If You’re Freelancing On Upwork This Might Make You Reconsider

I woke up this morning to an unexpected e-mail subject from the freelancing website:

As I’ve been freelancing for about 5 years now, I am more than used to being spammed on a regular basis with job offers, on average 12 times a day for each RSS filter I set besides the normal automated notifications you’d get from such a site. For any freelancer, even though most potential gigs go nowhere and competition is fierce, it is very convenient to receive job postings to an e-mail so that you can stay in tune with clients-to-be without staying in front of the computer refreshing a screen when there are so many other things I, as any other human being, could be doing instead. Clients might not always be aware of it, but freelancers do have lives to some extent even if our tendency to take on and deliver jobs at odd hours or holidays could lead them to believe otherwise.

The “unexpected” aspect of receiving this notification stems from me not recalling doing anything wrong. I could not imagine why I would be receiving a suspension as I had only recently started using the site again, having taken a sabbatical from it since October 2016, primarily due to working on some time-consuming gigs that left me no time to prowl for more work.

My curiosity was piqued, so I opened the e-mail to find out exactly what was going on.

I decided to censor out names because I value the Upwork employee’s privacy as much as my own and would not appreciate it if someone writing an article about the policies of a company I worked on resulted in blowback to me as a person.

Needless to say, I found myself reflecting upon whether or not I had in some way applied to gigs en masse or anything of the kind. It did not take me long to be assured this could not have been the case because Upwork, former oDesk, had a system that limited how many job opportunities you could apply to simultaneously. The system works by allocating you a number of “connects”, quantity depending on your account status (free, paid, etc), which you spend by applying to jobs; these points get replenished at the end of a monthly cycle. You can’t save up these points for future months, so on any given month, you are allowed a certain, fixed number of job proposals. So far it’s pretty simple, right?

Well, that’s odd. I have 48 connects left. Maybe we should look into the history to make sure everything is alright.

From the information here, we can infer two things:

  1. In October I spent 12 Connects over a course of 6 applications on a rate of 2 per gig;
  2. In September, as I had 46 Connects left, it must mean I applied a total of 7 times.

Based on the data on their site, I applied to a total of 13 jobs out of a limit of 60 over the course of two months. That would be 21.6% of what I would be allowed in total to apply to, so it’s established I was not exactly spamming gigs left and right. In fact, this implies that I was applying to one job every 4 days and a half, which is very mild for freelancing.

Turns out the keyword here is applying. I was not hearing back from these clients with specifications, I wasn’t being told I was not good enough for the job, and I was also not seeing them hiring enough people they felt comfortable closing down the ads either.

One of these ads made the whole situation strike me as very uncommon: I may have not heard from 12 of these while their ads stayed open, but there was one of the job applications that had been upgraded to an Active Proposal (which means the client saw your proposal and messaged you back to discuss further details before committing any funds to it).

The job offer was making demos for synthesizer patch banks for a company run by a famous producer I will not name here. I don’t fault his conduct as much as I would fault any indecisive entrepreneur, and Lord knows those compose the majority of people approaching freelancers by far. I will however say that he is connected to Sony and has worked with T-Pain and Britney Spears, so we’re not talking about a run-of-the-mill teenager with a SoundCloud account trying to hire services and later deciding it was too much.

I found and replied to the private message within two days of it being sent to me because Upwork did not deliver notifications of it being sent at all to my e-mail at all, even though he supposedly sent me the message in the same minute I applied.

To me it was odd enough that the message had been removed, but in the time I wrote the article, after sending them an e-mail, the page for my proposal was updated from Active to this:

Wait, what? Either I withdrew (which I didn’t) or the job application was cancelled. It can’t possibly be both.

Then I saw something weirder:

You read that right: one person did get hired already. Just to make sure it wasn’t a freak bug and the gig had been closed due to a hire, I went on incognito to check it out:

As you can see, the job is still open. Just not for me. The same could be said about Upwork in general.

I went online and read more about people with similar cases, and decided to message them, fully aware of the fact they would not want to solve this as that happened to be the end of every other freelancer’s horror story with Upwork.

To which I received an automated message that reminded me of the aforementioned two weeks of wait before “gigs” asking for free work were removed from the marketplace.

In the end, this all came across as if Upwork was less interested in whether clients were coming back to pick anyone out of the average 50 freelancers competing for a gig than they were interested in the freelancers being “closers”. It doesn’t matter that before my hiatus I had clients, or that I had “Connects” left: they do not want me applying because, regardless of the quality of the gigs or how serious clients are, they chose to interpret clients not coming back to their site after posting a gig to pick freelancers as clients not spending money by choosing anyone because of the level of quality in the website.

They completely missed the point any person who ever worked on retail could have told them: asking for a quote is free, and so is saying “I’ll come by later to pick it up” and never coming back to the store because it was more expensive than you assumed. It is not the freelancers’ fault if the clients lack interest or could not find exactly what they wanted, and it is extremely counter-intuitive to assume getting rid of talent would lead to success when the only criteria for curation is how many employers picked you versus how many you rightfully applied to, given that there are no guarantees a job you apply to will find you to be the right candidate. That is literally how being hired works, especially so regarding freelancing.

Whether this is an attempt to purge the userbase over quality or if I was suspended indefinitely because I was a free user and they did not want me as bad as they wanted the ones that paid them monthly on top of their percentage cut out of any gig I took there, I have no way to tell or find out as of now.

I do know I could not go on about my day without telling you why using the site right now might not be in your best interest. Freelancers have it hard enough dealing with clients and other freelancers, we don’t need to be fighting against the platforms that should provide us an adequate framework for connecting to clients and take good money for that service out of every gig on top of that.

UPDATE:

Not surprised in the slightest.
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