Why I No l Longer Rely on Upwork to Find Long-Term Clients

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In the world of freelancing, finding long-term clients who appreciate your skills and value your work is like striking gold.

For years, Upwork was my go-to platform for securing freelance gigs and connecting with potential clients–it was where I got my start in copywriting.

It offered convenience and a wide array of job postings, but as time went on, I found myself drifting away from Upwork in pursuit of more sustainable freelance opportunities.

Here’s why I recommend making this shift plus 12 ways you can start finding new clients now.

TLDR don't rely on upwork

Table of Contents

1. Fierce Competition and The Race to the Bottom

1. Fierce Competition and Race to the Bottom

One of the primary drawbacks of platforms like Upwork is the intense competition among freelancers. Bidding wars can lead to a race to the bottom in terms of pricing.

As a result, I often found myself compromising on rates just to secure a project, which made finding success–and just breaking even–a real struggle.

Plus, overall this race to the lowest bid not only undervalues freelancers but also the quality of the work produced.

2. High Platform Fees

2. High Platform Fees

To use their platform, Upwork charges freelancers a percentage of their earnings as service fees, which can be quite substantial, especially for new freelancers.

The fee structure generally starts at 10% and it used to reduce as you built long-term relationships with clients. However, Upwork has since updated its model, and now everyone pays the same flat percentage, regardless of how many long-term clients you have.

These fees definitely eat into your earnings, leaving you with less than you initially anticipated–especially since the fees Upwork takes aren’t the only ones you have to pay. 

Depending on where you live, the 10% Upwork charge plus whatever your independent income taxes are could take about half of your yearly earnings.

3. Limited Direct Client Interaction

3. Limited Direct Client Interaction

While Upwork provides a platform for communication between freelancers and clients, the messaging system can sometimes create a barrier to effective client interaction.

I missed the opportunity for direct, one-on-one conversations that fostered better understanding and stronger client relationships which often hindered effective project communication.

Plus, if you choose to communicate with your client off of Upwork’s platform, you may be flagged as they have strict rules against working with Upwork clients outside of their platform.

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4. The Hunt for Quality Clients

4. The Hunt for Quality Clients

The hunt for quality clients on Upwork was often akin to searching for a needle in a haystack.

Upwork has hundreds of job opportunities posted every day, and sifting through inquiries to find those rare clients who valued expertise and commitment could be a daunting task–especially since the majority of clients on the platform want to pay the most possible bang for the tiniest little buck.

My very first paying job on Upwork, for example, consisted of a client giving me a few days to research and write a 3,000 word article on a tiny town in Australia. The total paycheck for my work? $15.

And then Upwork took 20%.

The platform’s wide reach attracted clients with varying degrees of seriousness, and distinguishing the wheat from the chaff required time and discernment.

Quality clients, the ones seeking long-term collaborations and appreciating the value of quality work, were certainly present, but the challenge lay in identifying and securing them amidst the noise of the freelance marketplace.

In the three years I actively used Upwork to find clients, I found less than five that turned into long-term, fruitful business relationships.

5. Building My Personal Brand

5. Building My Personal Brand

As a freelancer, building a personal brand and online presence is essential for long-term success.

Relying solely on Upwork limited my ability to create a unique brand identity and showcase my portfolio effectively.

I wanted potential clients to find me through my website, social media, and referrals – channels that allowed me to present a more comprehensive view of my skills and experience.

Finding Clients Outside of Upwork

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Upwork has been a popular platform for freelancers to find work and connect with clients for a long time, but it may not always be the best fit for you.

Expanding your horizons can lead to more varied and rewarding opportunities while reducing reliance on a single source.

Here’s a few other ways you can find clients outside of Upwork:

1. Build an Online Presence

Start by establishing a strong online presence. Create a professional website that showcases your portfolio, highlights your skills, and includes client testimonials. Your website serves as a hub for potential clients to learn about you and your services.

2. Leverage Social Media

Utilize social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to connect with potential clients. Share relevant content, engage with your target audience, and participate in discussions within your niche to build your credibility.

3. Network Within Your Industry

Attend industry-specific events, conferences, and webinars both online and in person. Networking is a powerful tool for meeting potential clients and collaborators. It’s also an excellent opportunity to exchange ideas and learn from others in your field.

4. Reach Out to Your Network

Don’t underestimate the power of your existing network. Reach out to former colleagues, friends, and acquaintances who may know of freelance opportunities. Referrals from people you know can often lead to high-quality clients.

5. Cold Pitching

Identify companies or individuals you’d like to work with and craft personalized cold emails or messages. Highlight how your skills can solve their problems or add value to their projects. Be concise, professional, and respectful of their time.

6. Freelance Marketplaces

While Upwork is just one platform, there are other freelance marketplaces like Fiverr, Freelancer, Toptal, and Guru. These platforms offer a different client pool and can be worth exploring to diversify your client base.

7. Job Boards and Websites

Many job boards and websites list freelance opportunities across various industries. Websites like FlexJobs, We Work Remotely, and specialize in remote work opportunities, making them valuable resources for freelancers.

8. Professional Organizations

Consider joining professional organizations or associations related to your industry. These groups often have job boards or directories where members can find freelance opportunities.

9. Attend Local Events

 Participate in local meetups, workshops, and events related to your field. You may find local businesses or entrepreneurs in need of freelance services.

10. Guest Blogging and Content Marketing

 Writing guest blog posts or creating valuable content in your niche can attract clients interested in your expertise. A well-placed article can lead potential clients to your website.

11. Online Marketplaces

E-commerce platforms like Etsy (for creative professionals) and Amazon (for writers and marketers) can be an avenue for freelance work, particularly if you offer specialized services.

12. Collaborate with Other Freelancers

 Teaming up with other freelancers on joint projects can expand your reach and lead to cross-referrals. Consider partnering with freelancers whose skills complement your own.

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Ready to Find New Clients?

Upwork is great for snagging short-term gigs and getting your foot in the freelancing door, no doubt about it. But when it comes to keeping those long-term relationships going, it’s not always the best choice.

I’ve had my fair share of battles in the crowded Upwork marketplace, dealing with clients who don’t exactly break the bank, and getting a little frustrated with their fee structure.

Plus, the whole lack of direct communication with clients and limited control over project terms and pricing gets old real quick.

Instead of sticking solely with Upwork, I definitely recommend networking, getting referrals, and building up your online presence to gain a wider, more profitable client base.

That way, you have a lot more control over your contract and client relationships, and you can establish longer-lasting relationships.

Happy travels!

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