Basics:

Upwork connects a wide array of freelancers — from writers and web designers to accountants and layers — with project work

Expected pay: widely variable

Husl$core: $$$

Commissions & fees: 10%

Where: Nationwide / worldwide (often remote)

Requirements: Vary by the job you’re seeking

What is Upwork?

Upwork is one of the oldest and largest freelance sites, connecting freelancers with clients in a wide array of industries.

(This post may contain affiliate links. You can read our full affiliate policy here.)

How it works

To sign up with Upwork, you can post a profile for free. This profile should include what you do; a brief resume, photo and, if you want, video. You’d also be wise to include samples of your past work — or links to your past work.

The site says it uses artificial intelligence to match your skills with clients and appropriate projects. But, if you want to “bid” on a project, you normally will need to buy in to the bidding process by using “connects.” Connects are a type of Upwork currency. (More on this later.)

If you win a project, you’ll negotiate your rates and terms directly with the client. Upwork will collect the fees on your behalf and deduct a site commission from your pay for making the connection.

Upwork review

If you click through the Upwork site, you’re going to see “top” freelancers apparently earning great wages — from $30 to $150 per hour. But if you look at freelancer reviews on Glassdoor, SiteJabber or Indeed, you’ll see a freelance base that’s stratified based on when they started with the platform,

Those who have been there for years and have built up copious reviews and repeat clients, love the place. Those who are new and trying to find work often find it frustrating and costly.

Fees & Commissions

The site used to have a graduated commission schedule ranging from 5% to 20% paid by freelancers who find work here. However, as of May 3, 2023, the site changed the commission structure so that all freelancers pay a flat 10% fee. You might also be subject to a small cash-out fee, depending on the cash-out method you use. (ACH transactions are free. But you get charged $30 for a wire transfer;

Connection fees

But the site also requires you to have “connects” to apply for any job. Connects are a form of currency on Upwork.

You get 10 “connects” for free. After that, you have to pay to buy them. Since you need 12-16 connects to apply for most jobs listed on the site, the 10 monthly connects you get with Upwork’s free membership wont get you very far.

However, you can pay $20 for an upgraded membership that gets you 100 connects a month. Or you can buy connects individually for 15 cents per connect. (The cost can be changed at Upwork’s discretion.)

What you get for the fees

Of course, if Upwork provided access to great jobs that you couldn’t find anywhere else, you might shrug off the fees. But that doesn’t appear to be the case. Testing the site for writing jobs, we found the same content mills, paying pennies per word, that you can find almost anywhere.

The site also pits freelancers against each other to “bid” on projects. What that can do is drive rates down to ridiculously low levels for freelancers who don’t have the clout to walk away.

That said, people who have used the site for years don’t have difficulties with the bidding process because they stand out by having copious reviews.

Thus, the site’s freelancers tend to fall into two camps — people who love it; and people who hate it. There’s little middle ground.

For new freelancers — the type of people who we imagine are reading this review — we think there are better options, such as Fiverr, which don’t require bidding to get jobs.

Advice for newbies

That said, Upwork remains one of the top freelancing sites. So, if you want to get started here, the best advice is to:

  • Niche. Don’t try to be all things to all people. Find a narrow niche where your work can stand out.
  • Set up a profile that shows what is unique about you. This includes credentials and samples of your work.
  • Emphasize any deep knowledge that you have, whether it’s from experience or credentials. Try to stand out on quality, rather than just price.
  • Recognize that early jobs may not pay as well as you’d like them to. Consider your first few months on the platform as a loss-leader. Bid for inexpensive jobs where you know you can wow your clients to get great reviews — and repeat business.
  • After you have a dozen 5-star reviews, you should be able to win bids when you’re not the lowest bidder. Hopefully, by this point, you’ll also have repeat clients, who like working with you enough to be less price-sensitive.

Want to sign up with Upwork?

Click here. 

Other Recommendations

Other sites that provide good opportunity break down by category.

For professional services, from accounting to marketing, check out Robert Half.

If you offer creative services, from web design to filmmaking, consider WorkingNotWorking and Creatively.

Consultants should sign up with Catalant, GLG or Maven.  Engineers and project managers should consider SMA Inc.

Writers and photographers can do well at Skyword, Contently and ServiceScape.

Or take our Quiz to find a good option for you.

What their freelancers say: (from Indeed)

“This site has saved me during this pandemic but there are a ton of people here underselling each other. And 20% off the top is a tough pill to swallow.”

“Don’t even try. New members are at an extreme disadvantage because Upwork encourages hiring those with the most time on Upwork. They CHARGE YOU to apply for each job. When you do apply, you are one of 100 or more applications. Many jobs (even those listed as “US worker only” are at offshore rates.

Tough to get started

I enjoy being able to market myself at my own time according to my daily routine and help clients with their businesses. I will say it was a rough start low balling yourself short but it’s worth the rewards you reap after you get referrals. The momentum will pick up.

Love it

Good place to start working as a freelancer, you have to pay some fees to get more opportunities (membership), but it worth it. But be aware of scammers from all around the world.

My experience with Upwork was great so far. Started with quite a low rate and slowly increased it within 2 years. Everyone can find a job there.

“I started here when Upwork was called Odesk and my first job was for $5. I have built up such a large clientele that I don’t need to work outside the home. And I love every job and client I have!”

High fees

Upwork is okay for picking up an occasional gig, but the volume of subpar clients and the 20% cut (!!!) the platform takes from vendor payouts should discourage regular use unless you’re just starting out.
“The clients are often difficult, flakey, and cheap. Upwork uses arbitrary practices to bully their freelancers into submission.”

Bad experience

Upwork is an online matchmaker. For clients and talent. They have good jobs. Just need to work out the bugs. My experience may differ from other people. I don’t typically like to speak negatively about past employment experiences. This was a bad one for me. I found that keeping track of my hours was difficult, and never got paid for 16 hrs. I don’t recommend them.

*Updated 4/28/2023

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