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A Guide to Avoiding Bad Upwork Clients

Community Guru
Mark K Member Since: Jul 7, 2016
1 of 2

I begin by stating the obvious: most clients on this platform are not seeking relationships with freelancers - if this is 'not' your experience with Upwork, then you are an outlier - and this guide is not for you.


Truth is that if we treated our in-person and otherwise-close relationships in the way that clients treat freelancers on Upwork, we would become very lonely really fast.  This platform brings out the worst type of client behaviors: flakeyness, inconsistency, inconsideration, unprofessionalism and at times, flagrantenly fraudulent actions.  Why is this so?  Answer: because Upwork allows it to be so.  


Because this will likely never change (i.e. Upwork will never create a matching system that requires Cients to honor freelancers), I thought I would create a short guide to help us all survive the bad clients that flood this platform.


1. THE CLIENTS' HISTORY TELLS MUCH:   what is the hire % rate, what is the avg hourly rate (it is true that cheap clients are, indeed, bad clients --- if you work really cheaply, you'll disagree), has the client provided meaningful, professional feedback to freelancers (if not, they likely don't seek a relationship, is my experience).  I allow a client's history to guide my decision to submit a proposal more than any other factor.  Consider this: if a client fails to take the time to recognize others when they have given their all, why will they suddenly decide that you are worthy of positive feedback? Answer: they won't (and Upwork won't make them).


2. CLIENT'S RESPONSE STATISTICS: Further, Upwork refuses to provide client response statistics: and you can likely guess why.  In the absence of this important measurment of professional courtesy, I default to three metrics as a proxy for this: 1. Hire Rate Percentage: (I've discovered those with low hire rates generally are a waste of my connects; and if they do respond, I waste my time with them). 2. Days since Last Viewed: a perfect sounding fit will likely lead to nowhere if the client has not viewed the job in 7 days since posting (my experience is that they've forgotten that they posted it).  3. No of Freelancers Interviewing: being overwhelmed by 25 proposals from all around the world is a chief client complaint here, understandably.  If I can't stand out by being in the first 5 submisssions, I wont apply because my experience indicates that I'll likely never receive a response.


3. USE AGENCIES WITH CARE: Frankly, I don't work with agencies, never.  If you choose to, be very careful who you are dealing with: many are of such poor quality that the should be removed from the platform.  


4.  DO "NOT" WORK FOR FREE -- EVER:  Been here long enough and you've been asked to "take a look at the attached file and give me your insights" or "take this quick assessment" or worse.  A tip: set strict time limits for every minute you spend before the project is awarded: spend 5 minutes reviewing only ONE attachment and "only" to determine assess if you can perform the job.  Spend only 10 minutes of your free time discussing the project - no more.  Tell the potential that you must limit the call to 10 minutes and that you are not able to provide solutions. 


5. AVOID VIDEO CONFERENCE CALLS UNTIL AFTER HIRED: These always exceed 10 minutes and often include innappropriate requests for solutions before being hired -- aka, "free work".  A phone call works much better at keeping the initial discusion on-time and appropriate.  If client beleives that a video conf call is the only way to explain the need, then relent, but for only 10 minutes. 


6. HONOR MY TIME, AND I'LL HONOR YOURS: Much of the preceeding relates to the simple idea of professional courtesy with others time.  If a client insists that you expend 45 minutes listening to their idea - and another hour to review their "attachments" ..... before....they hire you, imagine how much they will abuse your time after.  And, do not expect them to understand why your timesheet includes so much of their ramblings: why?  because they haven't honored your time, but demand that you honor theirs. 


7. MORE WORK TO COME IF YOU'RE GOOD:  [always add the phrase "and cheap" to the end of this].  When you read these messages in a job description - or if the potential clients makes such promises during discussion, run away fast.  Why? These 'always' are used to entice you to work at a cheaper rate than the client believes you are worth otherwise.  He is asking you to give your best effort at a discounted rate -- "this one time" so that what? .....he can hire you in the future at your true rate???   Don't waste your connects or your time on these people: they aren't ethical. 


8. ALWAYS KEEP TRACK OF YOUR DISCUSSION ON UPWORK:  If you work with a bad client, there is high probability that trouble will result --- leading to a dispute.   And, if the client is unprofessional - or unethical - you'd best be prepared to defend yourself aptly.  Tip: encourage your clients to use Upwork's email, post your work files on Upwork, regularly seek feedback during the project, quickly address issues or concerns and use the dispute mechanism at the first sign that you think you need them.  Afterall, you are paying for it: it is here to serve us all.


9. CONSIDER DEMANDING PAYMENT BEFORE RELEASING FINAL VERSION: This one is admittedly tricky because we all want to see what we are buying.  Tip: Use this technique only if you sense future difficulty being paid and only if an Upwork representative ok's the idea (they have suggested this to me several times).  This only works if you have shared drafts of your current work - and the client has approved it.  If your client constantly bickers about your time-cards, consider using this technique. 


10. IS THAT JOB RECRUITER REALLY A RECRUITER: I, for one, do not approve of the placement of full-time job ads on Upwork because I am not certain that the remuneration is adequately structures or monitored.  Many acquiantances have informed me that some of these job ads are bogus (much like Indeed     


11. DO NOT WORK FOR COMMISSIONS: Upwork has advised that commission jobs are permitted here, and I'm not sure why.   Many jobs will include the promise of remuneration 'only' after you successfully complete a milestone: the most eggregious was the business owner who was going to provide a 10% commission if you could sell his company.   This is a role performed buy a business broker, who is licensed.   If you believe that Upwork will honor a contract that has you 'maybe' being paid, at some 'unknown' time in the future, by an uknown client online - then go for it.  I wouldn't and neither should you.


12.  WITHOLD FEEDBACK UNTIL THE VERY END - BE HONEST ABOUT IT:  After the client closes the project (always request this) and has promised feedback to you, then provide it to him -- but not before then.  And, always be accurate in your ratings.  Why? Bad clients game the system and lurk here because they successfully intimidate freelancers to avoid providing accurate ratings of their bad behaviors.  This behavior is rampant - and allowed. 


13.  I HAVE A NAME: Finally, this test works for me - perhaps others will think me too senstive - its possible that I am.  IF in the initial stages of dialogue (on Upwork) - a client refuses to use my first name, then I will not work with them: no exceptions.   Why?  This has been my experience: They aren't seeking a relationship - in fact, the are avoiding one.  They are rude.   They seek the lowest fee. They don't honor my time. They rarely hire. 


Active Member
Janet P Member Since: Dec 13, 2015
2 of 2

Great rant.

It took me a little while to figue out that if a client is difficult in the invitation or negotiation stage, they're guaranteed to be difficult during the project.


Run...don't walk. It's not worth it.


That said, I am becoming very direct at responding to clients who invite me to ridiculously-priced or poorly defined projects. I get two or three of these lowball invites every single day, and I'm now telling them precisely why I'm declining their invitation. I'm listed as an expert in my field, and a great one came along today -- "proofread and edit 7000 words for $10;" on its heels was one to "edit my 24-page ebook within an hour...should be easy...$10." Responding to that crap eats up my time, so I might as well have a little fun with it, right? I suggested they might have made a typo in their invite, especially since they personally invited me and must have seen my profile.


I don't feel at all bad about pitching a paid "trial run" if I think a client might just not be educated about how the system works. For example, I have refused and refused and refused a potential client who keeps coming back to pitch me the same project. I finally suggested we take a section of it (representing about 10% of the total project) as a separate contract. Once it's completed, we'll both have a better sense about whether we can work well together. I turned in the work 24 hours ago and haven't heard a peep. So now we know that.


I know there are some freelancer peeps on here that are desperate for work. But don't let your desperation drive you into the clutches of a disreputible or abusive client. Do good work, demand respect, and don't be afraid to say no to protect your sanity and self-esteem.