I Met a Client on Upwork: Do We Have to Do Business There?
This post is written for those of you who wish to use Upwork as a means of finding clients and securing freelance work. For those of you who do not know of it, Upwork is the biggest online job site in the world and (when used correctly) a great source of clients. Specifically, I go into how freelancers can get into trouble with the platform and the importance of adhering to its terms of service.
I want to answer a question and concern that comes up a lot and gets a lot of unsuspecting and somewhat innocent people in trouble with the platform Upwork.
If you are not familiar with Upwork, it is the biggest freelancing job site in the world. It’s been extremely helpful for my success as a freelance writer, virtual assistant and project manager; but all too often I see new freelancers on the platform make little mistakes that honestly end up getting them banned from the platform altogether. And a huge one is trying to take the client off of Upwork.
You need to read Upwork's terms of service very clearly because there are specific rules about when you can and cannot work with a client off of Upwork. The basic rule of thumb is if you have met them on the platform, you need to do business with them on the platform.
When Upwork was Elance, there were rules about the time period that you had to work with a client on the platform. After two years, you could take them and work with them privately. I am not clear on what is required on Upwork specifically, so you should check into that but definitely it is 100% against the terms of service of Upwork to meet a client, have them send you a message and then have them work with you off of the platform.
A huge reason for this is because Upwork is bringing you the business to begin with, right. That's a lead that you wouldn't have had were it not for Upwork. And they are protecting their business interest by saying, "Hey, you need to do work on our site. We are going to collect a fee from the client and we are going to collect a proportion of the freelancer's earnings." I always get confused when I see people up in arms about this because you are paying Upwork to be your third-party intermediary so yes, of course you are going to pay a fee to them and the clients are going to pay a fee to Upwork. This is for the privilege of Upwork giving you payment protection, serving as your escrow holder of funds as you complete a project etc. But if you are typing in your Upwork room between you and your client, "Hey I don't really want to work on Upwork because I don’t want to pay 20% or 10% whatever, let's just work off the platform." You are directly telling Upwork that you are violating their terms of service. Now, ignorance is bliss, that is not an excuse for breaking the terms of service. Upwork is going to keep an eye on those workrooms and let you know if they believe that you are trying to take business off of the platform so it's a huge no no. It is not worth doing. You need to be very mindful of how you approach that situation because you could lose a huge pipeline of leads for your freelance business by doing something stupid with a client who may or may not end up hiring you anyways.
Clients also like working on Upwork because it gives them peace of mind. This is really important for people who have never hired a freelancer before to begin with. The reason for this is because they are really hesitant paying a stranger, it's really weird to hire somebody and pay somebody online even if it’s become more prevalent in our society today. You will still have clients who feel that way particularly on Upwork. So, you can reassure the client, "Hey, there is payment protection on Upwork, there is a dispute program in place if for some reason something happens" and it really eases everyone's fears because I will tell you that of all the times that I have had to chase money down from clients, only one or two have been on the Upwork platform. The real problem with payment has been private clients. So, you want that peace of mind as a freelancer that your client is going to pay you and Upwork gives that to you by giving you the payment protection, by having the escrow program where the client moves funds into the escrow account or you get that hourly payment protection if you use their work tracker.
Do not violate the terms of service and then get upset that Upwork has banned you from their platform because you didn't follow the rules. I see this happening more and more lately and the freelancers are disgruntled, and I get it, because they are suddenly removed from the program and they are not able to access anything on Upwork anymore. However, you need to know the rules going in. So, it might seem tedious, but read the terms of service. If you meet a client on Upwork, you need to carry out the project on Upwork; that's just how it is and if they find out that you are carrying the projects elsewhere, they are going to potentially conduct an investigation. They may ban you from the platform altogether so, just be aware of that.
You know, much like any other site, you are paying fees to PayPal for using PayPal and you are paying fees to eBay when you sell or buy something there so keep that in mind as you view Upwork as a platform that is bringing you leads that you otherwise would not have had and you are paying them for that privilege as well as for the fact that they serve as payment protection. Many clients may be more likely to hire you on Upwork because of that perceived value and protection that is there for them as well. But, I just can't believe how many times I have seen this in the last couple of weeks, somebody saying, "I have been banned from Upwork, I didn’t realize that I couldn’t take the business off of the site altogether; I didn’t know that, and I had put it in the workroom and I had said that I don’t want to pay the Upwork fees." Well, they see that. That workroom is not your private property, it's their company's software that they allow you to use to communicate with clients. But if you are putting it directly in there and you're making it obvious that you are using Upwork to generate leads and then take it off the platform completely, that is really negative for you because if they find that out, you are going to be banned from the platform.
So, it is worth the time to read the terms of service, clarify exactly what you can and cannot do - not just as it relates to taking clients off the platform but other things as well.
Good luck with your Upwork career!
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