I am pretty sure you know Upwork, but if you don’t, Upwork is a website where you can offer your freelance services to clients requesting for work. A potential client creates a job post, and freelancers can submit proposals, and then the client decides who gets the job.
In the last weeks, I have been using Upwork to make some extra money with side projects, and I have to say the experience has been mixed. On one side, I have gotten a couple of good gigs, where the client has been very easy to work with, and have proven profitable since I am getting a fair pay.
However, in other cases, I have been ghosted, or my offer has been completely rejected, even in cases where the job gets few applications, or after a long time of back-and-forth explaining in detail what I can do for the project.
I have to clarify I don’t know how things are in other areas of work, so I don’t know if clients looking for engineering works or general software programming will be the same. I haven’t looked for those because that’s not my area of expertise.
When browsing works on Upwork, I see that, at least in the graphic design and game development side, it’s a mixed bag. Some people make detailed job posts where they explain very clearly what they want, and, in many cases, they offer a fair pay. However, other job posts are very unclear, generic, and they are very cheap. For example, imagine something like “I need someone to develop a hyper-casual game for me” and then the budget is $150. Considering a hyper-casual game template in the Unity Asset Store could be around $60, I can only assume the job post means creating the full game, with custom assets, custom sounds and “whatever else the client wants, regardless of complexity” all for $150.
However, the worst is the “cheap-but-detailed and unrealistic job post”. Those that go into a great detail explaining the cool work they expect, but then the budget doesn’t get even close to what that would actually cost. Imagine something like “I need a very realistic animation of a character, like this video here” (link to a Pixar short-film or something like that), and then, the budget is $50. Of course, if you bid, but your offer asks for a pay that is actually fair, your proposal is just ignored. I have to say I used to deal with those type of clients when I worked in media production, so it is easy for me to recognize Upwork clients that must be avoided.
On top of that, Upwork is more of a “bidding site”. You have the in-site currency called “connects”. Every time you send a proposal, you have to spend a certain amount of connects, and the client decides how many connects are needed to send a proposal, meaning you can either end up sending a lot of proposals that charge very little connects, or a handful of proposals that charge a lot of connects. Not only that, in some cases you can “outbid” other freelancers if you send more connects. For example, imagine the top 3 bidders paid 20, 19 and 18 connects for a 6 connect job. If you want to apply, pay 6 connects, but if you want your application to be at the top of the list, you have to send 21 connects.
And then wait to see if your offer is picked, or if the job goes to someone else who charged less. Remember Upwork is open to almost the entire world, so if your cost of living is high, you must charge more, and you may lose your job to someone who can afford to charge very little. This is also true for clients. You may find clients from places where they can’t pay much, so your pay will be way above what they can afford. This is not excuse for those potential clients from developed countries, who want Pixar-style animations but are not willing to pay more than $150 for an entire short film.
Upwork is sometimes promoted at this place where you can make a living. I actually got into the website because a friend once told me he works as a software developer, and that he got his job via Upwork. However, after my time on that website I think it’s better seen as a source of extra cash every now and then, not as a main source of income.