How I turned a negative review on Upwork into a lifelong client

Mike Albert
Jun 27, 2017 · 4 min read

Last week, I received my first negative rating from a client. I’ve completed close to 1,000 hours for clients and this was the first ding in my Upwork history. I guess over the long run, it’s bound to happen eventually, but if I’m being honest, I was pretty bummed about it. Luckily, I was able to turn this negative into a positive. Read on to see how…

A little background

In April, this client hired me to clean up their books before sending to their CPA. At the surface, it’s a relatively simple project for me.

But, after digging in, I realized that the client actually needed their books completely rebuilt from 2013 to today. It was a mess; not a small engagement. Re-entering data, reconciling and troubleshooting issues can sometimes take hundreds of hours. But as I would find out after the fact, the client couldn’t afford what was required.

She asked me to get started, but after a week of work on the project, she emailed me and asked me to give her instructions on how to help bear some of the load of updating her books, which I did. I understand a client’s desire to keep costs under control, 100%.

Another two weeks passed, and she hadn’t completed the list of items she needed to do. Another big red flag. A couple days later, I received an email from Upwork that she had closed the contract. I knew that with the way things had unfolded that it also probably meant she left me less than a 5 star review. It turns out she left me a 3 star rating (out of 5).

**Side Note: This is one of the things about Upwork’s review system that I don’t like. Even though red flags were identified early on, there’s really nothing you can do as a freelancer except try to make the client happy. In the real world, if I were in the situation where the scope of the engagement completely changed, I would propose next steps and if the client doesn’t like it, I’d move on, but with Upwork, you’re a little stuck. To protect your “Job Success Score”, you have to end the engagement with the client being happy or they can potentially leave you negative feedback. I don’t know if there’s a solution to it, but it’s one of the drawbacks of their feedback system.

What I did next

I reached out via email:


I was wondering if you had a couple minutes to chat?

I just wanted to touch base on the feedback that you left for me on Upwork. I always aim to make sure my clients are 100% happy, so I would really love a chance to remedy any issues you may have had.

Let me know .


After about a week of playing phone tag, we were finally able to connect.

It turns out she was going through a lot of tough things in her personal life, and was overwhelmed with by the project. After deploying some empathy and understanding about how hard it must have been for her during this time and also how hard it is to try to juggle a struggling business at the same time, I proposed a solution.

I offered to give the project another look and to put together a plan to complete it together at a budget she can afford. She was very happy to hear this because she didn’t know how she was going to be able to get her books up to date on her own. I could actually feel the weight being lifted off her back coming through her voice.

The result

  1. I won — She changed her feedback (see below).
The client’s updated feedback, after proposing the win-win solution.

2. She won — She’s going to ger her books cleaned up at a budget she can afford.

She even asked me to continue to do her books, on an ongoing basis after the project is completed. She was so thankful that I reached out, listened and offered to help make her life a little easier, that she told me that she wanted to work with me long term.


I think there are two main takeaways from this experience.

  1. Create a system/process to get regular feedback from your clients — I need to do a better job of creating regular check-ins with clients to help manage expectations and get in front of potential issues with clients before they have a chance to leave feedback.
  2. Look for win-win scenarios — If you do get negative feedback, you should try your hardest to protect your JSS and be willing to go above and beyond to help make the client happy. In the end, you’ll probably be delivering more value than they’ve paid for, but that’s the game you’re playing on Upwork. If you can create a win-win scenario, like I did, that’s the best ending.

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