Upwork might just be the biggest career trap for freelance copywriters.
I rebuilt my copywriting business in 2018, and part of that rebuild was finding a ridiculous loan so that I could afford a $5,000 course on ghostwriting books for clients.
You can ask me about THAT pursuit some other time.
Still, I had high hopes for this course. The guy who ran it was very aggressive in his sales pitch and his promises. He “guaranteed” that he could get you to $100K/year as a ghostwriter.
I should have listened to the alarm bells going off in my head when I saw that Step One was creating an Upwork profile.
The course didn’t offer much beyond “go on Upwork and bid on ghostwriting gigs”. I spent months executing his “proven” formula and never once got a gig there.
He didn’t screw me over, as he referred work to me directly that earned me a good chunk of money – freeing me up to rebuild the copywriting part of my business before those jobs petered out.
However, while in the course, I watched as writer after writer aired their frustrations in the private Facebook group.
Writers weren’t getting gigs off of Upwork (just like I wasn’t).
Writers weren’t finding big-ticket projects on Upwork (because there weren’t any).
And the one that sticks with me to this day: one writer said he cashed out his retirement savings to join the program and after over 6 months, he was still trying to get his Upwork profile approved!
Your success or failure as a ghostwriter in this course entirely depended on Upwork.
I don’t know a single writer who succeeded in that course. And wouldn’t you know it? The program doesn’t even exist anymore.
Teaching writers to depend on a job board is one of the most dangerous trends that I see in copywriting programs to this day, and it’s one of the biggest reasons I developed my own program.
Copywriters need to avoid Upwork like the plague.
If you’re serious about your career growth and the stability of your income, read on.
Upwork is Tempting
Freelance platforms, like Upwork, revolutionized the gig economy. They offered freelancers from around the globe a chance to showcase their skills and connect with clients.
For freelancers looking to get some traction, it seemed like a slam dunk. This is where the clients are hanging out, right? They’re LOOKING for writers!
No “free” work. No convincing companies to hire you.
Just clients who are ready to pay for copywriters!
I mean… yeah. That’s true. But it’s also a Trojan Horse – duping you into long hours, low rates, little control, and more disrespect for your skills than you can imagine.
The Reality of Upwork
Now, you’re probably thinking, “But it gives me exposure and a chance to build my portfolio.”
Here’s the thing about this thought process: while Upwork can provide you with initial gigs, it’s a double-edged sword.
Exposure is great (if you can even get it), but at what cost?
You’re building the foundation of your career on sand.
And you’re moving a lot slower than you could.
The Six Doofus Sacrifices of Upwork
- Race to the Bottom: Upwork is notorious for pushing prices down. With global competition, many offer services at a fraction of the cost, making it tough to command higher rates. And if you think “I’ll get my foot in the door and then increase my rates down the line…” guess what? You’ve already anchored your price so low, you’re probably going to only scale up to half of what you could make from a client for the same workload. You’re not going to go from a $150 project to $5,000/month. One writer I’ve been coaching told me last week she had an Upwork client who told her that her copy is amazing but they aren’t going to pay her what it’s worth because they can just go back to Upwork and get a different copywriter for cheaper.
- The Gatekeepers: The biggest benefit of working for yourself is complete control over your career. How you work, who you work for, how much you charge, etc. There’s nobody telling you what to do. Yes, you take on risk, but you gain freedom. Using Upwork means taking on the risk of freelancing but getting none of the freedoms. What’s the point? Might as well go back to a boss then.
- Pay To Get Paid: Upwork takes a significant cut from your earnings. You don’t get a $150 project. With the current 10% fee, you’re only getting $135 on that gig. Oh, and that doesn’t include paying $15/month for your Upwork profile to be able to bid on more gigs, and the $0.15 per “Connect” thing for the right to bid on more gigs once you run out. Spending money to make money, eh?
- No Control Over Client Interactions: Being bound by platform rules, freelancers often cannot communicate or negotiate directly with clients. And forget about selling yourself properly. You have to craft your bid to get attention right away from the hundreds of bids they are going to get. That means more time spent trying to get gigs that you probably won’t get.
- That “Foot in the Door” is a Waste: You think that portfolio you built from Upwork jobs is going to be any more valuable than a made-up one? Clients really don’t care about the “names” in your portfolio – and they won’t have heard of any of the clients you got from Upwork anyway. So instead of spending 6 months trying to cobble together enough gigs to build a portfolio, you could just create one out of thin air in an afternoon and use it to go get bigger clients.
- Big-Ticket Gigs Don’t Come from Upwork Connections: In 15 years of working with big clients who pay real money to copywriters, I’ve never once heard any of them say they found this great copywriter from Upwork. Many times, however, I’ve heard them refer to Upwork as a place where they get cheap, menial work done that they don’t care that much about.
In short: you need to leave Upwork if you want a real chance for scale and growth as a freelancer.
The Alternative: A Two-Pronged Approach
True, long-term success comes down to two things:
- Direct Outreach
- Client Experience
You want high-value clients?
You have to go find them and get in front of them. They’re not on job boards.
Only by consistently and properly doing cold outreach can you get their attention. And then, once your foot is in the door, you build an amazing client experience that keeps them coming back, over and over again.
You get regular paychecks.
You get paid what you’re worth.
And you get there in a fraction of the time it would take to bid on Upwork gigs.
This is what serious freelancers do.
If you’re not doing this, why not? What’s stopping you from going out and getting REAL copywriting gigs yourself?
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