Six Upwork clients to avoid

Upwork clients who make you want to leave the freelancing site

Shamontiel L. Vaughn
Feb 12 · 8 min read
Photo credit: WOCinTech/Flickr

You’ve decided to make side money on a freelancing platform like Upwork. Or, you could’ve been a long-time freelancer who remembers the prior programs, Elance and oDesk. Maybe you’re testing Upwork out after less luck on Fiverr or Freelancer. Either way it goes, you want to find out whether you can use any of the 5,000 listed skills within the 70 categories of work offered on Upwork. Good luck!

The good news is you absolutely can. I’ve been working on Upwork since March 2014 and have a handful of long-time clients, in addition to my own private clients and outside work. As a top-rated freelancer with a 100 percent job success rate (as of publication date), I often have clients who reach out to me for work. This is a relief, considering I have never paid Upwork’s membership plans for Connects — nor will I. (Paying to apply to a job just does not sit right with me nor do I agree with this business decision that they made in May 2019, after multiple years of providing free Connects each month.) But even top-rated freelancers still deal with some of the same frustrating clients that a newbie does.

Photo credit: WOCinTech/Flickr

Some questionable Upwork clients are easy to spot. Others take a little more time — and unfortunately I’ve fallen into their work traps, too — to catch onto. Here are six Upwork clients you should avoid.

Upwork clients with no verified account

For college graduates and other job applicants who are new to the workforce, it can be painfully annoying to see countless job ads that require “experience only.” How do you gain experience if no one will give you a shot? The same level of exasperation can happen when you see Upwork job posts that prefer freelancers with 100s of freelancing hours, or intermediate- or expert-level experience. But one thing that new and established Upwork freelancers should be aware of is that they’re not on a level playing field when it comes to the clients having “experience” on the freelancing platform, too.

It is not an initial requirement for new clients to verify their payment accounts before reaching out to freelancers. This means they can waste an Upwork freelancer’s time talking back-and-forth for days and weeks on end about an upcoming job without ever confirming that they are willing to pay on the site at all. While I have had a handful of Upwork clients who were new to the platform and added their financial information later, be very aware of unverified clients who send out large amounts of private invites to jobs. They are usually recruiters who want you to either do free work or move you off the Upwork platform altogether.

Upwork clients who invite large amounts of people to a job

Job applicants usually have no idea how many people are applying to the same jobs that they’re applying to. Of course Upwork members can pay to see other applicants’ skills and how many people applied to public jobs, but the final hire still comes down to the client. Generally speaking, applying to a job with three-digit and four-digit amounts of applicants just puts you in a haystack. Should an Upwork client invite you to apply for this job with a laundry list of other candidates, you can at least skip burning through much-needed Connects. It’s “free” if there’s an invite. But pay attention to how many freelancers that the Upwork client has actually hired in the past. If all you see is applicants but no one hired, you’re more than likely wasting your time.

Photo credit: WOCinTech/Flickr

Upwork clients who don’t pay your rates

As much as job sites ask job applicants to shy away from discussing pay until after they know whether the hiring manager or higher-ups are willing to move forward with employment, I have always thought that was an absolute waste of time. From the age of 16 and on, I have always put my minimum salary on the cover letter. The downside of doing that is you risk an employer under-paying you if your minimum salary is much lower than what they were initially willing to pay you. The upside is you can weed out under-paying clients from the very beginning. On Upwork, your minimum salary is on your profile. When you use your Connects to apply to a job, you put in your suggested salary for this job immediately. But what you should do is pay attention to the average pay of these clients. If your rate is $25 per hour, but the client’s profile says his average payout is $7 per hour, don’t even bother. Unless he’s run into a string of money or has a brand new job that is totally unrelated to past jobs, he will try to shortchange you.

Upwork clients who want free work or tests

I have mixed feelings with this one only because I have a mother who has 35 years of management experience under her belt. I have talked with her at length about how easy it is to hire someone who “says the right things” or “seems like they can do the job.” Their resumes are flawless. Their mannerisms are impeccable during the interview. And then people get hired and their true colors show. So I get it. I understand why employment tests are needed to make sure the person can do the job.

But there’s a fine line regarding free work. If the amount of “free” work that a client asks you for sums up to your hourly rate or flat rate — especially if it takes more than 30 minutes to do — you should ask for a “trial paid test” run. If your resume already vouches for your experience, you have every right to do so. If this hiring manager says no, you’ve wasted no time on this person and can use that energy on a similar job with less “free” work. And if this Upwork client insists that you two meet in person, you should be compensated for travel time and the length of the meeting. If this client is not willing to pay for an in-person meeting (that is almost always unnecessary for online work), make sure to deduct travel expenses on your self-employment taxes. (Note: Upwork has a flag system to notify them of clients who ask for free work.)

Photo credit: WOCinTech/Flickr

Upwork clients who ask for too much personal information upfront

Anyone who has talked to me for longer than 10 minutes knows I’m a walking, talking Toastmasters commercial. Two weeks ago, I saw a job for experienced Toastmasters to be coaches. The requirements were to record three speech videos on a website. Although unfamiliar with the site, I agreed to after asking the client to explain all the ways in which this video would be used even if I was not chosen. Then came more tests to listen to his 16-minute speech and an additional 3–4 minute speech to “coach” him through it.

A week later, he wanted another 20-minute video interview, my phone number and email address. Upwork already warns freelancers about giving out email addresses and phone numbers, especially when messages can already be exchanged through their free messaging app. And free conference sites like UberConference.com allow people to have up to 10 people talk without exchanging phone numbers for audio and visual calls. I refused to provide it. Coincidentally, the unfamiliar website where my videos were posted claimed that email address was no longer valid, and I could not delete my videos. Even top-rated Upwork freelancers can get duped. Always report suspicious behavior, including from clients who have paid for work. Just because someone paid for a past assignment doesn’t mean they won’t try to take advantage of the next freelancer for a new one.

Photo credit: Shots by Priiincesss

Upwork clients who don’t seem to know what they want

Unfortunately I get more invites from this group than legitimate, paying and focused clients. As a top-rated freelancer, more eyes are on my profile versus those who may randomly apply. This client first reaches out with an hourly job and then decides it should be flat rate, without any idea of the amount of hours of work involved. This client may or may not want to pay on Upwork but will usually try to coerce you into payment outside of the site. This client will almost always want to set up conference call meetings and contact you repeatedly, drilling you with questions related to job duties but makes no move to actually hire you.

And even though this client has invited you to the position, don’t be surprised when you’re asked to take job tests anyway. I have never found success with this kind of client. Some freelancers may tell a different story. In the case of every consistent and well-paying client I’ve had in Corporate America, Upwork and privately, it has always been an immediate hire. After a few messages on Upwork and a maximum of one conference call (that usually lasted less than 15 minutes), this client hired me and was ready to start working. If you’ve ever been burned by a Corporate America job that requires you to come in for multiple job interviews with several team members, after the phone interview, possibly some tests and maybe even a lunch interview, you already know this kind of client. This is the type of client who will waste your time and then decide they don’t need to hire for this job anymore or want to hire in-house. If this Upwork client becomes exhausting to interview with, expect that hamster wheel to keep turning if you (un)luckily get the job too.

There is hope on Upwork

Although these six clients can and will make you wonder whether it’s worth it to stay, again, I’ve been on this site for six years (4.5 of which I had a full-time job). While it is not my entire income, I enjoy my clients so much that I promote them even when I don’t get paid for it. None have asked me to put their company names on my website, Medium newsletter and/or in private talks. But I appreciate and respect clients and companies who know exactly what they want and make Upwork a pleasurable place to work.


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Shamontiel L. Vaughn

Written by

15-year vegetarian journalist/editor; Wag! dog walker; Rover dog sitter; Toastmasters member and 4x officer; WERQ dance enthusiast; Visit Shamontiel.com

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