Tonight I biked eight miles down to a co-working warehouse space in trendy South Austin. (A real bumper sticker I’ve seen says this: “78704: We’re all here because we’re not all there.”) I attended my second class about the freelance website Upwork. As one of if not the largest websites of its kind, and having an interest in freelancing, I was encouraged to sign up a year ago. I did so and listed the title of a job I don’t really want to do. Since I never spent much time becoming familiar with how it works, nothing happened. Some time last year I attended a class, which didn’t impress so I promptly forgot about it. The other day an email appeared inviting me to a presentation about setting rates in Upwork. Now that I’m identifying myself more as a (non-technical!) writer, obviously I need to redo my profile and learn how to use the system. Here is some information I learned for those who might be interested.
Competition is of course a big factor on Upwork, so you need to define your skills — but do so honestly. You can list different rates for different skills and prices on different sections of your profile, as well. When you start out, naturally you may need to reduce your fee a bit. Getting the first job is the hardest, but since the site works mostly on reviews, doing a good job is key. With good ratings, you can begin to get more and better paying jobs.
As with any job, communicating with your client, having a good attitude and the soft people skills necessary to keep them happy come in handy. When you’re talking or emailing with people in another country, even an English-speaking one like, say, England, you need to be aware of cultural an language differences. For example, take the American word used for overeating frequently associated with Thanksgiving: stuffed. That can mean something, erm, quite different in the UK. So, consider that what you think something means may mean something else to your client. Also, you need to ask questions, be transparent, get anything that’s confusing clarified to be clear and on the same page as your employer.
Financial considerations are important for freelancers. The average office worker may spend 40 hours at a job, but not all of that is actually working. There are breaks, holidays and vacation to consider. So one speaker suggested using 30 hours/week as the full-time number when figuring what to charge. Taxes, business expenses like a membership to a co-working office, international phone calls, licenses, continuing education, conferences, etc. all add up. So you need to add 30% or more to what you research the hourly fee is for your profession in your area. Salary.com and ConsultingSuccess.com were two sites recommended to help figure this out. That ties into the idea of not underbilling so you don’t burn out. Value yourself, your time and your work, but at the same time you can’t overcharge more than your skill level and the price the market will bear, either. There was more detail about setting one’s salary, but those were some of the main points.
Some of the more controversial things to know about Upwork you can find on the web but were not covered by the speakers. I asked a few people afterward about them. First off, Upwork takes 20% from the freelancer’s pay until they reach $500 billed per customer. Then it goes down to 10%. That didn’t seem to bother anyone and was just considered the cost of doing business and having the exposure on the site to be able to get clients. There was a similar attitude about the cost of bidding on contracts. Also, there is a charge for what they call Connects. You get 60 a month for free, but after that they are .15 per Connect. Applying to a job can cost two Connects ot more. So it’s not much and pays for itself once you get work.
A major downside that has given me and many people pause is the surveillance software used for hourly work. It is touted as a way to ensure you are paid; if the client skips out, Upwork pays the freelancer. But that means your computer screen is photographed six times an hour, and keystrokes are recorded. This is incredibly intrusive and some people refuse to submit to it, and go elsewhere like Fiverr.com. That’s perfectly understandable. Some people apparently come to like it, though, because there are scams and the payment guarantee covers that. A way around this is to never take hourly jobs and do fixed rate jobs instead. That way you can provide updates but not have Big Brother spying on you.
There were other tips offered but I guess the takeaways for me are to update my profile, include samples of my writing (like this blog), and start bidding on jobs. After the event ended, I was standing in the parking lot talking with a woman who is a poet from San Antonio and a man who is a journalist originally from Boston. The former departed and the latter invited me out for a meal at a nearby Mexican restaurant. He had just received a big payday from a recent freelance job (though not on Upwork), so he treated and I got the tip. We had some surprisingly tasty bug bowls of chicken soup at Polvo’s (which means Dust’s). As a journalist for many years, he had a lot of interesting stories, and I swapped a few of my own. It’s good to meet people with a similar love of worms. “I mean words, Roxanne! Words!”
I suppose that it’s another step in my journey as a writer. And to follow on the referenced movie link above, where it goes, nobody nose. But where your Cyrano de Bergerac-esque schnoz leads, let’s hope it’s not one that bleeds. (As they say about reporting on car crashes and other violent incidents.) Write on!
Please let me know in the comments if you’ve used Upwork and what your experience has been.
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