Hiring outside of Upwork: Advice from a $600k Upwork freelancer


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Are you a client who wants to take their freelancer off the Upwork platform?

Are you a freelancer who wants to take their client off the Upwork platform?

In either case, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, I’ll offer a bit of honest advice on the taboo topic of taking your business off of Upwork.

What makes me an authority on the topic you might ask?

I am someone who has a lot of personal experience with the platform. Upwork has played a big role in my freelance career.

To date, I have earned over $600,000 on the platform as a freelancer. And I’ve spent over $10,000 as a client.

Read Also: Can you make good money on Upwork? How I made $600,000 in 5 years

As a self-described Upwork aficionado, I am always being asked by fellow freelancers about ways to take their Upwork clients off-platform.

And it’s a subject that is confusing for a lot of freelancers.

This is why I think the best way to tackle the topic is with a little Q&A.

Before we begin, please note that most of the information I am going to share in this blog post can also be found in the Upwork Terms of Service agreement. And I highly advise visiting the Upwork website for the most up-to-date policies and procedures.

Upwork’s customer service department is also a valuable resource. Upwork support is available via chat, email and phone.

Read Also: How to find your first job on Upwork: Advice from a $600k freelancer

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What is Upwork?

For the uninitiated, Upwork is the world’s largest freelance marketplace.

It connects clients and business owners in need of freelance services with remote workers and freelancers who are looking for jobs.

Upwork’s competitors include other freelance platforms like Fiverr and Freelancer.com.

a woman hands out cash
(photo by RomanR/shutterstock.com)

Do you have to pay through Upwork?

Yes, you have to pay through Upwork to remain compliant with Upwork Terms of Service. And failing to comply is a great way to risk permanent suspension from the platform.

However, there are three exceptions to this rule, which will address below.

Upwork refers to the act of a client and freelancer who met on the Upwork platform attempting to take their relationship off-site as circumvention.

And the most common form of circumvention is processing payments outside of the Upwork platform.

Upwork frowns upon this action for two main reasons:

  1. It can hurt freelancers by making them more vulnerable to Upwork scams.
  2. It hurts Upwork. Upwork’s commission fees are one of their main forms of revenue.

The three exceptions to this rule are for freelancers and clients who:

  1. Already had a relationship prior to joining the platform and only came to the platform through the Bring Your Own Freelancer or Direct Contracts programs.
  2. Have been working together on Upwork for more than two years.
  3. Pay the Upwork conversion fee (more on that in the next section).

It’s also important to note that it’s seen as a violation of the TOS even if the request is made and neither party actually goes through with it.

Additionally, it’s also against Upwork’s Terms of Service to share off-site contact details before accepting the job offer, as that could also be seen as circumvention. Personal contact information includes email addresses, links to websites that feature an alternate method of contact and social media accounts.

As a freelancer who has been on the receiving end of this request, I usually take the time to explain to the client why it’s against the rules. But if the client persists, I report them.

For me, maintaining a good standing on Upwork is crucial to my continued success on the platform and I can’t be associated with known rule-breakers.

I also report any job posting that blatantly asks for off-site payments for suspicious activity.

You can report circumvention here. And you can read more about Upwork’s circumvention policies here.

A man works at his computer
(photo by fizkes/shutterstock.com)

Can you work with a client outside Upwork?

Are you ready for a bit of good news?

Yes, you can work with clients outside of Upwork if – and only if – you meet one of the three previously mentioned exceptions. Otherwise, it is considered to be a violation of the Terms of Service.

The Bring Your Own Freelancer program is for business owners and clients who wish to bring their current “real world” freelancers to the Upwork platform.

With Bring Your Own Freelancer, Freelancers will receive benefits like the ability to track their hours with the Work Diary and utilize payment protection.

However, service fees will still apply.

The Direct Contracts program is for freelancers who want to bring their “real world” clients to Upwork.

Direct Contracts is a fairly popular program because freelance commission fees are waived to 0% yet freelancers can still enjoy many of the benefits they normally receive from Upwork. Benefits include escrow services, contract management, faster payments, and dispute assistance.

And the Direct Contracts program be used on both fixed-rate and hourly contracts.

However, Direct Contracts do not impact Upwork metrics like the Job Success Scores (JSS) and feedback on Direct Contracts is not allowed. So don’t use Direct Contracts as an attempt to improve your overall rating, bury negative reviews or bolster your profile with positive reviews.

The best solution, if you really want to take your relationship off-site, is to simply wait the mandatory two years.

I know it sounds like a lot, but I promise, it’s really not that much time. A couple of years can fly by for a busy freelancer.

However, for those who either can’t wait the full two years or simply don’t have the patience to do so, there’s always the Upwork opt-out fee.

woman holds a calculator looking shocked
(photo by PR Image Factory/shutterstock.com)

Does Upwork have an opt-out fee?

Yes, Upwork does have an opt-out fee. Upwork refers to it as the conversion fee.

At the time of this writing, the conversion fee is 12% of estimated earnings on the contract over a one-year – or twelve-month – span of time based on the freelancer’s hourly rate.

A freelancer’s hourly rate, for the purposes of calculating the 12% conversion fee will be the highest of the following:

  1. The earned hourly rate on any hourly project on Upwork.
  2. The proposed hourly rate for any hourly contract on Upwork.
  3. The hourly rate as it appears on the freelancer’s profile.

That hourly rate is then multiplied by 2,080 hours (the equivalent of a 40-hour workweek multiplied by 52 weeks). Which, in my humble opinion, seems more than a bit unfair, especially if the contract only averages a couple of hours per week. But I suppose that’s a tangent for another day.

The equation looks something like this:

(Freelancers Hourly Rate * 2080) * .12 = Conversion Fee

For some quick math, in most cases that equates to … calculating … a ridiculous amount of money that’s not even close to worth it in my opinion.

But for those of you with money in your bank account to burn, you can start the process, by contacting Upwork using this email address: [email protected]. Clients can also start the process by clicking on the Move Outside Upwork button in their contract room.

a woman holes a magnifying glass up to her face while looking at the computer
(photo by Kaspars Grinvalds/shutterstock.com)

How do you get clients outside of Upwork?

The best way to work with clients outside of Upwork is to find them yourself without Upwork’s help.

A few popular methods for finding new clients include:

  1. Referrals / Word of Mouth
  2. In-Person Networking
  3. Social Media Networking
  4. Blogging (and online content creation)
  5. Public Speaking (at conferences)
  6. Browsing the Freelancing Females Job Board (sorry, no boys allowed :-P)
  7. Use a Recruiting Agency

Just remember, if you go the recruiting agency route to avoid Upwork fees – to use a popular southern phrase – you’ll be going from the frying pan to the fire.

To translate, this means you’ll be going from one fee situation to another.

Recruiting agencies often charge an average of 30% on contracts but build the rate in so that you don’t notice it in your paycheck. And unlike Upwork’s commission fees which go from 20% to 10% after the first $500 and then 10% to 5% after the first $10,000, the recruiting agency’s high fees often apply in perpetuity.

Look, it can be difficult for new freelancers to find potential clients when they are just starting out. That’s why many of us turn to Upwork in the first place.

In my opinion, it’s the easiest way to launch a lucrative freelance career.

And when you really think about everything you’re getting in exchange for that fee, it’s not a bad deal.

What are your thoughts on the world’s largest freelancing marketplace? Are you thinking about taking a client off of the Upwork freelance platform? Let me know in the comments below. Also, don’t forget to connect with me on social media using the links below.

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