Freelancer on UpWork: the definitive guide in 2023

UpWork Guide 2023

UpWork Guide 2023

So, you’re just starting your freelance career. Or maybe you already have some experience. You’re looking to sign up on UpWork to benefit from the slew of opportunities the platform affords. However, you’re also worried you may not find said clients and opportunities. Maybe as a “Third World” freelancer or a beginner, you’re pessimistic regarding your chances. Or maybe your progress has stalled on UpWork. If this is the case, this guide is for you. In order to become a freelancer on UpWork and boost your freelance career, there are a few good reflexes to develop. In this guide, you will find actionable advice to build a strong freelance profile, optimize your discoverability on the platform, apply to the right jobs and snatch your first contract.

Should you become a freelancer on UpWork?

UpWork is one of the biggest freelancing platforms around today. With millions of freelancers and hundreds of thousands of clients, the platform has set its sights on becoming the “Work Marketplace”. For beginner as well as more experienced freelancers who are looking to diversify their presence online, being on UpWork makes a lot of sense.

UpWork in numbers

UpWork was officially launched in 2015. Before this date, the platform was named Elance-oDesk which was a fusion of both those freelancing platforms.

The platform has more than 145,000 loyal customers who spend at least $5,000 annually. This huge financial windfall allowed freelancers to generate close to $2.52 billion USD in transactions in 2020.

It’s estimated that the platform has more than 16 million freelancers. Out of this number, half are freelancers from the United States, India and Philippines (51.5%). While the other half is made out of freelancers from the “rest of the world”.

This diverse composition is one of the reasons why UpWork tries to ensure a satisfactory user experience for freelancers. No matter their geographic situation. Whether you are in Benin, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Turkey, Madagascar or even Oman, you have access to the full range of features to freelance on UpWork.

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UpWork, how does it work?

UpWork is a middleman. The platform puts clients and their projects in touch with freelancers capable of meeting their needs.

  1. As a freelancer you can apply by using “Connects” and submitting your proposal letter.
  2. Then, the project owner can skim through proposals, filter offers and conduct interviews to find the ideal candidate.
  3. During the interviews, the client and freelancer can negotiate and agree on the terms of the contract (duration, services to provide, delivery date, budget, hourly or fixed-rate, etc.)
  4. Next, the client sends a recruitment offer to the freelancer.
  5. The freelancer then accepts the offer and provides the services for which they were recruited.
  6. Once the work is done, they deliver to the client so that funds can be released.
  7. The collaboration can end at this point. One or both parties can then leave feedback on their respective profiles to serve as evaluation.

What are the platform fees to freelance on UpWork?

Like most freelancing platforms, UpWork receives a commission out of the freelancer’s pay. Where UpWork is different from other platforms, is the declining scale over time.

UPDATE: Since May 3rd, 2023 UpWork has changed its fees. A fixed-rate of 10% is systematically deducted from the value of the contract. The declining scale rate is no longer in effect.

This pricing strategy helps the platform when it comes to retaining freelancers on UpWork. After all, freelancers who reach that last level are less likely to work outside the platform in a scenario where fees are declining but they still have the full range of UpWork’s features at their disposal.

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What is freelance protection on UpWork?

One of the main advantages of UpWork, is its extensive protection of freelancers. As a matter of fact, any freelancer on UpWork is guaranteed to be paid when they provide their services.

The guarantee for fixed price contracts

To benefit from this guarantee, the freelancer needs to structure their work through milestones from the get-go. These milestones can correspond to segments of work or cover the project as a whole.

The client should then finance each new milestone. These funds are held in escrow by UpWork. At this point, the freelancer can start working and as for payment by delivering the work and notifying the client through UpWork.

If the client is happy with the result, they can release the funds. Otherwise, they can ask for revisions in accordance with the agreed upon terms. In case there is a dispute, the freelance and clients can turn to UpWork for mediation.

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The UpWork protection for hourly rate contracts

Hourly rate contracts allow freelancers to charge an hourly rate. In other words, the agreement is made on the rate and how many hours they can log per week. With this type of contract, the freelancer on UpWork is always guaranteed to be paid. Even when the client is against it becomes unresponsive.

That being said, there are a few requirements must be met first:

Once more, in the event of a dispute, both parties have tools to appeal. They can always ask for mediation to solve any dispute.

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The most in-demand freelance profiles on UpWork

On UpWork, there are more than 100 categories for talents and more than 10,000 skills listed. For example, under the “Development” category, you will find skills such as: PHP, C++, Ruby on Rails, GOlang, Laravel, etc. Freelancers are able to showcase all their services by assigning the correct categories and corresponding skills.

The most in-demand skills on UpWork

In that regard, this platform serves as an excellent measuring stick for the labor market. In particular for “high tech” industries. Taking a look at the most in-demand skills is often enough to orient oneself accordingly. In 2022, the most searched professions on UpWork were related to:

If the fact that “Machine Learning” is at the top is any indication, we can expect Cloud Computing, Blockchain and Artificial Intelligence to end up at the top in the near future.

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Finding freelancers on UpWork: the benefits

For clients, UpWork is almost a perfect platform. After all, on UpWork, freelancers are the real product. UpWork allows clients to access a global talent marketplace. This in turn makes the platform extremely competitive, and ultimately, provides the clients with an even larger selection of talents.

UpWork: the “new” work marketplace

With more than 16 million freelancers from all over the world, clients are sure to find the right professional for their projects. Despite being advantageous for clients, this situation has real drawbacks. In reality, this hyper competitive and global setting builds a dynamic where freelancers on UpWork are convinced that only the race to the bottom can help them get contracts.

For a client who doesn’t know how to filter offers, choosing a freelancer is often decided by the less expensive offer. However, more experienced clients already know that using small prices as a criterion is a sure way to engage in a race to mediocrity.

If you’re looking for freelancers on UpWork, it’s better to have a global idea of what your project should cost. Don’t base your choice of candidates only on the less costly rates. The platform actually gives you tools to restrict applications using various criteria (geographic region, budget, skills, etc.) to discourage this.

In the same way, freelancers are always looking for good clients, you should always stress the need to find trustworthy workers for the long run. Even for one-time projects, you should resist to the temptation of underpaying. You’ll avoid having to pay even more down the road to fix issues.

Understanding UpWork’s fees

As a rule of thumb, the platform doesn’t charge clients. That being said, they will need to be meet all fiscal obligations before recruiting on UpWork and paying service providers. Naturally, this depends on the country where they reside. Administrative fees, transaction fees and even currency conversion fees may apply.

However, clients can opt for subscriptions that give them various advantages. For example, the “Client Marketplace” subscription adds a 5% on all transactions.

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The client guarantees on UpWork

Like any freelancing platform, UpWork gives a lot of leeway to clients. They can supervise and check worked hours by freelancers, and they can also review the whole of the work diary before releasing the funds.

On top of that, they have a grace period of 14 days to make any payment after having received the deliverables. Without forgetting to mention that any dispute that hasn’t been meticulously documented by the freelancer is almost sure to end in favor of the client.

At the very least, project owners on UpWork are secure in their position. They benefit from robust guarantees and can also contact support any time an issue arises. They can even request help from dedicated services like “Talent Scout” to find the ideal freelancers for their projects.

Archetype of a good freelancer profile on UpWork

The ideal freelance profile on UpWork is the goal that freelancers try to attain and clients try to find. While the first ones try to build their profiles to attract clients. The second ones are aiming to find service providers that fit their criteria perfectly.

As much as its important for clients to be able to identify good freelancer profiles, it’s even more important for freelancers to know what they need to improve in order to reach that status.

Understanding the UpWork badges

On UpWork, badges can be displayed on freelance profiles. These are features that differentiate standard profiles from experienced or exceptional freelancers. All in all, there are 4 badges that every client should learn about, and that every freelancer should try to earn:

Profile Badges on UpWork

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The statistics that matter on UpWork

UpWork badges are external markers that matter for clients. However, there are other criteria that raise or lower a freelancer’s profile with regards to the platform’s algorithm. These include:

Note that statistics such as response time, mission success score, account blocking and Top-Rated badge are calculated over defined periods ranging from 90 days to 16 weeks…

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How to build an impactful freelance profile on UpWork?

Now that we’ve established what a “good freelance profile on UpWork” looks like, it’s time to discuss how to achieve it. As a beginner freelancer, profile optimization is one of the most important things you need to get new contracts and jumpstart your freelancing career.

The must-have elements of a good freelance profile on UpWork

Discover how to build a great freelance profile

A freelance profile is a lot like a modern type of resume. On UpWork as on other platforms, some key elements must be included in order to attract the attention of recruiters and gain credibility. These are the presentation, the portfolio, proof of previous experience, certifications and testimonials, as well as recommendations from previous clients.

An impactful presentation

Made up of the title, the photo and a descriptive text, it is the first thing that the client will see when he loads your profile. The title should say enough about your main services (ENG-FR Translator / GOLANG Dev / Procreate Illustrator / etc.).

The description should summarize in less than 200 words the main benefits of working with you. This is where you need to give the client the feeling that they have found a service provider who understands what they need. Finally, always include a professional photo with your profile, one that could appear on your LinkedIn profile or on a traditional CV will do the trick.

The portfolio

No matter what type of work you do as a freelancer, you must have a portfolio. These can be personal projects or projects done for previous clients (if you are allowed to share them). The purpose of the portfolio is to show that you have worked on such or such type of project before. In other words, it’s a way to prove that you are not 100% new to the business.


Certifications are the other way you can demonstrate your experience. An Adobe certification is useful to prove that you have a good command of graphic tools and software like Photoshop, Illustrator or Premiere, for example. A Google or Facebook certification related to Ads campaigns management gives you more credibility with clients looking for a specialist.

Note, however, that some professional categories may lack certifications. That said UpWork allows you to import certifications from Credly, add them manually or fill in custom certifications.

Testimonials and referrals

Have you ever had clients outside of UpWork? You can ask them to leave you reviews on your profile. These act as initial feedback, when you have not yet received assignments on the platform. You can add them manually by providing the necessary information to contact your clients.

Get the most out of UpWork’s project catalog

UpWork’s Project Catalog is a feature that reminds one of Fiverr or ComeUp (previously 5euros). The principle is the same: you create packaged offers of your services. For example, an editorial illustration from $150, a logo from $300 or an SEO audit from $250. The rates evolve according to the specific needs of the client. These can be the elements that must appear in the illustration, the style of the logo, the number of pages of the site to be audited, etc.

This catalog is also an opportunity to list your specialized services. In particular, since the titles of these packaged projects can sometimes rank on search engines. It is an additional way to be discovered by potential customers.

The feedback-contract paradox

It’s the chicken and egg story all over again. When your freelancing profile on UpWork has no feedback yet, you lack credibility towards clients. But at the same time, you won’t be able to receive any feedback, if no client awards you your first assignment on UpWork. Most freelancing platforms face this issue, UpWork is no exception to the rule.

However, with the certifications and testimonials from clients outside UpWork, your chances to convince your first client are not zero. You still need to know how to apply effectively and how to identify worthwhile jobs.

How to apply efficiently to jobs on UpWork?

On UpWork, you have to spend resources (Connects) in order to apply. It’s not in your best interest to apply to any and all jobs in hopes of getting an interview. Even though the final decision depends on your intuition, there are general criteria you need to know to differentiate worthwhile jobs on UpWork, from the ones you should avoid.

To which jobs should you apply and which jobs should you avoid on UpWork?

When you view a job description on UpWork, you have access to a wealth of information about the client. At first glance, you will know what the job is, what the client’s expectations are, the category of the service and their country of origin. However, you should pay attention to three essential pieces of information:

Other details such as the proposed budget or the duration of the project are not 100% reliable indicators. It is not uncommon for scammers or unscrupulous middlemen to offer very attractive fees just to attract qualified contractors, only to offer significantly lower rates later on. Conversely, some clients will enter a tiny budget for the project, encouraging candidates to submit their own rates when they apply.

As a general rule, if the client has no verified means of payment, no previous feedback, and the job has been posted for more than 3 weeks, do not waste time applying. Some people will advise you to accept mediocre pay in order to get the very first feedback. But this is only a “viable” strategy for one-time jobs.

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The preliminary research to craft outstanding freelance applications!

Once you have identified a job that looks interesting to you, proceed with your preliminary research. It’s obvious that you should do your research to prepare a strong freelance cover letter, if you have information regarding the client’s name or company.

But most importantly, without leaving UpWork, you can conduct your own little investigation into the working conditions with this client. Under the job description, there is a section reserved for their recent contracts. There you will find positive and negative feedback from other freelancers, as well as the rates the client is willing to pay, for what services, and over what period of time. This gives you a good idea of how serious your future client is.

UpWork – Client recent history

How to build a rapport with the client?

How to write a great freelance cover letter?

Want to write a good application letter to get the job? There is no set formula. However, you can read our article on the must-have elements of a good freelance cover letter.

One essential element that deserves attention however, is the relationship you build with the client. To initiate the discussion and make your freelance application stand out, ask questions! Anticipate the client’s needs and objectives and ask all the questions that are relevant to them.

For example, if your preliminary investigation has revealed that the client is launching a home decor store, and you’re applying as a Shopify or WooCommerce developer, you can ask if they plan to introduce 3D or augmented reality capabilities to their online store. In short, make proposals that elevate the quality of your offering.

Note: It stands to reason that you should only elevate by offering services you can actually deliver on.

How to use your UpWork Connects the right way?

To apply, you need Connects. Clients can set the number of Connects needed to apply to their jobs, in hopes of screening applicants. The cost usually ranges from 1 to 6 Connects depending on the job.

Note, however, that as a freelancer, you can boost your application by spending more Connects than strictly needed when applying. For example, on a job that requires only 4 Connects, you can choose to spend 12 or even more than 100 to get to the top of the list. UpWork also allows you to see how much other freelancers have spent and know where you stand.

Note that spending more Connects does not guarantee that your application will be accepted by the client. It is best to boost your application only when you are already sure that you are an excellent fit for the job.

Note that in the event that you do not make it into the top 3 applications after boosting, you will be reimbursed for the extra Connects you spent.

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What are dangers freelancers face on UpWorK?

As a freelancer on UpWork, it’s important to know what dangers exist on the platform. These threats can affect your profile’s and, by extension, your money-making capabilities as an independent worker.

The loss and suspension of your account

The first danger you face is the suspension of your freelance profile on UpWork. This can happen for various reasons. But, most of the time, you are safe from suspension if you respect the platform’s terms of use.

In the event that your account is suspended without violating the terms of use, you can contact the customer service to appeal. Note that in some cases, the platform may suspend accounts that are inactive or accounts that, according to internal criteria, do not meet the desired quality standards.

Bad experiences on UpWork

Some freelancers on UpWork complain about bad experiences. And these are issues that should not be understated: the hyper-competitive nature of the platform, the difficulty of featuring oneself, the race to the bottom with regards to rates and conflicts with clients… Aside from those, bad experiences on the platform can be organized in 3 main categories.

Scams on UpWork

It should come as no surprise to anyone that scammers abound on freelancing platforms. Job seekers are vulnerable to a number of scams. The most insidious form, however, is the intermediaries who post jobs and encourage candidates to produce a “sample” to get the job.

It’s best to provide samples of similar tasks you’ve already worked on, and if you’re offered an unpaid test, only accept it when it’s already mentioned in the job description. Ideally, all freelancers should have the same test.

Permanent account deletion on UpWork

Permanent account deletion on UpWork

It may not be common, but it can happen. Some freelancers may fall victim to more serious fraudulent practices (money laundering, bank fraud, etc.). For example, some dishonest users of the platform create particularly well-paid offers. They recruit and pay freelancers well using dirty funds.

When the offence is detected, the freelancer can be permanently suspended from UpWork without any real means of recourse. Note that the funds are blocked, including the earnings from other freelance jobs awarded by other clients.

UpWork: the tools you should master

There are plenty of tools you can take advantage of as a freelance on UpWork. From Premium subscriptions to administrative tools, from community forums to learning resources, there is a lot you can use to get started as a freelancer, the right way.

Is UpWork Plus useful?

UpWork Plus is the premium package that the platform offers to freelancers. For $14.99 per month, the freelancer on UpWork is entitled to 80 connections (renewed monthly) and other benefits such as personalized profile URLs, always active profiles despite inactivity, etc. You can also get an idea of what other freelancers are offering on the jobs you are applying to, or the possibility to display your earnings on your public profile.

Is UpWork Plus useful? To put it simply, yes. But mostly for freelancers who have already found a certain balance on the platform. It’s particularly useful if your goal is to have a better understanding of the situation before applying for a job. That said, this Premium package does not give you a particular edge over freelancers on UpWork who remain on the free Basic package. Not that I know of anyway.

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The UpWork Project Catalog

The project catalog on UpWork is a relatively new addition. It is an approach that reminds me of platforms like ComeUp (formerly 5euros) and Fiverr. On the platform, the freelancer lists his services and the corresponding rates. This becomes a kind of online store of services that customers can browse in search of the perfect fit.

This catalog changes the classic dynamics of the platform. Here, it is the clients who go in search of freelancers and not the other way around. But above all, when the contact is established, the freelancer is not in direct competition with other service providers to get the job. It’s a handy tool that all freelancers should use to stand out from the crowd and capture already interested clients.

UpWork Project Catalog

Note also that by effectively setting up their offer, it is possible to be listed directly on Google. This would allow the freelancer to capture an even larger customer base. This is not always the case, but it would be a shame to miss out on such opportunities.

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Direct Contracts on UpWork

These contracts allow freelancers to bring their clients to UpWork. Whether it’s a new client or a long-standing client, UpWork’s direct contracts allow you to adapt your professional relationship on UpWork’s model.

Apart from the transaction fee of 3.4%, the platform does not charge any commission on your services. You can therefore switch to an hourly or milestone contract without paying any additional fees. This may not be attractive for trusted clients. But for a brand new client, it allows you to take advantage of the conflict resolution tools and the escrow funds for the duration of the mission.

Direct Contracts on UpWork

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The UpWork Community

Imagine a gigantic forum where a whole range of freelancers meet to exchange and share their experiences. You will find opinions, advice and tips to progress in your freelance career on UpWork.

You will also be able to join groups by geographical region, or by specialty. Would you like to find freelancers who work in the music industry, who do scientific writing or any other work? It’s possible! Want to find colleagues who use the same tools and platforms as you? Or simply people who share the same daily realities? UpWork community forums will provide you with answers.

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The UpWork Academy

As its name suggests, the UpWork Academy is a knowledge base for freelancers who want to learn how to better use the platform. From applying for jobs, to getting started on UpWork, from developing your career to launching an agency, or setting up your project catalog, etc. You will find well-structured lessons to become an expert of this freelancing platform.

UpWork Academy – Learning Paths

Some lessons are specific to UpWork and how it works. Others are more general and will be of great use to you throughout your freelancing career.

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Coaching on UpWork

Coaching sessions are periodically organized on UpWork. To get a better grasp of the project catalog or the organization of your freelance profile, for example. Or simply to learn how to apply effectively and create an agency.

It is a precious opportunity to be accompanied and to find answers to specific questions. So stay tuned for scheduled sessions and sign up when the time comes. Remember that these coaching sessions are limited to a few participants at a time.

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UpWork is a good platform for freelancers who are starting out. They will be able to gain some experience and acquire useful skills for the future. It is also a great platform for expert freelancers who have specialized and highly sought after skills. They will find opportunities with big companies and can use it as a growth lever for their freelance career.

For mid-level freelancers, however, the platform can be very frustrating, as the extreme level of competition tends to favor freelancers who reside in countries with lower costs of living. But even for these freelancers, the platform becomes a prison with no prospect of growth, if they have made low rates their only selling point.

In conclusion, UpWork tries to be everything for everyone at once. It is not by chance that its motto has become “The Work Marketplace”. The platform is no longer simply trying to satisfy freelancers. It has recently started looking to become a centralized platform for the working world. A directory of talents and opportunities for freelancers, but also for companies looking to recruit contract staff, consultants or to manage their teams spread throughout the world.

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