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Free work disguised as "Training"/"Commission Based"/ "Payment Outside Upwork"

Hello Upworkers. Hope everyone is enjoying their christmas/Holidays!!

I am kind of a new freelancer on Upwork even though I had an Odesk account in the past but I think I deleted my account back then due to the exact same reason. 

I am in the "Sales/Telemarketing/Business Development" niche. Which is a very hard niche to be in on Upwork. As most clients in that category are completely unaware of almost everything there's to be aware of in terms of how to hire, pay, or treat a freelancer. 

For starters, this niche is extremely competitive. Not really, but on the surface it seems like it is. It appears as if anyone who speaks English well enough can do it, which is obviously not the case. 

But due to the overwhelming number of wannabe's who constantly apply to any job they could find job. And the almost non-existent low barrier to entry (To get your account accepted on Upwork) , most jobs would have 20+ proposals. 

So in order for me to standout during the initial stages I've had to be creative. Shoot a personalized video of myself to the client, reflect back on his needs and requirements, edit that video and put in some effects/sounds/music..etc  to verify and showcase that:-

- My English is indeed good.
- I care and willing to go the extra mile.
- I do have a real expensive setup built for that purpose not working from under my mom's bed.

The above process cost me at least 3-5 hours of FREE WORK + 6 connects. 

It works well, I have been getting probably as many interview as a new freelancer without a track record on this platform would get. Maybe a response out of 5 proposals. 20% response ratio. 

Which is already starting to seem like a big investment (15 hours of FREE WORK + 30 connects: that's like $50 bucks to an American BTW.. My native currency is very weak)

But it was worth it. Untill I started to get more and more interviews and spend even more time talking to them ONLY to realize they are either scammers or they literally have no idea what they're doing.

They either want you to invest 2-3 weeks to learn the ins and outs of their product for FREE WITHOUT PAY first and then get hired. Or they promise to pay you OUTSIDE OF UPWORK. Or a fixed price project that we both know they can just ghost you afterwards and cancel it. Or they just go flatline insane and ask you to work on a commission only scheme. 

Help me out to understand this please. So I'm a freelancer. Not an employee. No benefits. No actual legally binding contract because we're in different countries. All the burden is on me to get your attention. You post a job in minutes and I make a proposal in hours and I pay for it. 

And now you come and ask me to further waste my time, train myself on YOUR PRODUCT, to benefit YOUR COMPANY and you promise to hire if you like my performance?

What if you ask 10 people to do it and only decide to eventually hire the best of the best and bail on all the others?

If you are in my position, would you do it? The last interview I got was with a company that I thought was interesting. Again, same thing, work for 2-3 weeks for free, if I like your performance I'd hire you. I said NO. He replied back with ok let's do it at %50 of the pay rate so that it's fair for both of us. I say OK, only to - again - realize he was referring to "I'll pay you via ACH"

With all due respect, and disregarding the fact that this is against TOS on Upwork. Also disregarding that I can suspended. But just bluntly, what would be the reason to trust you?? Would it make sense for you if I asked for an advance? You'd never do it! Then why should I trust you!

At this point I'm only a few days away from deleting my account and moving on. I was seeking a full time job which means I have been unemployed for VERY long. And that's a normal thing to expect from anyone you want to hire as a full timer, of course they are unemployed or else how could they work with you full time?!

If you can relate to this and/or in my niche and have any insights to share please go ahead and write me back. Any insight will be very appreciated.

Community Member

This is really very simple.

1. Don't work for free.
2. Report clients who demand that you work for free.

It is possible for a client who is new to the platform to be ignorant of the rules.


If a client asks you to work for free, give them the opportunity to do the right thing. Offer to do the work using a proper Upwork contract, for payment.


If the client doesn't do the right thing, then report them.

Use the "Flag as inappropriate" link button available on all job posts.

Community Member

I am sympathetic with your frustration and can confirm that such misbehaviours happen.... but have also noticed that you engaged in long and time-consuming negotiations while all of that can be cut short at a very early stage. If they mention commission, I immediately inform them that I do not work on commission and leave the ball in their court.

I had a recent case of what looked like a very interesting technology, I was invited and the guy was very focused on training me on that before entering a contract. As soon as I suspected that (after the 5th message or so), I simply wrote that it all looked very interesting and asked "by the way what do you think of my service proposal?". He went missing. He has not yet hired anyone in a month. I suspect that he was just here fishing for free information and contacts. I am satisfied having saved a lot of time.

In my experience, 1 out of 10 prospective clients, or even less, becomes an actual and satisfactory client. If you keep that in mind and manage your initial negotiations more swiftly, you won't develop so much disappointment. 

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