What is Upwork?

Upwork desk

If you’re self-employed and provide digital services or you run your own business and use digital services (and virtually all businesses will), you really ought to be aware of Upwork.

By digital services, I mean any service or product that can be provided or transmitted via the internet (websites, graphics, software, marketing, voice-overs, etc.).  If you’re running a business that involves boardgames, you will definitely need digital services – probably a lot of them.

What is Upwork?

It’s a website that connects employers with freelancers.

Essentially, it’s a website that connects employers with freelancers.  Every freelancer has a profile page on the site that provides a mini-CV of their skills and experience.  Employers can either search for freelancers by type of work, or post a job.  Freelancers will usually look through the available job postings and apply for the ones they’re interested in.

As an employer, it’s absolutely great!  The first thing to realise is that you can hire freelancers from anywhere in the world.  This gives you access to a massive, highly-skilled workforce.  Way bigger than you could find in your local area.

The second thing to realise is that freelancers set their own rate of pay.  The more-experienced, higher-skilled freelancers will obviously charge more.  So if you can afford to pay for it and want top-quality work, it’s available.  However, if you’re on a budget and are willing to try someone new to Upwork who is keen to get their feet wet, you can find some great-value freelancers.

It’s perfect for digital services because I can hire someone in the Philippines who can upload their work for me to download in the UK once they’re done.  It removes barriers to entry for freelancers from all over the world.

For startup businesses, it’s a God-send.

For startup businesses, it’s a God-send.  Finances are always very tight and you’re typically trying to do everything on a shoe-string budget.  It gives new businesses access to the kind of work that would normally be beyond their price range.

There are two ways to pay generally.  The first is to pay a fixed fee for a piece of work.  Upwork holds the money in escrow for the freelancer.  Once they deliver the work and the employer is satisfied, the money is released.

The second way is to pay by the hour.  In this situation, the freelancer has to install some Upwork software on their computer that allows the freelancer to clock in and out for each job that they’re working on.  While they’re clocked in, the software records their time and takes a screenshot every few minutes.

As an employer you can see these screenshots when you login to the Upwork website.  So if you have any doubt about whether the freelancer is actually doing what they say they’re doing, you can see what they’re working on while they’re clocked in to your job.

For any job that pays by the hour, the billing is handled automatically by Upwork.  The system is very easy to use and provides reassurance and accountability for the employer.

All the freelancers are rated for each job that they do so employers can see which freelancers are good at their job quite easily.  This is another reasons why experienced freelancers are able to charge more.  Their feedback page will often provide a guarantee of sorts for employers who want to ensure high-quality work.

The site takes a cut of any pay earned by the freelancer.

There are potential drawbacks of using Upwork.  As you might expect, the site takes a cut of any pay earned by the freelancer.  The main issue in my experience however, is communication.  If you’re employing a freelancer whose first language isn’t English, it can be surprisingly easy for them to misunderstand exactly what you want them to do.

As an employer, you need to very clear with any instructions you provide.  All the freelancers I’ve worked with have been very good about re-doing any work (without charging) in situations where they haven’t done what I’ve asked them to do though.

The only downside in this situation is time.  You often have to take more time to explain clearly what the job involves and any misunderstandings will mean that the project takes longer than you might expect.

To my mind though, the benefits of Upwork far outweigh the costs.

As a boardgames publisher, it’s perfect for a range of work that we need to get done.  Particularly for sourcing artwork.  You can see examples of the kind of work each artist has done before you employ them.  You can quickly browse through artwork from lots of different artists and find a style (and a rate of pay) that you like.

Do you have any experience of using Upwork (from the employer or freelancer side)?  What do you think of it?

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Jonathan Hicks

Jonathan is the director of Maven Games. He blogs and records podcast episodes several times a week. Whenever he isn't doing anything else, he designs games.

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