Upwork 101: What Is It and How to Use the Biggest Freelance Site in The World to Land Gigs?

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Say the word 'Upwork' in freelance communities and you are going to get a lot of controversial responses. You are going to get lots of people who say that Upwork is terrible, that you should never use it, that it only offers low paying gigs. And at first glance, that is exactly how it looks, but those freelancers weren't willing to do the legwork to find the good-paying jobs on Upwork.

What is Upwork?

Upwork is essentially an intermediary or escrow service that connects you with prospective freelance clients. Someone who is interested in hiring a virtual assistant, a project manager, graphic designer, blogger or any other type of freelancer, posts a job on Upwork and waits for responses to roll in.

The cool part about this from the freelancer's perspective is that the client is already sold on hiring someone for their services -- no having to convince them that outsourcing is the right way to go; no having to convince them that they need this service in the first place. That makes it really easy for freelancers because your clients are what I call pre-sold.

They already know the benefit of using this particular service. Say, I am there looking for a Google AdWords specialist. So they already know that they are willing to pay for Google AdWords support and now they are just looking for the right person. This is different from other types of marketing for your freelance business because you may have to educate people about these marketing techniques and why they are so beneficial. A client on Upwork, however, has already made the decision that it’s worth their time and money to invest in a freelancer to do it.

Upwork fees

Upwork, of course, is going to charge fees to the client as well as to the freelancer. They are providing a really important service for you though. Actually, I consider it two important services because especially as new freelancer, chasing down money is the bane of your existence and most of my problems with clients who didn’t pay me on time were off of Upwork.

Upwork uses an escrow service. They require the client to deposit funds in escrow. So let's say there is a job post on Upwork; I go in as the freelancer; I am interested in applying; I have already set up my profile and decided to use Upwork to leverage freelance opportunities; and I submit a bid of $500. The client accepts my bid of $500 for this imaginary project. It's then the client's responsibility to deposit that $500 into their Escrow account. Those funds are held by Upwork in the interim. So when you submit and complete the work, it’s as simple as the client clicking a button to release those funds to you.

There are some delays in the process for sure. You have to wait until the client clicks submit or in the worst-case scenario, I think you have to wait 10 to 14 days for that money to be automatically released to you, if the client does nothing -- and that happens with some clients. They just forget or they assume it’s going to be released to you automatically so they won’t go in and do it themselves.

As a new freelancer, that's huge. You are not chasing down money and the deposit of escrow is an act of good faith to show that the client does want to pay you and has the money to do it. 

Types of jobs on Upwork

There are two types of jobs on Upwork; fixed price and hourly.

Fixed priced jobs are those like the example I just gave, where you and the client come to terms about how much something is going to cost. They fund the escrow amount or at least the first milestone -- perhaps they want to pay $200 as a deposit and then have you keep billing as you go. That is the easiest way to do things.

But sometimes, it doesn’t make sense to have a fixed price job. A virtual assistant is a great example because VAs may prefer to work on a time basis. They may not know how long it’s going to take them to do something, so they prefer to have an hourly contract. Hourly contracts provide additional financial protection for you as the freelancer. If you and the client agree to a rate of $30 an hour to do something, then that contract begins and you start working.

Payment protection

If you log your time manually; meaning you keep track of it on pen and paper or use another system like Toggl, that money isn’t guaranteed to you. Now I found that 9 times out of 10, the client pays it anyways, especially if they are okay with manual payments or manual logging of your time. However, you don’t have that Upwork protection.

The only way to get Upwork protection and ensure that payment comes through to you, is to use their time tracker. Now this is like a program that takes screenshots of your computer as you are working. It logs how often you are typing, how often you are clicking and moving things around. Basically, what they are trying to do is to avoid freelancers who are leaving the timer running, but aren't doing any work.

Its additional protection for you as the freelancer and it also gives the client peace of mind about what they are paying for and that they are paying for work that you actually did. It’s up to you and the client to decide whether or not you want to do manual time tracking or you have to use the time tracker. That's up to you, but if you want to get that protection, I recommend using the time tracker.

What that means is that, let's say the work week wraps up, you have logged five hours with the time tracker, the client raises a dispute -- which doesn’t happen that often, but it can -- then if Upwork reviews your screenshots and all of the information that they captured while you have the tracker running and identifies that you did do the work, those funds do get released to you. They are protected.

Now if you recorded that same time manually and the client says, "Hey I was billed five hours and I did not get five hours’ worth of work," then you would lose that protection. For this reason, I would only use manual time tracking with a client that you trust.

What makes Upwork unique

You are competing with other freelancers So Be Prepared to Stand out

What makes Upwork unique from other freelance marketing opportunities is that you are competing directly against other people. So less education on your part because the client already knows they want to hire.

However, the client may not have any clue what they are going to pay for that specific service and they are basing their decision largely on the proposals that come in from freelancers.

You have to change your marketing tactics a little bit because you are competing specifically against other people as opposed to Jo Shmo, who I met yesterday in an elevator at a hotel and I told him about what I do and now I am following up with a proposal. An Upwork client is comparing you to the competition, so you need to be prepared for how to stand out there.

Client reviews are collected for every job

Another thing that is unique about Upwork when compared to other types of freelance marketing is that you are going to get feedback on every job you do and Upwork uses an algorithm to calculate your job success score and other data. It’s based on client feedback, how many of your jobs you end up closing out or how soon they are closed out.

There are all kinds of factors that go into that, but overall, it’s always in your best interests to give your clients a good experience and to get five-star feedback. A client who gives you a poor feedback can really have a negative impact on your ability to grow your freelance business. So the feedback from first couple of customers is really important.

If you have done 200 jobs on Upwork and you get one bad feedback score or even ten, it’s not going to affect you as much if you have only done two jobs on Upwork and one of them gave you a one-star rating. So always choose to submit to jobs where you think you could do a really good job and serve the client well and then reiterate to the client as you are working together the importance of leaving you good feedback.

 

Now there are so many opinions out there about Upwork. I have used Upwork successfully and I know other freelancers who have as well, but ultimately, I would never advise that any one channel be your only line of assistance to build your freelance career. I don’t give that advice in my Facebook group either where we talk all about freelance marketing mastery. You should never build your entire company based off of just one strategy or one website. So checking Upwork for half an hour or an hour a day, and bidding on relevant jobs can be a really great way to get your name out there and to get some experience, but it really shouldn’t be your only freelance marketing method. You should never rely on just one channel or put all of your eggs in one basket.

I'd love to know what questions you have about Upwork. I have got lots of great videos in this YouTube Channel and you are definitely going to want to subscribe to stay updated because I release at least one video a week, specifically about how to grow your freelance business, start it, get it to six figure level, and all of the topics that come up in dealing with that.