If you're looking for a way to make money as a freelancer, look no further than Upwork. This site is filled with buyers seeking to connect with freelancers and it’s one of the most reliable, so you don't have to worry about whether or not it's possible. All you need to do is decide if freelancing is right for you.
Firstly, Upwork is one of several freelancing platforms that are quite similar such as Freelancer.com, PeoplePerHour.com and Guru.com. Then there are other ‘gig’ style freelance platforms such as Fiverr which I’ll cover in a different article, and finally, contest based platforms which I’ll also cover later.
To make a living via Upwork, or any freelancing site, you’ll need to be self-motivated. You'll be told what to do with varying degrees of detail, but no one is going to be looking over your shoulder to make sure you do it or do it well.
However, the reviews you receive on these platforms will make or break you — so make sure you do do it, and, make sure you do do it well!
My Upwork Experience
Several years ago, I provided freelancing services on oDesk and a few gigs on Fiverr. However over the past decade or so I’ve primarily used these platforms to purchase services as a client, rather than offer them.
I tend to use Upwork for jobs that require very specific skills or are longer term e.g. I used Upwork to find my ghostwriter for Kindle books and a developer for modifications to a WordPress marketplace site, both of whom I worked with for several months.
In my 10 years on Upwork, I’ve hired more than 50 people and gained an average of 4.99/5 star reviews spending in excess of $10,000. From the screenshot, you can also see that I have some open contracts – this is bad for both me and the freelancer as I have not actually used Upwork in about a year; so really these should be closed and reviews left (reviews cannot be left on open contracts).
A few pros of being a freelancer on Upwork
Overall, Upwork customers are usually willing to pay a little more
Customers who use Upwork are usually willing to pay their freelancers a little more money than at some of the other sites. This is because Upwork is a long established site (previously Elance/Odesk – Elance was born almost 20 years ago!) that has built up a reputation and attracts better-established businesses who are often willing to pay more money to get done accurately.
There are many opportunities whatever your skill set
From writing to programming and design, Upwork has one of the biggest selections of jobs on the planet. It shouldn’t be a problem finding a job that matches your skill set and interests.
You can get hired pretty quickly at Upwork
You won't have to wait weeks or months to find work at Upwork. Due to the volume of jobs, with the right tactics, you’ll probably be able to get hired right away. You’ll have to upload some information about yourself and compose a cover letter. You also might have to reduce your rate for the first few jobs (see our 21 Tips and Tricks For Being a Top Upwork Freelancer).
Longer-term opportunities are available (& potentially less fees)
Unlike gig sites, you will also find longer-term and ‘contract’ opportunities on Upwork. The jobs can vary from ‘pay per job’ to ‘pay per hour’ and so there’s something for everyone.
Furthermore, after earning $500 with a client, your fees with that client will reduce from 20% to 10% and if you exceed $10,000 that drops even lower to just 5%.
The mobile app is pretty good
For communicating with clients on the move, the mobile app functions pretty well. Keeping in touch is key, even if you’re not actively working.
There are also a few cons…
It can be tough to get started
Similar to most freelance sites, you’ll need to build up reputation within the platform, and often the easiest way is to offer a lower price initially so you can gain reviews and testimonials. Thankfully, you can use smaller ‘pay per job’ listings to do this, although there are some ‘cons’ in small jobs too; mainly the fees.
The user interface can be confusing
Upwork's site seems to look and function well at first glance, but a closer inspection will likely leave you scratching your head (it certainly does as a client!). The user experience isn't the best, and initially the site and messaging system can seem clunky, especially if your contract involves multiple people. You'll get used to it after a while, but the UX could certainly do with some improvements.
Fees for small jobs are high
Fees are quite expensive (20%) for small jobs with multiple clients. Your goal should be to find clients you can work with regularly, earn $500 and then you will only be charged 10% every time you work with that client again.
Freelancing rates can be low
Although I’ve already said that Upwork rates tend to be better than average, they can still be low overall, especially if you are a freelancer based in ‘the west’. Ultimately, you will be competing for jobs on a global platform and pitching against people whose cost of living might be a fraction of yours. If you’re struggling, seek out clients who want ‘local’ freelancers — people in a similar timezone and possibly native speakers who are happy jumping on a phone call.
Payment can be slow depending on certain factors
Once your project (or a milestone) is marked as complete by the client, Upwork will start paying out and the funds will be available in your account in 5 days.
Hourly work is auto-billed weekly and there's a 10-day delay after the week ends to allow time for any disputes and then for Upwork to process. That can work out as being a 2-3 week wait, depending on when in the week you start your work!
Upwork freelancing tips
I started writing some tips and tricks for getting more out of Upwork, including how to get started, gain reviews, find the best jobs, become top rated and generate repeat business…however it became so long that I decided to make it into a post in its own right.
You can read all the tips here: 21 Tips and Tricks For Being a Top Upwork Freelancer
Freelancing is one of those ways to earn money that is low risk as there is zero initial monetary investment. The initial time investment is simply to get a good portfolio and cover letter in place, then write and submit the job applications as required. It's fairly easy to get started, facilitates flexible working hours and it doesn't matter where you are in the world. If you're willing to put in a bit of elbow grease and sacrifice a little bit of income to land your first few customers, the rest becomes smooth sailing.
As you can see, Upwork is a great way to make money remotely and one I’ve personally used for more than 10 years. It’s also good as a transition from a remote job to freelance working.
You can also start freelancing long before vanlife kicks in and whilst in full time employment – starting early is something I’d recommend for any income stream if possible (ie start before you head off!).