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Freelance Tales: Navigating Upwork's Marketplace

Is Upwork legit? The story how I started at Upwork and became Top Rated. A few tips on how to land highly paid jobs at Upwork, and, finally, the main question: "How much do freelancers make?"
Freelance Tales: Navigating Upwork's Marketplace

TLDR: Definitely yes for at least three reasons.

  • Upwork is a marketplace that is literally crawling with clients and freelancers. And it's really global. When I select the "mobile app development" filter I get updates in the jobs list every 10 minutes.  
  • Upwork sets the game rules that are helpful for both sides to play fair
  • Upwork provides an invoicing tool for clients and freelancers. Both hourly and fixed ways of payment are rather good.

My First Job at Upwork

My First Attempt to Land a Contract

I registered on Upwork in the spring of 2017.

Most of my mates more or less involved in freelance and outsourced development were saying that the time had already gone and there was no way to start on Upwork due to the incredible competitiveness there.

It seemed to be true. Furthermore, I was scrolling through the jobs posted there and most of them looked like bullshit for meaningless amounts of money.

I've spent about a month, sending proposals without any success. Profile with an empty job history was a real barrier and I gave in.

My Second Attempt to Land a Contract

After about three months I decided to give it a second try.

I've spoken to a couple of my friends who were rather successful at Upwork those days. The advice was not something I needed actually. A living example, proof that it was doable and worth doing. That was something I really lacked.

My First Contract at Upwork

This time I was bidding and sending proposals as usual but surprisingly landed the contract rather quickly.

Suddenly on the bidding screen, I saw a message saying something like: "Freelancers with skills similar to yours usually bid higher. Recommended amount is X".

I called it "an invisible hand of the Upwork market". I did that exact amount and immediately got the interview. Then we had a call, discussed the details and I got the contract.

Coincidence or an unbelievable match?

What Does "Top Rated" Mean in Upwork?

It took me about half a year to achieve a 100% success score and Top Rated status.

Top Rated Status Benefits

For me personally, there isn't much profit from it, except the fact that the account becomes a little bit more attractive.

It also allows us to bring non-Upwork clients to Upwork with zero commission and use Upwork as an automated invoicing tool.

One more feature is the ability to delete one client's feedback per year. That may be useful in case of your sudden freelance failure.

Accidentally, I've come across one more feature that Upwork provides for top-rated freelancers. It's advertising.

Yeah, it turns out that Upwork puts top-rated freelancers everywhere and that's a rather pleasant thing.

Losing Top Rated Status

I haven't worked through Upwork for the whole of 2019 and haven't been active there at all. As the result, I've lost my top-rated status. Unfortunately, that will probably cause difficulties with landing jobs in the future.

The good news is that I'm going to get it back soon.

How Much Do Upwork Freelancers Make?

Disclaimer: the thoughts below are related to mobile app development. iOS development, to be more exact. Though I believe that software engineers' prices are more or less equal for web development in general. No matter if it's web frontend, backend, or mobile apps.

It's true that with the help of the internet, the market has become global and you can seamlessly work on the same project with guys from different parts of the globe.

You can even work for guys from the richest countries in the world and earn a very good living while staying in not that expensive places and spending less.

Not exactly. Even though we imply equality, it doesn't really happen even in this borderless world. The whole market of software developers is implicitly divided into pricing regions depending on the origin of the developers.

India, Pakistan

These guys are charging up to 20$ per hour.

Russia, Ukraine

The market is somewhere between 20-35$ per hour. I suppose that it is also true for all ex-USSR countries.

China, Vietnam

I don't know much about these guys. I've heard that they charge about 25-30$.

Since I get a lot of offers to rent my Upwork account from Chinese developers, Upwork is not too legal there.

As for Vietnam, seems like there are not so many freelancing devs there.

South America

Almost no stereotypes about South American freelancers are known to me. I've heard that they usually charge about 25-35$ per hour and speak English almost natively.

But at the same time, I've met quite a lot of guys on Upwork from South America with rates as much as 40$ per hour.


That's around 40-50$ per hour. It seems that Upwork is not so popular among freelancers from Europe.

My guess is that European freelancers in general cannot benefit much from locational arbitrage. Taking into account the risks of freelance compared to social guarantees and decent salaries of ordinary full-time jobs.

USA, Canada

They start from 50$ per hour and go up to 120$ and I suppose that's not even close to a limit.

The problem is that it's hard to get out of bounds and earn higher than the common rate that is mainly determined by the freelancer's place of origin.

Upwork Hidden Economy

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Upwork hidden economy is one more popular myth about Upwork.

According to it, the jobs posted publicly, are only the tip of the iceberg that are usually the weirdest and least paid.

The most delicious jobs are private. Those wealthy clients use Upwork just as a hiring tool. They invite and hire without exposing the jobs to the majority of freelancers.

Another part of the hidden economy myth is everlasting clients. Saying that most wealthy clients have already found a pool of the best freelancers in the world and work with them forever without any need in hiring new freelancers, and probably you.

My overall number of jobs is not large, so my stats is not so relevant. Anyway, only half of my contracts were initiated by clients via invitations. So the myth is probably true for at least 50%.

How to Land Highly Paid Jobs at Upwork

The world and the market are so large, that even a tip of an iceberg may be enough for you personally.

I'm sticking to the idea that there are well-funded projects and not-so-well-funded projects. If I want to make a good living, I should look for well-funded projects and avoid all the rest.

There is no purpose in bargaining or competing with other developers, dumping the rate. You either match the client's financial capacities and his will to pay for outstanding service or not.


When bidding, one of the key things is to get out of the bounds defined by the place of origin and go beyond the pricing stereotypes.

It works the same way as market making on financial markets. The closer you put your offer to the best prices, and the faster you match the buyer.

If you are not in a hurry you can wait and get a better price with a well-funded project and a more suitable client.

How to Write Winning Proposals

I don't believe that crap recipe from the internet with some secret sauces of writing proposals. (In fact, I just don't believe in any secret sauce, in general)

Once I subscribed to one of the frauds copywriters who promised to show recipes of his magnetic proposals. What happened next? He has been spamming me with the same crap for 3 years now, asking me to get his paid subscription. I've seen his cover letter examples and that was just ordinary bullshit.

How Do I Write Proposals

  • I've tried sending the same template letters (with minor changes) as proposals to all the jobs I applied for.
  • I've tried writing super-warm personalized cover letters
  • I've tried super short cold letters, like:
"I can do and it will cost a minimum of X, depending on the requirements and more detailed specs. Write me if you are interested. Best regards"

Can you guess which of them worked best?

All of them! I've managed to get interviews and then jobs with all kinds of proposals above. 

What Does It All Mean?

You can either match the client or not. (Yours Sincerely, Cap Obv.)

Everything depends on how serious the client is with his intentions about the project. If your proposal is simply rational, polite, and professional that's all you can do to get the interview. Remember Pareto fellow?

All the rest is a magic game of Mr. Chance and probability.

What’s the Conversion of Proposals on Upwork

As you probably know, the process of getting a job at Upwork is

  • Invitation to a job (in case it was initiated by the client, otherwise next step)
  • Sending a proposal as a response to a job post (in case of an invitation, the proposal is automatically accepted by the client)
  • Interview with the client during which you discuss the job details
  • Offer (in case of a match)

I've looked through my archived proposals, interviews, and jobs. There are a lot of them, so the numbers ARE relevant.

I've got the following stats:

  • Conversion of a proposal to an interview: 38%
  • Conversion of an interview to a job: 9%
  • The overall conversion of a proposal to a job is only 3%

What’s on the Clients’ Mind

As you might have noticed, my success rate in the interviews is rather low. That's because  I'm too much careful in choosing projects and clients.

As I've already mentioned, everything depends on how serious the client is with his intentions in the project.

There are a lot of possibilities that the client is just a dreamer who came to Upwork to craft a spaceship. Or he may just be looking for a ballpark estimate for the project.

It's possible that after a long discussion and creation of detailed specs of the project he just disappears. Yeah, shit happens.

All you can do is be careful with job posts and interviews and avoid stories that show signs of smelling bad.

Instead of Conclusion

Upwork is just another place without magic cracking tools.

For me personally, it turns out to be just a coin toss. The dice game, where I can slightly tune the probability by changing the price, writing proposals more carefully, improving my profile... and trying to pick the right projects.