How to Hire on UpWork with Success
Sift through the sea of freelancer talent and get what you want — with a cherry on top.
UpWork has become somewhat of the “go-to” site when it comes to freelancing and finding talent from around the world, but that’s not to say it’s the only one out there. It’s just the biggest — by far.
My personal experience stems from the app design and development world. I currently help run a digital studio based in the US and Poland. When managing a complex project, I often need to quickly find talent to complete a specific item, so that’s my angle on everything UpWork. I’m assuming a big portion of you are in a similar boat, however, the lessons learned from my trials and errors apply for hiring most types of freelancers on the platform.
Because the platform is huge, it’s constantly being updated and changes are being made. That has led to some inconsistent behaviors and glitches, which has made it frustrating for some — unbearable for others. But, there are a lot of really important benefits to using UpWork:
1. Talent. It’s truly unbelievable the quality of human capital on the site. However, you must be willing to pay for it. You know the saying… You get what you pay for.
2. Protection. If the freelancer didn’t complete the job the way you expected, and you can back that up, you are protected by UpWork and you don’t have to pay for a bad job. This peace of mind is great and freelancers know this, so most will go above and beyond to get a good rating.
3. Payment system. Freelancers on UpWork are from every corner of the globe. Dealing with different currencies can be a headache, especially if you’re trying to convert into the freelancers home coin. When you make a payment, you’re technically paying UpWork the fee. It’s super easy to count it as an expense for your business and all taxes are organized come the end of the year. There is a section in the platform called Transactions that has everything broken down for you. A huge time-saver.
4. Low Fees (for you). As a client, the fee is 2.75% per payment, no matter the amount. That’s in addition to the price you agreed on. You can pay with credit card, ACH Transfer (if in the US), or PayPal. Pretty straight forward.
Tip: If you have over $910 in monthly billings, UpWork offers a $25 flat fee.
Recently, UpWork has changed their fee structure, mostly to the dismay of freelancers because they are the ones forking over the main fee. It’s important to know what they are paying and do what you can to help them out.
Here’s the fee breakdown for freelancers:
- 20% for the first $500 billed with the client
- 10% for lifetime billings with the client between $500.01 and $10,000
- 5% for lifetime billings with the client that exceed $10,000
That’s a pretty big chunk that the freelancer is handing over just to be a part of the platform. Keep that in mind when setting a price for a job.
Tip: If you want to pay $500 for a job, make it $501 to do the freelancer a solid and reduce their fee by 10%. Or give them a Bonus to get over that $500 mark. Just know the breakpoints and work with them to ease the pain.
Now that you know the benefits and fees associated with UpWork, let’s dive into finding the best talent in the best way possible.
You’re role is now an HR Manager. You want the best for the least and with a cherry on top. I like to search for talent before I have posted a job on UpWork. It allows me to see what’s out there prior to writing a detailed description about the project. Once I’ve made an initial search and saved some freelancers’ profiles (usually from 8 to 10), I then make the job posting and invite those on my list.
Tip: It really saves time to do it in this order. UpWork has the built-in Save feature for this reason and I use it religiously. Just make sure to clean it up once in a while. It’s also a bit hidden in the platform. You can find it by going to Freelancers > My Freelancers > Saved.
On the first click to Find Freelancers, you may be a bit overwhelmed. There is so much talent on UpWork, how do you find the one person who is the perfect match? Use the Filters in the search area to drastically narrow down the freelancers that fit your needs. Use the Advanced Filters tool to get specific.
Below is the filter combination that I use to find app developers. They are my personal preferences through experience and the level of work I look for. I’m not usually searching for seasoned rockstars. I want hungry, talented people who know their stuff, but who are always learning too.
Category: Web, Mobile & Software Development > Mobile Development
Job Success: 90% and Above
Hourly Rate: $10 — $30/hr
Hours Billed: At Least 100 Hours Billed (Within last 6 months only)
Last Activity: Last Active Within 1 Month
Freelancers Type: Independent Freelancers (I’ll talk about this more later)
English Level: Fluent English
By having these filters set, I’ve made sure that I can communicate in English and the freelancers shown are really active on the platform. I’ve narrowed my selection to only 936 freelancers! (Yay?..) It’s obviously too many go through, so I get more specific in my search.
I’m a big fan of developers from Eastern Europe. I’ve had so many great experiences, that I solely search for talent in that region. They know English well, the talent is amazing, and their rates are very competitive — plus I also spend half of the year in Warsaw, Poland, so that makes it more local for me on a time-zone basis.
However, don’t let time-zone deter you from certain locations. Warsaw is a 6 hour difference from New York, 7 hours from Chicago and 9 hours from Los Angeles. If you’re in the US, you can assign tasks a day in advance and hold Skype/Hangouts/Zoom/etc. meetings first thing in your morning, end of day their time. It works.
Tip: In Part 2 of this article, I’ll recommend a bunch of free tools for managing your project between the freelancer and yourself. They’re clutch for organization and looking like a pro.
Location: Ukraine, Poland, Belarus
Boom. 81 Freelancers. Now, we’re getting closer. To get really specific, I like to try out a few things on the Advanced Filter: Tests. This feature on UpWork allows freelancers to prove their skill level in certain areas and is shown in their profile.
Let’s say I’m looking to build an iOS native app. I want someone well-versed in iOS Programming, so I add that as a test and I also select Scored in the top 10% from the dropdown menu.
Only two Freelancers fit the bill. I examine their profiles, and I can Save them if they look like a good fit.
Tip: I like to make my own spreadsheet to add my personal ranking and additional notes so I know who I want to pursue after I create the job post.
Two potential workers aren’t enough to make a solid decision, so it’s time to go back a step and look at more of those 81 freelancers. Remove the Tests advanced filter to do that. When it comes to app development and most other skills, it’s all about their portfolio, so take some time and view profiles — read their intro and look at their Reviews and Portfolio work.
Posting a Job
This is a pretty quick process if you have everything you need ready. And that’s the rule here: Have all materials before posting the job. This saves you and the freelancer so much time. I can’t tell you how many times I had to go back and forth and back again just to get the project details straight between the freelancer and myself. If you have wireframes, designs or a prototype, for instance, attach them to the job posting. It tells the freelancer a ton about the project. They can make accurate estimations and ask you important questions that you might not have thought of. When I started actively practicing this strategy, the posting, hiring and project start was incredibly faster.
Tip: If your project requires a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA), still have all the materials ready. Most freelancers will send the signed document back to you within a couple of hours.
When posting a job, you can also set the payment terms of the project. Hourly rate or Fixed price.
Hourly Rate. In the job posting, you can set the hourly rate at which you’re willing to pay someone. The payments are processed weekly and you can verify the freelancer’s work by reviewing screenshots in a Work Diary section.
Fixed Price. You can set a fixed rate for a job when the deliverables are specific and limited. You can also add Milestones, which act as additional tasks for the same freelancer.
Tip: If the freelancer accepts your invitation, they can propose a counteroffer to the price you submitted. Remember, your rate isn’t set in stone until you Make an Offer .
The Fixed Price route is my recommendation because I can set a specific task to be completed and the total amount I’m willing to pay for it. If I need the freelancer to do more tasks, then I create a milestone and a fixed price for the next one. This is perfect for jobs like coding a designed website or fixing an issue. It allows for budgets to be made in advance and less time spent reviewing their work. If there needs to be edits, I pass those along to the freelancer and the funds are not released until I am satisfied.
When posting a job, you can also make it Invite Only or Open to all freelancers, even those who are not on UpWork. If you select Open, get ready for a barrage of applicants. I find this approach more risky because I have no control if an candidate is qualified or not. It saves a lot of time to make the job invite only. Yes, you have to research the freelancers who you want to invite, but this is better than sifting through those who aren’t even qualified. Control is key.
Overall, make the job appealing, fairly priced, and detailed in it’s description. Don’t be surprised if you get turned down by some freelancers. Some are just not available, some don’t feel qualified for your description, or they don’t like the price you set. Don’t worry, you can always Edit the job posting, if needed, and invite more freelancers.
Individuals v. Firms and the Tricks They Try
This is probably the biggest tip of the guide because it is a sneaky trick that a lot of freelancers/firms try on UpWork. When looking at freelancers, see if they are Affiliated with a larger firm. You can see this while looking at their profile on the right-hand side under their Job Success, Work History, and Availability.
If they are affiliated with a firm, then you can bet that the agency will want to handle the job, not the freelancer alone. This means that a Project Manager will be involved and can even assign a different person for the project. The firms try to increase the budget to pay for the PM and multiple people that work for them. Sneaky indeed, so be aware when you are inviting freelancers who have affiliations.
However, this isn’t the case 100% of the time — there is no harm in inviting those freelancers anyways to see if they reply personally. Express that you want to work on an individual basis — or if they can guarantee that the rate will be the same even though they are a part of a team.
What will usually happen is you’ll invite a freelancer, let’s say Dmitry, and the response you receive isn’t from Dmitry, but from his manager instead. Here’s a quick copy of what I have received:
“Hello my name is Martha, I am a manager on Dmitry’s team. Thank you so much for inviting us to bid on your project…”
Just beware of this tactic, but, heck, sometimes you can get an agency to do a job for the rate of a single individual, which might not be a bad thing in any given scenario. It all comes down to negotiating the terms agreed upon before committing to a freelancer or agency.
By this point, you have created a job posting with either a fixed or hourly rate. Freelancers may either Deny your invitation or Accept and start making propositions for the job, sometimes at a different rate from what you posted. You can start messaging them directly in the Messages area of the platform to discuss any specifics and agree to terms.
Tip: Messaging before hiring tests the freelancer on how responsive they are and also shows their conversational style.
Only commit when you feel comfortable with the freelancer, the project terms, and everything is clear on both sides. In the end, you need to pull the trigger at some point to move the project forward.
Tip: Agreeing on a budget is one thing, but don’t forget to discuss timeline expectations and if they have any questions before making an offer to hire them.
UpWork states that on average, a freelancer is hired within 3 days of a job posting. In my experience, it varies based on my immediacy of needing help. I have started researching talent in the morning and hired by end of day. I have also hired someone 2 weeks after posting the job. Just remember to always communicate.
Do you have a success or horror story from hiring on UpWork? Post it in the comments area and let’s share our experiences.
Illustrations by Kalina Giersz