We Need To Talk About Upwork

Back in January, I wrote an article titled Most People Hiring Writers Know Nothing About Writing, and I’ll admit that I wasn’t overly nice about it. Unfortunately, the truth isn’t always nice, but it’s still the truth, and today I’m writing about another truth, a specific truth, one that irks me to the nth degree. Today, I’ll be talking about Upwork (no, I’m not linking to it).

They’re making my head hurt!

I signed up on the site back in 2018, but at that time I wasn’t going all that often. I went looking for any writing assignments to help pad my income, because at that time I was financially secure and the pandemic wasn’t a thought in anyone’s mind. It wasn’t until the summer of 2021 when I decided it was time to start bidding on some projects, because I thought adding some income would be a good thing to do, and I knew there were a lot of potential opportunities for me to be able to find some contracts to bid on.

The first contract I bid on had me contacted within the first 30 minutes. I was stunned by that, and thought that I had hit the jackpot website that was going to give me a lot of opportunities and options. However, I felt there was something funny about the contact after a brief messaging conversation I had with the contractor, and before I had a chance to get back to it I was informed by Upwork that they were killing that proposal and banning that person for breaking their terms of service. I was relieved at that point because the Spidey senses had kicked in, but it turns out that seven of the first 10 things I bid on were scams, and suddenly I wasn’t feeling as good as I initially did.

Over the course of October 2021, after my mother passed away, all the way through the end of February 2023, Upwork has been a major slog and disappointment. I got to do one writing assignment which was nice, and I was definitely overpaid for it, but the last thing I did was edit a sales letter that a PhD educator wanted to use to promote his new book. It was easy enough to do, and I got it back to him within 40 minutes, thinking I would get paid for the full hour, but it turns out that particular contract was set up to only pay based on the actual time it took to do the project, so I lost money on that deal. As if that wasn’t bad enough, I almost didn’t get paid because he never came back to the site and I never heard from him again, but Upwork paid me, because I found out that they make new contractors set up a payment plan for just that eventuality; whew. Not going to lie, that situation left a bad taste in my mouth.

Even with that, in my opinion that’s not the worst of it. Let Me explain how Upwork actually works so that you can get a feel for the process.

I’m going to give you the easy version of how to set up an account. You can do more detailed things, but in some way that’s problematic and I’ll come back to that on the back end. Initially, you set up an account with a username and password, add a few things about yourself, then you get to pick search terms for the type of work that you’re looking to do. For instance, I put down “writer, blogger, editor”, and different variations of those terms. That’s because that was the type of work I initially wanted to do. Later on I went back and put in a whole bunch of other types of work I was looking to do, because in general terms I work in health care, leadership and diversity areas as a consultant as well.

Giant Eraser, National Gallery of Art
Washington DC; I took this! 🙂

You have to go through the process of setting up how you’re going to get paid. You can sign up to get paid through a site like PayPal, or you can decide to use their internal way of being paid. I ended up setting mine up on PayPal, and initially it was problematic because my PayPal account uses the initials of my consulting business, but it doesn’t have my first name on it. Upwork and I fought for a few hours before they finally relented and let me attach my Upwork account to PayPal by uploading a picture of my driver’s license. I was generally irked, but we pushed forward.

When you first set up your account, the site gives you something that they call “Connects“. You use a certain number of connects to bid on gigs that you want to apply for. They start you off with 10 free connects (I think I started with more when I signed up, but this is what you start with now), but if you use them up too quickly, then you have to buy more if you want to keep bidding on other gigs. It’ll cost you 15 cents for a connect, but you have to buy them in bundles of 10, 20, 40, 60 and 80 (I know, 80 connects is only $12, but it’s the principal of the thing lol). This is in U.S. currency; the rest of you will have to do a Google conversion if necessary.

It’s best to be prudent and not bid on everything, because there’s a lot of junk out there and a lot of gigs that don’t come close to paying well enough to waste your time with it, unless you’re outside of the United States. That part might sound petty to those who aren’t located in the United States, but how many of us residents in this country can afford to write articles at a penny a word or less? That was one of the things I complained about in the article I linked to in the first paragraph.

When you’re ready to start looking at potential gigs, you’re offered certain choices. One of those choices specifically says jobs in the United States, and that’s only supposed to be for people in the United States because that’s what the contractors are asking for. However, I doubt that all of those bidders are from the United States (okay, I know they’re not) because you get those folks who want a thousand words for $5 to $10, and even though you don’t know who you’re bidding against, I would bet that almost nobody in the United States that has any writing skills is going to bid on those jobs.

I started bidding on jobs, and I was bidding on a lot of them (at least in my opinion), but I wasn’t going overboard with it. After all, I wanted to stretch out those first 100 connects, and I didn’t want to waste them all on projects I didn’t care about or didn’t have any expertise about. I also wasn’t bidding on any contracts that we’re going to be a waste of time or not generate enough income for me, and there’s a lot of those.

Some of the contractors list all kinds of things that I don’t know about or that I know I’m not going to do, whereas other contracts might only have two or three lines, and you’re not really sure what they want. You have the option of bidding on something by giving them a proposal, but that’s always going to cost you connect. You also have the opportunity to critique the contracts, where you can click on an arrow on the top right of the contract, and it will give you a bunch of choices as to why you don’t want to bid on it. You don’t need to do that, but supposedly if you do that the website will set up an algorithm so that it doesn’t show you things you don’t care about. I’m saying supposedly because I still see a lot of junk that would be a waste of my time.

My version of Connects 😉

Here’s the thing about connects that you need to think about. The amount of connects can start at 2 connects for a project, but it can escalate greatly and oddly fast. If you bid on a project early you might only be requested to use two or three connects. However, people who bid after you get notification of how many connects are in the top three, and sometimes it won’t let you put a bid on something unless you pay enough connects that put you at least close to thee top three… sometimes forcing you to bid into the top 3 if you’re really interested.

That happened to me, and it left a bad taste in my mouth. I bid on something that I know I was totally qualified for in the health care field, and I didn’t expect there would be much competition for the project. The proposal said you had to use 4 connects, so I went to the bottom and put in 4 connects, and all of a sudden something popped up showing me that the number of connects that were in third place was 24 connects.

It wouldn’t let me bid just 4 connects, saying that I had to bid a minimum of 24 connects. I was doubly irked, because I knew if I had bid 4 connects that the contractor probably would have never seen my qualifications for the job, but I also knew using 24 connects would seriously hamper anything else that might come up that I wanted to bid on.

I tried to put in 24, but in that minute I waited it had gone up to 25. Next I put in 25, and in those 30 seconds it had gone up to 26. Even though I was angry, I put in 26 and it was accepted. But I had a feeling that anyone who came after me was going to bid much higher than that, and even though I would bet that I was more qualified than 99.7% of the people who might bid on the gig on that topic, that even with that many connects, the contractor was probably never going to see my proposal.

I mentioned earlier that I’d gone back into Upwork and added my skills that had nothing to do with writing. I was under the assumption that Upwork’s algorithm would sometimes combine the different skills and opportunities that were out there, since it did that for writing and proofreading, but it doesn’t do that at all; you have to know to go in and look for some of those skills specifically… kind of…

I specifically do something called “charge master” consulting, but it’s not in Upwork’s list of things that people might want to find. I can put in “healthcare” (one word) consulting, but that’s about as close as I can get. I can’t even add “finance” to health care, because it’s not in their list of choices, so I’d be forced to put in either just healthcare or finance… which means I never come across “almost” anything that fits what I do as a consultant.

Let me finish talking about connects before I move on. Here’s another thing which you might think is good but that’s not necessarily so. If the contractor actually picks someone who bid on the proposal, you’re supposed to get your connects back. However, it turns out that most people who put up a contract never hire anyone, and in that case you basically lost your connects for no reason at all. To be fair, I can’t be overly mad at that because I had created a Fiverr account back in 2015, and I put out a bid for something that I never hired anybody for because I was just testing things out. I never figured out how Fiverr worked, and I still can’t figure it out… but I’m betting someone lost money bidding on the project I created… which I can’t remember what it pertained to.

I’m going to talk about one more thing related to profiles, then I’m moving into the next phase of conversation. It turns out you can create a professional profile, highlighting all the different types of work you can do. For instance, I can create a profile listing “charge master”, and I can highlight all my accomplishments. However, what I still can’t do is find any of their options that specifically share “charge master”. I can create a profile showing “leadership coach” or “leadership speaker” because those are set, and I can create the same thing using “diversity” instead of speaker, but I’ve made most of my income via health care related consulting, and without being able to create my own search term, I might as well stay with my own website so I’m not competing with myself and giving money to Upwork… at least that’s how I see things.

Up to now, I’ve done a lot of fussing; the last thing I’m going to talk about is a lot of other people doing all that fussing. They have a forum where people can talk about things like how to get contracts and such. It’s also a place where people can gripe about Upwork and all the things that feel broken. Almost everything I talked about above, someone else has complained about it. Upwork has… well… “representatives”, that might be employees, who’ll pop in from time to time, but never give any positive responses that makes anyone happy.

It seems that a lot of people complain about some of the changes that have been made, such as restricting conversations with each other unless you communicate via Upwork itself. There’s other things like that which bothers a lot of people, but frankly, on this particular rule I’m in favor for, at least initially. Without that rule, I’d have been scammed… no one wants that on their record.

In conclusion (whew, I’m tired!), I’m not going to recommend that anyone should sign up for Upwork if you’re actually hoping to land any kind of work or generate a nice income. You can see if Upwork has specific search terms based on whatever you’re qualified for, because I’ve seen a lot of requests for accountants, bookkeepers and even social media managers (if I’d only found that 13 years ago!). In general, Upwork’s not set up for regular people to bid on something they have actual expertise in, and there’s way too many people to compete with who are ready to outbid you without someone taking the time to evaluate your competence. It’s worse than sending out a bunch of resumes; you might as well post something on Craigslist, because at least you’ll have some control there.

That’s it; that’s all I’ve got. Now for a couple of fluffernutters for dinner; yay me!

8 thoughts on “We Need To Talk About Upwork”

  1. Freelance writers are suffering because of businesses flocking to ChatGPT. By the time those businesses have gotten burned by AI, how many seasoned writers will have taken their talents elsewhere?

    I work in Data Processing and, right until until July, 2022, I was getting steady work. This means that I could afford the monthly subscription plan that gives me enough connects that I never had to worry about them.

    At this point, I’m trying to decide how long I’m going to keep paying for connects. This is just like when I had to make a decision about freelancer . com.

    I understand your frustration and hope you can find alternatives.



    1. I wonder if I still have a freelancer account; totally forgot I joined them years ago. As for writing gigs and AI, I’d be ashamed to use it, but I know many people who believe it’s a godsend. Still, if it was only writing I was fussing about that would be one thing; it’s everything else included with my disappointment that’s irking me the most. I’m hoping for alternatives also, but it seems the internet is set up with sites like Upwork or IAPWE; don’t get me started on that scam!

      1. At some point, business automation will have trigger-based solutions like Zapier provide canned responses created by Chatbot, to responds to automated emails sent by services like MailerLite. Those emails can be created by Chatbot, so, essentially, Chatbot will be talking to itself!

        Until this happens: https://morphodesigns.com/the-cryptarchy/




      2. Well… I doubt that will help most people in any way, but the current system doesn’t actually help a lot of people either. That sounds cynical, doesn’t it?

  2. The freelance platforms like Upwork, have certainly changed the landscape of work and created new opportunities for individuals seeking flexible employment. However, as highlighted in the post, there are several issues with the platform that need to be addressed.

    From the high fees charged to freelancers to the difficulty in securing jobs due to intense competition, Upwork is far from perfect. Additionally, the lack of support for freelancers when disputes arise and the potential for exploitation by clients are serious concerns.

    It is important that Upwork takes steps to address these issues and create a more equitable platform for both freelancers and clients. Additionally, freelancers must also be proactive in setting fair rates and establishing boundaries with clients to avoid exploitation.

    1. First, I had to change some of your information because it violated my commenting policy. I kept this comment because it’s pretty good; I haven’t done this in many years, so congratulations.

      Second, I totally agree with your beliefs about the lack of support and the intense competition part. I also have a complaint about the lousy vetting of some of the people looking for talent to help them out. My last gig was pretty bad because the client didn’t actually know what he wanted, and I edited it 3 times before he just dropped off the face of the earth. If the clients don’t know the rules, that’s not one bit helpful.

      Third, freelancers don’t actually get to set rates. I mean, when we bid on something, we can decide to charge more or less than the potential client wants to pay, but it’s always up to the client what’s actually going to get paid. And let’s face it, if they want a lot of detailed work but they’re looking for an entry level person, then they’re only willing to pay for entry level people instead of paying for someone with the skills and background to deliver what they’re looking for. Now, with AI just around the corner, I feel like many of the gigs listed for content creators will phase out soon enough.

  3. I agree with you on the numerous spam on Upwork. Fiverr is even worse. You’re lucky Upwork identified and banned the contractor before you executed the work. I have worked for a contractor (content writing), and upon successful completion and submission, he rejected the job and canceled. I wasn’t paid.

    He gave me some keywords with links to include in the content, and with the help of a plagiarism checker, I found the content was later published exactly as I wrote it. No editing or addition. When I went back to complain to Upwork, I was informed the account does not exist anymore.

    It is not easy out there. Also, there is a lot of competition in the freelancing world at the moment, if you don’t have great reviews, that’s another obstacle. And chatGTP is not helping. I wonder why people allow machines to write for them. How then are they able to connect with their readers?

    As of now, I am focusing my energy on my business blog. I am certain with time, I’ll start seeing results (revenues) when my readership grows.

    1. That sounds like a horrible experience; I totally understand. I just joined Fiverr, and I hope to have a better experience than you did, but I’m also going to be realistic in thinking about it, since I’ve gone down this road many times in the past.

      I also agree with your worries about ChatGPT. I was worried the day I heard about it, and I’ve seen a lot of people gushing over it, while others have been overwhelmed. I think that’s going to take away a lot of work from people looking for gigs on Upwork, and we’re going to see a lot of bland articles showing up, some that make absolutely no sense because they’re not edited properly. Thank goodness for personal blogs.

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