The Problem with Freelancer Networks

digital nomad geoarbitrage

I’ve worked as a remote freelancer for the past 4 years, specializing in digital commerce and paid search marketing. During this time, my primary source of acquiring clients has been through networks like Upwork and

They’ve done their job and helped connect me with hundreds of clients, but there are many issues with the websites that should be improved.

  • Ratings Systems are Flawed, but They Matter to Clients

I’m considered a “top rated” freelancer on Upwork, with a 96% job success score. It was a 98% success score 2 weeks ago, but I recently applied for and landed a gig to develop a single-page application for a client. The description was very straightforward and linked to a reference website which we would be mimicking. Unfortunately, once I landed the job the client requested many changes to the point where it was a completely different application than what was referenced. It could no longer be worth my time within the budget we had previously agreed upon, and I expressed this to the client. We ended the contract and parted ways as friends, no hard feelings.

Unfortunately, this didn’t matter to Upwork. Upwork doesn’t care about how competent you are at completing the work, they care more about what you bring in as commissions for them, and that is how your success score is developed. Cancelling this project because it was not as described was no fault of my own, but it resulted in a ding to my success score because Upwork didn’t get paid.

  • Commissions and Fees are Outrageous

Upwork charges 20% of the contract price for the first $500, 10% for amounts between $500.01 and $10,000, and 5% of amounts over $10,000.

But that’s misleading, because the first $500 of every contract is billed at 20%. So a $750 contract does not pay out $75 (10%), instead it pays out $125 (20% of $500 + 10% of $250).

Additionally, they charge for for “connects” if you use up your free 60 connects per month. Each project application rings in between 2-5 connects, so you essentially get 30 (max) free applications per month. For an extra $10 a month, you get 10 more connects as a “Plus” user.


How can I avoid these networks?

If you are US-based or speak English, I’d recommend using Craigslist as often as possible to find gigs. If they need to meet up locally, say you live locally but are currently traveling, and if that doesn’t work than find a gig that can be done remotely. Most clients don’t care where you are, as long as it’s done correctly.

Another great option is networking through Linkedin. Now, you’ll have to give up quite a bit of personal and private information in order to get your profile together, but if you are comfortable with that then you can advertise to groups and others for free.

I do all of my invoicing with PayPal, which allows me to hold different currencies or convert it into my local currency.

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