If you want to know the true facts about Upwork, this is the article you need to read. This ultimate Upwork freelancer review is based on my own use of the platform since it was first launched in 2015, and on several years’ use of oDesk (its predecessor) before that!
Upwork was one of the first places that I successfully landed work when I started freelancing, and it remains my go-to site for picking up extra freelance gigs in between longer-term client commitments.
Upwork is also hugely helpful during those quiet periods that almost all freelancers experience from time to time.
Whether you’re considering using Upwork to earn side income, or are planning to build up a lasting, full-time client base, the site has plenty of potential. Unfortunately, there are also a fair few scammers circulating, as well as clients looking to pay peanuts, and freelancers working for eye-wateringly low rates.
In this review of Upwork, I take a look at the good, the bad and the ugly of the world’s largest freelance marketplace.
Upwork Freelancer Review: What Is Upwork?
Upwork is a site that connects freelancers with clients. Clients post job details, and freelancers apply for the jobs. The client sets their budget and can opt to pay either hourly or a fixed rate. Both parties can agree to milestone payments for fixed rate jobs.
Once the work is complete and the contract closed, Upwork freelancers and clients leave feedback for each other, in the form of star ratings and comments. This Upwork feedback score can then help others to judge whether or not they want to work with that particular freelancer or client.
The feedback system is one of Upwork’s plus points. Upwork client reviews left for my work over the years have enabled me to build up a 100% Upwork job success score and become a ‘top rated’ freelancer. This puts me in a strong position when I apply for work.
Upwork freelancer reviews of clients are also really useful. They help your fellow freelancers to avoid working for clients who have a bad reputation.
Where is Upwork Available?
Freelancers and clients from across the world can use Upwork. There’s just a small handful of countries where Upwork is unavailable, due to Federal laws. At the time of writing, these countries are Iran, Syria, North Korea, Cuba and Crimea. You can find further details here.
Upwork’s wide global availability makes it a good choice for those in countries with fewer home working opportunities than there are in places like the US and UK.
Is Upwork Genuine?
Yes, Upwork is genuine. It is the world’s largest freelancing website, with a gross services volume (GSV) of $1.76 billion in 2018. It has 12 million registered freelancers and five million registered clients, with three million jobs posted each year.
Despite the site’s scale, there are those out there who still ask, “Is Upwork legit?” and “Is Upwork genuine?”
Let’s get this out of the way first, so that we can focus on the detail of this Upwork freelancer review.
Naturally, with so many jobs posted, some of them will be scams. We’ve explored this in some detail in our article on Upwork scams, along with some suggestions for spotting and avoiding the scammers.
(If you want to see how an Upwork scam plays out in detail, check out this article that walks you through a direct experience of engaging with a scammer who posted a job advert that seemed too good to be true. TL;DR: It was!)
Is Upwork Reputable?
Of course, being a legitimate site is not the same thing as being a reputable site. Upwork is a legitimate site, but many of those who use it are far from delighted by the experience. At the time of writing, Upwork on Trustpilot has a rating of ‘poor’ based on over 1,600 reviews. ‘Bad’ Upwork reviews freelancers have left complain of high costs, woeful customer service and scammers. Upwork client reviews complain of poor-quality freelancers, while Upwork freelancers complain of poor-quality clients.
Upwork’s recent move to start charging for Connects (which you now need to buy in order to bid for jobs – more on that below) does seem to have been a particularly contentious point.
However, this is just half the story. There are also those out there (myself included!) who have been using Upwork for years with very few issues. I’ve found the site to be a source of several high-quality, long-term clients. You just have to invest sufficient time and energy in finding them and be prepared to ‘pay your dues’ when you first start using the site.
If you are ready to give Upwork a chance, read on to find out all you need to know.
What is the Difference Between the Upwork Membership Plans?
Upwork offers two different membership plans. The Basic plan is free, while the Plus plan costs $14.99 per month. I use the Basic plan myself, while my husband uses the Plus plan. Each of us is happy with our choice and it’s nice that Upwork can cater to different needs in this way.
Both plans come with payment protection for hourly work and fixed-price payments secured through milestones. They also both allow you to buy Connects (which you need in order to bid for jobs – more on that below) at $0.15 each, and to rollover up to 140 unused Connects each month (note that Connects expire after a year).
In addition, with the Plus plan you receive 70 Connects per month and you can customize your profile URL and set your earnings as confidential. You can also view competitors’ bids for any job, which to me is the real killer feature of this plan. Being able to see what the competition’s bid range is means that you have various options:
- Swoop in and undercut them.
- Walk away without submitting a proposal if the range of bids is too low
- Go in with a higher bid and trust that the client will appreciate the chance to pay more for a higher quality service!
Personally, I’ve been happy on the Basic plan for years. I don’t use Upwork enough to get through 70 Connects per month, and am happy to go with my instinct in terms of what I bid for each job. I therefore save $179.88 per year in membership fees (less what I have to pay for Connects). If I did use 70 or more Connects per month, however, the Plus plan would certainly appeal.
Getting Started on Upwork
Overall, I’ve found Upwork to be intuitive to use. Creating an Upwork login, setting up your profile and outlining your skills and experience is straightforward.
Upwork used to offer skills tests to allow freelancers to demonstrate things such as their English language proficiency. However, the platform has now phased these out in favour of specialized profiles that you can use to highlight particular areas of expertise.
This means that how you describe your skills and experience on your Upwork profile is now more important than ever. It’s well worth taking a look at some top rated Upwork profile examples for inspiration, if you’re just starting out on the site. Take your time over your profile, as this will play a big role in whether or not clients decide to hire you. This is a job that should be taking your hours, not minutes.
Once you’re more established on Upwork, you can also set up one or more specialized profiles. These allow you to laser-focus the information you provide about yourself (and the examples of your work) to attract clients in specific sectors.
For example, in addition to my main profile, I also have a specialized profile focusing on press release writing and content writing, to really showcase my expertise and positive feedback for these kinds of jobs.
After your profile is up and running, you need to verify who you are. In my experience, the identity verification was a simple and painless process of uploading a government-issued ID, followed by a video call that took just a couple of minutes.
Registering my preferred payment option was also simple – you can choose from a range of payment options, including withdrawing your earnings directly into a bank account, via Paypal/Payoneer/M-Pesa or by wire transfer. Fees range from nothing to $30 per transfer, depending on which option you choose.
Note that your bank account name has to match your Upwork profile name. However, if you want to pay your Upwork earnings into your company account instead, you can contact Upwork support and send them a document evidencing your role as a company director or shareholder. They can then link the company bank account to your profile.
Once your profile is complete, and you’ve verified your identity and set up your payment information, it’s a good idea to take the Upwork Readiness Test. Click on Find Work > Upwork Readiness Test to take this 10-minute, 10-question test. It’s not obligatory, but it’s a good way to check that you’re ready to use Upwork effectively, and you’ll need to pass it if you want to be eligible for the Rising Talent program (more on that below).
With all that taken care of, you’re ready to apply for your first Upwork jobs.
Upwork Review: How to Find Work on Upwork
With three million jobs posted annually, there’s no doubt that there’s plenty of work available on Upwork! Over the years, I’ve found it to be a handy source of income, and a place to find gigs of all shapes and sizes.
All you need to do is find Upwork jobs that:
- Fit your skills and experience
- Pay the right rates
- Are posted by reputable clients with verified payment details
- Include realistic deadlines
You can find work on Upwork either by searching for jobs and applying for them or by having a client invite you to interview based on them liking your profile. If a client invites you to interview, you don’t have to use any Connects in order to submit a proposal (see below for more on Connects and how they work).
You can search for jobs using any keywords that describe the kind of work you’re looking for. There are plenty of options to customise your searches, including the ability to set categories and to save searches that you use regularly. You can also filter your searches by a range of options, including:
- Job type – hourly or fixed
- Experience level – entry level, intermediate or expert
- Client history – 0 hires, 1-9 hires or 10+ hires
- Client info – previous clients or payment verified clients
- Number of proposals the job has already received – less than 5, 5-10, 10-15, 15-20 or 20-50
- Budget – less than $100, $100-$500, $500-1k, $1k-$5k or $5k plus
- Hours per week – less than 30 or more than 30
- Project length – less than 1 month, 1-3 months, 3-6 months or more than 6 months
The more filters you apply, the more you can narrow your search down to find jobs that pay the right amount, fit your availability, are from experienced clients, etc. You can also use search criteria such as ‘UK only’ to find jobs where clients have specified they will only hire someone from your country.
When you find a job you like, you can apply for it immediately by submitting a proposal. Alternatively, you can click the little heart symbol to save the job for later. This is a really handy little feature. Personally, I like to scroll through using a selection of search terms, saving jobs as I go. Then I go to my saved jobs and apply for a bunch at a time, starting with those I want the most.
As an aside to this Upwork freelancer review, you can check out this article for pro-tips on finding more Upwork jobs and earning higher rates.
Is Upwork Good for Beginners?
When you first use Upwork, you’ll likely have to undertake a few jobs at a lower rate than you might ultimately aspire to. This is so that you can convince clients to take a chance on you before you’ve built up a decent Upwork job success score.
There are plenty of Upwork jobs for beginners out there to get you started. As you complete jobs successfully and your positive feedback mounts up, you can hike your rates. Personally, I’ve trebled my hourly rate since I first started using Upwork and it likely won’t be too much longer before I increase it again.
So yes, Upwork is good for beginners – once you accept that you might have to clock up a few hours at a lower rate than you ideally would like, in order to build up your feedback score.
How to Apply for Upwork Jobs
You submit proposals to the clients whose Upwork jobs appeal to you. The proposal is your chance to highlight your skills and experience and convince the client that you’re the right person for the job. It’s essentially an Upwork cover letter that complements the information already provided in your Upwork profile.
You can also use your proposals to outline any specific requests you may have. For fixed price jobs, for example, I state in the proposal that I require a 50% upfront payment for all new clients that I work with. It’s something I’ve been doing for years, after an early Upwork client went quiet and didn’t pay me after I wrote a blog post for him. Asking for 50% upfront spreads the risk adequately, so far as I’m concerned, and only two of the 140+ clients I’ve worked with over the years has ever queried my asking for it.
When it comes to standing out and picking up more work on Upwork, it’s important to shape your proposals to suit the individual jobs that you’re applying for. Generic proposals that are clearly copied and pasted will not serve you well on Upwork. It’s worth looking at an Upwork proposal sample or two to ensure that your proposals include everything they should. Wherever possible, including links to similar work that you’ve completed recently in order to showcase your relevant and up-to-date experience.
What is Upwork Enterprise?
In addition to regular clients, Upwork is also home to ‘Enterprise clients’ – usually large clients with hundreds of active projects and entire teams of hiring managers. If you work for one of these clients, you may be required to complete on-boarding activities such as customer agreements or background checks.
If you win an Enterprise client contract, you automatically join their Talent Cloud – essentially a private group of Upwork freelancers. Some Enterprise clients also reach out and invite freelancers to join their Talent Cloud with future needs in mind.
Once you’re in a Talent Cloud, you’ll find a link to it on the Find Jobs screen. Click on each of your Talent Clouds to browse jobs available from that client. I’m a member of two talent clouds at the moment and they vary hugely. The first has been pretty much pointless, but the second has resulted in two pieces of work in the last month alone, both where the client has come straight to me and hired me within minutes of my replying.
Upwork Talent Clouds can be a handy feature for those looking to build up repeat business with long-term legitimate clients, so are well worth pursuing if this is your goal!
Why All the Fuss About Upwork Connects?
You need Connects in order to apply for jobs. You use between two and six Connects to apply for each job and they cost $0.15 each, so it costs between $0.30 and $0.90 to apply for a job. (Upwork states here that it costs between one and six Connects to apply for a job, but I’ve yet to come across any job that required less than two Connects, despite hours of scrolling through jobs as part of my research for this Upwork review.)
If the client likes your proposal, they can discuss it further with you or jump straight to hiring you. You can agree payment terms with the client (fixed price or hourly rate), along with any payment milestones for larger projects.
Connects used to be free, but Upwork announced in early 2019 that it would start charging for them. (The exception to this is when a client invites a freelancer to interview for their job, in which case no Connects are used.)
There was a great deal of grumbling about Upwork’s latest effort to fill its coffers, given that applying for work had previously cost nothing. However, if you consider what it costs to attend an actual job interview (transport, smart clothing, etc.) then suddenly the $0.30 or so that you have to fork out for an Upwork interview doesn’t seem so bad.
Does Upwork Pay Well?
Upwork has made a number of decisions over the years that have resulted in freelancers handing over a higher proportion of their hard-earned money. Not only do they have to pay for Connects, but a change to charging that Upwork introduced in mid-2016 saw the standard contract fee of 10% (payable by the freelancer) move to a sliding scale.
Upwork now takes an eye-watering 20% of the freelancer’s earnings for all new clients. That fee drops to 10% once you’ve billed a client $500 or more. Should you go on to bill that same client over $10,000, the fee drops to 5%. Personally, I’ve yet to reach this holy grail with any client, though I have several that I’ve hit the 10% fee mark with. Note that if you work for an Upwork Enterprise client, the fee is 10% from the outset and remains at 10% regardless of how much you earn with that client.
The change felt at the time like a money-grabbing move on Upwork’s part, though the company advised it was necessary because, “On small projects, the costs we incur outweigh the fees charged.” Whatever the motivation, the result is that the majority of the work that I undertake on Upwork now sees me handing over 20% of my income. Yes, I’ve increased my hourly rate to make up for this, but somehow it still smarts.
On the upside, when I do reach the $500 mark with a client, and the Upwork fee reduces to 10%, it feels like getting a pay rise, which is always nice.
Whether or not you consider the Upwork pricing scale to be good value really comes down to how you feel about handing over 20% of your income in return for working through a site that makes it easy to pick up work and offers benefits such as payment protection.
Does Upwork pay well? I’m on the fence, to be honest. Yes, Upwork is an intuitive, easy to use site that can result in excellent, long-term client relationships, but 20% still feels steep!
How Long Does It Take to Get Paid on Upwork?
How long it takes to get paid on Upwork depends on whether you’re working on hourly or fixed rate contracts.
For fixed rate contracts, the payment clears in your Upwork account five days after the client has made it. You can then withdraw it whenever you choose.
Hourly rate contracts take longer. The working week runs from Monday morning to Sunday night. Payment clears on the Wednesday of the following week – so a full 10 days after the end of the week when you’ve logged the hours.
Depending on when you log the working hours, this can mean a wait of nearly two and a half weeks before you receive cleared payment. If you logged a few hours of work on Monday 21 October, for example, the working week would end on Sunday 27 October. Payment for that week would clear on Wednesday 6 November – meaning a 16-day wait for your income. Just something to bear in mind if your goal in using Upwork is to earn some quick cash!
You can view your pending earnings in a couple of ways on Upwork. Either go to Reports/Overview and click on Pending, or go to My Jobs, click on the icon to the right of your total available earnings and then click on View Pending Earnings. Personally, this latter view is the one that I prefer. It clearly lays out what you’ve earned, what’s pending (and when it will clear) and what fees you’ve paid.
To view your earnings since your last withdrawal, go to Reports/Overview and click on Available.
A range of other reports are available, from weekly timesheets to earnings by client to an official statement of earnings. Depending on your needs, your use of these will vary. Personally, I hardly ever use them. I check my weekly work log each Monday, but that’s about it!
What Is Upwork Payment Protection?
Upwork’s payment protection offering provides a certain level of reassurance that you’ll actually get paid for work you’ve completed. For hourly contracts, log your hours using the Upwork desktop app (more on the app below) and make sure you meet the hourly protection criteria.
For fixed rate contracts, Upwork uses an escrow system. The client deposits funds into escrow before you start work. You can then submit work for approval in accordance with agreed milestones or at the end of the contract period. If the client approves the release of funds, they clear in five days. If the client disappears off the face of the Earth, Upwork will release your funds after 14 days. Either way, you get paid, which is reassuring.
If the client refuses to release a payment, there is a formal dispute process that you can follow. Upwork can provide mediation support if necessary, to help clients and freelancers resolve any disputes.
I’ve had two experiences of the dispute process – both instances where the client accidentally requested a return of funds from escrow instead of paying the final milestone when closing a contract. In both instances, the clients immediately emailed me to apologise for the error and asked me to dispute the return of funds. I did so and was paid the correct amount within a few days in both cases.
Building Your Upwork Reputation
Upwork has three freelancer programs:
- Rising Talent
- Top Rated
- Premium Services
Each program has set requirements related to your performance on Upwork, your account status and more, as shown below:
It certainly doesn’t hurt to have a badge on your Upwork profile showing that you are a member of one of these programs. They are designed to showcase freelancers with impressive reputations and offer a range of perks to those on the programs:
Using the Upwork Desktop App
Upwork has a handy desktop app. You need to download it in order to log hours that you work for hourly contracts, unless the client has specified in the contract that you can add time manually.
The time tracker part of the app is super-easy to use – you simply click on the relevant contract and flick the On/Off toggle to start or stop logging time spent working on that contract. You can add a note to show what you’re working on and the app will capture images of your screen every so often to reassure the client that you’re working for them and not surfing the net for new shoes or ordering your weekly grocery shop! You can also view your work diary and add manual time quickly and easily.
The other feature of the Upwork desktop app is a messages function. You can read and send messages within the app, just as you can when using Upwork in a browser. Handy!
Using the Upwork Mobile App
The Upwork ‘Freelancer’ app means that you can use Upwork on your mobile. You can browse for jobs, view your saved jobs and proposals, see your contracts, send messages and view recent alerts relating to contracts starting, milestone payments, etc.
The app is simple to use and a convenient way of keeping in touch with clients while you’re out and about. I also find that it’s an enjoyable way to browse for jobs. I’ve got into the habit of browsing and saving any jobs that I like the look of when I have a spare few minutes. Then, when I’m back at my laptop, I find myself with a list of jobs ready to apply for (there’s no reason you can’t apply for jobs within the app too – this is just my preferred method!).
The Upwork mobile app doesn’t come with that many bells and whistles, but it does do precisely what it sets out to do – give you easy access to core Upwork features while you’re on the go.
Our Experiences of Upwork
Having used Upwork for years, including picking up contracts as part of the work that went into this Upwork freelancer review, my feelings about the platform are largely very positive. It’s easy to use and is a handy source of fairly quick income. It does require a time investment to get set up and learn the ropes, and there’s an element of paying your dues by accepting less-than-ideal rates at first in order to build up your experience and feedback. After that, the platform really comes into its own.
I’ve found clients on Upwork that I’m still working with years later, as well as quick ‘job and finish’ clients who have been the ideal way to fill a spare few working hours here and there. The sheer volume of work available means that you can usually find the ideal home working gig to suit your talents and, in my experience at least, the majority of clients are decent companies or individuals who are simply looking for high quality work that’s completed on time.
As a platform for finding freelance work, Upwork ticks all the boxes. I’ve used a few such platforms over the years, but Upwork is the one that I’ve stuck with. No Upwork alternative that I’ve tried has been able to provide the same long-term satisfaction. There’s a reason that Upwork is the biggest freelancing site, after all!
Upwork Freelancer Review Conclusion: Is Upwork Worth It?
There’s a reason that sites like Upwork were first on the list in HomeWorkingClub’s extensive article on how to get clients. Yes, the site has its fair share of scams and bottom feeders, but it’s also a great source of decent clients.
Whether you’re looking for short-term contracts or seeking long-term clients, Upwork has plenty to offer. Both the Basic and Plus plans have their merits, so you can choose how much you want to invest in your Upwork experience.
As we’ve mentioned a couple of times during this Upwork review, getting started on the platform is definitely a case of pulling your finger out and paying your dues, so it’s important to stick with it until you’re established. Once you are, it’s possible to build up your experience – and your rates – fairly rapidly. The more you put in, the more you can get out.
Who Is Upwork Good For?
Upwork is a great site for freelancers who are just starting out and are looking to build up their experience and establish a client base. Of course, if you’re considering what is better than Upwork, then working directly with clients and not paying any fees is always appealing!
However, as freelancing sites go, Upwork offers a solid experience backed up by payment protection. This is something that working directly with new clients doesn’t often provide.
Upwork is also a great resource for established freelancers who are looking for a bit of extra income here and there, or as a regular side gig to complement other client contracts. And for those who don’t want to work piecemeal for a variety of clients, there are plenty of full-time freelance job opportunities available on Upwork.
Who Is Upwork Less Good For?
As we’ve made clear during this Upwork review, this isn’t a site for those seeking instant gratification. If you expect to put in an hour’s work and then have clients queueing up to pay you $100 per hour before you’ve even built up any feedback, you’re going to be disappointed.
If you don’t like the sound of Upwork, there are alternatives available, as we explore in this article. Do bear in mind, however, that other freelancing sites come with their own frustrations. There are no shortcuts!
Is Upwork Good for Freelancers?
Based on my experience over the last few years, including contracts completed during this Upwork review, Upwork is a great resource for freelancers offering a wide range of skills. There’s a steady supply of fresh jobs to bid for and a wide range of budgets out there, so most freelancers should be able to find something suitable on Upwork, provided they stick with it long enough to become established.
Some Upwork reviews disagree, and there are certainly freelancers out there who report negative experiences of Upwork, but my experience to date has been largely very positive. Upwork has been a part of my freelancing life for much of the last decade – and will continue to be over the course of the decade ahead!
Upwork Review 2020: Pros and Cons
- Huge range of work available.
- Payment protection in place.
- Plenty of decent clients looking for long-term working relationships.
- Feedback system can help you avoid working for bad clients.
- You need to be on the lookout for scammers.
- Some freelancers work for incredibly low rates, which can make it hard to compete for certain jobs.
We hope that you find this Upwork freelancer review helpful – and wish you every success when using the platform!