Upwork Fees Are Rising — But There Are Other Ways To Find Freelance Work

Upwork Inc. President & CEO Stephane Kasriel, center, rings the opening bell at the Nasdaq MarketSite in New York's Times Square to celebrate her company's IPO on Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018.
Upwork Inc. President & CEO Stephane Kasriel, center, rings the opening bell at the Nasdaq MarketSite in New York's Times Square to celebrate her company's IPO on Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018. AP Photo/Richard Drew

Want to find freelance gigs on Upwork? It’s going to cost you.

In an April 2 email, Upwork CEO Stephane Kasriel announced plans to charge the platform’s 14 million freelance users to bid on — or in Upwork lingo, “Connect” with — projects and jobs. Freelance membership fees will also increase.

By the end of Summer 2019, freelancers will have to buy “Connects” to express interest in job listings. Connects must be purchased in batches of 10 or more, and each one costs 15 cents. The business that creates the job listing determines how many Connects it costs freelancers to apply, ranging from one to six — or in other words 15 cents to 90 cents.

Using Connects on any given listing is no guarantee of getting the job or project. This feature only shows the business that you’re interested. Connects also expire at the end of the month and must be repurchased, again, in batches of at least 10.

Additionally, Freelance Plus monthly memberships, which include 70 Connects, will increase 50%, from $10 a month to $15. Upwork did not announce the membership price increase in the email from Kasriel, and did not respond to a request for comment from The Penny Hoarder.

Upwork also charges freelancers a 20% service fee for all completed projects. These fees are not affected.

The changes will be in effect for new and existing users by May 2.

All of it adds to the mountain of expenses freelancers already face, including steep quarterly tax considerations and a lack of benefits. The added costs to apply to gigs, plus the platform’s 20% cut off the top have some freelancers turning to other websites like Upwork.

Freelancers Respond to New Upwork Fees

Following the announcement, Upwork freelancers took to Facebook advice groups to discuss the fee changes. And, generally speaking, they’re not happy.

Kayleigh Fossett, an administrative assistant based out of Lakeland, Florida, is new to Upwork and freelancing. She’s discouraged by the changes.

“I feel like I haven’t even got my foot in the door, and there’s already another obstacle,” she says.

So far, Fossett has completed three jobs on Upwork. Getting those three jobs took her 22 proposals or 44 Connects. Under the announced changes, it would cost Fossett  $6.60 to land those projects.

“Plus, they take the additional 20% when you do complete a job,” she says. “It is not worth it. I will be looking elsewhere for work.”

Some proponents of the changes argue that the additional costs to apply to gigs will lessen the competition.

Freelance platforms like Upwork make it easier for freelancers to find clients. And that’s a big pain point for most new freelancers, says Laura Poole, a North Carolina-based freelance business owner.

Poole is a non-fiction editor with more than two decades of full-time freelance experience. She trains other freelancers to “be bold and make your own opportunities” at conferences and workshops across the nation.

“[Upwork] should be a launch point,” Poole says. “But you don’t have to be locked into it forever.”

Alternatives to Upwork

If Upwork fees are too much for you, there are plenty of alternatives to score good freelance work.

Other Freelance Websites

In the budding stages of your freelance career? You may be most comfortable with freelance platforms, and Upwork isn’t the only one. Be sure to check out other freelance websites for job opportunities, and compare their fees to find what works best for you.

Some notable examples include Fiverr, Freelancer and Guru — all of which run on a bidding system similar to Upwork’s old fee structure. Their service fees run between 10% and 20% of each project.

Another option for freelancers is Moonlighting, a website that’s part job board, part portfolio and part freelance-business management system.

Unlike most freelance sites, payments for gigs found on Moonlighting aren’t funneled through the company, so you won’t be hit with 20% fees for completed work. Instead, Moonlighting’s Pro Membership subscription model is a flat $9.99 per month. Premium features include a freelance business page, unlimited proposals and invoices and free or discounted access to software that will help you run your business: tax services with H&R Block, healthcare benefits through HealthSapiens, legal advice from LegalZoom and more.

Professional Organizations

According to Poole, freelancing is all about networking. The more people you know, the less you’re beholden to the ever-growing services fees of freelance websites.

“Figure out who your ideal client is,” she says. “Then go directly to your clients.”

Poole is a member of ACES, an international society for editors. She uses the perks of her membership to present at ACES conferences and network with people in her industry. She highly recommends presenting and public speaking.

“If you can present something useful, [clients] will remember you,” she says. “Better than handing out business cards. Better than even placing an ad.”

Several industries popular with freelancers have national organizations, such as the American Advertising Federation and the Society of Professional Journalists. Each organization has local chapters that host events and offer resources to members. Their websites often post niche jobs and freelance opportunities in the industry as well.

Job Boards

Freelance and remote work is booming in popularity. As a result, there are free job boards out there that specialize in this type of work. While they’re not as comprehensive as freelance platforms like Upwork or Fiverr, they do aggregate related jobs… for free.

  • Remote.co: While Remote.co doesn’t post 100% freelance gigs, it does post 100% remote jobs, many of which are freelance. Industries include clerical work, editing, writing, marketing, software development, engineering and customer service.
  • The Penny Hoarder’s Work-From-Home Job Portal: Our journalists personally vet every single job and company that we write about on our Work-From-Home Job Portal. Our focus is on hourly jobs at legitimate companies. Plenty of our posts are about freelance work, but we also include full-time and part-time gigs as well. Customer service, writing, editing, marketing and IT jobs are the most popular.
  • Mediabistro: As its name implies, Mediabistro is focused on jobs in the media industry, an industry ripe for freelance work. While the job board posts all kinds of media jobs, you can filter out exactly what you want to see — freelance, full-time, part-time, by industry and by location.

The Old-Fashioned Way

A cold pitch never hurt anyone. The worst a company can do is say no. So find a business or publisher in your field and send them an email.

“A polite, cold email can get good results,” says Poole.

Our guide, The Art of the Pitch, walks you through exactly what to include in the email and gives tips on how to find the right people to pitch.

Adam Hardy is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. He specializes in ways to make money that don’t involve stuffy corporate offices. Read his ​latest articles here, or say hi on Twitter @hardyjournalism.