So, yesterday it finally happened. I got my first proposal approved on Upwork!

What is Upwork? Well, let me tell you.

Upwork is a platform on which freelancers can find work, and clients can find freelancers to do some work for them. In theory it’s a great system. You sign up, create a happy little profile where you tell future clients all about yourself and why they’d be crazy not to hire you. Then you have a little nose around the job listings, pick a few that fit your skills and budget, and apply for some jobs. Then you wait until the offers come rolling in. That’s the theory.

The truth is that, sadly, I’m not the only one who’s discovered Upwork. They currently have 9 million registered freelancers!

This means that for every job posted there will be tens if not hundreds of freelancers who are bidding on it. And how do you get the client’s attention, especially if you are starting out and don’t have any reviews yet?

By undercutting all the other freelancers of course!

For every job that you bid on, you can quote the budget you are willing to do it for. The lower you go, the more likely you will get picked, especially for jobs that require little professional skills. Upwork is an international platform, so people from all over the world will be bidding on jobs. That means someone in, say India or the Philippines, would be able to ask for much less money due to lower living costs in their country.

And that is exactly the problem, many people are willing to work the same job for much less than you.

So when I started bidding for jobs I figured I have to go as low as possible, in order to be able to compete. I even bid on some small jobs for FREE just to get that first review in. I set myself a goal of applying for 10 jobs on the first day and then see what happens. I read the descriptions carefully, wrote professional proposals and bid low. Out of those 10 proposals I heard back from exactly 0 clients.

Hmmm, something was going wrong. In pure scientist fashion, I decided to ignore this and just focus on something else instead (hey, I’m working 10 jobs here after all!).

I’d almost forgotten about the whole Upwork thing when finally, 14 days after I applied, I was invited for an “interview” a.k.a. Skype chat with a client. They had various episodes of TV shows in German, which needed transcribing. Now that sounded easy! I did a quick Google search to see how much I should charge and found out that $1 per audio minute seemed to be the going rate.

Excellent, $1 per minute, they had 7 hours of audio, $1 x 60 minutes x 7…

I will be rich!

Well, ok not rich but $420 you guys.

Needless to say, I accepted the job, installed the required software and got straight to work.

That’s when it all started going down hill. The show I was assigned to is one of my most hated TV shows of all time: 2 Broke Girls. I would rather watch a whole football match than one episode of that tosh. But it get’s worse. The 2 broke bitches were speaking German. I kid you not it was torture.

Anyway, where were we? Yes, I was going to be rich! I started watching the show and realised pretty quickly that it is very fast paced, so I had to turn down the speed of the audio to 0.5, which means I had to listen to those two dummies twice as long as expected.

That’s when shit really hit the fan though.

Ok, I didn’t tell you the whole story. I might have had to tell a teeny tiny little fib when applying for the job, namely that my typing speed it 65 words per minute. It’s more like 45, maybe 35 (I never did a typing course, sorry!) in real life, but hey, no big deal, right?

Well let me tell you this. It took me 45 minutes to transcribe the first audio minute. 45 minutes of pure torture, listening to Max and Caroline whinge about their sad little Brooklyn hipster lives.

This was not going well. But I NEEDED to get that first review, that’s why I was doing this! So I forced myself to finish the first episode. It took me 7 hours. That’s 420 minutes of work, and I would be paid $20 for it.

After the Upwork and Paypal fees this will leave me with an hourly wage of exactly $2.42. Excellent.

Now, I’m living in Thailand, so maybe that’s not such a bad hourly rate, right? Let me tell you, even here $2.42 won’t buy me more than a third of a pizza.

I hate Upwork

So at this point, most people would’ve thrown in the towel, cut their losses and started from scratch.

But not me! I still wanted this review. Obviously I would never finish the initial milestone of 3 episodes in 24 hours, and I’d told the client who was very understanding and nice. So understanding and nice, in fact, that they gave me a second chance. Instead of running away screaming, I accepted the challenge and transcribed a second episode, after all I wanted the review. To be fair, they gave me lots of tips and tricks and I did speed up. The second episode only took me 6 hours to transcribe, which brings my hourly rate to $2.83. FML.

Fool me once: shame on you.Fool me twice: shame on the idiot who spends 13 hours in two days transcribing two crappy episodes of the lamest TV show ever made, for a grand total of $36 after fees. And because the total project consists of 3 episode: still no review.

Upwork lessons learned:

  1. Do not lie about your typing speed. Ever.
  2. If you’re applying for a job that you have no experience in, try to negotiate a trial run that you can easily get out of.
  3. Only apply for jobs you actually want to do.

I hope that some of you might learn from my epic Upwork fail and don’t have to repeat (and repeat again) the same stupid mistakes I have made.


Now over to you! Have you ever done a terrible job on Upwork or another platform? What was your hourly rate?

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