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Does Upwork Really Work?


2017-02-28

One day I would love to write about all my experiences interviewing and being interviewed for a variety of tech jobs over the past 10-15 years. I think it would make for a fun and wildly depressing read. Depressing? Yes… I’d argue that finding and hiring talent is the hardest part about owning a business, while noting that it’s incredibly easy to bring a massive number of people in for interviews.

For that reason, I’ve been spending some time experimenting with remote employees/freelancers using freelancing platforms (or, to be specific, Upwork).

If you’ve never heard of it before, the people at TimeDoctor sent me their very comprehensive post about Upwork and after reading through it, I think it’s an excellent primer!

I’ve interviewed about 100 freelancers, and hired around 10 so far over the past year - mostly for small to medium sized tasks - usually to supplement my work, rather than to replace me.

Based on this, I’ve come up with some tips, tricks, and strategies for how to optimize your Upwork experience - and more over, a few comments on expectation management.

For myself personally, I was interested how Upwork functions as an employee - rather than an employer. But instead of making myself available and killing time first hand, I asked Teesha (my Content Marketing Manager) to write her thoughts on the platform and being a freelancer.

Note: Teesha wrote all of the following, and I’ve made some small edits for consistency - with my thoughts or comments in bold. Although, it reads almost like a sales pitch - the only direction I gave was that she write about her own personal experiences and thoughts on freelancing… So, I guess she recommends it…

Enter Teesha

We saw the spark of micro jobs some where around the World War II timeline [think labour shortage due to men going to war - housewives picked up the slack as needed]. Back then, the concept of working from home or doing temporary jobs wasn’t as exciting as it is now. Today the focus is shifting from mainstream jobs such as investment banking, engineering, etc. to those like photography, writing, and design. The idea of a profession has started to revolve around micro jobs that are fueled by one’s passion and not just the need to earn [goddamn millenials].

When we talk about micro job sites, Upwork (formerly known as oDesk), is the first name that comes to most of our minds. Over the past 5 years, this platform has become the mainstay, a breadwinner, for millions of people across the globe.

On Teesha’s introduction to Upwork

I was introduced to Upwork through an employer who was running a business with the help of it; an empire to be precise. In just 2 years’ time he grew his company from 10 employees to 100 with a brilliant turnover. So, this is the amount of potential that this micro job site has. It connects a freelancer or an agency with thousands of employers on a regular basis. In times when many countries deal with unemployment, Upwork has been helping people sustain a decent livelihood.

I have been working through Upwork for two years now. I’ve seen it transform into the big name that it is today. The platform has connected me with nearly 30+ clients and a world full of opportunities to learn.

I did not immediately start out as a freelancer because I was aware about the drawbacks that this could have. So, while maintaining a full-time job, I took up a few writing projects mainly for my passion in them [I recommend similar for most people wanting to do any job on the side - if you have any risk-aversion, keep your full-time job].

On Upwork’s highlights

That’s how I started. Eventually I saw the benefits and dumped my 9-to-5. Freelancing has given me the freedom to travel and work from anywhere I want to. Plus, I don’t have to worry a lot about not being paid. So, one day, I’m working in the Himalayas and the next I may just be sitting in a train to the country’s capital; that’s the biggest perk I enjoy. An Internet connection and a laptop is all you need.

As for the most interesting thing about the platform is that it is safe and secure. If you have worked with a client, keeping all the policies in mind, it is unlikely that you will not be paid.

With their active support system and payment procedure, you can easily earn and build a reputation as a freelancer. Personally, I feel that this platform is quite effective for writers. You can choose from a variety of jobs and bid on the ones that have your interest. It gives you an opportunity to showcase your skills, improve your reputation, and beef up your bank balance, all at once.

On Upwork’s downsides

Just like there are bright corners, there are a few things that I do not appreciate about the platform. One of the main issues is that they have recently raised their commission. Previously, they were deducting 10% of the weekly earning of each project. Now, they are deducting 20% on the first $500 and 10% thereafter. For small jobs, such as logo design and writing, this hinders the freelancer. [**Greedy bastards. Employers get a haircut too - we pay $25/month flat or 2.75% of the billables - if you’re paying out more than \$1k per month, go with the flat fee**]

Advice for potential freelancers

Many new freelancers are registering on Upwork. The main reason for this is the convenience, security and plethora of opportunities that it offers. If you are just starting out as a freelancer and wish to work through Upwork, I have some advice for you:

  • Make sure you complete your profile and verification when you register. This will get your profile noticed quickly and you will not have to face the inconvenience of contacting customer support for verification purposes in the middle of an important project. [Not sure if I ever paid attention to this, but I believe Upwork specifically highlights verified profiles (freelancer and employer)]

  • Once you get a job, always give it 100%. Keep the client informed about progress, delays, etc. Whether a client has a small or large budget, view all work as equal. [Poor communication (or poor potential communication) is a reason that I don’t hire certain freelancers. Communication is king]

  • When it comes to bidding for jobs, don’t finish all your connects (credits to bid on the jobs) at once. You will receive only 60 connects for a month. Each job takes 2 credits. Hence, use them well. Also, while bidding for a job, read it out properly and send a customized bid. Copy pasting your proposals doesn’t work here now. [I have 25 applications for a QA-role, and only 8 non-copy pasted proposals - which, to me, means I only have 8 applicants]

Advice for potential employers

When it comes to hiring freelancers as an employer, Upwork can be a great place. You can find thousands of talented and dedicated people here [The platform has like 12 million freelancers, but ‘thousands’ is the correct scale to use for this statement]. Based on what skills you are looking for, the budget, deadlines and location, you can pick freelancers who fit your requirement. [It’s true, almost an à la carte menu]

When hiring, keep in mind:

  • Deciding the budget beforehand is a good thing. This will save you and the freelancer all the hassle. If you cannot pay more, inform the freelancer about it so that he knows what he is signing up for and if he would like to do it or not. [Communication is a two-way street, basically]

  • When you post a job, give a clear description with details mentioned. Only shortlist those candidates who pay attention to the smallest details. [Another quick filter is to ask for something specific buried in the description (which is only a couple of paragraphs). Watch how 90% people who claim to have “great attention to detail” somehow miss it]

  • Always hire freelancers who have a good profile score and are readily available to communicate. Newbie freelancers can be good choice, provided you screen them properly. Always conduct a small test or give them a sample task before hiring for a full project. [**Best piece of advice I could give is the same one Teesha stated

    • start with a small task and build up. Before that, make sure you have at least 20-30 back and forth messages to weed out the freelancers who just want to get the contract vs those who are interested in the project**]

In Summary

Upwork can be a great platform provided you comply with its policies [and use the provided suggestions] . It may not always act in your favour but can be a potential tool for building your reputation as a freelancer. There are also a few more micro job sites that are gaining traction, but regardless of which platform you pick, make sure you are prepared to freelance before dumping your full-time job.

Finally, hone your skills and stay up-to-date about the new trends, concepts, and rules that are coming up in relation to your niche. With these things in mind, freelancing can be your golden ticket.

[Once I get a few more hires under my belt, I’m going to provide a small set of tactics in order to make the best use of Upwork, while wasting the least amount of time. Coming soon…]