Why freelance UX writers should avoid Upwork

Upwork is a horrible idea for freelance UX writers who want to make as much as possible and control their own destiny. Learn why.
ux writing upwork
ux writing upwork
In: Freelance

When you make the move to doing UX writing freelance style, it can be confusing to know where to start. Unfortunately, blood-sucking companies pitch they make it easy to start freelancing and make money.

And while plenty of freelancers and freelance UX writers find success on Upwork, I'm strongly against using it.

What's this horrible company, Upwork, I'm poo-pooing?

According to Upwork's website, they're “the world's work marketplace.” In my words, it's a way for a big company to profit off of freelancers trying to live on their own terms.

Upwork is a freelance marketplace. Millions of freelancers have Upwork profiles, and clients can search the marketplace for a freelancer for their project.

You land work on Upwork by bidding for jobs. That means you and a number of other UX writing freelancers make custom proposals for individual jobs just for the opportunity to interview.

This is backwards for many reasons, but mostly because it positions the client as king and pins freelancers against each other. Freelancers get paid through Upwork, so there’s no need to handle invoicing or payment methods, but the kicker is Upwork takes up to 20% of your earnings.

That said, you should run from Upwork when it comes to your dream remote UX writing life because:

  1. You make much less money on Upwork
  2. Upwork controls your success
  3. It's hard to stand out on Upwork

Let me explain…

1. You make much less money on Upwork

I mentioned Upwork takes a cut of what you make. And It's pretty interesting how they go about it, too:

  • If you make between $0 – $500 from a client, Upwork takes 20% of your earnings
  • If you make between $500.01 – $10,000 from a client, Upwork takes 10% of your earnings
  • If you make $10,000.01+ from a client, Upwork takes 5% of your earnings

Upwork calls it a service fee, I call it unfair.

For example, if you sell a $5,000 onboarding flow revamp on Upwork, you only get to keep $4,500. Upwork gets paid $500 just for connecting you to the gig.

And this is per client. Say you make $20,000 on Upwork, and it broke out like this:

  • $10,000 client A
  • $1,000 client B
  • $500 client C
  • $500 client D
  • $8,000 client E

You'd forfeit $2,100 to Upwork in “fees.” $2,100 a whole separate project's worth! And the way Upwork makes their cut is pretty manipulative, IMO — it just incentivizes you to make more on Upwork, so you get a lower fee, even though that also means they make more.

It's blasphemous.

2. Upwork controls your success

When Upwork becomes your primary source of finding UX writing clients, you become dependent on Upwork.

But what if Upwork disappears one day? Or they decide to revoke your profile? Then you're starting from ground zero. You'll be left with no reviews, no sales machine, and no marketing plan.

I don't know about you, but pinning my success on the whims of a large company doesn't land well. Especially when the alternative is building my own business my way, owning everything I put out there, and being in control of every move that happens (not to mention pocketing every dollar I make.)

3. It's hard to stand out on Upwork

If you think it's hard to stand out on LinkedIn, Upwork will take it to a whole other level. Just take a look at this search for freelance UX writers on Upwork:

upwork ux writer

You have to compete in this. And how do you even start to show up on page one of search results if everything is up to Upwork?

Unless you get lucky, finding success on Upwork takes time, and that's time you could spend building your own web presence and sales machine.

Just look at these stats from this Redditor’s Upwork profile:

avoid upwork

Out of 111 proposals sent, they landed one gig through Upwork. That's a 99% fail rate. And according to this Redditor, they’re top-rated on Upwork with a 100% job satisfaction score.

If you read the thread, people are commenting that something’s up with Upwork’s algorithm. So, again, your business is at the whim of what’s going on with Upwork.

Freelancing doesn't have to work like this. There is a MUCH better way to freelance where you can make more, control your success, and get clients to come to you.

The alternative? Open your own UX writing freelance biz

Instead of pouring hours and hours trying to show up on Upwork, put that time toward building your own UX writing freelance business. Make your own UX writing job.

That entails:

  • Creating a website for clients to discover you
  • Marketing yourself Kardashian-style (if you so please)
  • Investing in building your personal brand with a defined niche

Upwork has the impression of offering clients service providers. When you go independent, clients see you as a solution and a partner, not as just a service And when you freelance under your own umbrella, you get to keep the profit.

When you're your own boss, you decide what you earn, how often you raise your rates, and who you work with. There isn’t the same kind of competing, because your web presence proves you’re the best solution to a specific problem a client has.

Once I got off Upwork, I upped my freelance income by 185% over ~3 years. I get to keep all of it (minus taxes, can't get around those.)

Sounds great, but how do I get off of Upwork?

If you want to start your own freelance business outside of Upwork, the first step is to pinpoint your target customer, define your niche, and create your personal brand. Then, build your website, find the right promotion strategy for you, and get clients to find you — no cold outreach required.

That might sound like a lot, but don't worry — I'm gonna walk you through it every step of the way.

Happy UX writing 🖖

Written by
Slater Katz
As founder of The UX Gal, my mission is to make learning UX writing fantastically-simple and landing a job easy. I've held UX writing jobs at companies like Netflix, Fitbit, Verizon, Afterpay, & more.
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