Before we jump into discussing if Upwork is worth it, I have to say that I’ve been able to do some awesome things with the money I earned there.
My earnings covered my living cost for a few months and even allowed me to save up. To be transparent, I was fairly frugal so this wouldn’t be the case anywhere in the world but I designed it in a way that worked for me.
I also bought a new computer without feeling guilty and traveled to some cool places like Indonesia.
Actually, one of the best things I’ve gotten from my Upwork-experience has been a few of the cool people I’ve worked with. But you probably don’t care about that, so let’s move on…
What is Upwork?
Before we jump in, let me clarify that Upwork is a website where businesses can post projects that they would like help with. Freelancers can then send proposals for the projects and the business can choose who they would like to work with.
It can be small projects or long term engagements from everything like the translation of documents to programming an app.
What other freelancers say about Upwork
Before I dove into the Upwork case study, I took the liberty of reaching out to my readers to see what they had to say about their experience on Upwork.
One of my favorite comments was that “Upwork is like a bicycle with training wheels.” I couldn’t describe it any better! They take care of everything for you from getting clients to post projects to help with payments.
Another said, “as a beginner, it is worth it because you can find decent clients but it becomes less and less relevant after 10-20 projects or so.” Other comments were:
The $8,988 experiment: is Upwork worth it?
I took Upwork for a test drive to see if Upwork is legit but also to compare it to other options.
That way you and I can better understand the pros and cons of each, and you’ll hopefully be able to save time by choosing the right approach from the get-go rather than spending the same almost half a year trying it out as I did.
Let’s dive right in, shall we? I’m excited.
Over the course of about five months I earned $8,988 on Upwork. I know it says $10K in the screenshot below but I earned the last bit after, so it doesn’t count.
That comes out to about $1,800 per month and the type of projects I was working on were primarily Facebook ads but also other online marketing related tasks like partnerships or building landing pages.
Now, let’s dive into the juicy data from the project.
There is a lot here, so let’s break it down.
After experimenting with different ways to send proposals to clients I managed to land one out of four clients — 25%. There is no official data showing if that is good or bad but from speaking with other freelancers on Upwork, it is high as I understand.
But it still means that 75% of the proposals didn’t turn into anything. I can’t tell for sure but I noticed that because it is so easy to put a project out on Upwork, some businesses might be trigger happy only to regret it later.
In my experiment, I went back to track each project after it was closed to see if anyone was hired. In about 50% of the cases, no one was hired – that was by far the most common reason why I didn’t land the job.
It’s challenging to guess why that might be the case. I figure it might be a balance between not needing the help, that they didn’t like any of the proposals or they found someone somewhere else.
No matter how we reach out to businesses that don’t know us already, we’ll see similar numbers, in my experience. That’s just how it is in the beginning. Like riding a bicycle, it takes practice.
I noticed that there are two things to consider in particular. One is the amount of time spent compared to what we earn and the second is the quality of the clients.
The amount of time I spent compared to what I earned includes the hours that are not billable where we send the proposal, talk with them on the phone, or something else. It’s not work-time, it’s life-time.
What I did was to send out a few proposals — just a few per day — but I spent a lot of time on each one to make them REALLY FUCKING good.
That is not necessarily the right choice or the most effective one but that’s what I did. Every time I tried to spend the same total amount of time each day — usually a couple of hours per day — but sent more proposals, I always got fewer responses.
The second thing was the quality of clients. By sending out well thought out proposals, it allowed me to go after high-quality clients because I came across as a high-quality freelancer.
My theory was that instead of playing the volume game, those would ultimately pay me more money and be easier to work with, in some shape or form.
Compared to other clients I’ve had, they were somewhere in the middle. A few of them were great while others were just fine. None of them were as crazy as we sometimes hear where they hold back payments or try to get you to do free work.
Unfortunately, I can’t show you hard data to prove this since that would be unethical towards my clients, but I do see a direct connection between the size of the client’s business and how pleasant they are to work with along with how well they pay.
As you can see in the data above, my average project was worth $642 which is great as a starting point but low in the grand scheme of things. Upwork would take an average of $114 in fees per project, so ultimately I was able to get $528 before tax and bank transfer fees.
I’ve seen other blogs show people earning great money with high rates and I’m not dismissing them. But it appears as if most of those are in America and in my experience, a good portion of projects are only open to people applying from America for whatever reason.
I did an experiment to see if this was true and you can find the results and the end of this article. They are… interesting.
We can speculate but it doesn’t really matter since we can’t change it. Especially towards the end of the experience, I got good at searching and spotting better projects and clients.
By then, the biggest challenge I came across was not enough good projects to send proposals to. I was maxed out at a few per day with no way to earn more.
The second challenge that I ran into was that I couldn’t specialize and niche down much – which is usually recommended by business experts.
I had to keep my services fairly generic such as offering Facebook ads for ecommerce stores without being able to fit a good spot where I could be the best, simply because I couldn’t find enough demand.
As you can see in the data above, after fees and including all the non-billable hours, etc. my effective hourly rate came out to $9.2 before taxes. No doubt that would change with more experience and if I would be able to leverage private invitations to projects — something that other blogs talk about but I didn’t see much of except with mass-produced ones that weren’t serious.
The biggest reason for the hourly rate being that low was that I constantly had to work to find new clients.
Even though I had a few clients that I was able to help with multiple projects, most of the time that wasn’t the case and I had to spend a lot of non-billable hours pitching new clients.
As you’ll be able to see in this mega guide to freelance digital marketing, I made that work with other approaches than Upwork but that is a story for another day.
So, let’s get to the takeaways.
Is Upwork worth it?
The short version is that, yes, Upwork is worth it if you are just starting out and working to earn your first thousand dollars freelancing.
If you are looking to earn a little bit of money quickly, and don’t intend to continue freelancing, freelancing is generally not a great choice because of the learning curve. The longer you do it, the more you’ll earn because you get better.
Upwork might be a decent choice for you because there are a ton of random jobs but in the long run, that sucks since your rates will stay low.
If you are looking to earn money freelancing so you can quit your job and travel, we need to look at the longer-term… with that in mind, the most important thing is that we continue to do it and enjoy it, right?
If the following type of freedom is what you are after, I don’t recommend Upwork or other freelance platforms:
- Freedom for going to an office and answering to managers
- Freedom of having your own routine where I don’t answer to a lot of people
- Freedom to take a holiday whenever you want to
- Freedom to work from cafes, in your shorts
One of the biggest barriers is simply getting a profile approved so you can begin pitching clients. If you already have one or if you are excited about giving it a go, try it once. If your account doesn’t get approved, I’d move on.
Is Upwork worth it in the long run?
With that in mind, the answer isn’t so simple.
The joy tends to come from the work being fun — and that tends to come from a) being able to do a good job and b) not being stressed c) that the people we work with are pleasant and d) that the work/clients pay well.
In general, do you agree?
So, then the question becomes if we can get those four points via Upwork. In my experience, it is possible but out of the many clients I worked with, it was just a couple of them that fitted those criteria.
I found that the longer I stayed the less worth it, it became because my focus changed from earning money and landing clients to making it predictable, getting better clients, charging higher rates, and earning more.
The thing with Upwork is that there are so many jobs that we tend to think that among all of them, there must be something for us.
It becomes addicting to scroll the feed like browsing on Instagram and soon enough we forget that there are other ways to find clients.
It comes a spiral, as I experienced that there was no steady flow of projects. Some days I’d get lucky whereas on other days there would be nothing, which felt frustrating.
Another challenge is that there are so many projects where you can’t tell if this is a new or established business – and that makes all the difference.
What ultimately happened was that I became dependent on Upwork to feed me new projects and I didn’t develop the skill and confidence to truly be on my own. Deep down I felt like I was at the mercy of the Upwork gods.
Upwork is a business and they can change anything on their platform wherever they want to. And they have every right to do so.
For example, a few years ago they changed the fees that freelancers pay to Upwork for completing a project. If they wanted to, they could increase that tomorrow.
On the other hand, getting the first three clients and getting the feeling that “I can do this” is priceless and if you can experience that faster through Upwork, that is great.
To conclude, I don’t believe Upwork is a long-term solution, even though some freelancers have earned great money over the years.
But it can be a great starting point and it has been for me, as long as you are aware that you’ll probably have to move away from the platform sooner or later.
Is Upwork worth it if you want to work with online marketing?
As a fun little experiment, I had a look on Upwork searching for “online marketing” to see if I could dissect just how many freelancers were high earners within the same field but also outside of the United States, Canada, The UK or Australia.
This is not exactly a scientific experiment, so take it for what it’s worth. I used this search to filter higher earners earning near or above $100K in total while also having a high hourly rate of $75/h or above.
The reason I chose both a high hourly rate and high total earnings is that a high rate means clients that can pay and high total earnings means consistency and predictability.
Some of these had selected a high hourly rate but never actually gotten paid that amount, so I removed them from the list.
Keep in mind that some freelancers put their profile on ‘private’, and so I wasn’t able to see them in my search. And I’m sure that there are some that didn’t come up that should have while there were about 10 that came up but shouldn’t have, so it evens out I imagine.
Ultimately, I found 910 candidates in total and just 29 of those were from outside the four major English speaking countries just mentioned. That comes out to about 3% showing that it is possible to earn good money long-term on Upwork, at least in the digital marketing field.
I’m sure that there are others that did it in other popular fields like copywriting or programming as well.
Yes, I earned $8,988 in my first five months on Upwork offering digital marketing services to clients. There are many different clients needing different types of help, so you can offer many different types of services depending on your skillset.
Fiverr is more project-focused and comes across as more of a commodity website. If you want to sell things that can be delivered to clients easily and fast without building a relationship, Fiverr is probably a good bet. If you are more interested in long-term projects I’d look at Upwork.
Upwork is not dead. There are thousands of new projects posted from all over the world every day. In fact, Upwork has been welcoming many new clients and freelancers in recent years.
It is possible to get scammed on Upwork but Upwork works hard to prevent it. if you take basic precautions and do everything through Upwork’s platform and don’t offer free work before you start a project, you should be just fine.