So, you’ve been browsing the web, hoping to find a way to do some online consulting. You’ve stumbled upon the Upwork marketplace, and you’re asking yourself this question:

What exactly is Upwork?

Good question! As someone who has now billed more than 4,000 hours using the Upwork platform (partially via the oDesk platform), I’ll hopefully be able to answer this question for you.

Here goes!

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What is Upwork? (the Short Answer)

I call the Upwork platform a “marketplace” because that’s exactly what it is. As I point out in my book, “Upwork acts in a similar way (to the eCommerce model), but obviously in a different capacity. Instead of facilitating the sale of physical goods, Upwork facilitates the exchange of professional business services.”

On the Upwork marketplace, the following takes place every single day:

  • Clients post opportunities
  • Freelancers search for, apply for, and win such opportunities
  • Clients hire freelancers to Upwork contracts
  • Freelancers can then start billing time using the Upwork time tracking app
  • Clients can see screenshots of what their freelance teams are doing
  • Freelancers are paid automatically based on the hours billed
  • Upwork transaction fees are automatically assessed
  • Clients can pause or end freelance contracts at any time
  • Both parties can leave positive or negative feedback for each other
  • Feedback left for the freelancer (along with other meta data) is aggregated into a “job success score,” 100% being the best possible

Each freelancer has his or her own profile page, similar to social media sites (except you can actually win clients with your Upwork profile!). Here’s what mine looks like:

Matt Keener Profile

What is Upwork? (the Longer Answer)

Upwork Global Inc. (“Upwork”) is the name of the parent company that makes the Upwork marketplace possible. According to the company’s website, “With millions of jobs posted on Upwork annually, freelancers are earning more than $1 billion via the site each year and providing companies with over 3,500 skills.”

Those are some pretty impressive numbers! However, Upwork hasn’t always been known as “Upwork.” In fact, when I first found out about freelancing (way back in 2009), I started out working on oDesk.com. It wasn’t until 2015, having already merged with the Elance platform, that the new entity officially changed its name to Upwork. (As you can see in this post, I was pretty surprised at the time!)

Although many things have changed over the past decade or so, Upwork is still very similar to the oDesk platform I grew to love. Granted, the platform is constantly changing and evolving. However, at its core, the Upwork marketplace still connects freelance talent with companies who seek outsourced services.

There are countless job categories on the Upwork marketplace. However, at the time of publication of this post, work is generally bucketed into one of the following high-level groups:

  • Web, mobile & software development
  • Design & creative
  • Admin support
  • IT & networking
  • Writing
  • Customer services
  • Sales & marketing (my favorite!)
  • Data science / analytics
  • Translation
  • Engineering & architecture
  • Legal
  • Accounting & consulting (in other words, “everything else”)

Upwork makes it easy to drill down using job filters and find a batch of highly targeted opportunities for your skills. If you sign up for an Upwork freelancing account, I strongly recommend that you spend time familiarizing yourself with how to use filters. Otherwise, you’ll likely give up because there appear to be too many irrelevant opportunities. Trust me, there are plenty of great projects available – you just have to know where (and how) to look!

Why I Personally Love Upwork

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I love Upwork (although I still have a habit of saying “oDesk”). Upwork is fueling the new economy, empowering small business owners, and bringing the free market to every corner of the globe. I personally believe in the platform, and I tell everyone that I can about it.

Is Upwork the Right Fit for You?

Still not sure if Upwork is the right fit for you? I’ll be writing more articles on the topic very soon. Be sure to subscribe to my newsletter (which is free, by the way). You might also consider reading my book. It includes several helpful tips for launching a successful Upwork business.

Until next time, happy freelancing!

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Written by Matt Keener

Matt Keener is the original "Executive in Sweatpants," having built a successful online consulting business (from home). His best-selling book offers tips for capitalizing on outsourcing and freelancing. Matt holds an MBA and has been featured by many recognizable brands, including Upwork (formerly oDesk), Elance, Insightly, the Dave Ramsey Show, and Entrepreneur.com.

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