Upwork is the most recent inception of two separate former freelancing platforms, Elance and Odesk. The merger of the two began in the end of 2013 and has since given rise to arguably the internet’s largest freelancing platform online.
Like all freelancing jobs online that we review, we used the same five factors to score this website in an attempt to determine it’s viability as a real means for earning an income online.
Minimum Investment Required to Maximize Income – 3/5
Upwork, as a freelance platform, has a similar framework as other popular freelancing platforms like Freelancer.com or Guru.com, yet this does not change the fact that freelancers need to pay in order to have a realistic chance at earning money through the platform.
We do our best to remain unbiased when reviewing opportunities, however we cannot proceed without acknowledging that one would hope it would be enough that Upwork takes a percentage of what the client pays the freelancer (sometimes as much as 10% or more!), but they unfortunately they do not stop here. They take this money-making business model a step further by requiring freelancers to pay in units called “connects” in order to simply apply for a job with a client. Yes, you read that right! In order to APPLY for a job, freelancers are required to spend “connects” which must be purchased.
If it weren’t for Upwork’s established reputation online, we would dismiss this entire platform as a borderline scam that seeks to make money off of freelancers in dire need of work, but the fact remains that Upwork has a fairly solid reputation amongst freelancers despite this. This does not change the fact that freelancers will need to pay hard-earned cash in ordre to first apply for a job that typically at least ten or more other freelancers have also appleid for. This speaks to Upworks effective marketing and their general success in positioning themselves and their setup, along with several other major freelancing platforms, as the standard for online freelancing.
In other words, they’ve managed to convince the vast number of freelancers that use their platform, to accept it as being okay to be expected to pay to apply for jobs. This somewhat takes advantage of the fact that freelancers who gravitate towards these types of platforms tend to do so because they do not having a strong private network of clients. They are then left feeling as if they have no other option but to purchase the “connects” and to simply submit their proposal amidst a sea of other competing freelancers.
While it may seem that our outlook on Upwork is bleak, we are merely pointing out one of the serious shortcomings of their platform, but this does not mean that one cannot have considerable success using it and earn a steady income.
Terms and Conditions that Favor the Client – 3/5
For the most part, clients are free to pay any amount that they and the freelancer agree as fair, which on its surface is fine. After all, this is how the free market works. In reality, it’s not that simple. As discussed in the previous section, Upwork allows a client to post a project or job for extremely low pay rates, while they sit back and let a swarm of freelancers try to undercut each other’s services to win the project. This already puts the freelancer at a disadvantage from the outset, as the entire setup of the platform discourages freelancers from being able to charge a premium rate for their services.
As if all of this is not enough to stack the proverbial deck in the client’s favor, Upwork has structured it’s resolution processes and overall terms to favor the client and not the freelancers. This makes sense from Upwork’s perspective since, who brings money to the website? The client. And, if there is a conflict between freelancer and client, Upwork has every incentive to keep the client satisfied so that he or she will return to the platform and spend more money. If Upwork loses a freelancer from their platform, this has a much less net negative effect on their bottom line, since the ratio of freelancers to clients is extremely high.
What does this all mean for freelancers working on Upwork? Essentially, you will be working at a disadvantage from the moment you win a contract for a project (if you are lucky enough to be selected out of the countless other freelancers who have also applied for the same ones). If the client was not specific enough about the terms of the work requested for an agreed upon rate at the outset of the project and if the client at any point requires more work to be done or additional revisiosn to be made, the freelancer will have little to no recourse but to acquiese to the client’s requests (or worse, demands). There is no shortage of Upwork horror stories with freelancers sharing their experiences with problematic clients who continually modified their project guidelines or required multiple revisions that moved the work outside of the original scope of the proejct, etc.
Again, we would like to reiterate that one can make a steady income working through platforms like Upwork. There are countless freelancers that have created mutually beneficial relationships with clients through the platform, resulting in ongoing work that may continue beyond the initial platform once the original project has been completed. It may simply be helpful for freelancers to be aware of the situation that they are entering into when accepting a project through Upwork, and that they amy want to create their own set of “terms” for working with clients to help minimize the chances of problems arising. For example, it may be prudent to provide a new client with a set of expectations and terms that you expect the client to abide by; for example, not requesting changes or revisions that fall outside the scope of the original project otherwise an additional fee of a certain amount would be charged, etc.
Despite the fact that Upworks terms favor the client, they are fairly straightforward and there is nothing misleading about them.
Convenience of Working with the Upwork Platform and Processing Payments – 5/5
Upwork is a large and growing company with a sizeable budget when it comes to their inhouse team of developers and engineeers. This means that Upwork is continually making changes and improvements to their platform to help make it easier for freelancers and clients to communicate and efficiently complete projects.
Among some of the features that Upwork offers in this regard is a robust file-sharing and messaging system through which client and freelancer can communicate about their mutual projects. Upwork also allows freelancers to use a near-endless range of search filters to explore different avialable freelance jobs on the platform. Freelancers can sort by client rating, client payment history, pay rates, job types, keywords and much more. This helps freelancers significantly trim down the amount of time spent searching for appropriate work that matches their skill sets and time saved equals money earned.
As we have been alluding to all throughout this review, Upwork is primarily a money-generating business above all else, so their payment system is very developed and free of any glitches or issues. In fact, contrary to the client-centric focus of Upwork, their payment system does put in place some protections for freelancers, evening the playing field a bit more for freelancer and client.
Upwork utilizes an escrow system, in which clients are required to deposit money into an Upwork escrow account prior to initiating a project with a freelancer. This means that the client has paid Upwork for the freelancer’s work, and then the final step is for the client to release the payment from Upwork to the freelancers. This means that, for a client to withhold payment, he or she will need to undergo a resolution process and provide a definitive basis for not paying for a freelancer’s work. Still, Upwork does favor the client in almost all aspects including the resolution process, this still helps to greatly minimize incidents of clients taking advantage of freelancers or trying to stiff them for work.
Upwork’s payment system is also fairly seemless, as all payments are processed rather quickly and without incident. This includes freelancers withdrawing money, as Upwork offers several different withdrawal methods for money earned through their platform. Overall, Upworks payment system is easy to use and without any major issues.
Upwork’s Responsiveness and Freelancer Support – 5/5
Upwork really shines in this aspect of their platform. When it comes to support and responding to requests for help by freelancers, Upwork typically has a 24-48 hour turnaround time in getting back to any inquiries. Upwork offers an extensive ticketing support system through their website as well as phone support. Upwork also boasts a thorough knowledgebase, which is likely the result of a near decade of combined information from its predecessors Elance and Odesk.
On the flip side, Upwork allows freelancers and extended period of time to respond to any client inquiries or complaints. This can be great if one is unable to answer email or become unavailable at times. Upwork protects the freelancer in this manner and ensures that they will not be taken off or removed from the proejct.
Overall, Upwork’s turnaround time in getting back to freelancer’s leaves little room for improvement.
Final Thoughts on Working for Upwork – 4/5
Freelancing platforms can be viewwed as a necessary evil; a place where freelancers and clients can meet and work mutually in a somewhat protected environment. While we have already expressed some of our reservations with the limitations of platforms like this, as far as these platforms are concerned, Upwork is probably the best, most reputable and established of them all.
Taking into account the limitations that we discussed earlier, including the investment required in order to apply for work and the overall manner in which Upwork favors the client, freelancers can use this information to navigate the platform in a more advantageous manner to make the most of their time spent there.
In other words, with the knowledge that it costs money to apply for jobs, freelancers would do themselves a great service to make the most out of their job proposals and try different approaches to stand out from other applicants. This may also mean reducing one’s rates, albeit temporarily, in order to increase one’s chances of being awarded projects and, as a result, being able to forge new relationships with clients that can continue beyond the platform.
Freelancers may also benefit to employ some of the approaches that we discussed earlier when it comes to working directly with clients. These approaches may include creating a document specifically for clients to help guide them in working with the freelancers, including what will be expected and what instances may require revisiting the original payment terms, etc.
By carefully navigating platforms like Upwork, it is certainly possible to create a viable income generating opportunity that can continue to grow and expand into a full time work from home business. While verifiable statistics on what percentage of Upwork’s freelancers enjoy a fulltime work from home income, it is definitely possible. Even if one is only earning a parttime income, this still make Upwork a great assett to have for freelancers that are okay with the overall setup and who do not have more appealing freelance opportunities on their own, outside of the platform.
One last thing to keep in mind, is that Upwork has a ratings system that runs through the core of their platform and play a vital role in how freelancers are assigned work and how clients determine their eligibility to receive it. This is, again, something which favors the client more than the freelancers, as clients will nearly always be in a position of power when it comes to project completion. For example, if a client requests further revision to work that already meets the client’s original project specifications, the freelancer is left with little choice but to oblige, otherwise the client can use the rating system as a means to influence the freelancer into complying. Again, commmunication is key and doing so effectively with clients and setting clear expectations can help freelancers make the most out of the ratings system and improve their ability to stand out to future clients with top ratings.
In the end, we have found the Upwork is a great way to earn additional income online. However, the act of navigating Upwork’s platform effectively is as much itself a skill as the actual freelance work you may be hired to do. Follow our advice and test your own approaches in using the platform and you can get the most out of this growing online freelancing platform.