Upwork Changes. Elance, to oDesk to Upwork

Changes Upwork

Upwork was going through a lot of changes when I wrote The Writers’ Companion. Rather annoyingly so, in fact.

When I wrote the proposal and submitted it to the publisher, Elance and oDesk were still separate entities, and Upwork hadn’t even been announced. Fortunately, there was a delay in signing the contracts, which in-turn caused a delay in beginning the book. I had a sample chapter discussing Elance, but before I wrote anything else, the change occurred and I saved myself a lot of stress.

As many of you will know, during the first 6 months, Upwork made a lot of changes. Many of them were announced at the last minute, and Upwork had even promised that some of them would never happen. In fact, when Elance merged with oDesk, they made a promise that they would never combine the two platforms. That clearly didn’t stick.

In a few short months, the system changed, new features were added and removed. We got something called Upwork Featured, which didn’t seem to stay for long, and then we got something called Upwork Pro, which I was fortunate enough to be included in. I’m sure that these constant changes were frustrating for everyone, but for me it was hell. I was writing the book during all of this, and had to constantly make changes. To make it worse, when I finished the book and sent it away, those changes continued and some chapters became obsolete before my editor had a chance to look at them.

Eventually, Upwork settled down. They stopped making so many changes to their platform and I was able to sign-off on a book that was up to date with the platform. And now that I can look back at those changes without the frustration of having to make edits because of them, I can take an objective view. For the most part, I am happy with the results, but there are a few changes that make me yearn for the days of Elance.

What is Upwork Pro?

I get this question a lot, and to be honest, I’m not sure. The process to become a member was time consuming, to say the least. I had to undergo online interviews and Skype interviews, and I had to fill in forms, relate experiences and describe my strengths and weaknesses. As things stand, Upwork Pro gives me access to a handful of jobs that the rest of the community can’t access, but these seem to benefit the clients more than the freelancer.

There are lengthy screening processes involved with them, and each comes with over 10 questions that need to be answered in full. The fact that only Upwork Pro members could apply should be enough of a screening process, but that’s not the case.

I applied for one job through Upwork Pro, and I was still receiving emails about it 3 months later, telling me there had been delays, asking me to submit another proposal with more questions (this time to the client directly) and more nonsense.

I see a lot of potential in Upwork Pro, don’t get me wrong, but as things stand, it needs some work. Luckily, it’s early days, so those changes may come.

The Layout

During the first few month, I hated Upwork. The site was constantly down for maintenance. It was always timing out, and half of the features didn’t work. This was gradually ironed out, and now, nearly a year down the line, I actually prefer it to oDesk. I loved Elance. It was simpler and cleaner, but there are more features here, and if I’m honest with myself, it is a better platform than Elance ever was.

The Spam

Elance was pretty much spam-free, and in all of my time there, I can probably count on one hand how many times I saw spam. Upwork, however, seems to be turning into Freelancer. There are too many spam jobs, and Upwork makes it too easy for clients to send invites to thousands of members.

There are also huge flaws in the way that this system is setup, and ones that allow for ridiculous levels of spam. This needs to be fixed, because it will only get worse as the site continues to grow. There is a lot to cover here, so I’ve discussed it in more detail on this article about Upwork Spam.

The Fee Changes

Upwork were delighted to tell me that I would only be paying 5% (instead of 10) for a large proportion of my jobs. This was announced in a positive email, but at the bottom, tucked away, was the news that a large percentage of jobs would increase to 20%. I have been on the site for a few years and I have many long-term clients, so much so that I rarely need to apply for jobs and to start any new contracts. For me, and others in the same position, this change was fantastic, but for freelancers who charge very little, freelancers just starting out and freelancers who struggle to maintain a prolonged relationship, it’s disastrous.

Let’s assume that you make around $2,000 during your first month on the site, an amount that you go on to average every single month after that. This is not a huge amount of money and is towards the lower end for many full-time freelancers, but it’s still a respectable amount, and one that will ensure your earnings are taxable. You haven’t had time to build a relationship with anyone, so this money comes from several different clients and doesn’t exceed $500 from a single one.

This means Upwork will take $400 of your earnings. They will also take a small share of VAT/tax (if applicable) they will charge you $2 to withdraw, and you may also face further charges before you get that money to your bank account, depending on your location and whether there are any conversions or processing fees involved.

If your experience is anything like mine or many other freelancers, then you will need to pay for many extra Connects in order to secure those $2,000 worth of jobs, and you will also need to pay tax, which is a minimum 20% where I live.

So, that could mean that your $2,000 is actually closer to $1,000. And if freelancer is just something you do on the side, and you’re already in the higher tax bracket, you could be giving away three quarters of what you earn.

The Payments

This is one of the areas where I will always favor Elance. In the good old days of Elance, the waiting period for a payment to clear began as soon as the client funded the job. You had to wait 5 days, but if the client funded the job on the 1st, you finished on the 5th and they released payment on the 6th, it would clear immediately in your account. From there, you could either transfer it to your bank account and have it by the 7th, or you could withdraw to PayPal and have it within 30 minutes.

It was fantastic.

oDesk, however, seemed to take forever. You could be waiting more than 2 weeks from the moment you were paid to the moment the money cleared in your bank. Upwork, which basically assumed the oDesk template, is a little quicker than this, but it has nothing on Elance. You need to wait 5 days before a client’s payment clears in your Upwork account, and then another few days before it clears in your bank.


I loved Elance. And in the early days of Upwork, I really missed it. I was not a big fan of oDesk, and in my eyes, Upwork was just a rebranded version of it. It had the same dumb policies regarding suspensions and bans, which basically meant that faultless long-term freelancers could be banned or suspended because of something a client did (as discussed in The Writers’ Companion). It looked the same. It had the same fees and payment setups. And the jobs weren’t as good.

However, as time passed, it became more and more like Elance and now it’s somewhere in the middle. Upwork is bigger than Elance and while there are still way more spammy and shitty jobs than there were on Elance, there are also much more high quality jobs than there were on oDesk. Elance wasn’t setup to cater for clients who wanted to pay very little and freelancers who wanted to work for cents on the hour, and while oDesk most definitely was, Upwork is becoming more like Elance. In fact, the 20% fees mentioned above will help with this, as will Upwork Pro.

Upwork is not perfect, and it’s not Elance either. But it’s the biggest and the best out there, and if they keep making these changes, then it will make this industry even more lucrative for hardworking freelancers like you and I.

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