Upwork reviews: are they fake? What freelancers and clients REALLY say

Upwork reviews: are they fake? What freelancers and clients REALLY say

Look at all these angry Upwork reviews I found in the wild…

Upwork reviews - freelance example

Example 2

Upwork reviews - freelance example

What do you notice?

I don’t doubt they are true in terms of the experience they’ve had but notice how emotional these Upwork reviews are. We never see anyone weighing the pros and cons against each other.

Some claim that they bid on a hundred jobs and earned like $50, and somehow that is Upwork’s fault rather than their own for not learning how to send good proposals. I also noticed that most of these bad reviews are never backed up with proof.

If we compare the attitude we saw in those comments with someone successful (maybe someone you admire), how do you think they would react in comparison?

My bet is that they probably felt the same as described in those comments but instead of writing angry comments on the internet, they made a plan for how to move forward anyway.

Unfortunately, as people, we have an unattractive trait where when something goes wrong we tend to focus on blaming the world or other people. Anything to make us feel like it was not us who did something wrong.

Of course, if we get scammed we do feel emotional but how come there are lots of freelancers and clients with seemingly no problem using Upwork at all?

Every day there are 8,219 projects posted on Upwork with plenty of freelancers and clients using it without problems. Is it just a matter of time before they get scammed as well? Or is there something those reviewers above aren’t telling us?

Honestly, I don’t know. There is no way to know. Surely there are some bad apples in every bunch but there is no way to know if Upwork is for you until you try it.

Comparing Upwork with other sites, scams also happen on Freelancer.com, Fiverr, and even with clients and freelancers working without all of these freelance websites. When that happens there is no big corporation to blame so we don’t hear about it.

Does it make sense for Upwork to tolerate scams and bad Upwork reviews? 

Is Upwork profiting from that as some reviewers claim?

The reality is that Upwork makes most of their earnings from the fees they charge off of completed projects – not all the other fees. 

That means that Upwork makes more money if the freelancer AND client have a good experience together. 

Unfortunately, there are a lot of retards in the world and now Upwork is looking like the bad one because there is an outlet where there was no one before. 

On top of that, Upwork doesn’t want negative PR since it isn’t good for business, so of course, they are trying to make things good for everyone.

Interestingly, I’ve seen examples from almost any other online platform of similar things e.g. Paypal freezing your money and account, Facebook banning your ad account, Facebook group or page for no reason, etc.

What other freelancers (who aren’t anonymous) say about their experience on Upwork

Several freelancers in the industry have made great money on Upwork and they are backing it up with their own face and reputation. I know that some people claim that they are scams too and it is hard to take them seriously. 

Often, when people proclaim a scam it is because they couldn’t figure it out and so blaming it for being a scam is easier than accepting that we aren’t that good at it yet.

My own experience as a freelancer 

Upwork is a great platform for starting out as a freelancer in my experience and I’ve earned a nice little chunk of money there. 

The challenge begins with the distraction of their gamification. They’ve created metrics like the Job Success Score (JSS) and badges that make it seem like we will get more work as freelancers by focusing on improving them.

The reality is that we have no proof of that and we have plenty of examples of not needing this outside the platforms while actually earning more. The problem begins when we focus more on those metrics than pitching and working with clients since that’s what truly matters.

I’ve also noticed some clients leading freelancers on, thinking they want to hire them only to steal their ideas but I guess that could happen anyway. Overall I’ve had a fine experience with Upwork as you can read more about here: is Upwork worth it?

Next, let’s look at the experience on Upwork as a client.

Upwork reviews: what clients say about Upwork

As a client, I’ve hired a bit on Upwork and I’ve only had a good experience.

As I’ve spoken to some of my own freelance clients that have hired more on Upwork than I have, one point that came up is that they were still confused about how to find the right fit, even with all the information they had about the different freelancers.

They still found it difficult to choose the right freelancer no matter the Job Success Score, the top-rated badges, profile text, etc. That shows us that if a great and experienced client like that is still confused and finds it no less easier to hire with all the extra bells and whistles available, it can’t be that important for us as a freelancer.

What to make of all this…

The reality is that we can always find reviews for what we want to hear whether that is for Upwork or something else. Think about food delivery. Say, we look at a popular restaurant with hundreds of reviews. There will always be some positive and some negative.

There is no way except trying it out. We tend to look towards what fits what we already expect and think.

The best example compared with Upwork is mobile apps. How do you decide whether to try an app like this one with so many 5-star and 1-star ratings?

This is for the dating app TInder. Look at what people say:

Someone here is totally misunderstanding the very concept of the app and complaining because they don’t get any matches…. Just like the reviews about Upwork above.

The reality is that the person might just be using a shitty picture and profile text. If you went on there with a great profile you might have an entirely different experience than they with no changes from the company’s side.

My point is to not take the reviews too seriously when you see a bunch on both sides of the argument. Fake reviews not only exist but are common even on Upwork. Here’s an example of someone selling reviews that I could within a few seconds of a google search:

Maybe scams are just a cost of doing business. Would you rather get scammed once, learn and then become successful or not get scammed and not get successful at all?

How to decide if Upwork is right for you

Here’s a simple way to make your decision. Look at two different people:

Person one wrote an angry review about Upwork somewhere on the internet and goes back to flipping burgers at McDonalds.

The other got scammed for a project, revised their thinking, learned from it, and later became successful on Upwork and earned thousands of dollars.

If we assume both are true for the moment, who would you rather be in the future? That’s the one you should listen to.

If Upwork reviews scare you, there are other alternatives. By other alternatives, I don’t mean other freelance websites – they all have the same challenges.

What is the best way for a new freelancer to get clients?

If you’ve searched for “how to get freelance work”, you’ve probably come across lists like “101 places to find freelance work” and felt overwhelmed. Where do we even start?

Let’s simplify things. I have prepared four points that are important for new freelancers to consider when looking for clients:

Contactability: We will benefit from being able to contact as many businesses as we want, especially in the beginning as not every business we contact will be a good fit.

Marketplaces typically offer a limited number of great projects, so you might feel like you need to pitch any project (even the ones that aren’t a fit) to earn money. On some platforms, you can only send a certain number of proposals – not ideal.

Researchability: Being able to research the business to understand what they do, what kind of customers they serve, and what kind of challenges they have, is crucial if you want to get their attention.

Time to results: This is a representation of how quickly you are able to get in front of potential clients. Some channels require more work upfront because they are long term focused (e.g. getting people to find your website vs. you reaching out to them).

Competition: When we start out, most of us don’t feel that confident so having a swarm of competitors can feel overwhelming.

There are a number of ways to decide which approach is the best fit for you. I like to score the items on a scale from 1-5 (1 being worst and 5 being best), based on the points above and then rank them by the total score.

Below I’ve listed seven popular channels and scored them each using the points above. 

The seven popular channels are

  • Freelance marketplaces (like Upwork)
  • Job boards
  • Cold outreach (cold emailing or cold calling)
  • Networking events and speaking gigs
  • Social networks
  • Referrals and collaborations
  • Inbound marketing

As you might notice, cold outreach has scored the highest with social networks, job boards, and networking events coming in second and third.

The perhaps most important reason is that when we begin our new freelance business, we need to practice connecting with potential clients.

There is nothing worse than if we feel motivated to go for it but we are blocked by limitations that aren’t up to us.

This changes as we get more experience and by then other options might become a better fit. For example, if we have no clients and network, we have no business working on getting referrals. That will come later.

With that out of the way, let’s dive deeper into each channel.

Freelance marketplaces

On freelance marketplaces like Upwork, freelancer.com, and Fiverr we usually don’t know who the clients are. 

Links in project descriptions are often not allowed as the marketplaces fear that freelancers will be taking work off of the platforms. 

They often attract newly started businesses with limited hiring experience, so they are not aware of how much information we need as a freelancer to do a good job.

Usually, you’ll be allowed to send proposals for a limited number of projects monthly and you can pay to send more. While it makes sense that they want to avoid spam, it doesn’t help you. 

One of the major benefits is that you can land a new client within hours if the timing is right. And there is a higher likelihood that you will hit the right timing as potential clients are out there looking to hire paid help.

There appears to be a lot of competition for the projects but there are also less competitive niche projects you can bid on. Perhaps the difference is that the competition is more visible compared to e.g. a job board or cold calling where you don’t know if anyone else is in contact with the client.

Job boards (e.g. craigslist or Flexjobs)

Sometimes you’ll be able to see which brand created the job ad and other times you don’t – the researchability depends on the job board. Some will ask you to buy an account to access the job board whereas others publish the projects for free.

Both have their benefits. For example, Solidgigs is a platform that limits the competition by asking people to pay to join which I consider a major benefit.

There is usually less competition than on freelance marketplaces but more than if you cold call businesses.

In some cases, you will get hired quickly but often the turnaround time is longer than with freelance marketplaces (for good or bad).

Contactability depends on the job board and how often they show new projects.

Jacob McMillen, a six-figure freelance writer, shares his approach to landing gigs with job boards here.

Cold outreach (e.g. cold emailing/calling)

With this approach, you pick who you’d like to contact, so you can, for example, choose only those that are easy to research. You simply search for another company (or 10, 20, etc.) and you are off to the races.

How fast you’ll land a project depends on the company itself but there are no limitations. You could land a project right away if they are looking for your type of services. 

However, it is likely that you’ll have to contact more leads than on a marketplace to land a client.. unless you find a way to segment for businesses looking for help.

The competition depends on your industry and services, but generally, there is less competition as people are either scared of reaching out or coming across as spammy.

Networking events and speaking gigs

Unless you are a magician, you probably can’t spot someone from across the room and guess where they work. However, doing research shouldn’t be a problem as people tend to love to talk about themselves and at events, there are usually sponsors, visible online registration, name tags with logos, etc.

While you have the ability to connect with other attendees as much as you like, there are only so many people at each event and if you’ve ever been to one, you probably know what it feels like when people are machine-gunning name cards at us.

You could land a gig right on the spot because it is easier to build trust with someone in person.

Many people hate networking events, so they might stay at home. On the other hand, many of those that go there might be ready to pitch the same leads as you.

Social networks (e.g. LinkedIn)

Researchability depends on the businesses themselves as they typically have to fill in their own information. Many do so to get more exposure but it isn’t guaranteed.

Social media platforms tend to have a limited number of daily interactions and not everyone you’d like to target is on there. Some platforms offer you to pay to connect with more people while others don’t.

The time to results depends on the business but there is no limitation from the platforms’ side.

Competition depends on your services and industry but more and more are using social media platforms to drive business. It is still less than the job boards and freelance marketplaces as you still have to do the hunting most of the time.

If this might be a channel for you, Michal Eisikowitz and Tyler Koenig (both six-figure freelancers) discuss how to build a freelance business using LinkedIn here:

Referrals and collaborations

Researchability and contactability: You are at the mercy of whoever is sending you the referral but you can prepare them by telling them you only work with a certain type of client.

Time to results: It depends on the situation but especially if they know someone is looking, you could land a deal fast. And referral leads are usually of higher quality than other platforms.

Usually, there is little competition but you never know.

Inbound marketing (SEO/Guest posting, etc.)

Researchability: As they are reaching out to you, it is up to them how many details they share with you and usually you have to ask them questions to get the knowledge you need.

How many you can pitch depends on how many people reach out to you and unless you already have an established site, it won’t be many.

Time to results: It takes a long time to build this up but it gives you a lot of power as businesses come to you for help rather than you having to do the work to reach out.

Competition: Since they are coming to you there will be little to no competition unless they also reach out to others.

Now over to you: did you get a better idea of if you should use Upwork? Comment below.


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