Since I got out of the Peace Corps, my life–namely, my next career move–has been way up in the air. I had no idea what to do, and needed to figure it out quickly. I’d never thought about writing for money. But when I heard about the possibility to do so through a freelancer platform, I knew I had to try it.
And so I did. There was a time I used Upwork extensively for freelance jobs. I even made a pretty good amount of money, or at least more than I expected. But was it worthy of my time? Are freelancer platforms worth it? And most importantly for this article, is Upwork a good freelancer platform?
My answer to all three questions is a hard no. Here’s why.
1 // piss-poor pay
Upwork doesn’t necessarily control this–but they could. Chances are, as a freelancer, you will make next to nothing for a lot of hard work. The competition amongst writers and other creatives on freelancer platforms is insanely intense.
And because freelancers from all around the world use Upwork, the platform is inundated with people that are willing to charge less than you if their cost of living is lower. I’m not kidding–I’ve seen freelancers charge $1 for over 500 words, and I shudder to think how many cents per word that actually is.
Because of this competition and the ridiculously low pay that clients want to cough up, the average client has dealt with their fair share of scammers on many a freelancer platform. Of course, one could argue that they are also scammers if they’re only willing to pay $1 per 500+ words…but I digress.
Bottom line: regardless of what some top freelancers with thousands per job may tell you, it is unlikely you will be paid fairly on Upwork. In addition, you will work hours upon hours researching opportunities, building your profile, writing pitches to potential clients, and that’s all before you even start the job.
Once you get a job through a freelancer platform, you then are usually expected to fulfill tons of requirements for not enough pay. You also won’t be able to access your money without paying a fee unless it’s above the $100 minimum. It’s bogus, it doesn’t have to be that way, and it’s not worth your time.
2 // horrible clients
I still cannot believe how many horrible clients I dealt with on Upwork. Aside from the unfathomably low pay quoted on many jobs, clients typically have a laundry list of unrealistic expectations. And that’s if you even hear back from them. It is common to be ghosted after hearing back from a client, and some even do so after requesting a personalized free sample.
Believe me, I speak from experience. One client wanted me to write a 500-word sample for free so that they would consider me. I got it back to them within hours, and have never heard from them to this day. That’s a mistake I’ll never make again. I can’t know for certain they never plagiarized my work and used it for free. Now, I know that there is really no such thing as a free personalized sample. Instead, I realized that my portfolio is a plethora of true free samples.
my first upwork experience
I’ve was paid $10 for 2500 words on my first ever Upwork job. That’s $2 per 500 words. And to top it all off, he thought I would continue to work with him for such low pay. His job was very time-consuming, and I probably made pennies an hour. Those are a few miserable days I’ll never get back.
When I gracefully removed myself from continued contact with him after I finished that job, he offered $4 per 500 words because he likes my writing. Yes, you read that correctly.
To put his audacity into perspective, the average minimum writers should be paid per 500 words is $20-$25. When I told him that this is indeed my rate, he gave me a 5-star review and told me he would contact me again if he had another opportunity. Oh, boy.
my last upwork experience
And finally, my experience on Upwork ended when a different client assigned me 9 articles for $12 each on a 4 business-day timeline. The original quoted price was $8 per article. What a joke.
He did not tell me this before I began, but he wanted more than 500 words per piece and special SEO editing included. I spent at least 7 extra hours on this job perfecting the webpages because of delayed instruction he didn’t bother to give up front. And to top it all off, somehow the whole ordeal was my fault.
A little bit of me died that day.
I vowed I will never, ever take less than what my work is worth. If Upwork clients want terrible writing for crap pay, then they can look elsewhere. I am worth more.
3 // questionable support
Remember, Upwork clients usually seek out the platform if they’re only interested in paying far below the industry minimum. So what if I told you that on top of the extensive hours, demanding clients, and horrible pay, that Upwork takes some of the money you make?
I know. It majorly sucks.
This is common amongst your average freelancer platform. After all, if they don’t collect a profit, they would cease to exist. I’m not sure if I would be mad about that, though.
So, what are you paying for with that 20% (!) taken out of your earnings?
It’s supposed to be for Upwork support, which includes dealing with scammers on your behalf.
scammers. scammers galore.
In recent months, I’ve noticed that Upwork has become even more inundated with scammers, if that’s possible. I think it’s because Upwork has gotten a tad too big for its britches. At this point, it is the largest freelancer platform and it’s been around for quite some time.
But, when freelancers have to dodge skeevy clients left and right, what’s the point in paying to apply for jobs? (Yeah, they started making freelancers pay actual money to apply recently. *Gasp.*)
Why fork over some of your earnings when you have to go through listings with a finely-toothed comb anyway?
I will say that Upwork dealt with one scammer on my behalf. This “client” wanted to do a Google Hangouts interview over an hour long, asked me to buy a mile-long list of programs to work with them (including Grammarly–ew), and expected me to purchase a specific printer from their partner.
Should I even have to fool with fake clients that ask invasive questions about who I bank with? No. I shouldn’t have to. Because these creeps need to be vetted more effectively.
And until Upwork does just that, I’m taking a break from their platform.
4 // lack of fulfillment
This one may be more philosophical, but it’s arguably the most important on this list. At the end of the day, I wasn’t fulfilled writing about pepper spray and tree services for hours on end. I wasn’t meeting my full potential. Sure, did I meet a couple of good clients out of the mass of horrible ones? Yeah. But, did I love what I was doing every day? Absolutely not.
I have a moral dilemma with the services many companies request. Usually, when you write a blog post for a company, they want it to appear as if they wrote it themselves.
Because it’s 100% believable that Bob at your friendly neighborhood HVAC services company wrote an 800-word blog post tugging on your heartstrings and connecting his company to Memorial Day. Just like it makes perfect sense for me to do things completely out of my own skill set, like Bob’s job.
That’s a no.
It was probably Sarah the Freelancer from hundreds of miles away that’s never even met Bob the HVAC Guy and writes articles day in, and day out.
Here is where my problem arises. If Bob didn’t write it and Sarah did, would it kill Bob to credit her? To give her space for her bio at the end of the post?
Of course it wouldn’t. But this isn’t the way of the business. Instead, these clients want ghostwriters. I’ve even seen Upwork clients requesting ghostwriters for a novel. A NOVEL.
If you’re comfortable being a ghostwriter, then do you! But I can’t. It goes against my morals, most of which come from my faith and my upbringing in schools with strict honor codes. Just like I can’t put my name on someone else’s work without losing sleep, I’m not okay with them taking credit for mine. Point blank.
This is most of what’s happening on your average freelancer platform, including Upwork.
I bet I just ruined your trust in the average company website. From now on, you’ll wonder who actually wrote it and how much they were paid. After these experiences, I definitely do so myself now.
so, what’s the alternative?
Since I have always considered it fruitless to criticize something and not offer alternatives, here we are. You want to explore writing as more than just a fun pastime, and maybe even get paid for it. But using a freelancer platform like Upwork sounds like the colossal waste of time it is.
The first thing you can try is to pitch magazine publications, especially if you like writing opinionated pieces or more lyrical works that aren’t suited for businesses. I get it. It’s really scary, and you have to assume that the overwhelming majority of your pitches will receive no response. But it’s worth a try if you love writing and are sick of being paid pennies on the dollar to write about toe fungus relief cream.
There is a plethora of online and print publications that accept submissions from freelancers, and actually pay well. On top of that, writers get a bio at the end of their piece along with their personal website linked, social media accounts included, and a little snippet about themselves. Sounds like a win-win situation to me!
cold pitch businesses
A second option is to cold pitch businesses you think are super cool and want to write for. Tread carefully, though. I recently did this with a dog food company that I think would be really fun to work with, only to hear back from them saying they “keep things pretty strictly in-house.”
Guess who’s hiring ghostwriters for its blog on Upwork…?
I rest my case.
However, when this does work out, it’s like striking gold. I recently had my first article published on the HappyCow blog, a website I’ve used for over 5 years and absolutely love. I got to write about a topic I’m passionate about, with an amazing team by my side. My bio is at the end of my contribution, and I get the satisfaction of seeing my work on another platform. Wow!
make money through a blog
Like I’ve mentioned in other posts about blogging, you can make money through a blog. The best part is that this income is passive, so you can write a post with affiliate links and make money on the same post for years. I only employ this stream of revenue right now. It’s a way for me to gain from sharing products I’ve already tried and love, not convincing people to use it as I try it for myself.
This won’t work overnight. I doubt I’ll see a real profit from Sarah L. Travels for at least a year. But I’m okay with that, because this is much more about passion than profits for me. I enjoy having an outlet to express myself, and have an online community. If I make a little here and there from that, then it’s just icing on the already-delicious cake.
For those of you that scrolled to the end, what is the key takeaway of this post? Upwork is a waste of time. And you deserve better as a writer.
What can you do instead? Write for online and print publications, work with businesses you know and love, or become an affiliate.
When you finely tune your skills and grow as a writer daily, you really can turn that passion into a paycheck. It just takes time, patience, and a willingness to work. Oh, and a way with words.
*Cover Photo by Andrew Neel. Thanks, Andrew!
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