What You Need to Know About Upwork's New Terms of Service and Inactive Profiles

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Recently we received a notification from Upwork that they are changing the way they do things on the platform in order to make it better for those individuals who are very active. For anyone who has an active Upwork profile and is regularly getting work on the site, this only makes things better for you because Upwork will now begin removing inactive profiles from search results, so that when clients are looking for a particular freelancer, they land on only those freelancers who have an active profile and a dedicated commitment to working on Upwork. This process officially begins on August 31st and they will be reducing the competition for active freelancers.

However, if you've been inactive on the site or intend to become inactive in the future, this change in service is not in your favor. The purpose of this system, according to Upwork, was to "reward loyal freelancers who work and get paid through Upwork." This change helps to protect freelancers and clients from off platform work. I have noticed in recent months a growing number of freelancers who try to encourage a client to go off of Upwork and pay privately as soon as possible. This is clearly against Upwork's terms of service and can get you banned from the community entirely. Many unsuspecting Upworkers who are just beginning their journey as freelancers do not realize this and make the mistake of saying this directly in the Upwork workroom and then questioning why they have been banned from the platform altogether. Freelancers who meet a client through Upwork are responsible for keeping their business on the platform for 24 months following that first meeting or they can pay a one-time opt out fee of a few thousand dollars in order to avoid Upwork's banning them.

If Upwork is a significant source of leads for your freelance business, it is not worth it to try to take the client off the platform only to find yourself getting banned. Far too many freelancers or even clients attempt to do this and it can land you in hot water. I suspect that Upwork's decision to begin rewarding loyal freelancers who stay on the site has to do largely with the fact that they have also seen the uptick in the number of individuals going off the platform.

The specifics of Upwork's terms of service are that if a freelancer does not earn money on Upwork for 30 days, then their profile visibility automatically shifts to private. These profiles do not show up in searches and are not seen by a client unless you specifically submit a proposal to their job. This helps to improve the client's search results, cut down on off platform work and ensure that freelancers who are getting paid through Upwork have their profiles appear instead of unavailable or inactive freelancers in search results. If you do not have earnings on Upwork in the last 30 days, this can affect you.

However, those freelancers with a plus membership are exempt. If you intend to market regularly through Upwork and land freelance gigs through the site, I strongly recommend investing in a plus membership anyway as it has significant benefits for you and your business. Now, remember that you will still be able to submit bids on Upwork projects and work on your contracts. However, your profile won't show up in search.

Frankly, I don't think that at this current point in time in August 2017, this will affect many people negatively. That's because the search function on Upwork is very questionable to begin with. I am constantly invited to jobs that I am not even remotely qualified for. I cannot tell you the number of job invites I have to turn down because someone has invited me to write a legal document for court or handle a divorce. I am not an attorney, never have been and never will be but I am constantly invited to these jobs because I show up as a legal blog writer.

Since the search results don't accurately match freelancers to clients anyways, I doubt that this is going to affect anyone in the short run. They are simply trying to refine a better system for those clients who are inviting freelancers directly to their job. There are three options that you can take if you have gone more than 30 days without earnings on the platform. You can switch your profile back to public if you;

  • Start earning again on an existing or new contract
  • Upgrade to the freelancer plus membership
  • Request that your visibility be resumed

Another thing to note in this change is that new freelancers will have a grace period of 50 days to be able to build Upwork before the visibility restriction begins. Remember that most of my advice related to landing freelance jobs on Upwork directly has to do with how you are bidding on the site. So, do not panic if you believe that this will cut down on your opportunity to earn business. You still need to be proactively searching for jobs on your own.