CEO & Creative Director
As I mentioned the last time I talked about Upwork, not everyone is a big fan. If you spend enough time on the right parts of Reddit, you’ll come to think that all Upwork jobs are complete rubbish. Heck, sometimes I even wonder if I’m all there because I keep talking about how keen I am on that website.
This is because a lot of the Upwork jobs that freelancers find are junky… at least to them. They say one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and I think this line of thinking can follow for freelancing gigs too. But there are some that are just crapola — let’s just be real here.
So how do you know if that Upwork gig that is worthy of you spending another second thinking about it, let alone applying? When I see a job on Upwork, here’s what I evaluate to decide whether or not I should give it any more of my time.
I look at a listing title and the first few words that display in the job feed to key me into the fact a gig is or isn’t for me. I look for words that are indicative of things I love to do as beacons, and the opposite are red flags.
For instance, when I’m searching for “marketing strategy” gigs and see a listing that mentions SEO or Adwords, I give the preview a quick scan. I’ll keep it moving if nothing indicates to me that I’m being hasty in passing it over. But if I see someone mention Hubspot, inbound marketing, or content in a few different niches, then I pay attention.
If someone on Upwork wants to hire at “entry level,” that means they want to pay less. The person they hire possibly floundering through the gig as they get their bearings is just an unfortunate side effect. Intermediate means they still don’t want to pay a lot, but they want someone who is a bit more proficient. Expert means that they want someone who really knows their stuff, and they may even want to pay more.
If you’re just starting out or in intermediate land, it’s a bit murky. Beginners could have a chance with mid-level jobs. And depending on the gig, intermediate folks could really go either way. Experts could really apply to anything, but that doesn’t mean the rate would suit them. Which brings us to…
With hourly gigs, unless someone slips what they are willing to pay into the listing, you really have nothing to go on aside from the experience level preferred.
With fixed price listings you get an important piece of additional information: their budget! If someone wants to pay something that’s lower than your rate, you move on.
But sometimes this can be tricky, as some employers use ridiculously low place holders. Others may list their budget for one unit of work (an article, list, or edited image) despite needing multiple pieces done. If the rest of the listing doesn’t raise red flags, it may be worth applying and asking about this. But don’t get optimistic. There are a lot of folks looking for really cheap work — hence all the haters on Reddit.
Now I think you can try to buck one of these, but if you aren’t what an employer is looking for, you probably can’t convince them. If I’m looking for a native English speaker in North America with a 90% success score, I’m most likely going to ignore an German with a 60% success score who doesn’t speak English as their first language.
Even if you could convince, Upwork may not even show you and your proposal to a client if you aren’t in line with what they are looking for. Your application gets hidden, and unless an employer goes digging, they won’t find it. And even if they do find it, there will be big red marks alerting them that you aren’t what they are looking for.
If an employer has bad feedback, I don’t want to work with them. If they’ve been derided for being demanding or difficult to work with, I pass. You may want to too. I don’t want any part of a project, if the client is going to be a pain.
I check out the details on previous gigs while I’m down there. If they’ve worked with others on gigs similar to what they are searching for now, that’s something to note. Look at the rate or payout, as they probably will want a similar rate. Also, look at the job title. If they’ve been trying a new developer every other week, do you really want to be next in line?
Now I really read the listing. I mainly look for unrealistic expectations or indications that a client doesn’t really get how things work.
Do they want to see big spikes in traffic just from adding a blog to their website? Are they asking for a custom WordPress site in 48 hours? Do they want a new logo in just one draft?
When a prospective client asks for something that isn’t doable or that sets them up for disappointment, I pass. It’s easier to say no than to spend time educating a lead… and then probably not work together.
And there may be any number of other red flags in any Upwork jobs you may come across. Different areas of specialization will have different problem areas too.
Communicating about the gig is make or break for me.
When I apply to Upwork jobs, I always ask questions. It’s a big red flag if the potential client can’t be bothered to answer any of them. It’s even worse when they answer just one, picking the least relevant query of the bunch.
Another quality issue is clarity. If I cannot understand what a client wants, I have no way to deliver it. If they cannot be clear, I don’t want the job.
Not responding in a timely manner is problematic too. I once had an interview that went on over months. It took two weeks or more to get responses! As you can expect, when I did hear back from the prospect, the replies were brief and usually did not answer any of my questions. I can only imagine how rough it would be to communicate with him on an actual gig!
Finally, if someone wants you to jump through unnecessary hoops, I say no dice. Some effort does need to go into landing a gig, but some just go above and beyond with their shenanigans. This includes NDAs just to know what the job is or including sample custom paragraphs (basically a free trial) in proposals.
It is really rare to come across a prospective client being extra extra with their asks, but it happens. And it stinks. And I don’t think it’s worth your while.
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