If you have any interest in doing any freelance work, you’ve probably heard of Upwork. As a new freelance writer, you’re probably going on Upwork, Indeed and similar job boards in hopes of landing a client.
In this blog post, I will go through how Upwork works and whether or not it’s a good platform to make real income as a freelance writer. I’ve personally used Upwork for many months and have first-hand experience of how it works.
What is Upwork?
Upwork is a platform that connects businesses with freelance workers to do business. Business can find freelance workers to do short-term work, recurring work and long-term contract work.
This is how Upwork works:
- An employer posts a job on Upwork
- Freelancers send a proposal (apply) to the job post
- The employer looks through the proposals and selects a freelance worker
- The work is done and the freelance worker is paid in Upwork
This is the business model for Upwork. From taking a look at this, do you think this model works best for the freelancer or the company?
Obviously it works for the company because they can hire freelance workers at low rates instead of hiring a full-time employee.
Many freelancers don’t understand this and go on Upwork on the hopes of making a full-time income. I know this because I did the same mistake. You need to stop chasing work and think what is the best way for me to make money as a freelancer? This will force you to see if Upwork is the best platform for you.
Is Upwork legit?
Yes, Upwork is a legit business that connects freelancers with businesses. It’s a public company in the U.S. with hundreds of employees and it’s worth billions of dollars.
You don’t have to worry about Upwork scamming you or anything like that. It’s a real business with a customer support line and everything else a normal business has.
The real question is Upwork legit in the way you think it is? You’re probably thinking you sign up for an account and you start making money and find projects quickly.
If you think this, you’re going to be very disappointed. That’s not how most platforms work and most importantly, that’s not how most businesses work. Let me explain below.
My experience with Upwork
I came to Upwork with hopes of making a full-time income writing when I decided to drop out of college. I disliked my degree and my future job prospects to say the least. I knew I was a decent writer, so I thought I can probably make an income online writing for businesses.
I hopped on to Upwork and filled out my profile and started pitching to clients. I did this for a few months and guess what happened: I got 0 work.
This experience is still memorable because I was struggling to make ends meet and not getting any work wasn’t helping.
I kept seeing the little profiles of how some writers finished hundreds of jobs at a ridiculously low rate.
This was very discouraging and I knew if I was competing with price, I’d automatically lose to other freelance writers. I live in the U.S. and that rate is terrible for the amount of work it takes to write for a client.
I kept updating my profile, applying to jobs and doing everything I could. I still didn’t land any work.
Keep in mind, I’m doing this full-time since I dropped out of school. The communication between clients and me on Upwork was terrible. Since I had many other freelance workers from other countries competing, they would expect you to do sample work for free.
Don’t ever work for free. Always tell the client you can do a sample piece for them at a specific price.
I’ve done this and it’s only worked in my favor a few times.
After a few months of constantly looking for jobs, I decided to leave Upwork and try freelance writing job boards. I got a lot more success from those than Upwork. I started to use email finding tools to find the emails of the person posting the job board. This helped me land my first few clients.
Why I don’t recommend Upwork for most freelancers
As you can see from some of the old emails I receive from Upwork, it’s very time intensive to be on the platform.
You will likely have to do a lot of administrative stuff like filling out your profile, look for jobs, send proposals, communicate with prospects and more.
Doing this each day will take up hours of your time that you could be using to find quality clients. Unless you land a great client for a lot of work, it doesn’t make any sense to spend your time like that.
If you do this for months (like I did), you will miss out on the opportunity to find better clients.
Bad clients are worse than having no work, seriously. Instead of wasting your time with terrible paying clients, you should be looking for better ones. The time it takes for you to work for them and communicate could’ve been used to find a better client.
I know it’s easy to compromise on this stuff when you’re not making any money, but you have to look at what’s the best use of your time and move accordingly.
If I have a bad client, I can drop them and send a few hundred emails and find a new one. You need to have that mentality in order to succeed in any freelance work. No client is above your entire business or your own personal time.
Upwork is built for companies, not freelancers:
Unless you are one of the top freelancers on Upwork, the chances of you making a full-tie income is slim to none. It’s a race to the bottom on Upwork. The type of clients you want are not on Upwork for the most part, they are hiring full-time writers for their content marketing.
This is the same thing with job boards. The supply of writers applying for one position is much greater than the demand. This means that the employer has all the leverage.
Instead of wasting your time on job boards and Upwork, why don’t you cold email clients instead? That is a much better use of your time and you can set the rates for your work.
Upwork puts you in a scarcity mindset and that’s no way to build a business. As you build your freelance business, you will have clients come and go. In fact, you should expect to lose clients over time.
If you rely on a few clients for most of your revenue, you will panic when one of them leaves. This is even worse if you’re on a platform like Upwork. You’re constantly competing with other writers, while trying to finish your tasks.
In order to succeed in a business, you need to have an abundance mindset. There are more than enough clients for all writers to succeed, you just have to differentiate yourself and market yourself better.
If you started off pursuing freelance work for freedom, you’re literally doing the opposite by going to Upwork. You’re much better off getting a normal job than constantly stressing yourself out over small client jobs on Upwork.
What should you do instead?
Cold emailing is the best way to find quality clients for you to work with. With a cold email, you can introduce yourself to a company and ask if they need help writing content like blogs for their site.
The majority of people who you send a cold email to will not respond. A few will and maybe you can get 1-2 actually interested clients. To do this, you will likely have to send hundreds of emails each week. Personally, I used to send thousands of emails each week until I got enough work (Yes, I did it manually). I’d send probably 300 each day and I’d get 1-2 clients each week.
With cold emails, you can get work for this month. You can work with clients on a monthly basis and build up your business like that. Cold emailing is not a get rich quick scheme, it takes a lot of effort to go back and forth with clients.
Depending on your rate, you only need 10-20 clients to have a really good business. I’ve been freelance writing for almost 3 years and I’m getting to the point where I don’t have to cold email anymore. Below is a screenshot from PayPal for how much I’ve earned so far in April (It’s April 19th at the time of writing this blog).
This is the type of clients you should be going after, not the ones that are penny pinching. The chances of getting this type of payment on Upwork is slim to none.
The clients I work with have no problems paying workers because they are real established businesses. The type of companies that go to Upwork are going there to pay as little as possible for work.
Hopefully you can take this as guidance to try cold emailing instead of wasting your time on Upwork.
Upwork is a great platform, but it definitely should not be your main source of income.
Transitioning from writer to business owner
It’s very easy to feel imposter syndrome and act like you don’t know what you’re doing. A few years ago, I was just a college student with no business experience and no track record for writing professionally.
You need to treat your writing as a business in order to make a living, you don’t get extra points for financially struggling.
Let’s do the math.
If you want to make $5,000 each month, you will need to earn roughly $167 each day. Your current rate must match that or you’re kidding yourself.
If you charge $50 for a blog, you will need to write 100 blogs in a month to reach $5,000. I’m sure that’s not what you envisioned when you thought about freelancing. You should build your portfolio up and charge closer to $100 range. This will allow you to make $5,000 each month from 50 blogs, that’s less than 2 blogs per day.
Here’s my current schedule for my freelance writing business:
- 2 hours of client work (over $200 worth on average)
- 3 hours of blogging (this blog)
- Find new clients with cold emailing or responding back to emails
My blog will probably be my biggest income in a year or two, so that’s why I’m focusing on it. If you remove the blogging from the equation, you should be spending the vast majority of your day finding clients. That’s your main job. Once you have them, you can spend a few hours per day writing and still earn a full time income.
Going to go work at a platform where you’re constantly competing on price is a recipe for disaster. This reminds me of the Peter Thiel quote “competition is for losers”. As long as you’re on a platform or a job board, the employer will always have leverage over you and demand for you to reduce your price.
I’m not anti Upwork or any other job board. I think it’s a good idea to diversify and make sure you’re on each platform to get more clients. That being said, it should not be your main avenue of income.
If you ditch Upwork and similar sites and build your business with email marketing, you can set your price and learn how to actually make sales. The prospects you cold emailed will reach out to you when an opportunity arises.
All in all, you can make the decision for yourself. Find 5 full-time freelance writers and ask them if they use Upwork or a job board. They will likely all say no. Instead of wasting your time on Upwork, learn real skills and close your ideal clients to make a full-time income.
To learn how I increased my freelance writer income from $900 to $5200 in 3 months, check out this blog here.