If you’ve looked into freelancing at all, I’m sure you’ve heard horror stories of drafting contracts or clients withholding payment or changing the ask at the last minute to disqualify your work from payment… the list goes on. When I decided to start freelancing, I knew that I needed help in navigating contracts and payments. Enter UpWork.
What is UpWork?
UpWork is a freelancing platform with both a freelancer side and a client side, and in this post I’ll be focusing on the freelancer side. Freelancers can set up profiles – including their relevant experience, rates, and availability for accepting new work – and then browse contracts that clients have posted to the platform. Once you decide you’d like to work on a contract, you submit a proposal to the client for their consideration. It’s a bidding system, so you add your proposed rate (priced as competitively as you comfortably can) and a cover letter explaining why you believe you’re the right fit for the job.
You can filter your contract feed to find specific types of jobs, including price range, or you can do individual searches if you’re looking for a particular niche. There’s also a rating system for both clients and freelancers, with feedback from past contracts given to both. This system encourages everyone to be on their best behavior so that they get good reviews, because the reviews you receive are publicly visible on your profile – the same profile that future parties will consider before working with you. Having ratings helped motivate me to always do my best work, and it also helped me steer clear of some clients who had low ratings because that meant they were difficult to work with.
Lastly, there’s a condition of using UpWork’s platform: they keep a part of whatever you make in your contracts. For example, if you completed a contract milestone and the client paid you $100, Upwork keeps $10 and you get the remaining $90. I balked at that when I first started, but the longer I spent on the platform, the more I appreciated all of the (many) benefits the platform offered me.
Main Benefits of UpWork
The most important benefit, in my opinion, was access to the platform’s legal team. All contracts go through an escrow process, where the client deposits the funds for any given milestone into escrow before you start any work, and then once you’ve completed the work and gotten the milestone approved, the funds are released from escrow directly to your freelancing profile. This guarantees that the client won’t back out of the contract due to lack of funds, they’re required to prove they have the money to pay you before you even start work.
There’s also a mediation service available, and I have fortunately never needed it, but knowing it was there provided me with a safety net that made me more confident as a freelancer. I knew that if there were any issues, the platform held all of the records of my interactions with clients (I kept all of my communication within the platform for this reason) which meant that I had all of my hard work and courteous interactions timestamped and available to be reviewed should anything strange happen.
Lastly, the platform has both a mobile app and a desktop version, and it’s very versatile for messaging and adding attachments. This made it easy to conduct all communication and submissions through a secured and protected channel. I could transfer my files to the client on my desktop, then download it onto my phone from the app if any adjustments needed to be made while I was away from my computer, and set up my notifications to raise my response rate. Getting messages or contract communication directly to my phone meant that I would be one of the first freelancers replying to clients who may have been interviewing multiple people. Knowing that all of that communication was under UpWork’s legal protection helped me be more confident and assertive, which I have no doubt translated and ultimately landed me a few jobs.
I mentioned the search feature earlier, and it was a lifesaver when I was first starting out. I was a freshly minted freelancer with no reviews or contracts under my belt, which meant that I had to start small to start gaining a reputation for myself. By using the filters, I was able to only apply to contracts that matched my entry/intermediate level of experience, which kept the search from becoming too daunting.
Once I had gotten a few contracts and good reviews under my belt, I was able to easily update my search filters to tackle more ambitious projects with higher barrier to entry. For example, some clients only want to work with freelancers who have earned at least $1k on the platform, as proof that you’ve laid your foundation and have a guaranteed familiarity with the freelancing process through UpWork. It felt like an impossible task when I first started, but I’ve now made over $5k on the platform and, since it’s visible on my profile, I receive invitations to interview way more often than I actually seek out contracts on my own. It took a while, but it was well worth it.
This is probably more of a niche requirement, but ghostwriting is one of the fields where you can’t have a client portfolio. I’ve written multiple books for clients, but part of the deal was signing Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) which means I have no claim to the work and I can’t let anyone know I worked on the project. Which is all well and good, until a prospective client asks for portfolio work and suddenly you can’t legally give them anything you’ve written for contracts. It put me in a tight spot, because all of my writing at that point had been for clients and I didn’t have anything of my own to supply as portfolio work (which I highly recommend you do, should you pursue ghostwriting).
However, I was able to keep getting ghostwriting work without clients having to just take my word for it. UpWork keeps track of the contracts you’ve completed and they’re publicly available along with your client ratings and total amount earned since setting up your profile. This meant that I could direct potential clients to my profile and they’d find proof that I had been hired as a ghostwriter for multiple clients, been paid a certain amount for each one, and then received a glowing review. This gives your clients peace of mind, knowing that you have a proven track record as a valuable freelancer, and it makes them more likely to hire you. Without UpWork, I could have still gotten testimonials and tried to organize them, but through the platform it was concrete evidence that money had exchanged hands for a certain service and it yielded a positive review.
The Main Drawback of Freelancing in General
A lot of clients in the freelancing sphere in general, tend to try gouging freelancers. This is especially common on platforms like UpWork because it’s a massive community of people who have easy access to contracts all over the world. The drawback is that a lot of contracts posted in the feed are aiming to take advantage of freelancers who are desperate for work. During the pandemic it was especially bad, since people were trying to build brand new profiles and were trying to get any contract possible. You could see it in the contracts, the overall prices kept going down until you ended up working for pennies just so that you could make any money at all.
I do not think that this is UpWork’s fault, they’re just a platform that houses and facilitates all of these contracts, but if you’re considering freelancing then you should know that not all contracts are created equal. For example, I received an invitation to interview for a ghostwriting contract, and after a brief read-through I declined for a few reasons:
- The fixed rate for the project would end up being less than a quarter of my listed hourly rate.
- Revisions were written into the contract, but compensation for the revisions was not.
- The client had terrible reviews from other freelancers.
This told me that this opportunity would be a massive net loss for me and my freelancing brand, so I politely declined to clear it from my invitation queue. I’m lucky enough that I can afford to turn away work that doesn’t fit my professional goals, but I’m going to close out this post with some advice for anyone who is or wants to be a freelancer.
My Freelancing Advice
- Know your worth
- This will be difficult if you’re just starting out, but when you’re looking for work try to be honest about how much time you’re going to be putting into a contract and then, if it’s a fixed rate (lump sum paid over the course of the contract regardless of time put in) calculate whether or not the time you spend compared to the overall rate fits into your hourly goals.
- For example, my goal rate is $20/hr. In my previous example, after evaluating the total work compared to the fixed rate, I would have been optimistically making $3/hr. Which is why I declined, among the other reasons.
- Do your research
- If you’re using an established platform like UpWork or Fiverr, then take advantage of all the tools at your disposal. If you use UpWork, take a few minutes to check out your client before you submit a proposal. Do they have good reviews from other freelancers? Have they invested a lot of money into similar contracts, or is this their first one? The client is taking a chance on hiring you, but you’re also taking a chance on them. Be critical, and if anything seems fishy, then try to find a different contract.
- Build a network
- Get the absolute best reviews as you can from the start, because all of the ratings and reviews are publicly visible on your profile. If you can curate your profile to have high numbers with glowing reviews, then work will start coming to you instead of having to always chase down leads. It’ll take time, but in my experience it’s always 100% worth the effort.
- Having repeat clients is a great feeling as a freelancer, but it also sends a great message to future clients. It shows that you performed your job so well, and you were so professional and personable, that this person paid you money and then came back to pay you even more money for another project.
What do you think? Have you used UpWork or Fiverr? Are you considering one or the other? Let me know in the comments! And if you don’t want to miss any Author Rescue updates, join the monthly newsletter!