How I’m Preparing for Upwork’s Pay-Per-Connects Change

…I’m ditching the computer, getting a typewriter, and hoping for the best.

Ha! Just kidding.

At the beginning of April, Upwork users were notified of an upcoming change. Instead of being free, Upwork connects would now cost freelancers $0.15 each, beginning in May, with everyone using paid connects by the end of June.

If you’re not familiar with Upwork, it’s a platform that allows freelancers and contractors to connect directly to individuals and companies who are hiring for certain jobs and projects.

Depending on the type of membership you have, you’re given a base amount of free connects each month to apply for jobs. In general, jobs cost two connects to apply. If you’re invited to apply for a job, it costs zero connects.

In the name of full transparency, I’ll share my experience on Upwork, and hopefully this can help you as we move into this change.

I have been on Upwork since they acquired Elance, which was in 2013. I have always had a free membership, mostly because I’ve never had the extra funds to upgrade. Until recently, my time spent on Upwork was completely a side-hustle, so if I went weeks or maybe a month without work, I didn’t think much of it.

But over the last year, I’ve looked to Upwork to help fund my global travels, and now that I’m a full-time freelancer, I rely on the platform for a majority of my income. So, when the email came through that basically said freelancers would pay to apply for jobs, it was scary.

In a Upwork blog post from April 2, they explained their reasoning behind the upcoming change:

We expect that:

  • Freelancers and agencies will submit fewer proposals, focusing on job posts they’re most qualified for and most likely to win
  • Clients will have a smaller selection of highly relevant proposals to review, making it easier for them to identify the best talent for their projects

It’s a move designed to make it easier for clients to see your work and increase your odds of winning the projects you want most.

I can definitely see this side of it, and I hope what they are saying does happen. As it is right now, Upwork users with a free membership get 60 connects per month. With this model, you can apply for 30 jobs each month, plus any that you’re invited to.

In my first few years on Upwork, I used ALL of my free connects. But, I was also working at a lower rate since I had less experience, and sometimes I really needed the money.

But as I’ve gotten more projects under my belt, more experience, and have raised my rate, there are less and less jobs that look like they’ll be a fit. So, there have rarely been months that I’ve used more than 10 connects, if any at all. I get invited to usually 2-7 jobs per week, and that has been enough to sustain my income so far.

Now, the price of the connects will be $0.15 but some of the larger jobs may cost up to six connects to apply. That’s still only $.90, but I can understand the frustration — money is money and when you don’t have it, you don’t have it.

When the announcement came out, I took to Twitter to see if anyone was talking about it. And they were!

Many were frustrated and confused. It came off like Upwork was just trying to make even more money off its users — they already take 20% of your earnings (if it’s a larger job, they lower the amount they take). Many people were asking for advice on other platforms; they were planning to jump ship.

The truth is, I didn’t — and I still don’t — want to leave Upwork.

I have built up my profile so much over the years. I have completed more than 170 jobs, clocked nearly 400 hours, and have made more than $40,000 on the platform. I can’t imagine starting over on a new platform.

I have ALWAYS felt that even though the 20% fee was jarring at first, it was always worth it. Before using Elance or Upwork, I took freelance jobs off Craigslist and rarely did I ever get paid, and if I did, it was like $5.

It’s scary out there and Upwork provides a safe space where you are mostly sheltered from getting scammed, and even in sticky situations, I’ve been able to reach out to their support team and get advice on how to best move forward.

So, I attended Upwork’s Town Hall a few days after they announced the change. They didn’t stray too far from the language they had already shared in the initial announcement email and on their blog.

They did say it was unlikely that this would change — people asked if they would ever go back to free connects and that seems out of the question. Many people were also asking about jobs that just never hire anyone; would freelancers get those connects returned? No. They will only return connects if a job has violated Upwork’s policy.

One thing that was frustrating was that they admitted there were other areas they needed to improve on, such as doing more to ensure freelancers that a potential client was reputable (not spam or awful) and they had yet to do that. It still came across that they were quick to implement a way to charge us, but not a way for freelancers to feel better about applying for jobs.

But, I am still going to stick with it for now. I want to give this new system a try and see how it goes. Right now, I do know that if you’re not one of the first people to apply to a job, then you have very little opportunity to get it, and that usually means applying within one hour of it being posted. There have been some months when I just spent all day scrolling and refreshing, trying to apply for the latest jobs.

So, the change is coming in two days, and here’s what I have been doing to get ready:

  • Gave myself a raise

  • I gave myself a $5/hour raise to offset the cost of connects. Because 20% of my rate goes to Upwork, I already make less on the platform than what I charge outside of it. Well, it was time for a raise, and if I’m going to have to pay to apply for jobs, I had better be bringing in more money to cover the cost.
  • Using all of my connects

  • For what it’s worth, I have been applying to so many jobs this month. There won’t ever be a time when we can freely apply for gigs — for FREE, so I’m using all of mine up. I still have at least 24 connects left, so come tonight and tomorrow, I’m probably going to be applying to totally random jobs (which is exactly why Upwork has implemented this change in the first place) just because I can.
  • Improving my profile

  • I’m still working on bulking up my profile in hopes it will help me land the jobs I apply to and/or get invited to more jobs so I don’t even have to use connects. I am still trying to get my Top-Rated status back, but that will take some time. However, I can upload some of the projects I’ve completed in the last few months. If you’re new to Upwork, or planning on staying, make sure you’ve completed your profile to 100%.
  • My plan is to continue to survive on job invites. However, if I see that I’m not getting many invites, I think I’ll just buy a bucket of connects (they last for one year — there are more details here) and see how things go.
  • I truly do think this will clear out some of the users — freelancers and clients, alike — and maybe it will leave better jobs and experiences for the rest of us. We will just have to wait and see!
  • If you’re an Upwork user, I’d love to know your thoughts on this, or what you’re doing as we move into this new model.
  • For more of my life as a freelancer, be sure to subscribe to the blog (look to the right) and follow me on Instagram @Orangejulius7 and Twitter @Orangejulius7 where I share more of my daily life.
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