Are the Benefits of Using Upwork?
There are many different benefits to using Upwork to promote your freelance business but some of the ones that I find to be the most valuable include:
- The power of social proof.
- The establishment of a profile with plenty of feedback that shows up in Google search results for your name.
- A place to cheaply showcase your work samples.
- Upwork handles the payment for you, meaning that it rare you have to chase down payment from a client.
- Clients on the site are often interested in hiring and moving forward quickly.
- You get to gain experience and valuable feedback early on in your freelance career.
- Many potential freelance clients will visit Upwork first before exploring other options or websites.
Upwork will assign a percentage number to you after you’ve completed a handful of jobs. This is known as your Job Success Score and it features prominently in the upper right corner of your profile when a client clicks on it. The job success score is complicated, but it’s based on how many jobs you complete, how many times your clients leave you public feedback, and the private feedback your clients share only with Upwork. Check out this guide to the Job Success Score here.
Downsides to Using Upwork
As with all freelance job board sites, Upwork is not perfect. As part of this Upwork review, I’ve made my best effort to be as honest and upfront with you as possible. In my perception, the biggest downsides to using Upwork are:
- In the beginning, you will need to spend a lot of connects and a lot of time refining your pitch and proposal to be competitive on the site and to overcome the fact that in the eyes of Upwork clients you do not have a lot of experience.
- You may need to sift through dozens of job proposals every day to find ones that are valuable.
- Many clients on the site do not know how to properly write job descriptions, and therefore, don’t provide enough information. This can make it challenging to figure out whether or not you want to use your connects on a particular job.
- Sometimes Upwork clients disappear, making it difficult to get your milestones released promptly.
- If you do not use the Upwork hourly tracker and are entering manual time, there is no way to gain protection for your payments on the site.
- If you have a bad client or a client who is hard to please, they are given the option to leave feedback for you at the end of the job. If you have a bad client as one of your first couple of people you work with on the site, this feedback could be very difficult to overcome. Likewise, however, this can be seen as a benefit if you properly screen your clients and work for the right people. Having several five-star feedback comments at the beginning of your Upwork experience can set you up for a great deal of success.
- Upwork gets involved only on a minimal level in the event that there is a dispute between you and a client, and often tends to side with the client unless you have significant evidence in your favor. Upwork will always side with the client if the issue involves manual time entry regardless of the strength of evidence you provide.
- Upwork does take a cut of your business. I view this as a cost of doing business since I would not have otherwise been introduced to these clients were it not for Upwork.
A Note on Upwork Violations
A few times a week, I get an email, a YouTube comment, or LinkedIn message from a freelancer who did not follow Upwork’s rules and had their account suspended. If you violate the terms of service on the site, be aware that Upwork is likely to respond swiftly and firmly.
When your account is suspended, there is almost nothing you can do to get it back. This is a serious problem if you were using Upwork as a primary lead source. Carefully read through the Upwork terms of service guidelines mentioned in this Upwork review to make sure you’re comfortable before setting up your profile. By actively marketing on the site, you have accepted these terms, including your agreement not to take work off the platform.
Even if you take one client off the platform to save $20 on the service fee, if Upwork catches wind of it (Hint: sending a message in the Upwork room that says “Let’s stop working here- email me so you can pay over PayPal” and comments like that will easily trigger at least a look into your practices), you can be banned from the site permanently.
Maybe to you that $20 was worth it in the moment, but it might mean you can never use Upwork again. Read this blog, I Met a Client on Upwork- Do We Have to Do Business There? To learn more.
Other Upwork Resources You Should Check Out: