What Is Upwork, and Is It Legit for Freelancers?

Upwork takes the hassle out of finding and pitching potential clients, but freelancers need to stand out and deliver to succeed.
Tommy Tindall
Kelsey Sheehy
Max Ramirez
By Max Ramirez,  Kelsey Sheehy and  Tommy Tindall 
Edited by Courtney Neidel
Review: How to Make Money on Upwork

Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This influences which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners and here's how we make money.

What is Upwork?

Upwork is a marketplace for freelancers in fields like writing, graphic design, web development, marketing and many other categories of online work. The site helps professionals find projects, communicate with clients and get paid.

Is Upwork a legit way to make money?

If you’re a new freelancer, or just beginning an online side hustle, you can rack up valuable experience without always having to pitch clients cold on Upwork. That makes it legit. But the site is full of new workers who are willing to take work for a lower rate, which can impact your earning potential. That means, as it does with any online business or side hustle, it’ll likely take time, dedication and skill to earn big.

Overall, Upwork makes it easier to look for jobs and make money, but think carefully about which gigs you want to apply for.

Video preview image

How to get Upwork jobs

Joining Upwork is a straightforward process, but once you’re in, you’ll need to sell yourself.

Setup up a robust profile

Your profile serves the same purpose as a general résumé for prospective employers. You can’t get work without one, and that’s where you’ll start when you sign up.

Profile essentials include:

  • A title that spotlights your skills.

  • Your headshot.

  • A profile write-up about yourself.

  • Your hourly rate.

  • Relevant skills.

  • Service categories.

Standing out is the name of the game in such a vast marketplace of freelancers. Put some thought into your profile title and overview to give prospective clients a good sense of what you can offer. Enhance your profile with examples of your work in the portfolio section.

Upwork will typically approve your profile within 48 hours, assuming the information is verifiable and accurate. Then you can get working.

Contact potential clients with “Connects”

Upwork offers two membership plans for freelancers: Basic and Plus.

Freelancer Basic is the default free plan. The Basic plan comes with 10 free "Connects" each month, the platform’s internal tokens, which are used to contact clients. You can also pay $0.15 for additional Connects, which are sold in bundles or custom amounts.

Search for jobs on the site, and use your Connects to submit proposals. Proposals include an introductory letter, your desired fee and answers to questions the client included in the posting. You can also send examples of any work you think would be relevant.

Freelancer Plus is the paid plan for those going all in on Upwork freelancing. This plan is $20 a month and gets you 90 Connects per month, plus 10 more free from Upwork, along with a few other perks that might appeal to more dedicated freelancers.

If someone reaches out to you, you don’t have to use any Connects. The more robust your profile looks, the more likely you are to receive job offers from potential clients.

Win a gig and get to work

To get hired, clients will send you a contract to initiate the project. You’ll work with your client, keeping them informed through the platform as you complete the work. Once the work delivered is approved, you’ll be paid by direct deposit, PayPal or one of the other available payment methods.

Get more financial clarity with NerdWallet
Monitor your credit, track your spending and see all of your finances together in a single place.

How much of your fee goes to Upwork?

Upwork takes a 10% cut of your earnings, so you’ll want to factor that into your pricing strategy. The 10% service fee applies to both hourly rate and fixed-price earnings.

  • If you charge a $100 hourly rate, you’ll earn $90 per hour after the Upwork fee.

  • If you charge $500 for a fixed-rate project, you’ll earn $450 after the fee.  

Hourly projects

All hourly projects are logged in your Work Diary, which is built into Upwork’s desktop app. With this function on, the app tracks your time in 10-minute billing cycles and records keystrokes, scrolling and clicks. It also takes a screenshot periodically. You can turn the Work Diary’s time tracker on and off at any time, and add work time manually if you have permission from the client.

Upwork bills your client for hours worked on a weekly billing cycle.

Fixed-price projects

Payment for fixed-price projects is more straightforward. The person or company contracting you has to set aside a certain amount of money when you make the agreement. The employer must also set milestones, which are concrete deliverables on the way to the finished job. You’re paid with some or all of the deposit once you hit these checkpoints, and the remainder is paid once everything is complete.

How to do well on Upwork

Like with any client-service business, you’ll want to communicate effectively, deliver work products on time and meet or exceed client standards. Upwork measures your overall performance using a Job Success Score, which is a percentage that ranges from 0-100% displayed on your profile. The score takes into account a variety of factors, such as public and private feedback, contract delivery and customer relationships. TLDR: Do great work, deliver it on time and be pleasant to work with.

Get more financial clarity with NerdWallet
Monitor your credit, track your spending and see all of your finances together in a single place.

Is Upwork the right freelance marketplace for you?

If you’re a freelancer and want access to an open market of clients, it’s probably worth giving Upwork a look. It’s also worth checking similar freelance marketplaces like Freelancer and Fiverr while you’re at it.

That said, the competition and utter vastness of a site like Upwork could discourage some. It’s an interesting option, but not the only way to go about freelance work. If you’re motivated and resourceful enough to find and contact potential clients on your own outside of Upwork, you may be able to secure steady opportunities that don’t require a 10% cut.