How Does Upwork Work for Freelancers: Is it Worth it?

As a freelancer just starting out, Upwork can seem really promising because it seems like an easy way to get jobs fast. It’s a platform built to make freelancing easy. However, it’s not as simple as it’s made out to be, and the supposed ease of obtaining jobs comes at an unexpected price. So how does Upwork work? And is it worth your time? Let’s take a look.

How Upwork Works

1. Account Setup
Setting up your Upwork account can be a lengthy process. You must first provide documentation to prove your identity, such as a driver’s license or passport. So you’ll have to take a picture of your ID and upload it to be reviewed.

Next, you must link to one of the many payment processors that Upwork supports. This is used as an additional form of verification as well as to bid on projects and receive payments. It’s also recommended that you complete verification tests that certify your skills and experience so you can stand out from the crowds.

The whole process can take several days, much of which is just waiting for approval of the things you send in. While all of this is necessary and is one of the reasons why Upwork is so safe and well-trusted, it’s a lot of hoops to jump through and can take up a lot of valuable time.

2. Profile Setup
To set up your Upwork profile, you don’t necessarily need a resume or portfolio, which is a big plus for freelancers just starting out. But obviously the more detailed your profile is, the better.

You’ll need to craft a bio that showcases who you are and speaks directly to employers looking for freelancers like you. You’ll also want to list the skills you bring to the table that employers can utilize. Then you should decide how much to charge and when you’re available so that employers can make informed decisions when they choose you for a job.

As a bonus, if you offer unique skills in multiple areas, Upwork allows you to create separate specialized profiles for various types of work as needed. All of this means setting up your profile can be time-consuming and requires some effort on your part, but it might be worth it.

3. Applying to jobs
Applying to jobs on Upwork is relatively straightforward – once clients post, you simply submit a proposal. However, there’s a catch – in order to actually submit these proposals, you’ll need something called “Connects.”

Upwork allocates 10 Connects each month for free. However, it takes anywhere between 2-6 Connects to apply, depending on the job type. This doesn’t take into consideration the recently added bidding feature though, where you can choose to spend more connects in order to show up at the top of the client’s list of applicants. I’ve seen bids easily climb to 12-15 Connects. And once you’re out of Connects, you have to buy more at $1.50 for 10 Connects in order to continue applying for jobs.

When I was first getting started on Upwork, I had about a 10% job acceptance rate, which is expected when first starting out. So in order to land one new job a week, I needed to apply to at least 10 jobs. Assuming 6 connects per job, that meant I needed 240 connects per month to meet my goal of one new job a week. So that meant I was having to spend $34.50 a month on connects.

4. Getting Job Invites
Now there is one way you can apply to jobs for free – and that’s through job invites. This is where a client finds your profile and personally invites you to apply to their job post because they think you might be a good fit. Upwork has also added Talent Specialists whose job it is to match you with job postings that you qualify for. These Talent Specialists can also invite you to submit proposals to jobs for free.

However, getting invited by either clients or Talent Specialists is relatively rare, from my experience. You see more of this the more experience you gain and the more activity you spend on Upwork.

5. Creating Projects
One of Upwork’s newer features is “Projects”. This is essentially Upwork’s version of Fiverr “gigs.” Here, clients can find your offering themselves and request your services. But this isn’t as heavily used as the job posting/proposal-submitting method.

6. Getting Accepted for a Job
After submitting your proposal, the client may or may not reach out. If they do, then the next part is often an invitation to interview. During this process, you’ll have the chance to explain your experience, talk about what will be expected from you, and get an overall feel for the job. In some cases, this may be done with a video call but in others, it could simply involve a series of messages back and forth. If both parties agree on terms, then the client will send over a job invite. And once you accept the invite, you can begin work.

7. Getting the Job Done
By now, the client should have escrowed the money for the job, and you should have everything you need to get started. One common mistake beginners make is thinking that once you send the work to the client, you don’t need to do anything else. However, in order for it to register in Upwork’s system, you have to “Submit for Approval”. This will notify the client that you’ve sent your work in, as well as start an invisible timer for how long the client has to approve your work. Then they’ll have a certain number of days to review it and either approve it or ask for revisions.

8. Getting Paid
You’ve gotten this far and turned in your work. So when can you expect to get paid?

It depends on a number of factors. If your client clicks the “Approve” button immediately, the money for the project is released from escrow and Upwork holds the money “In Review” for about a week, then holds it for another week in “Pending”. After that, it then gets moved to “Available,” where you can either push it out manually (it usually takes 1-3 business days to hit your bank account) or wait until it automatically releases on a certain day of the week.

If your client doesn’t hit that approval button though, the wait could be even longer. Upwork will automatically release escrowed funds after a certain period of time if the client is non-responsive, but that wait adds two more weeks to when you’ll see any of the money you’ve earned.

That might sound like a rare thing to happen, but believe it or not, I’ve run into this quite a bit. Sometimes it’s not even that the client becomes unresponsive but they simply don’t know how to find the approval button.

All told, it takes a minimum of two weeks to get paid and could potentially take over a month. Not to mention the inconvenience of how much you lose in fees – but we’ll get more into that later.

So Why are Freelancers Attracted to Upwork in the First Place?

There are a number of reasons why freelancers are attracted to Upwork. So let’s dive into a few of the major attractive features:

Job Opportunities
For starters, Upwork is a platform that attracts both clients and freelancers. The clients post jobs that they need freelancers for, and the freelancer can apply to the ones they want. This also gives the freelancer a little more control over how much work they get, because, unlike other platforms like Fiverr where the client must search you out, you can actively seek out opportunities yourself. So it’s really all a matter of how much you’re willing to put into getting more jobs, instead of leaving it up to chance.

Built for Beginners
The other thing Upwork has going for it is that it’s great for freelancers just starting out. It may not seem like it because there’s a lot of competition on the platform, but you don’t have to have an official resume or portfolio in order to have a stellar profile page. Obviously, the more experience you have, the better. But just knowing how to write a convincing bio can be enough to get you started.

Additional Protections
Possibly the best part about Upwork is the additional protections the platform provides. As long as you follow Upwork’s process (accepting jobs and turning in work as it’s designed to be done through the platform), you never have to worry about not getting paid for work you did. This is guaranteed by the client paying Upwork upfront (aka escrow), then Upwork releasing the money to you once the client approves.

Why You Don’t Want to Rely on Upwork as a Freelancer

So Upwork provides practically unlimited job opportunities for freelancers of all skill levels and experiences, all without any risk – sounds pretty good, right? But there are a few catches. So let’s visit them, shall we?

Fees, Fees, and More Fees!
Right off the top, Upwork takes 20% off everything you make. That percentage will drop to 10% after you’ve made $500, and 5% after $10,000, but this still ends up being a loss of over $1,000 dollars by the time you have billed $10k. Keep in mind too that this is per client. So every time you get a new client, you have to pay that 20% until you’ve billed them over $500.

The client also has fees they must pay – a 5% processing fee that is taken out of their payment to you.

And to have more than 10 Connects each month (which is almost essential in order to land jobs), another cost needs to be considered at $1.50/10 connects. Plus, with the new bidding feature introduced recently, you have to pay for even more Connects if you ever want to get ahead of the competition.

Finally, upgrading your account to Freelancer Plus (which gives you 80 Connects/month as well as additional premium features) brings with it an additional expense at $14.99/month, making Upwork an expensive choice as a platform for freelancers.

Incentivizes Low Pay
Relying too heavily on Upwork as a freelancer can be risky because of the high competition it brings. You’re fighting for jobs with workers from all over the world. And not only can freelancers compete by proposing low prices for projects, but with the new bidding feature, it’s all about how much you’re willing to pay to be seen by the client.

Even if you’re chosen, there are other expenses that come into play – as mentioned before, you end up paying $0.15 for each Connect used to apply, and then you lose 20% of whatever you make, thanks to Upwork’s fees. For example, if you invest 10 Connects for a $100 project and win the job, your take-home pay ends up being just $78.50.

Wait to Get Paid
Time is money, and Upwork shouldn’t come between you and your hard-earned cash. Waiting for payment on Upwork can be an unnecessary frustration for freelancers who need to be able to rely on being paid promptly.

It’s important to remember that when working through Upwork or any other platform, you are running your own freelance business, which means knowing the terms in advance and having appropriate safeguards in place to protect yourself. As we discussed earlier in this article, it could take anywhere from two weeks to over a month to see the money in your bank account.

Those long delays in payments could potentially lead to some challenging financial situations and therefore requires careful planning.

Limits Growth
With ever-changing algorithms and preferences for individual freelancers over agencies, success is extremely unpredictable – both in finding jobs and maintaining them. Additionally, Upwork asks for strict loyalty to its platform by requiring all jobs landed on Upwork to be completed through Upwork. If you engage in any freelance activities outside the website, it can be easy to violate their terms of service, which could get you removed from Upwork and ultimately put a dent in your reputation as a freelancer.

3 Skills You Need to Succeed as a Freelancer without Upwork

You may find that when it comes to utilizing Upwork as a freelancer, the costs outweigh the benefits. Luckily, there are ways you can be successful without it. Build these three skills we’re going to share with you, and you’ll be set!

1. Know How to Market Yourself
As a freelancer, having the ability to market yourself is key. Knowing how to build relationships and contact potential clients is crucial for success. You need to learn how to present yourself as an experienced and qualified individual, as well as stay up-to-date on current trends in the industry.

Additionally, you should also know how to find and make clients find you. It may take some researching and practice but with time, you will be able to perfect the art of marketing yourself!

To get started check out our other blogs, “4 Tips on Getting Entry Level Freelance Writing Jobs” and “How To Find Work As A Freelancer” which can help ease your transition into freelancing by providing helpful tips and guidance.

2. Know How to Protect Yourself
Knowing how to protect yourself is a key skill for any freelancer who wishes to work without the help of Upwork. Doing your research into clients and their businesses, looking for referrals, and getting references are all great strategies for making sure that you know exactly who you’re working with and what you’re signing up for.

Setting up contracts is an important step in establishing your relationship with clients; legal resources like our “Complete Guide To Developing Effective Freelance Contracts” will give you a good starting point.

3. Know How to Bill for Work
Billing is one of the most important skills for any successful freelancer. It’s essential that you know how to charge for your services and that you don’t miss out on payments from clients. To ensure that your billing process is as quick and easy as possible, it is worth considering using specialized invoicing software dedicated to freelancing businesses. With this, you can easily create invoices, send reminders to clients about overdue payments, and even automate the entire payment process whenever possible. There are many great options available, so we’ve narrowed it down for you in our “Guide to the Best Invoicing Software for Freelancers“.

Final Remarks

The allure of Upwork is undeniable— it’s an online marketplace that promises to make finding freelance work easy, fast, and convenient. And for many freelancers starting out, it does just that. But there are also some significant downsides to using Upwork that seasoned freelancers know all too well. So if you’re thinking about giving Upwork a try, be sure you’re aware of its pros and cons before jumping in—and don’t rely on it as your only source of income or job prospects.

We greatly appreciate you taking the time to read our blog! If you found this useful please be sure to share it with your network! If you have any questions about our program be sure to contact us. Thanks again and happy freelancing!

School For Freelancers Community