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chrisprince
Community Member

Am I Chasing Unicorns?

In the last months I've seen _many_ variations on the theme of:

 

"I'm a veteran freelancer and I was getting plenty of work, now Upwork have changed things and I'm not getting a single response"

 

Now, I'm sure there are many freelancers who simply need to 'dial-in' their portfolios or change up their proposals a bit. 

 

I'm also aware that there are slumps (we've all experienced that).

 

However, I'm seeing far too many of the kind of comments above for this to be unrelated. 

 

When reading through responses, I can also see that many freelancers are doing quite well.  If this applies to you I say, good for you.  If you feel compelled to say something on the lines of "there's absolutely nothing wrong with the system, stop whining", please realize that your situation may not be the same as others'.  perhaps the type of work, length of project, hourly rate, particular field or project turnover rate differs from project to project and what applies to one person may not apply to another.

 

My question is this: Are there any freelancers who, in the last few months have noticed a significant downtick in the number of responses to their proposals *and then successfully turned the situation around*?

 

I know I'm not the only one feeling a bit dispondant about the situation.  I seem to be sending out proposal after proposal and getting *zero* responses.  I strongly suspect that this coincides with the recent changes to the platform.  

 

I'm not suggesting that no changes are ever made.  We all need to adapt to changes.  But there are many of us who are suddenly finding it very difficult to get work and we're trying to figure out why.

 

I look forward to constructive and helpful comments

 

30 REPLIES 30
florydev
Community Member

First, I have no idea what you consider constructive and helpful.  For example, I believe what you are experiencing is:

Patternicity The tendency to find patterns in meaningless noise.

 

Human beings are pattern matching creatures.  It is likely one of our strongest evolutionary survival instincts and also why why we can look at clouds and see castles, faces, and dragons.  

If we couple that with somethinglike the Recency effect, where recent information seems more important than past information and then also add in that your present situation mirrors the information you perceive as occurring more commonly (I forget what this is called), you have a psychological soup of why people are completing incapable of observing a phenomenon and removing their feelings.

 

You are also and continue to be under the dilusion that the people who participate on this forum are saying "there's absolutely nothing wrong with the system, stop whining" and that is no the case at all.  The very people you are probably referring to have recently had quite a s*** fit about some things.  But again it probably isn't relevant to you so you ignored it.

 

What I will say, and many will also say, is what can we do about it?  If the system is breaking down in some way that it will no longer work then the only answer is to look elsewhere.

 

In my opinion you setup your entire question not to have a constructive dialogue about what could be the cause but instead that there is only one cause of which any rational person would say there is no solution.  If Upwork is broke then they will have to fix it otherwise the company will fail.  All of these things seem way beyond my control (and another psychology issue is this desire to not believe we are so powerless).

 

Now to try to answer your question, here is my year to date:

Capture.PNG

That red-linish is what I would call my monthly break even based on expenses and what I draw for a salary.  So, clearly Q1 was great, April sucked and every month through the summer was underperforming.  All the income on here through those months just happens to be Upwork only.  

 

For me what happened in March is that I had an outside project that I thought was a done deal that I have been chasing in one form or another for three years.  So I really wasn't looking for anything on Upwork or anywhere else in that time.  From April through June I think that I went 1 for 90 on proposals but that one was pretty good (thus May and part of June).  Since July things have been getting steadily better.

 

What has been different?  I am not really sure.  I have two projects that seem to be on similar trajectories where a small amount of work might turn into a larger amount of the rest of the year.  So I know that I pursued some projects that fit that pattern and I probably didn't during the summer.  I know that many people claim the summer is slow, which makes sense to me.  I also know I changed up my approach on a few things and I stopped pursuing certain types of work.

Hi Mark, 

 

Wow.  Thanks for the detailed response.  I'll assume that your wondering what constitutes a constructive response on my part reffers to our interaction in a previous thread.  I've since seen your comments pop up on many other threads and I have no doubt that your comments are well-considered and well-intentioned.  For my part I apologize if my comments in that thread were somewhat snippy.  

 

I'm forced to acknowledge that the anxiety I'm feeling personally about my own difficulty in securing contracts may be contributing to a bias on my part.  The Recency effect and the Dunning-Kruger effect (which I think is the other cognitive bias you were describing) are both well documented and I'd be naive to think that I was somehow immune to these.  I'll be sure to bear this in mind.

 

I regret that my comments were percieved as intellectually dishonest.  I sincerely try not to discount an opinion simply because it differs from my own.  If a comment begins "I couln't be bothered to read all of this" I'm inclined to think that comment has limited value.

 

I've also personally recieved and seen comments to others that can be summerized as "you're having problems because you're not good enough.  you should quit upwork and look for work elsewhere".  That kind of sentiment can be frustrating and I may have allowed that to bleed through.  I think _delusion_ is a bit strong.

 

I began by acknowledging other possible causes and I tried to set up my question (quite explicitely, I thought) to try to find freelancers who'd experienced the same thing I'm experiencing and suggest strategies to solve the problem.  You may think be biased or unreasonable but you spoke to my issue, for which I'm very grateful.

 

Thanks for sharing the detail in the chart and your explanation of it was clear.  I was surprised that you consider 1 for 90 proposals a decent rate.  That's certainly food for thought.  I would be very interested to know whether that rate is representitive of the average freelancer.  *any comments on this would be most welcome*

 

I also wonder if you might be willing to expand?  Your business clearly leans toward fewer clients over longer timelines.  Is that correct?  

 

If 1 for 90 is a good average representation of returns on proposals then to me, it follows that if a freelancer's business instead caters to higher numbers of smaller projects (say five or six per month) then they might need to send out a _much_ higher number of proposals.

 

Of course, one example is not a great sample set and I'd love to get a wider angle. 

 

So, to all: *what's your rate?  roughly how many proposals do you tend to submit before securing a project?*

 

 


Chris P wrote:

Hi Mark, 

 

Wow.  Thanks for the detailed response.  I'll assume that your wondering what constitutes a constructive response on my part reffers to our interaction in a previous thread.  I've since seen your comments pop up on many other threads and I have no doubt that your comments are well-considered and well-intentioned.  For my part I apologize if my comments in that thread were somewhat snippy.  


I am not sure my comments are well considered or intention but I do try.  I apologize if I came off as snippy.  You also have the same account name as someone else that I am less than enchanted with that probably has it's own psychological effect.

 


I'm forced to acknowledge that the anxiety I'm feeling personally about my own difficulty in securing contracts may be contributing to a bias on my part.  The Recency effect and the Dunning-Kruger effect (which I think is the other cognitive bias you were describing) are both well documented and I'd be naive to think that I was somehow immune to these.  I'll be sure to bear this in mind.

It's something I wanted to say for a while because you are not the only one that post's their subjective experience and wonders if everyone else is experiencing the same.

 


I regret that my comments were percieved as intellectually dishonest.  I sincerely try not to discount an opinion simply because it differs from my own.  If a comment begins "I couln't be bothered to read all of this" I'm inclined to think that comment has limited value.

 

I've also personally recieved and seen comments to others that can be summerized as "you're having problems because you're not good enough.  you should quit upwork and look for work elsewhere".  That kind of sentiment can be frustrating and I may have allowed that to bleed through.  I think _delusion_ is a bit strong.

I don't know about intellectual dishonest but I read almost everything that is posted here and there are specific people that I go and read what they posted (I may have a problem and need to see someone).  For the most part I don't think that is a fair characterization.  Most of them are quite blunt, sometimes they are harsh, but I think all of them are actually trying to help people.  I know that I am.  But some people just come on here to throw crap down and act like that is useful in some way and then can't take any heat from the fire they set.

 

What I have said and I think goes for a lot of people is, the system works THIS way.  You are better off trying to work within that system than hoping that it will change.  When you come in here and suggest something that is counter to how the system works, or more directly, counter to how I make it work I am going to disagree with you vehemently.

 

Delusion is too strong a word and I apparently can't spell it so I am sorry for that.

 


Thanks for sharing the detail in the chart and your explanation of it was clear.  I was surprised that you consider 1 for 90 proposals a decent rate.  That's certainly food for thought.  I would be very interested to know whether that rate is representitive of the average freelancer.  *any comments on this would be most welcome*

No, 1 for 90 sucks, and I think the money chart kind of shows that because I am earning under what I consider a good month (I actually don't look at months but quarters and Q2 was not great and Q3 has been slow but it is going to make it).  But I don't know what to attribute that 1 for 90 to.  I can tell you it honestly could be me because my kids are home for the summer and some of those proposals may not have been my best efforts.  I also think I was reeling a bit from not getting the project I expected to carry me through the summer.

 

Most of that though was before any changes.  However, since August things have steadily gotten better and I haven't sent but one proposal this month.  I had one invite this month, which is like the third invite I have had that was any good, and I got that work.

 


I also wonder if you might be willing to expand?  Your business clearly leans toward fewer clients over longer timelines.  Is that correct?  

 

If 1 for 90 is a good average representation of returns on proposals then to me, it follows that if a freelancer's business instead caters to higher numbers of smaller projects (say five or six per month) then they might need to send out a _much_ higher number of proposals.

 


Yes.  Mostly what I do, and what I prefer, is building new software for people, what is called in my line of work is called a greenfield project.  I am also expensive relatively speaking.  I am not surprised that my hit rate isn't great but part of that is me reaching for things that I know won't work out.  But some of it is that the projects I am interested are often presented by clients with very little money.

 

So for me what works about Upwork is there is a high volume of potential work that I can sift through.  I can choose my own rate and even on fixed projects the budget is just a placeholder.  I can fire on a project and just forget it and I can do that over and over again.

 

Mark, 

 

Thanks again for the detailed response. 

 

No doubt a lot of people use community platforms like this one to vent and, if you're compelled (somewhat worryingly Smiley Wink) to read most of what comes through here, I'd be very surprised if you weren't at least a little short with that sort of thing.

 

The number of people you've helped speaks for itself however, so I'm not taking anything personally and I certainly value your opinions, even if I don't always share them.  

 

I'm not sure I understand your objection to my inital post.  I hope you can clarify: 

 

I said that I'd noticed a falloff in the amount of work I was getting.

 

have seen a significant number of comments from freelancers experiencing the same thing.  New freelancers as well as old hands.  Yes, I've been actively searching for these posts because it pertains to my issue.  You yourself describe a slump in Q2 and Q3.

 

I'm seeing this comment a lot because I'm searching for it in the hopes that I can find a solution to my problem. (and yes, I disregard comments that are not relevant to me because, well, because they're not relevant to me).

 

I'm not sure how you get from my question:

 

(to paraphrase) "I've experienced this problem of a downtick in hires.  Are any of you experiencing the same problem?  Did you fix it?  How?

 

to:

 

"The system is broken and I want them to fix it"

 

"the system works THIS way.  You are better off trying to work within that system than hoping that it will change.  When you come in here and suggest something that is counter to how the system works, or more directly, counter to how I make it work I am going to disagree with you"

 

I was quite careful to note that was quite prepared to adapt to changes in the system.  And again, I'm not here to criticize those who are enjoying the benefits of the recent changes.  

 

I'm really not sure what I suggested that was counter to how the system works. 

 

I am saying that some of us feel like we've fallen through the cracks.  All of a sudden, certain contractors who reliably produce good work are finding it very difficult to secure projects.

 

I should point out that there's always room to improve and anyone reading this should first do all they can to really polish up their profiles and portfolios. 

 

But in some cases top rated freelancers with a consistent 100% JSS are sending out 50+ proposals (often painstakingly tailored to a client's specific needs as they all should be) only to receive not one single response from a client.

 

I know that this isn't a one-size-fits all scenario.  I'm not here to kick over the furniture and I'm not sitting here passively and demanding that "they" come and fix it.  I'm fully prepared to move with the times and adapt.  

 

But I'm still stuck with this problem.  I'm not getting any hires and I'm trying desperately to find a solution.

 

I'm looking for help.  Something's f*&^ing with my bread and butter and I'd like to figure out what it is so I can get back to work. Smiley Very Happy



Chris P wrote:

 

So, to all: *what's your rate?  roughly how many proposals do you tend to submit before securing a project?*

 


I have not been on this platform for a long enough period to know any concrete information, but I did find that when I first started with a blank profile the first month or so felt as if it was quite a reliable source of work - I knew that it wouldn't take to many submissions to get an interview - and once at that stage, I had good confidence to land the full job. (also bear in mind that connects were free so perhaps we just paid less attention to how many were actually used)

 

However,  i certainly feel a change in everything of late -  I have just totted up my figures and have an 11.5% rate on proposals versus landed jobs (for the last 30 days). I would like that to be better (obvs!) but I think a part of this is with all the recent changes EVERYONE has felt some manner of change and I think this has forced many to up thier game considerably. Especially when it comes to making proposals. On top of that I do think the quality of clients/job postings has gone down (lower value jobs - more zero history clients). Having said that, i'm of the opinion that this is a kind of collateral damage caused by the recent client side changes and is likely to improve with time as the freelancer side improves and clients see that the platform caters for quality work. 

At least, thats what i hope! Smiley Frustrated

 

 

HAHAHA!  I just watched your intro vid.  Made me want to stand up and salute a flag!  Epic!

 

Good points and thanks for your perspective.  Thanks also for posting your conversion rate 11.5% Let's keep those coming!

 

I also like your optimism.  Hopefully, the disruption some of us are experiencing now is simply the result of UW doing a bit of house-cleaning and, with a bit of perseverence, will see us through until things settle down a bit and the lag on the client side catches up.

I like to think so - I think being optimistic is the only way to stay positive and keep moving forward - Though I do appreciate why you would worry about things (as im sure many of us do from time to time) i also think your efforts to try and find a solution or cause so you can adapt to the current state of affairs is a wise move and one that i am watching with curiosity.

bevcam
Community Member

I can't offer helpful comments, Chris, because I'm not an expert on what goes on behind the scenes at Upwork, but I have seen a drop in the number of successful bids in the last few weeks.

 

I only submit max 5 proposals a month because I do far more work off Upwork and I'm very niche. Since I joined Upwork I've become quite accustomed to landing the majority of proposals I put in. And over the past few weeks - hello, niks! I also have noticed that quite a few of the jobs I bid on are closed without hiring. Luckily I do have a number of longterm clients on Upwork who give me regular work.

 

Maybe it's just a phase or a new trend... I'll have to wait and see.

Hi Bev, 

 

Thanks for your comments and your candour.  

 

Interesting to note your perspective as someone who's not exclusively sourcing work through Upwork.

 

I also note that your model seems to cater to a relatively high frequency of projects though you tend to secure a majority of contracts for which you submit proposals.

 

Nothing we can do about clients closing contracts without hiring but I wonder if I couldn't ask you to expand on your approach to your proposals? 

 

I'm guessing that there's a huge variety in they type of clients you service and the work they need, but are there elements or attitudes that you feel you'd apply to any proposal that contribute to your high rate of successfuly securing projects?

 

 

In the two or so years I've been on Upwork Chris I have tended to win most contracts I bid on. Recently not! When I started I was just trying to see how Upwork works and wanted to build my profile. I bid rather randomly. That taught me a lot and also how to identify business I probably don't want.

 

I then started being very selective, applying only for what I specialise in and putting in very short proposals highlighting what I can offer the client and including links to existing work. I only bid on alternative practices and HR-related jobs. In my proposals I don't do anything elaborate and it's worked for me. I've been in HR for years and I know that recruiters spend a few seconds on a job application scanning for skills and compatibility. If it's there the recruiter will contact the applicant to get more information, if they don't see it they move on. My assumption is that clients have the same attitude.

 

If you can show enthusiasm, skills and compatibility in a few sentences, you'll get a response and you can then give the client more info. That's worked for me, but I know that many people craft lengthy proposals and that works for them. It also obviously depends on the type of services you offer. 

 

I can't compare myself to freelancers who look to Upwork as their sole source of income though, so my way of doing it might not work for everyone. Upwork makes up only about 20% of my work, the rest is local HR consulting and writing.

Thanks Bev.  Some very valuable insights there.  

 

The HR and recruiting angle is interesting.  I'm sure you're right about the overlap in what potential clients and recruiters' approaches.

 

The length of a proposal is something I'm looking at very carefully.  I'm a 3d visual artist.  I create and render 3d models for all sorts of clients from product designers to architects.  There's a steep learning curve (especially for new clients) and it's not a simple process, so there is an inclination to throw out too much information.

 

Here's the thing though: I've been awarded some projects off a three line proposal and others off detailed, multi-page deep-dive.  I'm still not sure which is best.  Sometimes I get the feeling that it's totally random

 

You're spot-on about one thing though.  You have to show enthusiasm.

lysis10
Community Member

oh noes it's a "constructive criticism only" thread. welp, that leaves me out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

lol.  I consider myself properly chastized by Mark.  Please feel free.  No salty sea-dogs here Smiley Very Happy Heart

Chris, what would it cost you to actively advertise for and/or chase clients not on Upwork?

 

That seems like a highly valid starting point -

Hi Wendy, 

 

Good point.  I intentionally omitted UpWork's fees and the decision to charge for connects from my initial post.  I know that a lot of people have _feelings_ about these issues Smiley Wink

 

Personally, I view whatever UpWork chooses to charge to freelancers as the cost of doing business.  Do I miss getting charged a flat 10% (as per Elance)? Sure.  Would I feel better if clients were able to post jobs for free? Sure (though I do wonder if charging them doesn't discourage some clients from posting work that some freelancers might benefit from).  

 

None of that changes the fact (as you rightly allude to) that, for all of us, the cost and difficulty of doing our own marketing and promotion individually still makes UpWork vastly more attractive than going it alone. 

 

We're all in the service sector.  It's sort of like a graphic designer complaining that they have to pay taxes when the alternative is to go out and build roads themselves.

 

In discussion about the cost of doing business here, many freelancers point out that UpWork is a business and their first concern is to their shareholders.  This is a fact.  

 

What might cause concern among more skeptical freelancers is this:

 

If I were upwork, I would hold the view that not all freelancers are created equal.  That is, certain types of freelancer account for greater proportional revenue from fees.  Higher rates charged to clients, more hours worked, different sectors, etc.

 

If this is the case then would make sense to maximise their own revenue by tailoring the platform to maximize their return across the various categories of freelancer.  For some segments, this might be revenue from fees. 

 

For lower performers or part-timers, this might explain the decision to charge for connects.  They might not be making much from fees but they can still earn revenue from connects.  

 

I'm not suggesting that this is, in fact, the case but if I were a cost consultant for UpWork this is certainly something I might mention.

 

Even if it is the case, it's well within UpWork's rights to adopt this policy and make changes to their platform.  

 

It then falls to us to determine to what degree this affects us personally and adapt accordingly.  

 

I'm trying to figure out why I'm getting fewer responses to proposals than I used to.  If change is in the air, I'm happy to adapt to that but if I don't know what's causing this downturn then it's much harder to narrow down a solution.

Thanks Noureldin.  

 

Good to get the perspective of newer freelancers.  

 

5 for 75 on replies.  1-3 for 75 on conversions.

 

I wonder:  do these numbers cover the period in which your Rising Talent badge was still in effect?

Thanks Noureldin, 

 

Congrats on the hire and very good point about checking a potential client's hire rate.

 

I'm still very much looking forward to getting an average conversion rate of proposals to hires and your comments help.

 

If we take (ballpark figure) a conversion of 60-70 proposals to one hire and those proposals have cost $25 we could say that one hire costs us $25. 

 

If our hire represents a two-month contract that's earning us $1000 then great.  

 

If our model caters to a higher number of smaller projects then this paints a rather grim picture.

 

The way that UpWork calculates how many connects are required for a project will come up here.  I wonder if we could have some comments on freelancers' experience of how accurate or inaccurate this system is in valuing projects?

 

 


Noureldin Y wrote:

I wrote also about that point...............................budget input, don't put fake amounts otherwise your account gonna be suspended permanently. "


Stop spamming that nonsense please. Once was more than enough.

another good point. 

 

The algorythm that calculates the value of connects required is new and still being developed. 

 

I'm sure this was implimented as sort of market force and as it's refined I hope we'll see a leveling out before too long

tlsanders
Community Member

My belief (which may or may not be accurate and you are free to take or leave) is that the reason some established freelancers are seeing an uptick in business and many others are seeing a drop has to do with the clients each of us targets. There is no question that Upwork is shifting the type of client it is targeting, and that means that the bread-and-butter markets for some freelancers will be drying up (at least to a degree) on Upwork. 

I'm one of those who has seen an increase in good invitations, but if I were in your shoes I would analyze my target market, look at the good postings that are appearing in my field, and think about how I could retarget my services to the type of clients who are still in ample supply.


I managed to acquire a handful of good clients pretty easily so I thought it could only get better. But the well just dried up. I'm surprised because my categories are in high demand.

There are now very few quality jobs posted in my space so I am assuming that most jobs are by invite. My profile views are also very low so I'm not sure whats going on.

The good advice I got was to not depend on one platform. I hate the other platforms, So I put the words "available for contract" on my professional social media account and landed a good local year long gig rather quickly. I am fortunate to live in an area where demand is very high.

Hi John, 

 

Thanks for your comments.  Good to know that changes I'm I think I'm seeing are not _completely_ down to pattern recognition bias Smiley Wink 

 

Good point about not putting all your eggs in one basket.  As you point out, for some there are viable alternatives. 

 

I share your view of competing platforms to UpWork.  While we certainly have some issues here, the scope, brand recognition and stability of UpWork still put it well ahead of the curve.

 

Like many freelancers, I'm not based in the US or Europe so it does rather mean that it's UpWork or bust though if we want to compete at an international level.  So, like many, I'm comitted to finding a solution here.  

Hi Tiffany, 

 

Thank you for your comments.  Very glad to hear that you've noticed an improvement in the clients you're targeting.

 

I'm also glad that, even though your own sphere might be seeing improvement, you've identified that there _are_ those who are seeing become more difficult.

 

I think that you're right and at least one avenue of investigation is to take a very careful look at our business and factor that in to how we target clients.

I'm really glad to hear that some freelancers are seeing an improvement in the quality and frequency of work they're getting.

 

As someone who's seen an increase in the number of good invites, what leads you to note that UW is shifting the type of client they're targeting?  Are you basing that on what you've read in comments?  love to know


Chris P wrote:

...what leads you to note that UW is shifting the type of client they're targeting?


Quote from Stephane Kasriel, Upwork's President and Chief Executive Officer:

 

"The goal for the Company focusing really on long-term trends is to say, we don't believe that gig work is the future of this business ... We think that the future of this business is not about getting projects of $1,000 at a time, it's going to be about bigger companies that have bigger projects that are more complex, more likely to be done through starting and other types of agencies and it is an example. And so, all of these changes are really designed to make these more professional freelancers, more successful and make the bigger companies more successful in Upwork, which may have, as a result, the impact that we're seeing a little bit more churn in the slightly less professional, less reliable freelancers, as well as some of the smaller companies that struggle to justify the cost."

 

https://www.fool.com/earnings/call-transcripts/2019/08/08/upwork-inc-upwk-q2-2019-earnings-call-tran...

 

Thanks Cristine, good info.  Just a shame it's such kick in the balls.

 

sigh.  so, if you're a small business or individual freelance, then f*&^ you.  Man that sucks.  Especially considering that it was freelancers that allowed them to develop the credibility of  "having the world's largest freelance platform" 

 

 

alphazomgy
Community Member

Upwork reports earnings November 6th, or around then. Hopefully they shed some light on this issue. Which they probably will, especially if it is destroying their margins. 

Public companies and accountants have a funny way of making the books look like its an ice age on the Sun. So I too will be looking at earnings carefully but I don't expect to find the Ahh ha moment.


Alexander B wrote:

Upwork reports earnings November 6th, or around then. Hopefully they shed some light on this issue. Which they probably will, especially if it is destroying their margins. 


I don't think any apparent destroying of margins would be of significant concern to Upwork at this point, since they've been quite open about the shift in their business model. Obviously, since they're just beginning the shift to more Enterprise-type clients, nothing that is happening now is in any way indicative of future earnings.


Noureldin Y wrote:

their last quarter end up with loss?


On paper, they have never made a profit yet

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