Why Is Upwork Suspending Six-Figure Clients?by@nebojsaneshatodorovic
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4,147 reads

Why Is Upwork Suspending Six-Figure Clients?

by Nebojsa "Nesha" TodorovicApril 8th, 2024
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In three weeks Upwork has suspended eight six-figure long-term clients, and (very likely) still counting. Each of these so-called "whales" has dozens of open active jobs at any given moment. So, eight suspended whales means hundreds of freelancers on Upwork without work. There no simple answer to a complex answer: WHY?
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After more than ten years on Elance / oDesk / Upwork, I dare to say that I’ve seen and experienced it first-hand: all the good, the bad, and the ugly.

I wrote about my fellow freelancers who have suffered blow by blow; the most notorious ones, the introduction of connects required for submitting proposals and Draconian sections of Upwork’s Terms. I could live with the fact that my words had fallen on deaf remote-work-community ears. I also didn’t use the opportunity to cherish my see-I-told-you-so moments when Upwork almost bled to death on the stock market, got caught red-handed for posting fake jobs to make freelancers spend their connects, and was exposed for the legal catch-22 called “Conversion Fee.”

I’ve always been objective and ready to be challenged and proved wrong for every single claim I made and every single word I wrote, but helplessly emotional when more than 100K freelance accounts on Upwork got purged in just one week. Why? Because nobody cared. Because we’re fully aware of the bitter remote work reality that…

Little did I know that the Upwork suspension train goes both ways. Look, the clients get suspended, as well. But, there’s a huge difference.

What I’d witnessed was in every freelancer’s best interest. I’m talking about fraudsters and “predators” which are a common problem not only on Upwork but on every freelance platform. What’s right is right in this case, and Upwork is fighting the right fight to make sure its platform is as safe and secure as possible by suspending these kinds of clients. However, what a fellow freelancer brought to my attention was something completely different and unheard of.

Upwork “Whales” Are Supposed To Be A Protected Species, Are They Not?

The so-called Upwork “whales” are every freelancer’s dream. I’m talking about six-figure spenders on Upwork. There are even seven-and-eight-figure whales, but they’re reserved for crème de la crème of the Upwork freelance elite. So, back to my freelance friend who has been swimming with the six-figure whales on Upwork successfully for quite some time.

One day, he shared a screenshot with me that got him upset.

Screenshot Upwork

He couldn’t submit a proposal and, thus, wasn’t able to work, because this client got suspended. At first, I didn’t understand what was all the fuss about.

My friend told me that was unthinkable for more than one reason. First, nobody kills the goose that lays the golden eggs in their right business mind. Second, after spending so much money on Upwork and hundreds of projects under your client’s belt you know all the ins and outs of Upwork Terms, especially the no-no things that can get you in suspension trouble (temporary or permanent). Finally, not just Upwork, but every platform would think twice about suspending a long-term client with deep pockets. You can suspend a hundred freelancers without blinking an eye because there are thousands of newbies eager to take their place. But, killing a whale on Upwork can have serious business consequences.

I did my best to sympathize with my brother in freelance arms, but my one swallow doesn't make a summer comforting line was hard to swallow for him. So, a few days later, he hit me with another screenshot:

Screenshot Upwork

Then, that very week came the third in a row:

Screenshot Upwork

I was about to unchain the situation DiCaprio-style, “you had my curiosity, now you have my attention,” but I think that

Ian Fleming’s Goldfinger is a better choice:

Mr Bond, they have a saying in Chicago: 'Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it's enemy action'.

The “enemy’s action” had more “casualties” to report the next week of our “investigation.”

Screenshot Upwork

Screenshot Upwork

Screenshot Upwork

We even tried to find a pattern. My friend had a theory related to the latest price increase of Upwork Plus membership for freelancers. He thought that was the last straw that pushed some Upwork freelancers and clients to continue work outside the platform.

Screenshot Upwork

They violated Upwork Terms, got caught, and suspensions followed. Yet, this didn’t make sense to me. Why would a freelance membership fee increase be a client’s problem and reason-for-treason?

After two more pieces of evidence, I finally accepted that this wasn’t a coincidence.

Screenshot Upwork

Screenshot Upwork

Eight “whales” times six-figure amounts they have spent, well, that’s a lot of money to “write off” just like that, even for Upwork.

OK. I mean, it’s not OK. What’s going on, and why?

New Clients on the Upwork Block

Even if you aren’t as successful and diligent as my friend who cares deeply about “whales,” but you happen to be an enthusiastic freelancer on Upwork then you probably haven’t missed their CEO’s LinkedIn post about the impressive financial report for the previous year:

Screenshot LinkedIn

This post goes on and on, but there’s one part that caught my eye:

Screenshot LinkedIn

What’s 8 suspended against 31 new clients? Nothing. Right? I guess that “enterprise clients” stand for potential “whales.” Yet, it’s going to take some time to hit six or seven-figure spending targets for these new Upwork clients.

Just like all freelancers are equal, but some freelancers are more equal than others (JSS - Job Success Score), all Upwork clients are equal, but some clients are more equal than others (“Client Spend” category filter for those who have an Upwork profile).

I forgot to mention one tiny detail. My friend and I were able to find eight six-figure suspended clients on Upwork in three weeks. So, the legit question remains: how many more clients have been suspended in the meantime (by the time you’re reading this story)? Honestly, Upwork's financial reports and suspended clients, no matter how much they spend, don’t affect my average resting heart rate, but the number of freelancers who are used to and supposed to work for these gone-with-the-wind clients certainly do. Based on my first-hand experience each of these whales has dozens of open active jobs at any given moment for a good price on average. So, eight suspended whales means hundreds of Upwork freelancers with no work.

Where Have All The Good Upwork Clients Gone?

All those clients haven’t left the remote work world just because Upwork suspended them. Some of them may even return because we can’t know for sure if these were temporary or permanent suspensions. Yet, some are gone for good. Where they’re going to hire and work next? That’s the million-dollar question, literally.

I can’t believe that in October it’s going to be five years since I asked the question that’s still waiting to age well: Is Freelance Anarchy The Future of Freelancing?

Let that story sink in, read it because it’s not what you think. Contrary to the unpopular belief and prejudice of Upwork Community moderators, I don’t want or cheer for Upwork to collapse on the stock market. I just want Upwork to get back to its basics, to the good old days with no connects and (questionable) suspensions.

If there’s someone who can make freelancing great again it’s not this guy…

…but Upwork itself. The day when I won’t have the “material” to write about Upwork, it’s going to be a good day for both clients and freelancers. Until that day, you still have to pay to play on Upwork, this way or another. FREE-lancing; that’s how the whole remote work thing started. Remember?