Hi friends! Jorden here, and today we’ve got Marley on the blog sharing her Upwork success story gone sour. Y’all know I CONSTANTLY preach about how Upwork sucks, and this blog post is proof of that! Keep reading to see why, even if you’re an Upwork SUCCESS STORY, you’re still totally screwed. Then, get off Upwork and start a real freelance writing business (click here for my free class on how to make your first $1,000 – no Upwork needed!).. 🙂 Over to you, Marley!
My earliest experiences freelance writing on Upwork should have scared me off.
But, like in every horror movie, I ignored the signs that something wasn’t right and kept at it until my freelancing career met a grisly death.
This was the third client I ever worked with on UpWork.
And even though I got this long-ass condescending message after completing a $15 “trial job”, I was determined to find a way to make the platform work for me.
I learned about positioning, got my proposals down to a science, and busted my chops to be a better writer.
It seemed like my efforts were finally paying off when I landed a gig with a well-known brand and got featured as a case study for one of the freelancing classes I took…
But the brand gig turned out to be stressful as hell, and I got exactly ZERO new clients after being featured as an Upwork “success story”.
Ultimately, I only made $11k after a year on UpWork, was burnt out af, and had to go crawling back to a shitty office job.
There’s a LOT of reasons I don’t recommend UpWork any more for new freelance writers.
Here are the top 5:
The Top 5 Reasons Freelance Writers Should Stay The Hell Off UpWork (from a writer who was an Upwork success story!)
1. It’s Scary (and Time Consuming) to Get Started
Writing proposals? Client convos? Filtering out weirdos?
Trying to get your very first client on UpWork is a struggle, and it doesn’t really get easier.
Even if you write a killer proposal, optimize your profile, and apply to a bunch of jobs, you’re still going to get ghosted 75% of the time.
And even if you DO hear back, it’s likely you’ll spend a good chunk of time explaining the platform to clients before you even start working for them!
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to play tech support to make sure folks actually send an offer over for the right project and the right amount.
The system is set up to give clients the option for either hourly or flat-fee projects, but instead of making it versatile, it’s usually just confusing.
And of course once you’ve accepted an offer, you still spend a BUNCH of (unpaid!) time working with the client to hammer out the details.
Figuring out pricing and scope alone can take a good couple of hours, not to mention all the time you spend praying this person isn’t a creep.
But the fun doesn’t stop there because…
2. Ain’t No Creep Like Scope Creep
Clients will say they want something small and reasonable, or say they only have a certain budget and want “whatever they can get” for that amount.
But then the first round of edits come.
And the second.
And the third.
And, “Can you rework this for an email too?”
And they need a second set of eyes for the copy on this page, “Could you take a look?”
“How about a few Instagram captions as well?”
…Before you know it, you’ve worked a full 8 hours on a project that was supposed to only take two!
But god forbid you say no, or your Job Success Score (a metric displayed on your profile that can stop you from applying to jobs if it falls below 90%) will suffer.
The way the platform is set up supposedly protects freelancers from getting scammed by clients, but in reality, it makes it impossible to set boundaries.
Not only can clients demand extra work, but your messages and job frequency are constantly monitored.
That means you get dinged if you cancel contracts or respond “unprofessionally” in any way!
But say you get a rare good client and complete the job without issues.
You’re *still* not out of the woods because…
3. UpWork’s Fees Bleed Freelance Writers Dry
Much like Fiverr, UpWork skims 20% off the top for each job you complete on their platform.
As if that wasn’t enough, they ALSO charge $10/month for a “plus” membership.
While you can potentially skirt around the 20% by having clients pay you through PayPal, you risk your Job Success Score (again!), since they STRONGLY DISCOURAGE any communication outside of UpWork.
The $10 monthly membership isn’t technically necessary…
That is, if you’re cool with bottom feeder clients and running out of “connects” (the tokens you need to apply for jobs.)
All this to say, it’s HARD AF to make any real money on UpWork.
Even when I had my hourly rates SKY-HIGH ($135/hr baby!) I was walking away with far less than that, even for clients that paid my full rate.
Oh, but once you’ve made $500, the fee drops to 10%…for that client :eyeroll:
4. Say Goodbye to Sleep and Work/Life Balance
How quickly you respond to job invitations factors into your Job Success Score, so you have to respond to everything ASAP.
Not to mention, clients can hire you from ANYWHERE.
…Which, if you’re living in the U.S. central time zone, can be a huge pain in the ass.
It’s not just logistical issues that’ll keep you up at night:
It’s the workload itself.
The combination of scope creep and having to sending out new proposals every day meant I was working CONSTANTLY – even on vacation!
To justify my high rates, I would stay up all night writing and editing.
Since I put in so much time to make my work shine, I was effectively working for about the same hourly wage I’d gotten at my shitty retail job.
And to top it all off, several clients insisted I sign NDAs, meaning I couldn’t even use the work in my portfolio without rewriting it.
- Fighting to get paid a fair rate
- Losing a good chunk of my rate to Upwork fees
- Spending WAY more time than intended on a project
…I often had nothing to show for it.
How’s that for a waking nightmare?
5. You’ll Be Haunted Day and Night
Once you get a bit more established on the platform, you start getting a ton of random job invitations.
Sounds like a good thing, right?
Most of the time these clients are just filtering by Job Success Score and country, then shotgunning out invites to everyone who meets that criteria.
If you get an invite, you have to respond with a full proposal or decline within 24 hours.
No stress when you’ve already got a bunch of work on your plate, right?
But let’s say you manage to send over a kick-ass, customized proposal in that short time frame, only to find out the client’s really just looking for the lowest price out of the people who respond.
Talk about a race to the bottom — and remember, this is still happening once you’ve already been freelancing for a while!
Even more fun is when you get contacted by “UpWork Talent Specialists.”
Now, this isn’t bagging on the folks with this job title (I get it, they’re just hustling like the rest of us), but rather the dumbass system that ends up wasting everyone’s time.
Basically, instead of shotgunning out invitations themselves, clients can hire UpWork Talent Specialists to reach out to freelancers directly.
As with every other way people contact you on UpWork, you HAVE to respond or it’ll hurt your Job Success Score.
I sent over proposals to nearly a dozen job posts that Talent Specialists sent my way and got exactly ZERO offers, so it’s safe to say they’re not doing anyone any good.
Final Thoughts About Freelance Writing on Upwork
While UpWork may seem like a great way to kickstart your freelancing career, I can say from experience that it does you more harm than good.
You’ll walk away haunted and broke, when you could have instead spent that time building a REAL freelance writing business.
Learning how to find clients that will pay you what you’re worth is more valuable than all the jobs on UpWork combined.
Save the scary stories and sleepless nights for when you’re camping in the woods, and take this free class to learn how to make your first $1,000 freelance writing as a beginner – without crappy sites like Upwork.
Author Bio: Marley Crusch creates adventurous content for active brands when she’s not reading, running, or watching cartoons. You can hire her at campfirecopy.co or spot her hiding at your local library #stacksquatch