Is Upwork Legit? How To Make Money On Upwork As A Beginner

Screenshot of Upwork's homepage


Overview of Upwork

Upwork is a freelancing platform with a global marketplace that allows businesses to connect with professionals and collaborate on a wide range of projects remotely. 

The marketplace includes a diverse and wide range of fields, be it artistic or logic-driven. These include categories such as software development, digital marketing, corporate law, engineering, financial services, data science, customer service, and more. 

The website is popular with new and experienced freelancers alike, as it offers professionals of every field the possibility of racking up valuable experience without having to cold pitch clients. Startups and growing agencies are increasingly turning towards the platform to extend their in-house team with remote manpower or hire specialists for one-off projects. 

In their own words,

“Upwork is the only hiring platform connecting businesses—Fortune 100 companies, growing businesses, and startups—to high-quality independent pros and specialized agencies”


Company Info

Upwork is headquartered in Mountain View, California, with offices in San Francisco, and Chicago. The company also recruits remotely on a regular basis.

Upwork Global Inc. started out as Elance, Inc. in 1998 by Beerud Sheth and Srini Anumolu in Jersey City. In 2013, Elance announced a merger with the company oDesk, founded in 2003 by Stratis Karamanlakis and Odysseas Tsatalos. This alliance led to the formation of a new company with the name ‘Elance oDesk’. (Source)

The company then rebranded as Upwork in 2015 as they upgraded their platform to include features like new search algorithms, faster processing, and a real-time chat service along with a new mobile app. 

In the press release, Stephane Kasriel, then-CEO, explained that:

“Though we are already the largest freelance talent marketplace — with $1B in freelancer earnings annually and the first online marketplace large enough to qualify for a ranking of top U.S. staffing and talent engagement firms — enormous market opportunity remains, and we decided it’s time to up the ante. This new platform will make hiring near-instant, which is a radical re-imagination of work.”


How Upwork Works

The Upwork platform has multiple features intended to reduce the time it normally takes for clients to find, vet, and hire freelancers. 

For instance, clients can use a searchable directory of freelancers, filters to help clients find relevant workers for their specific projects while freelancers can use the same search feature to scour relevant jobs that match their skills and experience level. 

Clients can also access an AI-powered search that makes instant automatic shortlists based on the search requirements. To make the process even quicker and more hassle-free, Upwork also offers the following premium options – Plus, Business or Enterprise, for more personalized hiring support.

A real-time chat integrated into the system makes it possible for clients and freelancers to message one another, share files, discuss projects, and approve or ask for amendments without having to leave the platform. 


For Freelancers

Freelancers can set up their profiles on Upwork fairly easily.

To sign up, they are simply required to fill out their profile with as much information as they can. They have to specify their areas of expertise, mention their work history, provide certifications( that help prove their specific knowledge or abilities), and showcase projects they have previously worked on in order to land gigs on the platform.

Before new profiles can go live, i.e. appear on the platform’s directory as new freelancers available for hire, they need to be validated. The Upwork team typically takes around 24 hours to review an application and will notify the applicant via email whether their application is approved or declined.

New freelancers generally fall into one of 3 groups:

  • Group 1: Freelancers who have received an email/account notification letting them know that they are required to earn the badge.
  • Group 2: Freelancers who have received an email/account notification letting them know they are eligible to earn the badge, but it’s not yet a requirement for them.
  • Group 3: Freelancers who have received no notifications to earn the badge because they are not yet required or eligible to earn the badge.


Freelancers are urged to pass a screening process, otherwise known as Upwork’s background check in order to receive an “Identity Verified” badge on their profiles. The badge appears as a blue check mark next to a freelancer’s name, signalling to clients that the person is authentic and trustworthy.

Periodic identity review checks are also carried out on existing accounts to ensure that the accounts continue to reflect accurate information. 

The Identity Verification process consists of the following 2 stages:

  • Provide a valid government-issued ID, such as your national identity card or passport.
  • Complete a video verification call with an Upwork agent. 


Freelancers who are required to verify their identity but do not do so within 7 days of being notified will have their accounts temporarily suspended or placed on hold. While the hold does not affect ongoing contracts, it does prevent freelancers from submitting proposals to new jobs, accepting direct hires, showing up in search results, or withdrawing earnings. 

Once verified, freelancers can tailor the feed of job listings to their preferences and submit proposals to jobs of interest. 

(Note: More information on the above rules and processes can be found on the Upwork website.)


Making Money On Upwork

Stock photo from Pixabay
Source: Pixabay


Upwork is a relatively fast and reliable way for people interested in working remotely to earn an income, compared to more traditional and time-consuming methods, such as reaching out to potential clients on LinkedIn or cold emailing. 

In order to help freelancers to start making money on Upwork, below is a handy guide that includes tips from first-hand experience of using the platform as a freelancer.


Curating Your Profile

Screenshot of Upwork Talent Badges


Similar to Google search results, titles, and the snippets of information that appear in Upwork’s freelancer search results are crucial in helping people find what they are looking for. 

The information displayed might also include:

  • A ‘verified identity’ badge
  • Your Job Success score based on client feedback on past projects

You are technically allowed to create up to two different versions of your profile, known as ‘Specialized Profiles’ to more effectively highlight your skills in a particular niche. Displaying your best work or leveraging specific experiences can help you stand out from the crowd. 

According to Upwork, “A 100% complete profile is required if you’d like to achieve Rising Talent status, Top Rated status, and access to Premium Services.” 

Many factors contribute to obtaining these badges. To check whether you qualify for the Rising Talent status, click here; for Top Rated Status, click here.


Benefits Of Achieving ‘Rising Talent’ Status

  • Reduced fees (starting at 10%) on Featured Jobs
  • A one-time bonus of 30 free Connects for you to submit more proposals to clients
  • Access to chat and ticket support from a specialized customer support team


Benefits Of Achieving ‘Top Rated’/’Top Rated Plus’ Status 

  • Reduced fees (starting at 10%) on Featured Jobs
  • More control over your Job Success Score
  • Invitations to submit proposals to jobs assisted by Talent Specialists 
  • A Job Digest email to make it easier for you to find jobs that are a great match
  • Faster payments on hourly contracts
  • Premium customer support, including phone and chat


Getting Started 

All freelancers start with the free membership plan, which comes with all the basic functionalities needed to use Upwork. If you want additional benefits, you can opt for the paid Freelancer Plus membership, which is particularly helpful for having extra ‘connects’. 

Connects are virtual tokens freelancers can use, like an internal currency, to bid on projects. Connects cost $0.15  each and are sold in bundles of 10, 20, 40, 60, and 80. They are only returned on the rare occasions that the job posting expired without the client hiring anyone. 


Here are the features included in the two Upwork Membership Plans as of November 2020:

Freelancer Basic

  • Buy Connects as you need them for $0.15 + Tax each*
  • Unused Connects rollover up to 140
  • Hourly protection to ensure you’re paid for each hour worked
  • Fixed-price payments are secured through milestones
  • Limited reports and functionality.


Freelancer Plus

  • 70 Connects per month
  • Your profile will never be set to ‘hidden’ due to inactivity
  • Setting to keep your earnings confidential
  • View competitor bids for any job
  • Customize your profile URL
  • Extended reports and functionality, including grouping and sorting.


Applying For Projects/ Jobs

Freelancer working photo from Unsplash


As a beginner on Upwork, it might be helpful to start with relatively simple, straightforward jobs that can be completed quickly and offer you a couple of positive feedbacks that will help kickstart your freelancer journey. 

Using The Search Feature

Upwork’s revamped advanced search feature now allows you to do an exact skill, phrase, or title search, along with the possibility of excluding some specific words. This helps narrow down your field of choice and prevent you from being overwhelmed and spending hours perusing job listings.

Using The Feed 

To find appropriate projects that are a match for your talent and skills, customizing your job feed is vital. Start by running a search with job titles you want to land, you can also use filters on the left-hand side of the Search Results Page to create a more personalized list.

After setting these search preferences, you can transfer them over to your Job Feed so you can have a dynamic list, automatically populated with new projects that match your skills. You also get to select up to 10 categories, as part of the main services you plan on offering to clients, that will make up your ‘talent cloud’. 

When getting started, you can scour job listings in search of opportunities where you can offer the most value, i.e. solve the client’s problem in the best way possible. 

Using Connects

If you wish to bid on a specific project, first verify that you have the required number of connects. However, if a client invites you to apply or is rehiring you, you won’t need to use any Connects. 

You can then proceed with the bid process by entering your proposal price, either hourly or per milestone/work completed (more on this below) before talking about your qualifications and the skills you would bring to this particular project. Then, answer any job-specific questions the client added to the job description.


Types Of Projects 

Hourly Contracts

Hourly contracts mean that you are paid by the hour, making this a preferred option when your project requires a degree of flexibility or time-sensitive. Examples of projects that work well on an hourly basis include Customer Service and Technical Support.

When you take on an hourly contract, it is recommended that you download the Upwork desktop app and log all your hours worked. 

Upwork claims that “the app does not take into account the Work Diary’s 10-minute segments or that you may have gone idle while logging time. Only time segments with uploaded user activity are invoiced, and every segment with activity will be billed, so some rounding will occur.”

The app not only tracks time, but it also takes work-in-progress snapshots at random times in 10-minute intervals. These snapshots reassure your online clients that you have worked all the hours billed to them through Upwork and helps ensure you get paid, even if a dispute arises. (You still have the option of deleting any snapshots you don’t want shared with your client.)


Fixed-Price Projects

On fixed-price contracts, you are paid a fixed amount for a deliverable, or a set of deliverables. This option is ideal when the work is more clearly defined. Examples of suitable projects include Content Writing and Web Design.

For fixed-price contracts, you generally have to start by creating a list of milestones or keep adding milestones as you go along. The client will pre-fund each milestone with escrow, and the money will be visibly held on the Upwork platform. 


Upwork Escrow is a form of payment protection, whereby Upwork holds funds meant to be released upon the satisfactory completion of a project. Clients generally deposit the funds for fixed-price jobs into escrow (one contract, or milestone, at a time) at the start of a project. 

If a client becomes unresponsive and does not acknowledge the submission of a freelancer’s work within 14 days, the escrowed funds are automatically released to the freelancer or agency, unless the client requested any change in the ongoing contract.  


How To Filter Projects

Although how you choose which project to work on will largely depend on your preferences,  here are some of the elements we recommend taking into consideration:

  • Payment info – Choose clients with the Payment Verified badge to avoid any bad surprises further down the line. You may also check the amount of money they have already spent on Upwork, which is a pretty good indicator of how serious they are about hiring on the platform.
  • Age of the job post – Before applying for a job, check to see whether it’s been less than 24 hours and when the client last viewed it.
  • The number of proposals – Prioritize projects with the lowest number of proposals, since it means you have less competition to fight for the job.


Submitting a proposal after that is pretty self-explanatory. After you reach the discussion stage, a client may propose a paid “test project” to get a better idea of your skills and see how well this collaboration might turn out. Make sure to agree upon pricing terms before you begin the trial.


Getting Paid

Stock of a freelancer from pixabay


With every project/milestone, Upwork takes a cut of your earnings. The fee structure is a sliding scale based on the total amount a client is billed over time, i.e. the more one works with a client, the smaller the fee deducted from their earnings. This to incentivize freelancers to keep on the platform longer and build relationships.

The Upwork Fee Scale works as follows:

  • 20% is levied on the first $500 billed.
  • 10% for total billings with a client between $500.01 and $10,000.
  • 5% for total billings with a client that exceeds $10,000.


Upwork also takes a cut out of any additional amount or bonus/tip/expense made by a client to a freelancer using the website. Multiple payment methods are supported by the platform: direct to U.S. Bank transfer, PayPal, and Payoneer.


Upwork Business Model

Based on its reported data, Upwork has a large and growing platform with a fast-growing revenue base. In its third-quarter 2020 financial results announced on November 4th, 2020, Upwork reported a revenue growth year-over-year to $96.7 million.

Along with the fees Upwork collects from both parties involved in a project and the previously-mentioned membership plans offered to freelancers, Upwork also charges clients through two paid tiers of service,

Clients also have the option of a paid service known as the Upwork Payroll for long-term hires. You may review the Upwork Payroll Agreement on the official website here.

Below is a screenshot of Upwork’s proposed membership plans for clients.

Screenshot of Upwork membership plans for clients


Upwork Funding And Valuation 

According to Crunchbase, Upwork has raised a total of $168 million in 12 rounds of venture capital funding. Most of the amount has been injected prior to the merger (between Elance and oDesk) in 2013.

In 2018, Upwork was able to go public at a valuation of $1.5 billion, raising another $187 million in the process. As of April 2020, the company had a market cap of $900 million, which represents a 40 percent decrease in value over the past two years.

For the fiscal year 2019, the company brought in a total of $300.6 million while posting losses of $16.7 million (the company lost a total of $19.9 million in 2018). The losses are a result of Upwork’s continued expansion and investments into its technology.

As of November, reported that “shares of Upwork Inc. rose 22% in the extended session Wednesday after the platform for freelancers reported third-quarter results that handily beat Wall Street’s expectations amid a pandemic that has shaken up employment.”


Upwork Reviews

At the time of writing, Upwork has an average of 4.5 out of 5 stars, from a total of 4,673 reviews left on Trustpilot

The platform also has an average star rating of 4 stars out of 5, from a total of 1,019 reviews left on, with a number of users praising the work-life balance, culture, and pay & benefits. 

Here is the screenshot of a recent review published by a user on November 9th, 2020. 

Screenshot of an Upwork review on


Additional Information about Upwork

To help employers get in touch with freelancers on the go and vice versa, Upwork offers 2 separate mobile apps. 

With over 1 million downloads and over 40,000 ratings on the Google Play Store, the Upwork for Freelancers app is one of the most popular in its category for Android users. The app is also available for iOS devices on the Apple App Store

Clients have their own separate app, which is also available on both Google Play Store and the Apple App Store

Screenshot of the Upwork app on the App Store


As of October 2020, Upwork announced the launch of two digital series “designed to deliver actionable insights and thought leadership programming that helps businesses navigate the new world of work.”

Upwork has recently introduced the Back To Better podcast,  hosted by Tim Sanders, the company’s VP of Customer Insights, and Gene Gates, a top-rated morning radio show host. The podcast aims to simplify conversations about how companies are transforming themselves through the recent COVID-19 crisis, leveraging remote work to emerge with new qualities.

New episodes of the “Back to Better” podcast are released every Monday and they are available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher and Amazon Music

Upwork’s Voices Of Authority is a digital broadcast series that will feature interviews with leading experts and executives about the current state of work, human capital management, workplace trends, and more. Season one guests include New York Times bestselling author Dan Pink, Harvard Business School professor Karim Lahkhani, and Workplaceless Founder and CEO Tammy Bjelland, among others.

New episodes of “Voices of Authority” are released every Thursday here.


Upwork Contact Info

You may reach Upwork via the following social media pages:



While this article certainly does not cover everything there is to know about Upwork, we hope that it might help you get your bearings and give you the push you need to start making money on Upwork. 

For more information, visit the company’s online platform here, check their resource center here, or reach out to them on any of the social media pages listed in the above section!




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