The Reality Behind Being a Freelancer on Upwork

This week’s post is all about frustration and the lack of a sense of community.

During the past few days, I’ve been in contact with Upwork – a service I used to use as a freelancer. I’ve never landed a big gig through their platform, but believe a few freelancers do, given the fact that Upwork takes a fee from both the freelancer and the company.

Before we dive into the upsetting details, maybe I should analyze their business model and how it impacts a freelancer’s income, without being too bias.

How does it work?

Let’s assume you’re a freelancer. You like being your own boss, working for yourself, minding your own business. You have a certain skill set and level of expertise which enable you to perform your profession, without the office commitment that takes about 40 hours of your week, Monday to Friday.

You search for websites that provide gigs for freelancers and here it comes, Upwork.com – a promising green website that looks legit, friendly and has eaten out smaller websites such as Guru.com. Craigslist has been buried years ago already, so don’t even think about this one.

You register your profile and you get approved. So far, plenty of my friends tried to register an account but got declined due to the high percentage of freelancers that operate within that field. This leads me to one conclusion: there are not enough projects for the ones that are already registered. You’ll later see why I highlight this is as important. I was lucky enough to hop on board since their launch, so I never encountered problems until yesterday.

Anyhow, hence other people’s experiences, you get your profile approved and here you are – the brave new freelancer trying to make a decent living by taking side hustles on the internet. You are full of hopes and dreams until the sad reality hits you in the face. Not until a week or two after you bid for projects on a daily basis.

You bid. Yep, that’s right. You have several credits (60 for free accounts, 70 for paid), that gives you the opportunity to send your proposal. Once you run out of credits, you’re screwed. You decide: I only have a limited resource to bid, so let’s make the best of it. And with your sad, fresh profile, you hope that a good person will spot your wonderful skills and personality and will pay you as much as you want, although your profile has no history.

Here comes the reality. You scroll down the job ads and you notice a significant difference in the pay rates they offer. Some require skilled freelancers, promising them thousands of dollars, others expect the lowest bids, ready to compromise with the quality of the work, just because they either don’t have the budget, or the desire to pay.

Interesting fact #1: Some of the highest-rated in terms of payment proposals job ads are false.

If you click on an ad that says it will pay you $1,000 for high-quality articles, you later find out that the ad says it honestly: this is not my final budget, please provide me with yours. Which, apparently, is not something that the moderators consider a misleading or false information.

Interesting fact #2: Oftentimes you apply for highly-paid job ads, but they turn out to be falsely advertised.

Not much different than the first case scenario, here you find out the job ad is not correct after you spend a credit or two from your total credits for bidding to find out someone is not willing to pay enough. Here you are, the brave new freelancer, who just lost some of his opportunities to land a gig and pay his bills.

Interesting fact #3: Oftentimes you apply for highly-paid jobs, you qualify and you receive a proposal to work outside of Upwork.

Happened to me, I’m pretty sure it happened to you. Whilst some decide to go that way and skip paying the fee to the website, others do that simply because they can too, skip paying the freelancer for his work. Luckily, this never happened to me. And as part of the community, I believe it has been my duty to report such cases so no other people will fall into that trap.

Interesting fact #4: You bid for jobs, but you get 0 feedback. Yet, you lose your credits.

I had a conversation with Upwork about this issue. I’ve been systematically bidding for projects and have been declined, but very few actually gave me a valid reason why. Not even an automated message, nothing. Oftentimes, the client doesn’t even bother to mark you as declined, and your bid stays there, waiting for something to happen. I have withdrawn multiple bids, but yet again, have not gained my credits back when in reality they have not been actually used. When I wrote to Upwork about this case, what I got was an automated apology that the suggestion has been taken for discussion with their team and they are very thankful for the feedback.

No problem, I’m a brave new freelancer after all. I do that shit for living all the time. Giving free constructive feedback, especially when I’m being screwed at the end of it. +

Interesting fact #5: Oftentimes you get invited for a job, but the client doesn’t respond back.

No joke, happened to me multiple times. The first time I thought: well, maybe something happened. Maybe they found another person to get the job done outside of Upwork and have forgotten to update the freelancers they’ve invited or the job ad in general. But no, oftentimes clients don’t bother to update you after they initially sent you an invite. You’re a brave freelancer, after all. You have all the time in the world to bid for other projects and never bother for theirs. Despite your personal beliefs that being professional is mandatory, when you’re on a business website, potentially doing business with other people.

Interesting fact #6: Most top-rated freelancers don’t earn thousands of dollars, despite their rating.

Yep, checked that. Unless they are so highly paid, that they choose to hide 90% of their projects and respectively – income from these projects, leaving just a few that are no more than a couple thousand dollars tops, for a period of few months in a roll. Some of the top-rated freelancers don’t even have a 100% success score, yet they get promoted more.

Interesting fact #7: If you don’t earn on Upwork, your profile gets a shadow.

Or what they call it: “To improve client’s search results and show them more freelancers who are available, we’ve changed your profile to “private” until you’re ready to start taking on new projects. To get that off of your profile, you need to either make a specific case with their support, start earning (which in this environment of super competitive and ready to work for less freelancers, is nearly impossible if you have a standard and demands), or pay the Freelancer Plus membership, despite the fact that it doesn’t guarantee you better chances of landing a gig.

Interesting fact #8: Even if you report a job you consider low-paid and near insulting, it still stays on the site.

There are no regulations for the minimum amount of money one can state he will give for a job well done. That’s why so many newbies take on low-paid projects with the promise of five-star reviews (another problem that clearly Upwork doesn’t register as such) and set the bar too low for people with experience and a certain level of expertise within that same field of service. So, having said that, I’ve encountered multiple jobs that are so scandalous in terms of payment, I had to immediately report them. Yet again, I have not seen actions, although their wonderful automated system noticed my actions will be taken if the job ad requires it. Apparently, letting companies or individuals misuse their position of authority and trespass community standards is entirely normal, but actively reporting it deserves a kind “thank you” message, sent by a bot. Thanks, Upwork. Glad to serve the community that doesn’t give a shit if people are not being paid fair.

And now, to top this all up, I’ve saved the last and most exciting interesting fact for last.

Interesting fact #9: Your account gets suspended because your profile gets rejected or doesn’t meet the client’s criteria.

Let’s sum this all up.

  1. There are more freelancers than available gigs on the site.
  2. A good number of the gigs are giving false information regarding the terms of agreement – type and volume of work, payment amount, etc.
  3. A good number of companies or individuals offer you to work outside of the Upwork’s community, which puts in in a risky position of not taking your pay.
  4. You don’t receive your credits back when you withdraw from a certain job proposal due to inactivity of the other party, which is not up to you, but up to the job ad owner.
  5. You rarely receive constructive feedback in the rare cases you get the rejection message, which says: Reason: “Just preferred other applicants.” Which criteria that are so crucial here I don’t meet? Maybe my resume is not good enough, or my profile photo is not happy enough? Or maybe my 70% rating and high scores of tests and certificates are not high enough? Or maybe, just maybe… I require to be paid in a way that mirrors my level of expertise, experience and knowledge?
  6. You waste time in communication with potential employers that are not responsive enough. Yet, when you withdraw your proposal, you’re still the bad guy, because you value your time.
  7. Your profile gets a “private” badge due to inactivity of your earnings account. Yet, the point of being a freelancer is to choose your projects, your terms of an agreement and your overall availability.

Full-time freelancer doesn’t mean you need to be working full-time. It means you have the flexibility to do so if you think that’s the right fit for you.

When late last night I got the message my profile was suspended due to the lack of criteria that I met with previous projects, I got really upset. Because I’ve been part of this community ever since the website’s official launch. I’ve taken on both well-paid and low-paid projects to maintain that profile trustworthy because I believe my reputation is the second thing after my skills, that sells my profile. I’ve spent countless hours and just as much money to invest and improve myself, so I can provide better service, and respectively – get paid better. I’ve actively provided feedback to Upwork by flagging inappropriate behaviour, profiles, job ads, and seeking feedback regarding certain issues. I’ve actively promoted the platform to other freelancers and companies. And at the end of it, I get suspended?

I refuse to be a part of a community that promotes:
1. Inappropriate and falsely represented job ads.Low-paid job ads which set the bar so low that qualified freelancers have to compromise if they want to earn their pay through Upwork.
2. Lack of constructive feedback from potential employers with the main consequence for the freelancer’s profile.
3. Improper credit-charge of a freelancer when he decides to withdraw his proposal due to the lack of response from the other party.
4. Enslavement of freelancers by obliging them to be permanently active, although this is in full contradiction with the fundamental concept of freelancing.
5. Low-paid job ads which set the bar so low that qualified freelancers have to compromise if they want to earn their pay through Upwork.

I asked all of these questions in my email back to their team. I am still waiting for an answer. Yet, I don’t think this is the right thing to do when a freelancer doesn’t give you 20% of his earnings on a monthly basis, because as being a freelancer, he is not under legal obligation to be working full-time as such.

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