Upwork Review 2021: What Upwork Is Really Like For Freelancers
Upwork is one of the largest freelance marketplaces, and it’s open to any kind of remote, freelance work. It’s a legitimate platform that can be a solid starting point for new freelancers. However, some freelancers find the fees are too high and that it’s tough to find good-paying gigs when you first get started on Upwork.
At a Glance
What we like
- Remote work
- Payment system
- Approachable for new freelancers
- Access to high-paying clients
What Needs Work
- High commission and fees
- Lots of low-paying gigs
- Can shut down account anytime
- Difficult for some new freelancers
- Remote workers
- Side hustlers
Money making opportunities
If you’re a freelancer or new to freelancing, then you’ve probably heard about Upwork. It’s one of the largest freelance marketplaces, but Upwork reviews are pretty mixed when it comes to what the site is really like.
Some freelancers praise Upwork for helping them launch their careers, while others love to hate on Upwork.
That’s why I finally wanted to sit down and do a full Upwork review. I want to explain exactly how the site works for freelancers and clients, give you real Upwork reviews from freelancers, and break down the most common complaints.
Upwork Review 2021 | What Upwork Is Really Like For Freelancers
What is Upwork?
Upwork is an online freelancing marketplace for freelancers of all kinds — writers, graphic designers, web developers, audio engineers, digital marketers, and more. The site can be used by both freelancers and business owners who use Upwork to post jobs and find work.
Upwork freelancers earn $1 billion a year from 3 million freelancing jobs.
Even though Upwork was technically founded in 2015, it’s actually been around since as early as 1999 as Elance, who merged with O-Desk in 2013, then officially relaunching as Upwork in 2015. This is worth mentioning because there are a lot of new freelance marketplaces, and Upwork is definitely one of the oldest when you consider their history.
Upwork’s goal is to be the intermediary for business owners and clients. Freelancers create profiles on the site listing their skills and ideal rate, while business owners post jobs. Freelancers are hired through the site, and payment also takes place on Upwork.
Ultimately, Upwork is a place where freelancers, both new and experienced, can find jobs and get paid.
How Upwork works for freelancers
There are two sides to Upwork, the freelancers and the client, and I want to start my Upwork review with the freelancer side. I honestly think that’s what most people are here to read about.
To get started on Upwork, you first need to create a profile.
Your profile needs to be an honest representation of who you are and what you can do. Think of it like a resume that prospective clients can look at while considering you for a job.
You can list the types of jobs you’re interested in, your skillset, and your areas of expertise. You do not need to prove any skills to list them on your profile, but you risk having your account shut down if you can’t deliver what you say you can.
Your profile also needs a headshot and background information. You’ll want to add links to a portfolio if you have one, add your educational background, and how much you can work. The more information you fill in the better.
Freelancers on Upwork get to set their own rates, so take some time to browse the platform and see what other freelancers with your experience are charging. One common mistake is to ask for too little because Upwork is such a large platform, but charge what you’re worth.
If everything looks good, Upwork will approve your profile and account within about 24 hours.
Select your membership plan
There are two membership levels for freelancers, and which level you choose will affect how you connect with prospective clients and how much you earn.
- Basic - free: Freelancers on Upwork Basic get 10 free Connects each month. These are tokens you use to connect and submit proposals to prospective clients. You can pay $0.15 for additional connects, which are sold in bundles of 10, 20, 40, 60, and 80. Basic lets you roll over 140 Connects per month.
- Freelancer Plus - $14.99/month: You start out with 70 Connects each month and can roll over 200 of them each month. Upwork will keep your profile visible even if you’ve been inactive, your earnings are kept confidential, you can view competitor bids, and you can also customize your URL.
It’s worth mentioning here that Upwork charges commission on top of membership fees. I’ll explain those further down in my Upwork review.
Connect with clients
Upwork says there are three different ways you can start working on their platform. The first way is to search Upwork’s Talent Marketplace and submit proposals to prospective clients. This is where the Connects come into play. With proposals, you’ll need to set your rate and explain how you’ll help them tackle their project.
Below is what you’ll see if you browse graphic designer jobs on Upwork’s Talent Marketplace:
The next option is to create a project bundle and list it on Upwork’s Project Catalog. You can do this for any kind of freelance service, and you can create tiers for different levels of service. Below is an example of one:
The third option is honestly the most difficult, and that’s letting the work come to you. According to Upwork reviews, this is the slowest way to find work because Upwork has such a large number of freelancers.
All of the payments take place on Upwork’s platform. They essentially eliminate the need to bill clients. Projects on Upwork are either hourly or fixed-price.
Hourly projects offer fairly straightforward payments. Your hourly projects are billed weekly, and you get paid once the client reviews the work, which happens 10 days after the billing period.
You start getting paid for fixed-rate projects once you hit milestones that you and your client put in place before you start working. Hitting a milestone triggers a payment to you, and the remainder is paid when the project is completed.
Upwork has a dispute process if a client fails to pay you or if you don’t think you’ve been compensated fairly.
How Upwork work for business owners
The other side of Upwork’s platform is the client side. These are the business owners who come to the platform to find freelancers.
Whether individual clients or agencies, business owners will fill out a profile and have their payment method verified before they can list any jobs.
When listing a job, clients need to set clear parameters for the scope of the work, price (hourly or fixed), how long they expect the job to last, and what kind of experience and skills they’re looking for.
Upwork’s platform is solid when it comes to communicating with clients. They have tools to help you shortlist multiple freelancers and conduct interviews. Clients can also use Upwork to create paid trials (or test drives) to assess the freelancer.
Freelancers keep track of hourly work in a work diary, and the client can check on that throughout the project. The work diary also shows how milestones are being hit for fixed-rate projects.
Upwork automatically invoices clients so that freelancers get paid in a timely manner.
How much does Upwork charge?
Even though freelancers can use Upwork for free, Upwork will inevitably take a cut of what you earn on their platform.
Upwork doesn’t charge a service fee until your client pays you, and they use a sliding scale based on the total amount you bill a client over time. Here’s what Upwork commission looks like:
- 20% for the first $500 you bill a client
- 10% for total billings with a client between $500.01 and $10,000
- 5% for total billings with a client that exceed $10,000
It’s difficult to compare Upwork commission to what other freelance marketplaces charges because they’re all a little different. Fivver, for example, takes 20% of everything you earn through their platform, but they don’t charge a membership fee to use the site.
Upwork typically gets more inexpensive overall you continue working with the same clients because that’s how your commission decreases over time.
Upwork reviews from freelancers
So far this Upwork review has given you a mostly objective look at what Upwork is like and how it works, but I want to dig into some Upwork reviews from freelancers who use the platform to find work.
The search feature makes it easy to find work, and the payment system protects freelancers and clients.
What Upwork is really like
The Upwork reviews from freelancers give you a better idea of what Upwork is like, but those are just a few of the thousands of reviews you can find online through sites like TrustPilot, Reddit, Glassdoor, etc. After reading through many of them and talking to freelancers who work on the platform, I want to break down three of the biggest complaints.
#1 There’s a lot of work on Upwork, but it’s hard to get hired
This is both true and untrue. The reality is that Upwork is tough for new freelancers. You’re probably going to have to charge less in the beginning than you’d like. Even if you’re an experienced freelancer just starting to use Upwork for the first time, it can look like you don’t have any experience.
Most freelancers who stick it out on Upwork eventually find their groove. You’ll grow out of thoe low rates as you get more and more positive reviews. You’ll also learn how to write proposals that appeal to more clients.
Upwork can be a slog in the beginning, but don’t give up yet.
#2 Upwork is a race to the bottom
I saw this in several Upwork reviews, and it really stuck out. The complaint here is that you’ll find a lot of low-paying gigs on the platform, and freelancers who continually choose to accept those rates keep undercutting themselves.
What I’d tell these freelancers is to know their worth. Again, you may have to accept some lower rates initially, but increase your rates and start going after gigs that pay more.
Also, Upwork isn’t the only platform out there. Here’s a list of the top Upwork alternatives right now, and there is no reason you can’t list your services on multiple platforms.
#3 Upwork’s commission is too high
The 20% commission you pay Upwork on the first $500 you bill to a client is high IMO, especially since you may also be paying for a premium membership. Then there’s also the approximately 30% you should set aside for self-employment taxes.
Unfortunately, the only way around this is to find work another way. You’ll have to decide if the trade-off is worth it for you. Upwork is full of great clients and can be a serious moneymaker, but it’s not for everyone.
Pros and cons of Upwork
- Access to high-paying clients: Even though you may have to take some lower-paying gigs initially, Upwork has clients with large budgets who can pay you what you’re worth.
- Remote work: Upwork is remote work only, making it a great way to make money from home, while you’re traveling full-time, on the side, and so on.
- Payment system protects freelancers and clients: Upwork escrows client payments for large-scale projects so freelancers know they’ll get paid, and there’s a work diary to ensure correct hourly payments. There’s also a system in place to contest payments if there’s ever an issue.
- Approachable for new freelancers: New freelancers have to start somewhere, and Upwork gives you access to a vast network of clients. It can take some time to find your first clients, but the barrier to entry is low.
- High fees: Upwork takes a commission ranging from 5% to 20%, and many freelancers find they need to upgrade to the Freelancer Pro account to access more jobs. There are also additional fees if you want to send proposals to a high number of clients throughout the month.
- Difficult for new freelancers: New freelancers often find themselves competing for low-paying jobs, and some send out dozens of proposals before they get their first break. Most freelancers find it gets easier over time, but you have to be willing to stick it out.
- Lots of low-paying jobs: The majority of the businesses on Upwork have lower budgets compared to the ones you can find in your network or by cold-pitching clients. Keep this in mind as you start trying to scale your freelance business.
- Can suspend or cancel your account at any time: This is a major bummer, but Upwork isn’t the only platform that has the right to kick you off. The most common reasons for getting kicked off are misrepresenting yourself or taking Upwork clients off the platform, which is against their terms of service.
Upwork review, the final word
There are positives and negatives about using Upwork to find freelance work, and that’s the truth no matter where you look. The thing that is so good about Upwork is that there’s a low barrier to access. It’s incredibly approachable, but you’ll have to put in the work if you want to find real success.
Upwork can be a legit way to start your freelance career, but you should eventually branch out to scale your business. Upwork can help you become a more qualified candidate over time.
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About Millennial Money Man
Bobby Hoyt is a former band director who paid off $40,000 of student loan debt in 18 months on his teaching salary and then left his job to run Millennial Money Man full-time. He helps other Millennials earn more through side hustles, save more through budgeting tools and apps, and pay off debt. He is a personal finance expert who has been seen on Forbes, Reuters, MarketWatch, CNBC, International Business Times, Business Insider, US News, Yahoo Finance, and many other personal finance and entrepreneurship media outlets.