Why I think Upwork is a huge waste of Time — 2020 Review

Karim Ouda
5 min readFeb 16, 2020

Sharing my recent experience on Upwork.com

19th-century drawing by David Livingstone.


  1. Upwork is optimized for Clients and not for Freelancers
  2. Upwork is biased against new Freelancers joining the platform
  3. You will need to invest so much time in an unfair competition with everyone, to earn cheap rates at the end — Rat Race
  4. There are many bad clients on Upwork
  5. Upwork is not optimized for EU, but could be a very good option for some Freelancers in low income countries

I will just go ahead and tell my story and with Upwork as it is, in a chronological order …

I signed-up for Upwork in September 2019 just to get rejected with a message that says “We are sorry, Upwork is so competitive” :)

Second day I read about this case and found that I should have added more content in my profile in addition to reducing my rate, which I did and then got accepted on the platform

Soon after, Upwork was so kind to give me the “Rising Talent” badge, which is a privilege (given to strong profiles) that could help you stand out. However, It didn’t help much — only more traffic to my profile from search

So, what is actually good about Upwork: there are lots of challenging problems out there on Upwork. For students, fresh grads and freelancers in low-income countries Upwork will help them earn good money and get practical experience, also guaranteed payment is a good thing

Motivated by the rising talent badge, I started submitting proposals to clients on a daily basis as well as optimizing my profile and my Job selection criteria

By time, I started noticing how biased and badly designed Upwork system is, I got my first Job after 1 month … who would hire a profile with no reviews while you can hire another profile with 10 reviews

Just because other Freelancers joined Upwork a couple of years ago, they have so much advantage over you (poor recent Freelancer on Upwork.com)

It took me 2 months and 100 proposals to get my first 2 Jobs , in addition to around 30 mins per day just for reading, selecting and submitting proposals for Jobs

Up to this point, my Upwork experience was so unpleasant, to explain why, below are some facts based on my experience

Hiring Rate is around 50% ! that means for each 10 Jobs a client opens on Upwork, he/she will be serious in only 5 of them (actually hiring on the platform and creating a contract)

You compete with 5 to 20 Freelancers from all over the world for each Job

Average hourly rate on Upwork is around 30 USD/h

You will have to pay to submit proposals, each Job needs a different amount of credits they call connects (1–6) while 10 connects costs 1.5 USD and you will have to buy them continuously to stay on the platform. I paid around 40$ for connects

For hourly contracts, you will need to install a desktop app which takes screenshots of what you are doing while working on client projects

Upwork takes 20% of your earnings from any client

You can’t work with your client outside Upwork for 2 years from first interaction on Upwork, else you should pay Upwork money — if the client wants to hire you permanently for example

Following the Sunk Cost Fallacy, I kept submitting proposals so I can get enough history on Upwork, hoping that someday it will become easier to get Jobs due to more trust caused by previous client reviews

Along the way I have dealt with so many bad clients and I had to reject many Jobs, some clients are just cheap and feeling entitled, some don’t know what they want, some are just picking your brain and wasting your time

That said, the communication with clients took much time, some of which were closed only after 30 days from first chat

All in all, after experiencing that Rat Race for 4 months and after submitting 150+ proposals, I managed to get 5 Jobs (4 of which scored 5 stars *****), I also earned 500+ USD

Looking back, I asked myself is it worth the many days wasted on submitting proposals and handling clients who are not serious or just plain jerks

By the 13th week, Upwork removed my Rising Talent badge and I was told that I should expect to get what they called “JSS Score” which you only get after 5–8 Jobs (Can you imagine, you will have to wait for 5 Jobs just to get a score), and this was the first step to be eligible for the “Top Talent” status which helps so much in getting inbound Jobs from clients. You get this status only after 3 months while maintaining 90%+ JSS score or Rising Talent status

A quick note about the EU, in addition to cheap rates which makes Upwork useless for EU Freelancers, Upwork also doesn’t give a shit about how can we charge VAT for our EU clients — which is a legal requirement for EU based freelancers like me

Fast forward, I waited for the JSS to come, and after 2 weeks I got 63% Job Success score !

First I thought it is a bug and contacted support, I asked them how can 5 stars in 4 Jobs out of 5 (last one have no feedback) lead to such a bad score 66% ? what kind of math is that !

The answer was: “Upwork don’t reveal the exact calculation for your score. Doing so would make it easier for some users to artificially boost their scores. We need to maintain some privacy with this metric to ensure fairness and accuracy.”

Anyway, long story short, I decided to stop using Upwork in Jan 2020 and left the the website for 2 weeks. However, the stupidity didn’t stop …

I got an email that says we have made your profile private because you are not active ! and they wanted me to either earn money on Upwork (with 66% score !) or pay them a monthly fee

If you want to switch your profile back to “public,” either start earning again, sign up for a Freelancer Plus Membership, or contact customer support

That’s my story folks … in conclusion Upwork has been a huge waste of time for me, they want you to jump into a rat race, fight in an unfair competition with everyone else, pay to submit proposals, accept their black box algorithms, give them 20% of your earnings, accept cheap rates and above all please their low quality clients to maintain your profile scores …

I wrote this article to help other Freelancers assess whether Upwork is a good option for them or not. I hope this will help you save some precious time …

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Karim Ouda

Freelance Consultant — Data & Product. Writing about Data, Entrepreneurship and Life. https://karim.ouda.net