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Upwork used to be the go-to place for freelancers to find work.
Anyone could sign up, there were plenty of gigs to go around, and many Upworkers made a good living on the platform.
But things have changed since those golden days. Which begs the question…
Is Upwork worth it still?
In this guide, we’ll explore what Upwork is really like nowadays. And based on that information, you can decide for yourself.
Table of Contents
What is Upwork and who is it for?
Upwork is a popular platform that connects freelancers and potential clients. It officially formed in 2015, when Elance and O-Desk merged.
In the six years since its launch, businesses and individuals have utilized Upwork’s unique interface to post ads to a community of writers, graphic designers, IT specialists, personal assistants, and basically any type of freelancer you can think of.
Nearly every digital industry is represented on the platform. If you can do the job on a computer, you can probably find suitable gigs on Upwork.
But just because you can, does it mean you should?
The Upwork crackdown
If you’re thinking, hey, this sounds like something you’d like to try, not so fast.
Upwork used to have an open application process, where any aspiring or established freelancer, in any field, could make an account and start applying for work.
That’s no longer the case.
They’ve recently cracked down on the number of people that can join the platform. This is mostly due to the uptick in the number of sign-ups in recent years, which resulted in freelancers far outnumbering clients.
Not only did Upwork tighten sign-up restrictions, but they also infamously purged 1.8 million active accounts in 2020.
And while you might think that Upwork rise in popularity was a good thing, there have been growing pains.
As freelancers outnumbered employers, competition for gigs increased, and landing a job become more challenging. This also meant employers were bombarded with proposals, which muddied the hiring process.
Upwork’s solution was to implement a series of benchmarks that new freelancers have to meet to be accepted. And while it’s not a formal application process with an interview, each new profile is evaluated before getting the green light.
Things such as prior experience, education level, and most importantly, the primary field of the applicant, are taken into consideration.
Upwork’s goal is to create a diverse pool of freelancers that can meet the needs — but not overwhelm — of clients who post job ads. So if the platform feels it has enough of a certain kind of freelancer when you apply, your application could be denied.
If that happens, don’t head straight for the gallon of chocolate ice cream.
There are plenty of other ways to land entry-level writing jobs. Or you might be able to simply choose a different type of freelancing work with more demand.
If all else fails, you can always try back later. The platform is constantly evolving, with clients and freelancers coming and going.
How to use Upwork successfully in 2024
If you manage to polish up your profile well enough to get accepted, then congratulations. You made the cut.
But there’s still the pesky task of learning how to navigate the system. It seems straightforward, but there’s a slight learning curve. There’s also a difference between knowing how to navigate the system and knowing how to actually land jobs.
When you sign up, you fill out details such as your area of expertise, education level, and qualifying skills. After your application is accepted, your homepage automatically refreshes with jobs their algorithm thinks you’d be a good match for.
This is a great place to start, but you should also take advantage of the search feature, where you can input skills and bring up similar jobs.
This also benefits the sneaky freelancers who beat the system by signing up for a less saturated category. After you’re accepted to the platform, you can update your profile to a different type of freelancer and manually search for the types of jobs you want.
Once you find a job that you like, you can apply by submitting a proposal.
What does a job post look like?
….but first, let’s back up. What does a job post even look like?
Each job post is structured just like this:
It shows you key information like the job summary, the compensation (including whether or not it pays a one-off fee or a rate per hour), the number of people who’ve submitted proposals, etc.
If you want to get hired, you need to learn how to submit proposals that stand out from the crowd. As a freelancer, you are essentially “bidding” for jobs. No two proposals on jobs will look the same, as each company will require specific things from you.
If you look at the example post, you can see this particular job asks for hopeful hires to answer three questions related to the niche. Some ads will have more questions, and some won’t ask for any at all.
Then, there will be those ads that are rather lengthy, and to ensure applicants read the entire thing, will hide secret phrases they want you to include in your proposal. If you don’t follow directions to a T, your application goes straight to the bin. So read carefully.
Is there enough work to go around on Upwork?
There’s no way to gauge the exact ratio of freelancers to active employers, but it’s safe to say that Upwork is a competitive platform.
Even with its efforts to scale down the number of new freelancer sign-ups, you’ll see that most job postings have several proposals within minutes of being posted.
There are a lot of people out here looking for remote work — especially now, during the pandemic. You can expect to have to fight, tooth and nail, for any jobs that you land.
And while that totally sucks, if you really think about it, it’s no different than a traditional hiring process.
Plus, the vast majority of your competition shouldn’t be hard to beat. As someone who’s hired many freelancers over the years, 80% of applicants suck (or at least their applications do…I’m sure they’re good humans though).
Is Upwork good for beginners?
Speaking of landing jobs, don’t expect to sign up and find a job overnight (or even within a week of signing up).
Upwork has this weird dichotomy going on where it prioritizes experienced freelancers, while also favoring those with the lowest rates.
As you know, experienced workers usually charge more than newbies, so that leaves a weird gray area where new users can thrive, but it takes a little time.
Unfortunately, this means that new signups will probably have to do a bit of low-paying grunt work for the first couple of weeks while you work your way up the ladder.
The good news is that every job you complete displays on your profile. This makes landing jobs progressively easier. The more jobs you complete and reviews you rack up, the better you’ll look to future clients.
You can also add all of your completed gigs to your resume or portfolio. The experience will help your credibility when looking for work outside of Upwork (which you’ll want to do eventually).
Is Upwork’s payment system fair?
Upwork facilitates all payments between clients and freelancers, which means that personal information is never shared. Clients set their own rates, and freelancers can decide whether or not it’s worth the amount of work.
Once you win a job, you must accept an agreement. If you don’t sign the agreement, there’s nothing binding the client to compensate you, so make sure you complete that step.
Larger jobs come with metered milestones you have to complete before you receive your final payments. This is meant to protect both parties.
After the funds have been disbursed, freelancers still have to wait a minimum of five days before accessing the money.
Upwork also attempts to mediate disputes between freelancers and clients in a professional manner. It’s nice to know someone is making sure everyone is playing fairly. When you work with clients outside of freelancing platforms, you don’t have this luxury.
One last thing: Upwork isn’t free.
While there’s no monthly membership fee you have to pay, it does take 20% of every payment until you make at least $500. After that, Upwork siphons 10% of all your future earnings. This is another reason why it’s worth eventually “graduating” to clients off-platform — you can kick out the middle man and charge more.
Upwork also makes money from “Connects,” their currency for applying for jobs. If you refer to the example job ad above, you’ll see a section that displays how many Connects you have left.
When you sign up, you’re given 40 free Connects. Each proposal you make usually eats up 2 to 6 Connects.
Once those are gone, you can purchase more for 15 cents each. And while that sounds like a paltry amount, you can only purchase them in bulk groups of 10, 50, or more.
And if you don’t land any work, your bank account is moving in the wrong direction.
You can also earn Connects every time you’re invited to an interview. So if you’re a qualified freelancer with compelling proposals, you may never run out of Connects.
You can also sign up for paid plans that replenish your Connects each month. At the time of writing, the free plan only gives you 10 free Connects per month, which only equates to one or two job applications.
Is Upwork legit?
Upwork is a legitimate company that has paid out billions of dollars to freelancers since its inception. They connect freelancers with clients, and they charge a fair commission for this convenience. Many freelancers actually prefer using Upwork because they have more protection than freelancing on their own.
And even if you don’t trust internal corporate PR, there are plenty of Upwork success stories floating around the web.
This guy tried out Upwork for 30 days and made some interesting discoveries:
Now, whether Upwork is fair or not is a whole other question.
There have been many well-documented cases of unhappy freelancers who’ve claimed that they had their accounts wrongfully terminated, or that their funds were withheld without just cause.
And while there’s no way to definitively verify who was in the wrong, there’s been enough negativity to assume that Upwork’s internal dispute team makes the wrong call, from time to time.
Even if their margin for error is low, no one wants to find themselves in a position where they’re unable to withdraw funds because the company decided you’re not entitled to your hard-earned money.
Many freelancers go through periods of feast and famine, meaning work can sometimes be unreliable. The last thing you want is to miss out on money when you could’ve been doing something else.
That said, these non-payment problems are much more prevalent when working off the platform, where you have no dispute team to turn to.
It’s worth noting that, as with any freelancing platform, there’s always going to be a handful of dirtball scammers who take your work, then complain to Upwork that you didn’t meet the job’s requirements. Sometimes, because of human error, Upwork will side with these companies.
Of course, no company has a perfect track record. But there’s enough smoke surrounding Upwork to conclude that using the platform means accepting a certain amount of risk.
That said, you can minimize problems by doing your due diligence, trusting your gut, and not accepting work from anyone who seems shady. Oftentimes, it’s pretty obvious.
Is Upwork Worth It in 2024?
So, is Upwork worth it still?
In my opinion…yes, and no.
Depending on your area of expertise, Upwork might not be a great place to apply to right now, as it tries to balance the number of new talent with the number of clients. It’s not easy to get accepted, and evidenced by the great purge of 2020, winning access to the platform doesn’t guarantee your long-term success.
That said, Upwork has the potential to be very powerful. It can be a springboard for your career, allowing you to gain experience, make some money, and learn the ins and outs of the freelance world.
This experience gives you samples you can use to land better, higher-paying jobs down the line.
If you’re a freelancer who doesn’t like the idea of bouncing around between several job boards and platforms to find work, then Upwork could be worth your time. Part of Upwork’s popularity comes from the fact that it streamlines the freelance job hunting process.
This process can be time-consuming when starting from scratch, but at least it’s a one-stop-shop.
With time and patience, it’s possible to land work, get paid, and add to your portfolio. In today’s job market, it’s great that a platform exists where almost anyone can dive headfirst into their field and gain experience.
You should use Upwork as a stepping stone for getting higher-paying clients off-site. But it’s great for beginners.
If you’re an established freelancer, Upwork could work for you too, in theory.
As stated earlier, Upwork favors experienced creatives over newbies. And while this allows you to set higher rates, you might find yourself jumping through more than a few hoops to access jobs you probably could have landed on your own.
The more work you complete on the platform, the easier it is to land gigs.
And who knows, if all goes well, one of those gigs may eventually turn into a full-time remote position (if that’s what you’re into). You know, the kind that comes with a steady, guaranteed salary and health insurance.
If you’re struggling to find clients, you’ve got nothing to lose.
That said, Upwork isn’t the only act in town.
There are other platforms, such as Freelancer and Flexjobs, which are other similar-but-different places to find freelance and remote work. So if Upwork doesn’t fit your fancy, just know you have plenty of options.
Mitch is your typical nomadic backpacker. Or at least, he was. But after stopping in Colombia to take “one week” of salsa lessons, his life took a sharp left turn. He met a cute Colombian girl in dance class, fell in love, and got married. Over half a decade has passed since he left his career to travel the world as a digital nomad, and he’s never looked back.
Nowadays, he’s the blogger behind Project Untethered — where he runs an awesome email newsletter and Youtube channel teaching adventure-craved wanderlusters how to escape the rat race, earn money from anywhere, and build an “untethered life”.
His advice has been featured in Forbes, USA Today, Yahoo, MSN, Reader’s Digest, Condé Nast Traveler, and more.
Mitch's Travel Recommendations:
Travel Planning Resources - Everything you need to plan your trip on one convenient page.
Going Cheap Flights Newsletter - Get flight deals from your airport up to 90% off sent straight to your inbox.
Safetywing Insurance - This cheap travel insurance has saved me over $15,000 in medical bills.
Booking.com - Book accommodation without adding your credit card (in case you need to cancel).
Trusted House Sitters - Take care of pets in exchange for free (sometimes luxury) accommodation.
Flexjobs - Find remote jobs without having to sift through crappy ones.
Skillshare - Free trial to take unlimited classes that teach digital nomad skills.
Wise - Send and receive money abroad cheaply (great for freelancers).