Why You Should Not Use Upwork To Find Clients (Here’s What You Should Do Instead)

When you are first starting out as a freelancer, your first priority is to get paying clients. But how do you find paying clients?

Many new freelancers turn to freelance websites to find their first paying gig, and Upwork is probably the most popular platform out there. However, using Upwork to sustain a living as a freelancer and digital nomad is difficult. Here’s why we think you should not use Upwork to find clients:

New to Upwork and have no references? Tough luck.

Upwork’s algorithm works in favor of freelancers with references. When you are new to Upwork and thus have no references in your profile, Upwork does not show your profile in the top search results and your profile does not get suggested to clients as often as the freelancers with references.

The solution? Try to get an Upwork gig as soon as possible. Consider applying for job postings that are time-sensitive where clients want to get things done quick, even if you get paid close to nothing for it.

Expect to send out many job proposals before securing a gig, and this applies to both new and experienced Upwork freelancers.

You would also need to send out your proposals as fast as you can, preferably within the first few hours once a job has been posted. Set up an RSS feed that alerts you to the most relevant gigs and go through this feed during the day, and only apply if the job seems interesting or you are likely to get selected.

You can easily set up an RSS feed by first setting up your filters in “Find Jobs”, then clicking on the RSS feed icon. You can then use a RSS feed reader to view your feeds.

Low paying clients or gigs

While not all gigs and clients on Upwork are looking for the cheapest freelancer to hire, Upwork does attract many clients looking to pay as little as possible. You are also competing with freelancers from countries with very low cost of living and can thus quote $3 per hour rates.

Instead of aiming high from the beginning and making it even more difficult to secure your first few Upwork gigs, start off with low paying jobs and work your way up once you get more good ratings.

High service fees

Upwork revised their fees back in 2016 and now both clients and freelancers get charged a lot more.

You get charged a ridiculous 20% for the first $500 billed with the client and 10% for lifetime billings with the client between $500.01 and $10,000.

Your account gets shut down from inactivity

Once you start getting regular clients from Upwork, you might think of cutting out Upwork and working directly with the clients in order to save on service fees.

Upwork is well aware of this problem and have begun shutting down accounts, regardless of how great your account is or was performing, once they notice any inactivity in order to ensure that you keep using their platform to work with the clients (and vice versa).

Hence, if you do not want to lose your Upwork references for possible future work, you are stuck with using Upwork with at least some of the clients to ensure your account remains active.

You also get suspended if you submit many proposals and don’t get many contracts or earnings

I created an Upwork account but rarely use it to find my freelance gigs. However, once in a while I like to log in to check out available jobs, especially during the months when I have lesser freelance marketing jobs.

One day, I received an email from Upwork informing me that my account has suspended because “you have submitted a high number of proposals for jobs on our site without many contracts or earnings. Unfortunately, this means the jobs posted by clients are not a good match for your skills.

Having just completed my first Upwork gig and was in the midst of getting paid, this came across as a blow. Furthermore, I rarely submitted proposals and still had more than half of my available proposal limit remaining.

Sadly, despite writing back to Upwork and stating my appeal twice, my account was never reinstated.


Instead of turning to Upwork to find freelance gigs, consider the following ways instead:

Reach out to your network

The best way to find quality and/or better paying gigs are often through word of mouth. Tell everyone that you know about your freelance services and if they could refer you to someone they know who might be needing your services.

Even if they aren’t able to refer you to anyone in particular at that moment, the seed is sown and they might bring up your name in future conversations.

Join Facebook groups

Facebook groups are a great way to find potential freelance gigs - there are many Facebook groups out there created specifically for people looking for freelancers and vice versa.

Some of these popular Facebook groups include Remote Work & Jobs for Digital Nomads and Digital Nomad Board - Location Free Jobs.

Partner Up

Know of someone who is offering a complimentary service and already have clients? Reach out to them and offer a referral fee for every client they refer. This only works if they do not offer the same services as you do.

For example, if you are a freelance graphic designer, you could reach out to people already offering copywriting or programming services.


Think of the people or companies that will be needing your services and reach out to them proactively. Scour LinkedIn for potential clients and send them a LinkedIn message or Google their email addresses.

It can be daunting for new freelancers to find their first few paying clients, however, there are better ways to find better clients than through Upwork.

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