Is Upwork legit? It’s a valid question you may have asked yourself after first becoming familiar with the popular online freelance job marketplace.
I’ve personally experimented with the platform for about five months and I’ll share my first-hand experience learning how to get jobs on Upwork and earning $8,900 as a new freelancer. That way you can better understand if Upwork is legit for you.
What is Upwork?
Upwork is an online platform connecting businesses looking for freelance help and freelancers wanting to earn money. While there are lots of sites like Upwork where freelancers and clients can connect, Upwork has quickly become the largest and most prolific with millions of new jobs posted every year.
They have an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau and have been operating as a legitimate business in California, USA, for 21 years.
How does Upwork work?
Upwork is pretty straightforward. As a freelancer, you create an account, write a profile text, add a photo and then you can submit proposals for freelance projects.
A client will hire you or ask for more information if they think you might be a good fit for their project.
For clients, you create an account and describe your project while freelancers can send proposals. You pick the one who seems to be the best fit to complete your project.
At one point during the Upwork experiment, I had just finished a long phone call with a potential client.
We agreed on the tasks and pricing: “I’ll hire you right away so we can get started,” he said.
One week passed. Nothing. Two weeks passed. Nothing. It’s been a couple of years and still nothing. Either he died right after the call or he wasn’t legit.
While it doesn’t feel good to waste your time, some people think of that as a scam. It wasn’t because he didn’t owe me any money but as a new freelancer unsure what to expect it makes you wonder: is Upwork legit?
Although, I later learned that it is a trick often used by business owners to get free expert advice from freelancers. Sneaky.
Why people might call Upwork a scam
You might be reading this because you saw some negative reviews and now wonder if this is a good place to earn money and is Upwork legit?
Some people do get scammed. Upwork is aware of that and with their reputation as an established brand on the line, I bet you that they are doing everything in their power to avoid scams.
The most common scam is when clients take advantage of freelancers by asking them to complete tasks, promising to hire them but never do.
To put that into context: for you to win a project on Upwork, the client has to click this magic button to award you the project:
Psst: Have you heard about Hectic? It's our new favorite tool for freelancing smarter, not harder. Client management, project management, invoices, proposals, and lots more. Hectic's got it all. Click here to see what we mean.
Until they have clicked that button, you are not earning any money no matter what the client says.
In the beginning, I did free work to “build my portfolio” and made the same mistakes. Luckily, that type of “scam” is easily avoidable with common sense.
Freelancers might feel that they have to accept every project or are simply not aware of Upwork’s hiring process.
To be fair, this happens to freelancers every day no matter if they use Fiverr or Upwork or any other number of possible freelance platforms to land new projects.
Sometimes, you’ll even see some negative freelancers thinking that the Upwork fees are a scam, too.
For a deeper dive answering the question “Is Upwork Legit?” listen to a recent episode of our podcast, Freelance to Founder:
Upwork Payment & Fees
You’ll often see freelancers moving their clients away from Upwork to save 10% in fees. I’m not claiming that Upwork is the most amazing place to earn money but those freelancers are wasting their time.
It’s simple math: say, you land a project earning you $1,000. Upwork takes 20% of the first $500 ($100), and 10% of the next $500 ($50).
That means their total cut is $150 off your $1,000-project, so you’ll earn $850 before bank fees and tax.
That might sound like a lot but compare that to if they weren’t there: you wouldn’t earn the $850 in the first place.
Instead of spending your energy feeling bad about losing the money, let’s remember that $150 is not going to change your life in the grand scheme of things.
Instead, getting more clients will make a difference long term.
Experienced freelancers know that one of the best ways to land new clients is through referrals. Those that are good at it know that it is profitable to offer a carrot in exchange – even if that is 25% of the first project.
Upwork works in the same way. They send us leads so we don’t have to cold pitch businesses. If they charged less, they wouldn’t exist and we wouldn’t have the opportunity to use their platform in the first place.
When do I get paid from Upwork?
There are also transaction fees for withdrawing your earnings but you will experience that no matter how you collect payments.
It takes about three weeks from the client approving your work until you are able to buy ice cream and drinks with your money earned. It is divided up into these four sections:
In my experience, you’ll most often find small projects and clients on Upwork. With those, three weeks feels like a long time from completing the work to getting paid.
Upwork’s payments have one great advantage: if you work at an hourly rate, they have an app you can use to track hours and stay protected by an Upwork guarantee.
The app takes the occasional screenshot and tracks mouse movement but that shouldn’t matter if you are working to help your clients anyway.
It is not the best way to measure productivity but I’ve used it to earn thousands of dollars and it works well.
Upwork’s payment methods
Upwork offers the following payment methods:
- Direct to US Bank (ACH)
- Direct to Local Bank
- Bank Codes
- Wire Transfer
- Instant Pay for US Freelancers
I’ve only used Paypal, wire transfers, and the direct to local bank option. They have all worked smoothly and I have nothing but good things to say.
Staying safe on Upwork by avoiding 80% of the sticky situations with 3 simple tricks
Through the Upwork-experiment, I’ve learned that you can never be 100% safe, but there are three things you can do to avoid most of the bad clients and sticky situations before they ever happen:
Don’t work with people you don’t communicate well with
If you are working to understand the project details but the client avoids giving you in-depth answers, they might not be a good fit for you.
You might feel desperate occasionally (we all do) and give potential clients the benefit of the doubt, even if they didn’t share everything you wanted to know to do a good job.
So, you could be inclined to take the project and see how it goes. Good communication with clients is perhaps the most important trait, so cutting back on that type of client can save you a headache.
Not only is good communication essential to do a good job, but because it will be easier for you to find new projects to help the same clients with.
Avoid clients asking for free work before they hire you
Everyone has their own opinion on whether you should work for free or not.
If you are starting out with Upwork, an easy way to think about it is to consider free work for clients that are ALREADY paying you – not random strangers that you don’t have a working relationship.
That doesn’t mean you can’t offer samples as a “taster.” The tactic works, and there is a big difference between them asking for free work and you choosing to send a work sample with your proposal.
If you do a free project, the “client” has nothing invested and can leave halfway through with no real downside. You can avoid that by offering to help them extra as soon as they have clicked that hiring button.
Use Upwork’s protection
If you can, offer an hourly rate for the project and use Upwork’s software to track the hours, so you are projected by Upwork’s protection system.
Can you make a living on Upwork? (Case study earning $8,900)
Years ago, I began freelancing by helping clients set up WordPress websites via platforms like Upwork and Freelancer.com. Marketer by day, aspiring freelance superhero by night.
I worked hard to do a good job and gave away enough free hours to make my clients happy while I earned some “beer money”.
At some point, a friend helped revise my proposals, and I was lucky to land a $500-project that turned into $5,000. That’s when I realized that there was something there.
During the next five months or so, I kept sending proposals and landing new projects. The clients were new businesses, so they couldn’t afford to pay much.
In the end, I earned about $8,900 before I joined one of my clients full-time. To me, that answers the question “is Upwork legit?”
Earning a living with Upwork can depend on where you live. While I had other clients in the same time period, I earned about $1,800/month via Upwork.
The average monthly income in developed countries tends to be higher. In the USA, for example, it is $5,257/month while it is $197/month in a developing nation like Vietnam. So in most countries, you can earn a living on Upwork.
When you create your Upwork account, you need to enter your location and the clients of some countries tend to offer more projects to freelancers in the same country.
That means if you are located in, for example, the USA you are likely to have access to more projects than freelancers in other countries.
The cost of living is also higher, so while I haven’t had the opportunity to do a comparison study yet, that probably evens out with the higher cost of living.
The deal-breaker with Upwork is that it is difficult to get a new freelancer account approved. That means even if you want to try it out, you might not be able to get access.
How much can you make on Upwork?
I’ve earned about $1,800/month during the experiment and I’ve seen people earning more than $100,000 a year.
It might not be the best option long-term but Upwork is a great place to get started because you’ll be able to see “warm” projects and fresh ones added every hour of the day.
So, is Upwork worth it? Is Upwork Legit?
I have used the platform on and off for years. After spending half a year testing it in-depth, I believe Upwork is a great way to earn your first money freelancing.
Still wondering: is Upwork legit? You can hear more war stories when Carl Smith, a long-time web developer, shares his experience with Upwork on the podcast Freelance to Founder, embedded above and below. They go more in-depth on his story and why Upwork is a legit place to find work. Check out the podcast episode, it’s a great listen.
Takeaways from earning money with Upwork
With Upwork’s 12 million freelancers it is important to stand out. I discovered that it works well to go deep with proposals.
Some people will send a copy-paste proposal, while others will copy-paste and rearrange sentences from the project description.
Having hired freelancers myself, I learned that those proposals feel so generic that they drive clients crazy and make THEM wonder “is Upwork legit?”
A small number of freelancers custom write a standard cover letter and an even smaller group jumps right into solving the client’s problem.
Be in the last group. Apply for fewer projects and go deeper with them.
You won’t land all of them but when there is a serious client, they will notice your approach right away. Check these two proposals that landed real-world freelance projects on Upwork (but don’t copy-paste them).
I also found that you won’t get as many people viewing your profile as you might think. In the beginning, it will be potential clients you’ve sent proposals to but it won’t even be all of them.
So, use a good photo, spend more time on the proposals, and less time on the profile text — make it good enough and move on. You can always update it later.
If you are struggling to land freelance clients, grab 3 freelance proposals that won a $500, $1,200, and $5,000-project. Best of luck on Upwork — you’ll do great!
P.S. I’d like to add that while Upwork is a great platform, many freelancers are tired of scouring freelance platforms for the best and latest freelance projects that align with their business needs. *Enters Vollna* Created by a fellow freelancer, Vollna crawls the best freelance websites 24/7 and sends you the latest job listings anywhere and anytime on Upwork, Freelancer, Peopleperhour, etc- all straight to your inbox or your mobile phone.
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