I launched a successful freelance career on Upwork and helped many friends do the same. But the platform has become more competitive and introduced new fees for freelancers.
So is it still worth the time and effort? And can you still make good money on Upwork?
In this article, I’m going to give you a complete Upwork review for freelancers. We’ll look at the following:
Let’s get started…
Upwork is a competitive platform that takes time to master, but can be very good for beginners. It gives you access to hundreds of potential clients as a freelancer, which is powerful when you are starting out and may have no network or clients of your own.
I started on Upwork as a complete beginner myself!
When I first quit my job as a recruiter, I used Upwork to find a few clients to hire me for career coaching and resume writing.
Then I decided I wasn’t earning enough from these jobs and I wanted to pivot into Business-to-Business (B2B).
So I used Upwork to launch my new career AGAIN… this time as a copywriter and digital marketer, after studying some of the required skills online!
And it worked.
Upwork was the ideal place to kickstart my freelance writing and marketing career because I had no network or lead generation methods in place before that.
That’s who I think Upwork is best for. It is absolutely a good choice for new freelancers who don’t know where to begin getting clients.
Sure, Upwork is competitive, but it is still possible to succeed there. You’ll have to learn to market yourself well, choose a great niche, and write a great Upwork profile to attract clients.
But those are valuable skills to learn and steps to take no matter where you get clients from!
In particular, choosing a narrow niche is essential to becoming a top-earning freelancer in your first year. I started doing freelance writing, marketing, and general website work. That’s a LOT. I found that as I niched down, I got more clients, not fewer!
I eventually went into just copywriting, then just email copywriting, and I earned more and more, eventually breaking $5,000 in a single month on Upwork.
So if you’re still wondering, “Can you actually make money with Upwork?” then put your mind at ease; it’s definitely possible.
(I’ll explain in much more detail why choosing a specific niche is so important coming up, so if you’re a new freelancer, make sure you read until the end).
Upwork is worth it for experienced freelancers if you offer a high-ticket service or if each project is worth thousands of dollars to your business. Additionally, if you’re in a line of work where there are many recurring projects from each client obtained, then Upwork may be worth the time as well.
However, if you’ve already established yourself on another freelance marketplace like Freelancer.com or Toptal and you have many reviews and clients there, it may not be worth joining Upwork and starting over on a new platform, unless you have done research and feel strongly that your ideal type of client is much more prevalent on Upwork than the other platforms. (This will depend on your niche and service offering).
Overall, I know large, successful agency owners who still find leads on Upwork (along with cold outreach, Facebook ads, and many other methods). So it can be worth your time even as an experienced freelancer.
The biggest downside to Upwork is the fees that freelancers pay every time they complete a job. Along with having to pay for “connects” each month to get the job, Upwork takes a percentage of your earnings on each project you finish.
The percentage varies between 5%, 10%, and 20% depending on how much you’ve billed that client in the past. So the fees never go away completely, but the system rewards you for charging high prices or working with clients long-term and completing multiple jobs on Upwork with each client.
Here is their current fee structure, as explained on Upwork’s website.
Source: Upwork, How It Works: https://www.upwork.com/i/how-it-works/freelancer/
While the fees are annoying, it’s part of the experience on Upwork, and you do get some benefits by being a freelancer on Upwork and using their billing system. For example, they handle escrow and payment protection for you, which means you don’t have to worry about not getting paid for the work you do.
So despite the fees, I still think Upwork is good for freelancers. However, there are also a few more downsides that freelancers on Upwork should be aware of, so let’s look at those next…
There are a few other downsides to using Upwork.
First, you constantly need to worry about your job success score, because if that drops, it’s VERY hard to recover or get any job interviews.
I was always able to maintain a 100% success rating, though, by offering a generous revision policy (I essentially told clients, “We will keep working on this until you’re satisfied.”)
While this could be exploited, I never had issues, and never had people ask for more than one revision. It worked for me because I was doing copywriting work, and most of my clients didn’t know much about that type of work.
However, new freelancers should tweak this policy based on what they’re offering. If you’re a logo designer, this type of policy could lead to nearly-endless revisions, so you may want to tighten it up and say, “up to three rounds of revisions.”
Just make sure you’re delivering good work because it’s hard to get seen in search results and be considered for jobs if your success score is low. When I’m hiring on the platform as a client now, I always filter for freelancers who have a 90% job success score and above.
That’s the other big downside or negative aspect of Upwork, which I touched on earlier. Upwork is competitive. There are a LOT of people on the site vying for work, so you do need to find ways to stand out if you want to get seen.
Pricing yourself very high is one good way to stand out. I talk about this in detail in the next section, so keep reading…
A lot of people will tell you that Upwork is a race to the bottom, and that you’ll end up competing with other freelancers’ dirt-cheap prices (especially freelancers in countries with a lower cost of living who can charge less).
That’s not necessarily true, at least not if you know how to position yourself properly (which unfortunately, most freelancers don’t).
Here’s what I mean:
You aren’t supposed to compete with those dirt-cheap providers in developing countries! That’s a huge tactical mistake that so many freelancers make.
There are always cheap providers for practically everything, and yes… some businesses want the cheapest price out there.
BUT there are also businesses that want the best service they can get! They want premium and they don’t care what it costs.
They also often want someone in the US or someone who is a native English speaker. (Upwork has search filters for this when you’re hiring as a client!)
For those clients, seeing a low hourly rate or price for a project is a TURN-OFF. They want the best, not the cheapest!
That’s who to market your services to on Upwork. If you do that, you’re NOT threatened by someone charging 1/3 as much as you. They’re in a totally different market segment.
It would be like Apple worrying that Acer sells a laptop for $299. It doesn’t matter.
Here’s a line I used in my Upwork profile to demonstrate who MY market was:
I work with the type of business owner who cares about quality, because you know getting A+ work will put more money in YOUR pocket. If that sounds like you, and you want to KNOW you’re squeezing every dollar out of the effort you’ve put into your business, I’m the right guy to help.
One other big misconception about how to earn a lot on Upwork: People think they’re earning more by offering many services. And when someone suggests that they choose a niche, they always push back and say, “I don’t want to limit myself.”
The truth is, you’re not limiting yourself by choosing a narrow niche. You’re limiting yourself by refusing to do so.
Imagine you have a house and you’ve got an ant problem. Who will you call? You’re going to call an ant/pest expert, not a general home repairman.
That’s how online business owners are, too. They want an expert.
If they need help with their social media accounts, they want a social media person. If they need help with email marketing, they are going to talk to email marketers.
So if you’re out here just positioning yourself as a marketer, for example, you may struggle to get any clients at all.
Niching down is a MUST if you’re a marketer, writer, etc. I believe you could have a slightly broader service offering if you’re a programmer/software developer, but I’d still put some thought into where you could specialize to stand out. It’s worth testing at the very least!
If you take this advice, there’s no reason that Upwork needs to be a race to the bottom or a place where you’re competing with everyone else on price. In fact, you should NEVER compete on price. You should aim to be in the top 10-20% of your market.
Successful freelancers on Upwork can earn $100 to $175 per hour, and sometimes more. It’s common to see freelancers with lifetime earnings of $250,000, $500,000, and occasionally higher. So if you’re wondering, “Can you earn a living on Upwork?” the answer is yes!
And there isn’t one specific niche you need to be in to earn this type of money. As long as you’re doing something that helps businesses in a meaningful way, you can charge a high rate once you establish yourself as an expert. (I do recommend staying in Business-to-Business (B2B), though. Don’t offer a Business-to-Consumer (B2C) service like career coaching if you want to be a top earner!)
If you’re serious about landing jobs on Upwork or trying to use the site to build up a full-time roster of clients, then it may be worth paying for Upwork’s premium membership, called “Freelancer Plus”. For $14.99 USD per month, you get 70 connects each month, the ability to view competitors’ bids for each job, and more benefits listed here.
However, if you’re only looking for more connects, it may be cheaper to buy them individually. You can buy connects for $0.15 each in packages of 10, 20, 40, 60, and 80.
That means those 70 connects you’re getting per month with an Upwork Freelancer Plus membership are only worth $10.50.
If you’re not familiar with connects, these are essential to landing jobs, because you need connects to submit your proposal for a job opening. Most high-quality jobs seem to require four connects. Some require fewer. I’ve also seen jobs requiring six, so it varies.
Connects are essential, because the more proposals you send out, the more jobs you’ll potentially win. You can’t use Upwork effectively if you only have a few connects and are hesitant to use them, so I recommend paying to get plenty and giving the website a fair chance at working for you!
If it’s your first time using the site, you may need to invest $20-30 into connects (or pay for Upwork Freelancer Plus) to figure out what works best in Upwork proposals. It’s worth it in the long-run.
In my opinion, Upwork is the better site for building a long-term, successful freelance business. I don’t have direct experience with Fiverr as a seller, but I have hired people there as a client (and I’ve freelanced AND hired on Upwork). As a business owner, when I want to hire an expert service provider, Upwork is where I go.
Fiverr has come a long way from its early days when every service was priced at $5-20 USD, but it still has a bit of that cheaper reputation, whereas Upwork has many freelancers charging $100 or more per hour, and many clients spending thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars on the website.
I think that if you’re going to use any freelance marketplace, Upwork is the best site to use (when compared to Freelancer.com and other similar sites).
Freelancer.com isn’t a bad site; I’ve just found it to be a bit tougher to learn and get started on the platform, and I have found slightly better clients on Upwork and more clients in my niche.
(I never took a job on Freelancer.com but did register an account and explore the platform while starting as a new freelancer!)
Also, I think there are some key benefits to choosing just one freelancing platform in general when starting as a new freelancer.
You build up reviews faster and can become “top rated” faster. You also become familiar with the platform more quickly, and in the case of Upwork, you reach their billing thresholds faster so that your freelancer fees drop!
Having multiple, great reviews is the best way to convince new clients to work with you. These are examples of reviews I accumulated on my own Upwork profile:
The fact that you build up reviews faster by using one single platform is worth it alone. Imagine doing two projects. If you have both of those reviews on Upwork, that’s going to look great. Whereas, if you just have one review on Upwork and one on another site, it doesn’t look as impressive on either platform.
So by starting on multiple freelance sites, you may be limiting how fast you can get ramped up, even though it sounds counter-intuitive.
Also, it’s just easier to check one platform each day! I like simplicity and found that Upwork offers everything I needed to get started in one place.
If you’re only going to use one freelance website, I recommend Upwork. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best site I’ve found and has the most high-quality clients.
Upwork is the best freelance platform to use in my opinion, and I highly recommend it. There are many freelancers making thousands of dollars per month on the website. It’s a great way to get started, and in some cases, it’s also valuable for experienced freelancers who want another way to get clients.
However, it’s a competitive marketplace and you need to take the time to learn how to position yourself to stand out from other freelancers.
This means you should choose a well-defined niche and target the higher-end of that market (meaning, never compete on price or try to be the cheap option!)
These steps are valuable no matter where you take your freelance career, though. So in a way, it’s good that you need to learn market positioning, pricing strategies, and more in order to get your first job or two on Upwork, because it’ll help you succeed anywhere you go.
Overall, Upwork is worth it for the majority of freelancers, and I’m glad I found the website when I was starting out as a copywriter and digital marketer. If I were starting over today, I’d use it again.