Upwork Fees for Freelancers: Big Changes from May 2019

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If there’s one thing guaranteed to get the jungle drums banging in the world of freelancing, it’s a change to Upwork fees for freelancers. A BIG change to the fees, which will force all Upwork freelancers to pay for “Upwork Connects” in order to bid for jobs, was announced in April 2019.

This article explains all of the key Upwork fees for freelancers. It looks at the 2019 changes (which are proving extremely controversial) and discusses how much freelancers have to pay for Upwork Connects.

I also potentially add to the controversy by giving my own opinion on Upwork’s fees 🙂

What is Upwork?

Just in case you’ve been living in a cave, Upwork is a huge online freelance work platform. With over 100,000 freelance gigs on offer at any one time, and 12 million registered freelancers on the platform, it’s a huge part of the online freelancing world.

It is fair to say that Upwork has a mixed reputation. With so many people on the platform there are plenty of scams to avoid. Equally annoyingly, there are plenty of “bottom feeder” clients, who expect the earth for ridiculously low rates. Differing costs of living across the world play into this too, as this article on cultural awareness around freelancing explains.

Upwork Fees for Freelancers

Aside from the scams and the cheapskate clients, the thing that seems to incense people more than anything is Upwork’s fees for freelancers. It’s fair to say that Upwork fees can eat significantly into users’ freelance earnings. 

For example, Upwork charges freelancers a 20% commission on work up to the value of US$500 (with each client). The commission rate drops for higher value projects, with 10% charged between US$500.01 and $10,000, and 5% once an individual client has spent over $10,000.

Upwork fees

These fees are undeniably significant. If you do a $500 job for a new client, Upwork take $100 for themselves. This means you’re only left with $400, and that’s before you start thinking about PayPal fees and currency conversions, let alone tax or other business costs.

However, despite these big fees, it’s long been possible to use Upwork and apply for jobs without paying for a membership. Effectively, for freelancers, this means not paying any Upwork fees until you’re actually earning.

The changes announced at the beginning of April 2019 see an end to that system. Many freelancers regard them as a serious blow, or for some, “the final straw.”

Upwork Fees: The Old Way

The new Upwork fee structure is in effect from May 2019. Until then, it’s possible (and always has been possible) to use Upwork as a freelancer with a free “Basic” account. With this kind of membership, you pay Upwork nothing until you owe commission on successfully completed work.

In order to apply for jobs on Upwork, you use a system of “Upwork Connects.” Freelancers choosing to use Upwork with a “Basic” (free) plan under the old regime were given 60 free Upwork Connects each month. Between two and five were required to apply for each gig.

There has long been an option of a paid subscription, with “Freelance Plus” members getting more Connects, the ability to roll them over between months, and a host of other benefits. The key difference under the new system is that nobody gets free Connects any more. This means freelancers have to hand over money to pitch for jobs – effectively paying Upwork before securing any work. 

Upwork fee changes

The New Upwork Fee Structure for Freelancers

As far as we’re aware at the time of writing, the commission fees Upwork charges on completed work remain the same. The big difference is the new charges for Upwork Connects.

Freelance Plus Subscribers

I am personally a Freelance Plus subscriber on Upwork, so I’ve long been paying $10 per month. On 2nd April 2019, I received an email informing me that this fee will increase to $14.99 per month from May. For this I will continue to receive 70 Upwork Connects per month, and have the ability to roll over up to 140 from month to month.

Basic Upwork Members

The most significant (and controversial) change is that Upwork freelancers with Basic (free) accounts will no longer be given 60 free Upwork Connects each month. This means that from May 2019, no freelancer on Upwork can apply for any gigs without having a paid membership, or by buying Connects individually.

How Much do Upwork Connects Cost?

From May 2019, the price of each Upwork Connect is 15 cents (US$0.15).

Each gig application uses between one and six Connects, depending on the contract value. As such, firing off an application for a “six Connect” job costs 90 cents.

While this is a comparatively small amount of money, it’s important to note that this fee applies simply to apply for work. There’s no guarantee of winning any work as a result of a bid.

To put this in perspective, active Upwork freelancers who were using all of their Connects each month will, from May 2019, pay US$9 per month to fire off the same number of applications. 

Free Upwork Connects

Documentation around the new Upwork fees for freelancers also points out that “top rated” and “rising talent” freelancers will be given some free Connects. This provides an incentive for freelancers who are proven to continually produce high quality work.

How About Jobs Freelancers are Invited to?

One key point to remember is you don’t need to use any Upwork Connects if you are invited to apply for a specific freelance job.

Upwork job invitation

This is perhaps more significant than it sounds. Once you are established and successful on Upwork, people begin to come to you, rather than you going to them. Some freelancers, my wife and I included, only really work via Upwork when people approach us on the platform. For Upwork freelancers who work in that way, these changes will have limited effect.

The Reaction

The reaction to these Upwork fee changes has been predictable, and you don’t get a medal for guessing the general theme! Forums (like this one – running to dozens of pages), are full of outrage, with Upwork being described as “greedy,” “brain dead,” and “mean and unfair.”

On a simplistic level, I do understand why people are railing against additional Upwork fees. Upwork is already known to charge significant commission on work freelancers complete through the platform. Doing $500-worth of work and handing Upwork $100 of it for “nothing” has always stung, and always will. However, those charges are really the subject of a whole different discussion.

When it comes to these new charges for Upwork Connects, I can actually see a number of clear positives, which I shall now defend.

MY Reaction

Among the angry forum posts are a handful of isolated freelancers who think these changes to the Upwork fee structure are a GOOD thing.

I agree with them.

In recent years, I’ve used Upwork at least as much to hire freelancers as I’ve used it to work on the platform. When you place an advert on Upwork, you brace yourself for an inevitable onslaught of time-wasting, poorly written applications. Many of them come from completely inappropriate freelancers who’ve clearly not read the requirements or assessed their suitability for the gig.

If having to pay 30-90 cents to put in an application for each gig is going to eliminate most of these people from Upwork, that’s a good thing. 

Sweeping away the rubbish

And it’s not only a good thing for employers. It’s also good if you’re a professional freelancer who’s taking your work seriously. This is because your own good application isn’t going to have to fester in a pile of rubbish that the client has to wade through.

Keep in mind here that under the “old” system, 60 free monthly Connects gave every crap freelancer the opportunity to send out up to 30 crap applications – without spending ANY money. With all of this “noise” removed from the platform, the end result should be something far more streamlined and far more professional.

I do sympathise with novice freelancers, and those on a really tight budget. This is especially the case for those in less developed countries, where 50 cents is a far more meaningful amount of money than it is in the western world.

But ultimately, $10-15 per month isn’t a big investment in a career. If you think back to the days when people would pay to advertise in the phone book or the local paper, that was just a business running cost that any small business would be prepared to bear.

To my mind, what these changes will hopefully do is sweep away the many, many people who, in truth, had no business cluttering up the platform by applying for jobs they stood no chance of getting. They are changes that have actually inspired me to take a fresh look at a platform that could – hopefully – become more attractive to professional freelancers, and to high quality clients.

However, I do feel that in return for these changes, Upwork needs to do more to support their freelancers, and make the platform a fairer place. So let’s look at that.

What I’d Like to See from Upwork

If Upwork are now charging freelancers merely to apply for jobs, I hope that they will recognise that this means the freelancers are their clients too. 

My wishlist

As such, I’d like to see:

  • Consideration given to reducing the commission on completed jobs, especially on the 20% rate charged on low value (sub $500) contracts. These hit novices particularly hard.
  • Far more proactive efforts to clamp down on scams on the platform. The scam I described here comes up time and time again.
  • Improvements in Upwork’s technical infrastructure and reliability (which will hopefully happen naturally as a result of less traffic going through the system). An update to the user interface, which has been largely untouched for years, wouldn’t go amiss either.

Whether these things happen remains to be seen. A decrease in commission seems unlikely, but it would be a gesture to those still willing to – now quite literally – invest in their career by using the platform.

Conclusion

These changes to the Upwork fees for freelancers have been huge news in the freelancing community. As with everything, it’ll all calm down in time, and people will get used to the new way of doing things.

I will reiterate that I personally believe these are GOOD changes. Every rubbish job application that’s eliminated from the platform because a 30+ Cent fee gives pause to the person about to send it is a good thing. It’s good for the clients, and it’s good for the freelancers who are making more of a professional effort.

Obviously it’s very…convenient for Upwork that these new fees will make them a bunch more money. However, it’s not sustainable for the platform to get bigger and bigger, when much of that bulk comes from users on a free plan who are making Upwork worse, not better.

In the run-up to these Upwork fee changes, I heard from more and more people – often perfectly credible people – who had been turned down to join Upwork. I see these changes as a way to clear out a lot of the existing clutter and make room for those people.

How it all turns out in the long-term remains to be seen, but you can be sure I’ll write about it. Once the changes take effect, I intend – as an experiment – to spend some time working more actively on the platform myself to create an ultimate Upwork review. I’ve always been more positive about Upwork than many, and have found great long-tem clients there, and on oDesk and eLance before that.

I’m hopeful that these changes are going to mark the start of a new era.

Alternatives to Upwork

As I think it’s inevitable that some freelancers are going to look to move away from Upwork, I commissioned a new article rounding up alternatives to Upwork, which you’ll find here.

What do you think about the changes to Upwork fees for freelancers? Share your opinions in the comments. 

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About Author

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Founder of HomeWorkingClub.com - Ben is a long-established freelancer with a passion for helping other people take control of their destiny and break away from "working for the man." Prone to outbursts of bluntness and realism.

9 Comments

  1. Avatar

    What many of us are so ticked off about is that UpWork could simply reduce the number of connects alotted to each freelancer while letting those connects remain FREE. We believe this would achieve the same result as charging for the connects. Why? Because with the free connects being a limited resource the freelancers will use them more wisely than wildly. The decision makers at UpWork must have thought of that. I can’t imagine it didn’t occur to them. But what did they do? They opted for charging for connects. It was a convenient way to bleed more money from us. It conjures up an image of the old time snake oil salesman who sells you a bottle of “medicine” with no actual medicinal value and tells you “Drink it. It’s good for you!” At 15 cents a pop (remember it takes several “pops” just to land one interview and maybe actually land a gig), and millions of freelancers (over 10 million), that must translate into somewhere in the neighborhood of millions of dollars a day that will be going into UpWork’s pockets. Even if it’s not millions a day it must surely be some enormous number beyond my comprehension. In any case, now we will essentially be paying money to gamble on the remote possibility that we might land a gig. Grabbing a whopping 20% of everything most of us are paid isn’t enough? Seriously? What really baffles me (and I’m far from alone on this point) is why UpWork continually insists on biting the hand that feeds it.

  2. Avatar

    I just logged back on to Upwork after being away for awhile and I got a message that my profile was set to private and to make it public again, I have to pay for a subscription. I am one of those freelancers that had a good rating and had done quite a bit of work so people came to me. How do those people invite you for work now with your profile being forced-set to private?

    • Avatar

      I’m not sure what you mean. My profile isn’t set to private, it’s public, and I pay for a subscription regardless. The new charges haven’t come into effect yet.

      • Avatar

        UpWork will shift your profile to private if you have been inactive for some period of time. Their definition of “Inactive” is that “You haven’t earned any income”. It happed to me a few times. I complained in the community forum expaining that I had NOT been INACTIVE. I had been actively searching for and bidding on projects. I hadn’t earned any money because my searches and bidding had not resulted in actually getting any jobs. It was like I had to beat the so called moderators over the head to get them to understand that concept: No work = No income. Seems simple but you’d think it was rocket science. Anyway, eventually I got them to reinstall the “public” status of my profile and I wasn’t required to to upgrade to a paid subscription. That’s a new one on me. Never heard of that before. Maybe it’s a new policy. Another part of their BFD (“Bleed the Freelancers Dry”) routine.

        • Avatar

          Ah OK, interesting. Mine never flicked onto private despite me not using it for months at a time, but I’ve always paid for a Plus subscription.

  3. Avatar

    I pay the $10. As a professional writer with more than 20 years of published, bylined work I haven’t been hired by anyone.
    I have been invited to “interview” for work — often poorly written, vague descriptions for too much work for too little pay. The ad may set a fee of $150 but the application process makes it clear that either 1) additional work must be done to get paid that amount or 2) the cliebt says they just put any dollar amount and applicants must bid.
    Then there are those who are obviously recruiting for some copymill paying experienced writers entry-level rates.
    How do I get past the clients who are looking for cheap rather than quality work?

    • Avatar

      Hi Dorothy,

      I think this list of Upwork tips (link) should help. The main key, for me, is being extremely discerning about what jobs to apply for – I only go near those where everything looks right: trustworthy looking client, clear job description, realistic budget, not too many other applicants, no jobs where it already looks like they’re interviewing loads of people (they’re gonna be indecisive and hard work!) etc. etc.

      In short, I’d say to spend far more time searching than applying. Over time you start to build up a sense for which clients are worth looking at. I don’t personally use Upwork much at all these days, but back when I did, I would typically land 1 in 3-4 of the jobs I applied for by applying the tips in the article linked above.

      Best wishes,

      Ben

  4. Avatar

    I am of the opinion that this is a good thing. At one point it seemed, there was a very low barrier to entry on the Upwork platform and it became oversaturated. When I attempted to join last year, my application was rejected three times before I was finally approved. The reason given was that there were too many other freelancers with my area of expertise. I ended up hiring a coach to help me through the process- a smart move that paid off.

    When I am up against 20 or 30 other freelancers and a job has only been posted in the past 20 minutes, I know that the employer is going to have to wade through a lot of crap before they find my proposal. Weeding out those who should not be applying in the first place is good, and you are absolutely right. It is exactly what is needed to cull the herd.

    I am on the $10 a month plan so the only thing really affecting me about this is the monthly rate hike, but I would like to say a few things about the 20% fee.

    I despise the 20 percent fee. It is over the top, whether it is for newbies with only a few jobs or experts with contracts in the thousands. 20 percent is a lot of cashola to hand out to a company that is basically offering you nothing in return. There are no perks that make this fee attractive at all.

    Right away, I felt I needed to do something about this. My solution is to be perfectly up-front with the client. In my proposal, I fill in a high rate. I preface this right away in the text of the proposal with something that goes like this:

    The rate shown is just a placeholder. I prefer to work by the word. Since Upwork charges me 20 percent of all the work I complete, I have two rates. If you would like to keep the project on Upwork, I charge X per word. If we take it off the platform, I can discount that to X per word. I also state that I will send them a separate proposal and contract and the appropriate paperwork.

    9 times out of ten, they take it off the platform. Sometimes we will do the first article on the platform and then take it off for subsequent work just so I can have the feedback ranking. Ultimately, the client is happy as they are getting a lower rate, and I am happy because I am getting paid what I want. For those worried about non-paying clients, I am not sure what to say about that. I have had over 20 fabulous clients off of the platform this year and every single one of them has paid me on time and in full. I use AND.CO for proposals, contracts, and invoices, and I believe that helps. I also try very hard to never miss a deadline.

    I will likely continue to pay the monthly fee in spite of the fact that it is going up. Mainly because I don’t want the hassle of having to reload connects just to apply for jobs. I do wish they would provide more value for what they take in commission fees. The platform is pretty much self-service so I cannot imagine that overhead costs are too much at HQ.

    Adding some type of services like discounts on other products or tools, or just something that would take some of the sting out of that fee would be ideal.

    • Avatar

      Hi Heather 🙂

      I love this comment, and not just because you agree with me 😉

      The longer I run this site, the more I’m aware that there are people who work and people who moan. It took you four attempts to sign up to Upwork – but instead of taking to the forums to whine about it you hired a coach and persisted with it, and you’ve now had more than 20 clients. You INVESTED in your career. I suspect that in the same timeframe there have been people who’ve done nothing but complain, failing to realise that venting and feeling hard done by doesn’t pay the bills!

      I do think that it’s a bit much for people to whine about things that cost a relatively small amount of money. Before the internet people had to mail off resumés and applications. The equivalent, really, would be to say “well, that job looks PERFECT for me but I’m AFFRONTED that I have to buy a stamp and an envelope so I’m going to let it pass me by instead and go and moan to everyone about it…”

      I am, however, also with you on the 20% fee. I suspect Upwork know very well that an awful lot of the best work ends up being quite swiftly moved off the platform. One thing I would say is to be very careful suggesting doing this via their messaging system, as I think it’s against their terms of service and could mean risking a ban.

      All the best

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