Is Upwork still worth the time and money?

What Is Upwork? Is It Still Worth It? [2020 Review]

Over the years, I have tried different freelance platforms including Upwork, Fiverr, Freelancer, Online Jobs, and many others.

So far, I find Upwork the best. In fact, it is where I got some of my premium clients.

Recently, more people have been flocking to Upwork to start their freelance careers, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic around.

With the tight competition in Upwork, is it still worth the time and money?

In this article, let’s discuss what Upwork is and whether or not you should use it to for your freelance career.

Let’s go!

What is Upwork?

If at one time you got interested in online opportunities, you must have heard of Upwork already.

Upwork is a freelance platform where clients and contractors can do business securely.

It came from the merger of two freelance platforms — Elance and oDesk — in 2013, and rebranded into Upwork in 2015.

How Upwork as ODesk looked like way back in 2014

As of 2017, there are more than 12 million registered freelancers in Upwork, making it the second-largest freelance platform next to Freelancer.com. (Source: Techlist)

How do freelancers get on Upwork?

Using Upwork as a freelancer is easy and intuitive.

In summary, here’s the flow of how it normally goes from signing up for an account to getting paid:

Create an optimized profile

For the clients to work with you, you’ll have to make it easy for them to get to know you and understand your capabilities.

Get your Upwork profile approved

As the number of freelancers signing up on Upwork rises, Upwork is trying to moderate that number and strike a balance between the supply and the demand.

This leads to many freelancers not getting accepted on Upwork or finding their accounts deactivated after failing to land a contract for a time.

Upwork isn’t a social media platform where account creation takes only 2 minutes. There are certain things you need to do to get accepted.

Related: How to get your Upwork profile approved

Find jobs and submit proposals

Once your account is active, you can now apply for jobs and submit proposals.

Interview the client

If a client likes your proposal, he will send you a message. This is a good time to know more about what the client needs and position yourself from a place of help.

If all is well, the client will send you a job offer according to what you have discussed.

Perform the task and/or submit the deliverables

Next step is to do your service and submit the deliverables that you have agreed upon.

Get paid and transfer the money to your bank account

If you’re in an hourly pricing arrangement, Upwork will bill the client according to the rate that you and the client have agreed upon.

If you’re on a fixed-price basis, you will have to submit a payment request to the client so Upwork will release the client’s funds from Escrow, where he deposited the agreed price.

Takeaway: Signing up on Upwork is easy. However, it’s possible that you may encounter problems in getting your profile approved.

Can Upwork be trusted?

Is Upwork legit and safe? From experience, I can confidently tell you that’s it’s legit.

In fact, many freelancers have already earned 6 digits from Upwork alone.

Here’s an example from a popular copywriter, Danny Margulies:

How Danny Margulies earned more than two hundred thousand dollars from Upwork

I haven’t had any malpractice on the side of Upwork yet. So yes, Upwork — the platform — can be trusted.

You can also trust them with handling your payments and making sure you get paid with their payment protection feature.

This feature has two sub-programs:

  • Hourly Protection for hourly contracts
  • Fixed-Price Protection for fixed-price contracts

Upwork Hourly Protection

This program is simple:

Work and clients will pay for the hours worked.

For this, you will need to download Upwork’s time tracker which records your activity, takes screenshots, and store it in your work diary.

Note that although Upwork automatically bills clients for hours worked, your client can check the work diary to verify that the work was completed as invoiced.

On Upwork’s time tracking tool, there’s a form below the total number of hours worked where you can write what you’re currently working on.

How to write memo on Upwork’s time tracker

From experience, I learned that it’s safer to write memos every now and then when working on hourly contracts.

There may be times when a problematic client will dispute a screenshot. The memo you wrote will help you win the dispute.

Upwork Fixed-Price Protection

For fixed-price arrangements, Upwork uses Escrow, a financial arrangement tool that holds and regulates payment of funds in a given transaction.

It helps ensure you, the freelancer, get paid for the deliverables and that clients get what you both agreed upon.

Once you and the client agreed on the deliverables and the price, the client will have to deposit the agreed amount on Escrow via Upwork.

After doing the work, you will have to submit the deliverables and send a payment request to the client.

Once the client signs off the deliverables, Escrow will release the funds to your account.

Here’s an infographic from Upwork that clearly shows what happens on a fixed-price project:

A graph that shows what happens on a fixed-price payment

When dealing with fixed-price jobs, it’s important that you define the milestones and make sure the client has deposited money before starting any work.

Takeaway: Upwork can certainly be trusted. Aside from my personal experience, there are probably thousands out there who will tell you the same thing. In addition, they have payment protection programs that act as security and insurance that you will get paid.

Can you get scammed on Upwork?

Is Upwork safe and trustworthy?

Although Upwork the platform is trustworthy, there are definitely scammers too.

You have probably read or heard some of Upwork horror stories where a client ran with either the freelancer’s money or the freelancer’s work.

Here’s one:

A possible Upwork scam

You could become victimized if you don’t know how to spot a scammer on Upwork.

How to spot a scammer on Upwork?

No matter how good the scammers are, there are telltale signs that reveal a scammer.

Like when a client…

Asks for bank or card details

Contracts made on Upwork will be paid via Upwork to your bank account.

There’s no need to divulge sensitive information like bank or card credentials to your client.

Asks for a “processing fee”

There are also scammers who will trick you into giving them money in exchange for a job.

Some will go as far as telling you that the money will be spent on purchasing equipment and supplies for you.

If you’re a freelancer, there’s no need to give money to someone to start working. (Where’s the sense in that?)

Compels you to work without sending a contract

Other scammers will also trick you into working for free. They usually do this by sending you a list of deliverables without opening a contract.

This usually happens with fixed-price arrangements.

And after you submit the deliverables? The client will ghost you.

Takeaway: Like in any platform, there are scammers on Upwork too. Fortunately, they are also easy to spot if you know the signs.

How much do Upwork freelancers make?

The amount of money you can make on Upwork varies.

It depends on different factors like:

  1. Rate
  2. Hours worked
  3. Service and niche
  4. Pitching skills
  5. Negotiating skills

For example:

A $10/hour designer working 20 hours a week will make less than a $50/hour programmer working 40 hours a week.

Does Upwork pay well?

One of the disadvantages of using a freelance platform like Upwork is service fees.

I had a $2,000 project where Upwork chipped off $250, leaving me with only $1,750. The fee I paid may not be that big compared to what I received. But $250 is still a significant amount.

Here’s how Upwork’s service fees work:

  • 20% for the first $500 billed with the client
  • 10% for lifetime billings with the client between $500.01 and $10,000
  • 5% for lifetime billings with the client that exceed $10,000
How Upwork fees work

Note that most freelance platforms charge more or less the same.

If you think the fees will discourage you, think of them as the price you have to pay for finding a client.

How do you get paid?

One of the things you would like about Upwork is their support for various modes of payment.

Currently, here are the supported payment methods on Upwork with their corresponding fees:

  • Direct to local bank (non-US)
    • $0.99 per withdrawal
    • Deposit to your local bank account
  • Wire transfer
    • $30 USD per wire to any bank
    • Up to 7 business days to receive funds
  • Direct to U.S. bank (USD)
    • Free payments to US banks
    • Deposit to a US bank account in USD
  • PayPal
    • Immediate transfer
    • Minimum of $1 and a maximum of $10,000 per transaction
    • $1-$2 fee depending on location
  • Payoneer
    • Transfer can take up to 2 days
    • $2 fee charged by Upwork (also varies
    • Not available to freelancers in the US and India
How to get paid with Upwork

When I started, I stayed away from PayPal and Payoneer since I will have to pay fees again when I transfer the money to my bank account.

But after a few experiments, I decided to use a combination of direct to local bank and Payoneer.

Here’s what I recommend (applicable to non-US freelancers):

  • For $200 below transactions, use direct to local bank.
  • For transactions higher than $200, use Payoneer.

Payoneer has higher conversion rates than local banks. But use it only when transferring large amounts of money.

Sending out $1,000 via Payoneer will yield a higher amount than directly transferring to your local bank from Upwork.

Takeaway: If you put on work, you could certainly earn a significant amount on Upwork. The downside is, you will have to pay fees. But think of it as your pay for getting clients from the platform. Additionally, getting paid is easy as Upwork supports a lot of payment methods.

Is it hard to get work on Upwork?

The difficulty of getting work on Upwork depends on a lot of things.

Type of desired job

Jobs that are easier to apply to or those that don’t need specialized skills like virtual assistants have more job listings.

For instance, at the time of writing this article, there are more than 3,000 virtual assistant jobs available on Upwork.

More than three thousand virtual jobs on Upwork

Compare that number with the jobs available for mobile app development which is only about 170+.

More than 170 mobile development jobs on Upwork

If you’re only on the market for specific skills, you’ll see fewer opportunities.

Fortunately in Upwork, you don’t need to confine yourself to only one type of service.

Competition

The number of freelancers bidding for a specific project also adds to the difficulty of landing a contract.

In fact, that’s a reason why many freelancers hate marketplaces like Upwork. Sometimes, it becomes a race to the bottom — the lower the bid the higher the chance of winning (not always the case).

Imagine competing with this number of people:

An Upwork job with 20 to 50 submitted proposals

But recently, things have gotten better since Upwork rolled out changes on the free connects new freelancers get as well as on the cost of connects per job.

Before, new freelancers get 60 connects per month with jobs costing only 2 connects.

That gives freelancers around 30 proposals before they ran out of connects.

Now, however, new freelancers only get 20 connects per month.

Jobs with high budget and project length cost 6 connects. With that, new accounts can only submit 3-10 proposals per month, unless they upgrade or buy new connects.

The effect is that freelancers are carefully choosing the job posts to which they will submit proposals to.

Negotiation skills

Although clients can invite you to a job, it’s usually the other way around — you submit a proposal and the client will contact you if he likes your proposal.

That’s why you should learn how to write a better proposal.

Here are short tips on how to write a proposal so the client will reply to you:

  • Address the client and his needs
  • Talk to him and ask questions about the job and his business
  • State your credibility and cite experiences

Here’s an example of a proposal I sent which landed me a profitable contract:

How to write a good proposal

Basically, you need to learn a little copywriting to increase your chances of landing a contract.

Takeaway: To find work on Upwork, you will have to put in work. You will need to carefully choose the job post, your competition, and improve your cover letter.

Is finding and applying to jobs in Upwork easy?

Upwork has a nice job feed where you can see the most recent job postings that are related to your saved searches and talent clouds.

They also added a “COVID-19” section where you can find all jobs related to the pandemic.

How the job feed on Upwork looks like

You can also search for specific jobs, apply filters, and save your search.

How to apply filters on Upwork jobs

If you found a good job, all you have to do is click on the job post and press the “Submit a Proposal” button.

How to submit a proposal on Upwork

Finding and applying to jobs is easy. The problem is finding good jobs.

How to spot good jobs on Upwork?

Here is the problem:

New freelancers submit proposals en masse to all jobs that fit their category without much thought.

That is rarely effective. With limited connects, you will have to carefully choose the jobs you want to submit a proposal to.

With that, here are a few tips in finding good jobs on Upwork:

1. Check the price and the number of proposals

For fixed-price projects, you can always see the client’s budget.

For hourly, there are a few clients who indicate the rates they prefer.

If the budget is too low, that’s one strike already.

Although you can stretch a client’s budget, it rarely happens especially if the gap is too wide.

In the example below, the client’s budget is $1,500 for 200 blog articles. That’s around $7.5 per article. The client’s budget for the project is way too low considering he needs an expert.

An Upwork job with a low budget

For me, that price is unacceptable.

This is one of the things you have to watch out:

There are some who will place large amounts on the job post to attract freelancers. But after reading the job details, you’ll realize that the budget is actually way too low.

In addition, watch the number of proposals the job gets. The number of proposals will increase as more time passes.

The best time is usually within the first 6 hours the job was posted.

However, it’s also possible to land a contract on jobs posted more than 6 hours ago.

If there are many proposals already, the clients usually look at either the first or the last submissions.

2. Check reviews from past freelancers

There are two benefits in checking a potential client’s recent history:

First, you will see if he’s a good client according to what past freelancers say about him.

If there are many freelancers giving bad feedback, you better run.

Working with bad clients usually end up with you receiving bad feedback and low rating.

Second, you will be able to see if the client can afford your rate by checking out how much he was paying other freelancers offering similar services.

For example, upon checking this client’s recent history, I decided not to submit a proposal. The trigger is the price he paid for a “writing assignments” project.

A past project with a low budget

If you can’t find a similar service, find another one that you can compare.

If I haven’t found a writing job from the client’s history from the example above, I will still turn him down because he paid a website creator $15 per hour.

The reason is, if he only pays a website creator $15 per hour, he will not pay a content strategist or even a writer more than $15 per hour.

Takeaway: It is easy to find jobs and submit a proposal on Upwork. What you should look into is spotting good jobs on Upwork. You can do this by checking how much the client is willing to buy, the number of proposals submitted, and the reviews from past freelancers.

Is Upwork good for beginners?

In terms of finding jobs, Upwork is a good place to start.

The barrier to entry is low as anyone can try to create a profile.

However, since Upwork became stricter, it may be hard for generalists and non-experienced contractors to get their Upwork profile approved.

As of now, Upwork wants to make sure that new freelancers have enough skills and experiences to land a contract.

Though Upwork management hasn’t put it into formal writing, freelancers who haven’t landed a single contract since they created an account will one day find themselves unable to use Upwork again.

One freelancer from India asked the Upwork community about the truth of account deactivation/suspension for freelancers who can’t land a contract in 2-3 months.

Here’s the answer from a community guru:

The gist is that there’s some truth in how accounts get deactivated if they fail to land a contract

That’s why in Upwork, good marketing and negotiation skills are needed to survive.

Takeaway: Upwork is good for beginners. The only obstacle newcomers have to face is getting their profile approved.

Is Upwork good for freelancers?

Many high-paying freelancers have started their journey on Upwork.

The fees may hurt, but there’s payment security.

The chances of clients running with your money are low.

Some people argue that those who use Upwork are bottom feeders. Because the freelancers can bid on the price, some may bid for the minimum just to get the job.

And the truth is — it really happens. There will always be freelancers who will bid the minimum and there’s no stopping them.

However, what you need to remember is that there are many clients out there who will not work with cheap freelancers.

After all, excellent services aren’t cheap.

It isn’t impossible to land premium contracts on Upwork. You just have to search really well.

I cant attest to that as I have experienced working with clients who pay really well.

Generally, as you gain more experience, you may want to find clients outside the platform, ideally, without the use of any other freelance platforms.

As they say, “don’t put all your eggs in one basket”.

If you’re dependent on Upwork, you’ll be left with no work if ever Upwork, for some reason, decides to cut you off.

Takeaway: Contrary to what others say, you can use certainly use Upwork to find premium clients. At the same time, try finding clients outside the platform too.

What is better than Upwork?

There are many freelance platforms out there like Fiverr, Toptal, FreeUp, etc.

So far, I like Upwork the best for three reasons:

  1. The presence of premium clients
  2. Payment protection
  3. Fewer scammers

Let me explain:

The presence of premium clients

This isn’t to say that other platforms don’t have premium clients. But so far, it’s only on Upwork and Fiverr where clients really pay premium fees to contractors.

In addition, spotting a premium client isn’t hard on Upwork since you can see the recent history of all clients.

Payment protection

One of the best things about Upwork is their payment protection.

If you have tried transacting outside the platform with an off-platform client, then you know the risk of working without the assurance of getting paid.

Fewer scammers

This isn’t to say that no one gets scammed on Upwork. But because of the payment protection program, there are fewer scammers in Upwork.

Takeaway: Although this is subjective, Upwork is certainly the best freelance platform out there.

Is it worth buying connects?

Connects in Upwork are like tokens that you will need to submit a proposal.

When I started, Upwork was giving 60 connects each month for free.

At that time, that was already a lot since most jobs only cost two connects when submitting a proposal. That gave me around 30 chances each month.

But now, that number is down to 20.

Most long-term and high-paying jobs also cost 6 connects.

The good thing is that there’s no need to use a connect when a client invites you to bid, sends you an offer, or sends you a proposal within an enterprise talent cloud (a pool of freelancers for enterprise clients).

Right now, connects cost $0.15 USD each and are sold in bundles of 10, 20, 40, 60, and 80.

That translates to spending a dollar to submit a proposal after you exhaust all your free connects — all without the assurance of getting the contract.

From experience, it’s unlikely for new freelancers to land a contract by just relying on 20 connects each month.

Chances are, you will spend at least $9 a month to purchase around 60 connects.

Is $9 an acceptable price to pay to increase the odds of landing a $1,000 contract? Definitely.

Takeaway: It is definitely worth it to buy connects in Upwork, especially now that they only offer 20 free connects every month.

Is Upwork Freelancer Plus worth it?

Freelancer Plus is the premium account on Upwork.

It’s a monthly subscription that comes with a steady supply of connects per month, plus a few perks.

It costs $14.99 per month with the following perks:

  • Profile remain active even if you don’t use it
  • Ability to see the bid range on jobs
  • 70 connects per month (if unused, it rolls over to the next month with the maximum of 220)
  • Customized profile URL
  • Make Upwork earnings confidential

If you’re not sure whether to upgrade your freelancer account, try to answer these questions to guide you:

  • Do you like to receive more connects every month?
  • Do you like its perks? For instance, you may want to hide your earnings…
  • Are you actively finding jobs?

If you answer yes to most of the questions above, you should try upgrading your account to freelancer plus.

As a beginner, you may find the perks, especially the 70 connects, beneficial. Buying the same number of connects already costs $10.5.

But if you’re already a veteran, with clients coming to you automatically, then there’s no need for it.

I subscribed to freelancer plus for the connects and the ability to see bid ranges.

And although I don’t need that perk anymore, I still keep the upgrade active. I still submit proposals to Upwork jobs every now and then so having lots of connects at the ready is convenient.

Takeaway: If you’re intent on buying connects every month, maybe you should give Freelancer Plus a try. It comes with a lot of perks including one that will allow you to hide your earnings from nosy people.

Will freelancer plus members get suspended?

There’s a circulating rumor that Upwork is more lenient to freelancer plus members.

As you may know, Upwork has been suspending accounts left and right. Some believed that upgrading their accounts will somehow offer them protection.

Here’s a good answer from Upwork’s own community:

Freelancer plus members are not exempted from suspension

Upgrading to freelancer plus will not give you protection against suspension if you violate Upwork’s Terms of Service.

Takeaway: Upwork’s Freelancer Plus isn’t meant to shield people from being suspended after violating the terms of service. Whether you bought the premium plan or not, you will be suspended if you violate any of Upwork’s rules.

Common complaints on Upwork

Over the years, especially with the recent updates, Upwork received many complaints.

Some even ranted online how they felt about Upwork and discourage people from using the platform.

Two of the most common complaints on Upwork are:

  • Questionable account suspension
  • Unable to receive payment

Here’s my take on these complaints:

In terms of account suspension, many freelancers violate the terms of service unknowingly.

For example, because of the difficulty in getting an Upwork account approved, some freelancers employ the services of others.

Someone selling Upwork approval services

Unfortunately, these people use false and misleading information on the profile to bypass Upwork’s account approval algorithm.

This is a clear violation of Upwork’s TOS:

Upwork’s term of service on account profile

Other reasons why accounts get suspended are:

  • Asking for a client’s contact information
  • Inviting a client to an off-platform transaction
  • Unable to land a contract for a certain period

About payment, some freelancers don’t receive their payment because their clients filed a dispute and won the case.

For example, a freelancer with an hourly agreement might have used the time for non-work matters while the time tracker is on. The client may have seen this, disputed the case, and won.

If you search online, you will probably find lots of similar examples.

But from experience, I haven’t had any problems with Upwork.

Takeaway: Upwork receives numerous complaints every day. Some of these complaints are about account suspension and payment. More often than not, the freelancer may have done something wrong which triggered Upwork’s disciplinary actions.

So is Upwork worth your time and money?

Personally, I believe Upwork is worth the time and money.

This may be an unpopular opinion, but it’s what I believe.

Upwork is a great springboard for those who wanted to kickstart their freelance career. It’s also a quick way to earn.

Of course, I believe that off-platform methods of finding clients are more profitable.

However, not everyone has the time nor the stomach to do it. So practicing on freelance platforms like Upwork is a good place to start.

If you want to become a freelancer but you think you don’t have experience and skills, getting inside Upwork may be a challenge.

I suggest you learn a skill or two first, gain experience, and come back.

Now it’s your turn. I would like to know what you think:

  • If you’re currently the platform, do you think it’s worth the time and money?
  • What’s holding you back from signing up on Upwork?

Let me know your thoughts by sharing your comment down below.

About Alan

Alan helps different companies generate more qualified leads and increase their sales by educating their readers with strategic content and writing blogs. He's also the founder of Work Pajama.

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