NOTE: This post has been updated as of 2/11/2017. View #4 in the cons section for the update. Also, please note that this post is a year old and that I am no longer a user of Upwork. Before or after reading this review, I strongly suggest you read this post to determine if joining a site like Upwork is going to benefit you in any way and to determine how long you should use it.
Upwork.com is the freelancing site I’ve been using in the year since I graduated. I have found it very useful, but it does have its problems. Below is a detailed list of pros and cons to help you decide if this site is right for you.
- Easy to Use and Set Up: Your Upwork profile is sent to the client every time you apply to a job. It’s a vital tool in obtaining better jobs because it displays reviews of your past work and your skills test results. Luckily Upwork makes it super easy. As a whole, Upwork is easy to figure out, so you can find and apply to your first gig as soon as your profile is set up.
- Endless Job Stream: Upwork is a popular site, both with clients and freelancers. You won’t run out of potential jobs.
- Safe Payment: Upwork requires the client to front the fee before they can even post a job. The funds are then released to you when the client approves your work. Since the client has to produce the money upfront, and Upwork works as the middle man, you don’t have worry about getting stiffed.
- Free Skills Tests: Upwork provides tests that allow you to prove you know your stuff. For writers, they have tests on Proofreading, Punctuation and Mechanics, Creative Writing, etc. If you score high on these tests, you can choose to display them on your profile. This is especially useful if you are new to the freelance world, because you can still prove you know what you are doing without having references or a long list of past jobs. Some sites, like Freelancer, require you to pay for skill tests. Upwork’s are free, so take advantage.
- Useful Emails, Not Junk: Upwork doesn’t bombard you with promotional emails. The only emails they really send about themselves are alerts on new features. Even better, they send emails with a list of recently posted jobs suited for your selected skills. They also sometimes send you an alert as soon as a job that suits you is posted so that you can be one of the first to apply.
- Apply to Any Job Regardless of Years of Experience: On Upwork, the client can specify whether they are looking for someone with Entry Level, Intermediate, or Expert experience. When you create your profile, you pick which one you are based on years of experience. The site warns you if you are going to apply to a job with requirements that don’t quite fit you, but it still allows you to apply. This is great because if you think you can qualify for a higher paying job even though you’ve only been writing professionally for a year or so, you can potentially prove it to the client with your cover letter and writing samples. You have a fighting chance. Reversely, the first two jobs over $1000 I tried to apply to on Freelancer blocked me just because I didn’t have 5 reviews on that site (of course, the site assured me I didn’t need the reviews if I would just buy a premium package).
- Invites: Upwork allows clients to send you an invitation to interview for their job. This is great because it cuts back on the time you spend scouring for new jobs. I started getting lots of invites after I got just one job under my belt. The number of invites you get also seems to depend on how many jobs you are applying to. I think maybe the site registers that you are looking for work, somehow, and sends the client your information, perhaps in an email similar to the lists of recently posted jobs that they send to freelancers.
- Lots of Low-ballers: One thing you have to watch out for with all freelance sites is the fact that many of the clients posting jobs do not have a professional background in writing or publishing. This usually results in clients who think they can pay you dirt for high-quality work. Upwork tries to field this by allowing clients to post Entry Level labeled jobs which state that they are willing to use a beginner for a lower price. The Expert label is supposed to mean that the client will pay more for freelancers with more experience, but cheapskates who want high-quality work will just plop the Expert label on there and still post a crappy rate. If you ask me, Upwork should have a dollar minimum for jobs with the Expert label.
- Dummy/Repeat Job Posts: I have come across a number of job posts that appear to be fakes written by the same person. For instance, while sending out applications, I would come across two or three jobs that were nearly identical. Maybe one might ask for a ghostwriter for a fiction book and the other for a nonfiction book, but the rest would be the exact same. They would both tell me to include the phrase “purple reindeer” in my cover letter to prove I had read the description. This didn’t bother me at first. I just assumed that one client needed multiple jobs done. However, every time I came across jobs like this, I never got any response from the poster. Fine, they didn’t want to hire me. But the job would stay open for months, even if the description said it needed to be done quickly. Sometimes the date set in the post would pass and no one would be hired. These dummy jobs are disappointing because they often boast a pretty decent rate for interesting work. I don’t understand why they are there if their only purpose is to waste my time. It seems like some sort of scam.
- Hourly Rate Issues: I do not like that Upwork makes you set an hourly rate that is displayed on your profile. I work as both a writer and editor, and the hourly rates should be different for each job type. True, I can propose a different hourly rate when I send an application, but my profile is also sent to the client, and if the two don’t match up, that can confuse the client and look unprofessional. If I need to charge a higher rate than the one listed on my profile for some reason, the client may compare the rate on my profile and the rate I proposed and think I’m trying to cheat them.
- Taking 10% : Upwork charges a 10% fee to every job you work as a sort of finder’s fee for connecting you to the client. It’s a nice chunk of pay, if you don’t have a client willing to adjust their price to reflect it. I understand that the site has to make money somehow, and it is a common practice with freelancing sites, but it is still annoying. However, you can find clients who are aware of this fee and who will adjust their price accordingly, but they are few and far between. You can adjust your asking price accordingly, but it could affect your chances of getting the job. I have also had a client who simply was not aware of the fee, and when I told her, she offered to continue to work with me outside of Upwork so that she didn’t have to pay more and I didn’t have to take a pay cut. There are solutions, but this large percentage is still a downfall of the site.
UPDATE: A super helpful reader has just informed me that the fee has been boosted to 20% since I left Upwork mid 2016! Ten was bad enough, but that is insane! Honestly, this makes the cons outway the pros, in my opinion. I understand charging some sort of fee for acting as a connection hub for clients and freelancers (which is super convenient), but that is just plain greedy! No one should be taking 20% of your earnings.
Every site has its issues, but I think Upwork is pretty well rounded, and it doesn’t screw over freelancers who don’t want to buy a special package. If it sounds like a good fit for you, go sign up and create a free profile. Watch out for those low-ballers, apply to lots of jobs, and start writing for a living.