What: Upwork finds jobs for writers, web and mobile developers, designers, virtual assistants, customer service agents, project managers, sales and marketing professionals, accountants and consultants.

Expected pay: widely variable

Commissions & Fees: 20% 

Where: National and international

Requirements: depend on the job sought


If you click through the Upwork site, you’re going to see “top” freelancers apparently earning tremendous wages — from $30 to $150 per hour. But if you look at freelancer reviews on Glassdoor, SiteJabber or Indeed, you’ll see a drastically different picture. Freelancers say that Upwork’s employers often offer marginal pay for long hours of work. And the site’s workers are reluctant to turn down low-paying jobs for fear of getting poor ratings.

The site itself has a graduated fee scale for freelancers, charging 20% of small jobs and just 5% of the larger ones. That may make economic sense, since the site’s effort is likely to be the same for large and small jobs alike. But it is not a popular formula for the freelancers, who feel that those who can afford it least are getting nicked with the highest costs. Some of the most biting criticisms come from those who previously worked for Elance or oDesk, which charged lower fees. These companies were merged into Upwork.

The site also pits freelancers against each other to “bid” on projects. What that does is drive rates down to ridiculously low levels. Unless you got your start years ago, when the platform had fewer freelancers, we think there are better options.

What their freelancers say: 

There is a high volume of leads, but in my experience, most of those leads are not very good. I found few decent gigs to apply for, and declined most of the offers I received. Common reasons I had for either declining or not applying were: a) pay far below industry standard, b) client misunderstanding freelancer/vendor responsibilities (e.g. conflating PR, marketing and sales), c) unethical requests (e.g. writing product/service reviews for pay), d) requests that were so vague it would have been difficult to measure “success.” UpWork is okay for picking up an occasional gig, but the volume of subpar clients and the 20% cut (!!!) the platform takes from vendor payouts should discourage regular use unless you’re just starting out.

“The clients are often difficult, flakey, and cheap. Upwork uses arbitrary practices to bully their freelancers into submission.”

“I worked at Upwork (More than a year). There is a large job pool, but employers gravitate towards the lowest end of pay, like $3/hour because Upwork has allowed this downward spiral in contractor pay. Upwork doesn’t put a minimum on a flat fee job or an hourly rate. Then they have introduced a 20% (freelancer) fee that has a convoluted scale system where you will finally be able to see some income but only after you have very large projects with the same client, which doesn’t happen very often if you’re a writer or designer. I’ve seen clients advertise for “Expert Level $$$” and still expect to pay $5 an hour.”

Ridiculously low pay

“The good thing about Upwork is the variety and volume of freelance opportunities open to all sorts of entrepreneurs. These include writers, designers, IT folks, virtual assistants, etc. But often the clients’ postings offer ridiculously low wages, like “write a 25,000 e-book for $7.00.” On top of that, Upwork recently revamped its pay scale to take a larger chunk out of the freelancer’s pay until they reach a certain income level.”

“Too many cons to list here. Too much exposure for freelancers, no customer support, very low paying jobs. ADVICE TO FREELANCERS: Join and then go straight to the Community Forums and read them. Check in several times a day because posts are taken down if the UpWork moderators think they are too negative. You will read about all the problems freelancers are having from technical issues to fraudulent job postings.”

“Clients should be vetted just like the freelancers are to ensure they are honest and real jobs to offer. You brag about being a global workplace. It feels more like global exploitation.”

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