UpWork is broken

Upwork is probably the largest platform for freelancers to get projects and clients to hire freelancers for various skills, but it's broken.

I have been freelancing for more than 10 years and back then it wasn't considered cool. I started my freelancing career with a freelance platform called elance which was acquired by odesk and became UpWork.

So let's come to the point, why I think upwork is broken:

Problems with Upwork

1. Bids/Connects

Upwork, and almost all other platforms, have a bidding system. It is/was very simple; clients post projects/work and freelance bids on the projects with their proposal, and to bid you need to have connects.

It used to be very simple, where all freelancers on elance used to get 40 bids (now called connects) for free each month and they could use 1 bid to submit their proposal on any projects. But UpWork made it very complicated not once but multiple times.

First they increased the connects from 40 to 60 but now you need 2 connects to bid so effectively you could submit proposals on 30 projects. Then they started charging more connects based on the value of projects so 2 for small projects, 4 for medium projects 6 for large projects so now you could submit bids on 10-15 projects depending on the type of projects they would apply for but they consider a $500 project to be large, seriously? Then they reduced free bids from 60 to 10 so you can only bid on 2-3 projects and if you want more connect then either you buy $0.15/connect, which is almost a dollar if you bid on large/6 connects projects or upgrade to $14.99/month membership plan to get 80 connects every month (+ some rollover and other benefits), which is costlier than you buying 70 connect + 10 free bid.

Now they have gone insane. You have to now spend 16 connects ($2.4) just to submit your proposal. They have 12, 8 and 4 connect options but I hardly see any decent project having those options even with low paying projects. And to pump this connect war they have sponsored proposals/bids, to show your proposal on first to fourth spot, which I have seen to be 80 bids ($12) on most decent projects. It is not only inconvenient to freelance but to clients who might think that the first 4 must be top freelancers. Also it takes power from small-medium freelancers and give it to agencies as they can afford to do that.

2. Commission

This is not as messy as connects but upwork made it hard too for freelancers. If my memory serves my right then it used to be 6.75 or 8.25% on elance. But once upwork acquired elance and launched Upwork then it was 10%.

Then it went to 20% upto $500 then 10% till $10,000 then 5% per client. Freelancing is very transactional, where you get projects from one client and you may not hear from that client for years since they don't regularly need new websites/apps, etc. so assuming it was 20% for 80% of freelancers for the rest 10%. For the longest times Upwork was charging more commission to smaller freelancers because most of the freelance would get projects less than $500/client so if one gets 5 projects of $400/each then he/she would end up paying $400 commission to upwork + membership fee + connects he had to buy + currency conversion (if not $) + $.99 for eac withdrawal (if you are from India). This again gave an edge to agencies and big freelancers, small % of freelancers who are working with a few clients regularly or only take higher ticket size projects.

Upwork has corrected its mistake recently and now it's back to 10%, which is also very high if you ask me.

Note - They also take 5% commission from clients so effectively their commission is ~15% on each $ spent/earned on upwork.

3. Currency Conversion

I am an Indian freelancer and upwork only takes $ from clients, even if you are a client from India.

So whenever you make a withdrawal, it's converted from $ to ₹. They convert millions of dollars to other currencies every year and despite that their conversion rates are very poor (you get less money in INR). If you compare it with any good remittance service out there then you will clearly see 3-4% less on upwork. So coming to our earlier example, you will get $100 worth of project then you would get $80 then you withdraw and if you should get 79.01 then instead of getting ₹6,500 in your bank account, you would get ₹6,200 and just to remind you again that client paid $100 + 5% commission (₹8,600).

4. Hard to get projects

It has become harder and harder to get projects, even with 10 years of experience, 5 star ratings and great reviews, I struggle to get consistent projects. Some of these challenges are due to competition and some of them are created by upwork with their ever changing bidding requirements and commissions. While I used to be able to be on 40 projects with a free plan now I can bid on 5 projects with a paid plan. You will not get project/interview on all projects you will bid on so probability of you getting projects from just 5 purposes are very slim compare to 40 projects, which you can then reinvest some to get more projects but most of the freelancers don't feel confident in buying bids with new bidding system as well as sponsored placement war.

5. Inconsistent projects/work

Getting projects is very hard but it's even hard to get consistent work on upwork even when you are pro freelancers with 5 star ratings/reviews and this makes upwork more broken. If you invest time & efforts in any field then it should become easier to acquire new clients, customers, users, leads, etc. For example if you are a youtuber for 2-3 years, putting in time & efforts constantly, adding good content on youtube then there will be a time when you will be rewarded more for the same efforts because you will get more views for the same video/content compared to a new youtuber. And this can be true for any online platforms like linkedin, twitter, instagram or even in job as you could get promotions, salary increments, etc. just by constantly putting in time & efforts with good work.

But on upwork, you have to put in the same effort to get the same level of work to earn the same amount of money. So even after 10 years, I have to focus more on acquiring customers than what I do for them.

6. Everything Everywhere all at Once

This is what a freelancer's life is. You have to be everything from marketer, content writer, salesman, business developer, client relationship manager to engineer (or you field). Most of the time you would spend 30% or more of your time finding projects and since you are freelancer then you have to do those projects yourselves. There are 3 states of a freelancer - finding projects, working on a project and thinking about getting the next project, and these are states will be at once so when you are finding a project then you will be doing some other projects and when you are doing a project then you will be thinking of getting next project and so on so forth. that it's complex. It's kind of part of the inconsistency of projects and hard to get projects but I thought it deserved its own column.

7. Freelance Platform Monopoly

There are only a handful of platforms to get projects that it's monopolistic in nature. The platform can increase, decrease commission, bidding system, controls visibility of your profile, downgrade, upgrade profile or straight away delete your profile and nothing you can do in any of these cases.

Those are my opinions and experience based on the challenges I have faced while working on the platform.

Are you a freelancer? Let me know in the comment on what you do and what challenges you face.

Also I am thinking of writing solutions around these problems. Most of those will be suggestions/feedback to platforms to improve their service but some would help freelancers too so stay tuned.

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