How to make a living via UPWORK on the road

Photo by my husband Florian Roquais

Are you looking to make good money from Upwork on the road? I’ll do my best to help you!

Upwork is an online job platform, connecting freelance workers with people looking to hire them. This could be for a one-off gig, or for longer term paid by the hour work. Upwork has linked me up with some regular digital writing jobs, and some lovely clients who genuinely appreciate my work.

lt is also rife with people looking to exploit you, so proceed with caution.

No matter what your experience level – this article will give you the knowledge that you need to ensure that the employers on Upwork don’t take you for a ride. This comes from my personal experience of making a living as a travel writer, but could apply to anyone who wants to make a remote income.

The view from today’s office

A Review Is Not Payment

You will find a lot of people that want to hire you for nothing, and then act like they are doing you a favour. Let me quote from a job description that I saw last week:

‘I can only pay $2 per 3000-word article, but I am extremely generous with my feedback.’

Have some self-respect. A good review on Upwork is not payment, and don’t let someone tell you that it is. Your time is precious and valuable, and you cannot buy your bread with an Upwork review, no matter how ‘generous’ it claims to be.

If you feel you lack experience, then by all means offer out your services to a cause you care about. When I wanted to get into editing, I contacted some environmental charities and offered to do odd jobs for them for free. In this way I was building my portfolio and using my time to support a cause I believe in. As a nomad, I miss being able to contribute to environmental charities, so this was a genuinely mutual beneficial arrangement.

Be Careful About ‘Test Work’

After establishing contact with a new client, they will often ask you to complete some test work before proceeding with a contract. This is fair enough, so long as you aren’t doing an excessive amount of paid work.

In general, I offer to do up to 20 minutes work as an unpaid test, though a good client will pay you for this time if they decide to hire you. If a client wants me to write an entire article before proceeding, I am delighted to do this at my going rate.

If you aren’t careful, ‘Test Work’ can become synonymous with ‘Free Labour’, especially if they are asking 30 other people for a ‘Test Article.’

They Can Write Their Own Book

Upwork is saturated with people looking for you to write their book for them:

‘I have a great idea for a book. I want someone to write it for me, using my brilliant ideas. I will pay you $500 for the completed manuscript and want it finished within 3 months.’

The thing is, anyone can have an idea for a book. Having an idea is  the easy bit! The hard bit is having the time, dedication, and self-belief to sit down and really do it. So, if you are going to be going through this process, at least have the self-respect to do it for your own idea, that will be published with your own name, and that will pay you more than a one off fee that amounts to less than a dollar for each hour of your time. Sheesh!

You can’t put a price on the hours of your life!

Keep It Personal

The contracts that want to pay your fairly for your work are few and far between, but they are there!

They will receive a mountain of applications in such a flooded market. This is exactly why it’s so hard to find well paid work – the platform has more freelancers than work available and you have to compete with other workers to give a proposal that the employer will accept. This is only going to get harder with the coming of the financial crash post COVID 19 and more unemployed people turning to the gig economy.

In order to have a chance at those contracts, make the proposal as personal as you can.

Carefully read the posting and make sure you answer all their questions. If possible find the companies website, and demonstrate in your reply that you have gone to the effort of finding out more about them. Saying something like:

‘I really enjoyed your recent article about The French Alps and would love to help you with similar projects.’

After all, you have to pay for credits on Upwork, which you then use to apply for jobs. If you just send out a load of impersonal applications, it will end up costing you money for nothing.

Believe In Your Value

As tempting as it is to accept any offer made to you, make sure that you value your own work. You only have one short and precious life, and by agreeing to spend some of it providing a service to somebody else, the exchange needs to be mutually beneficial.

Do say no to something that you do not feel comfortable with.

I recently got offered the job of writing a textbook for $650 dollars.

That seemed a nice gig, but the more I asked questions, the more I realised that the company expected me to work for up to 300 hours for this fee. This would mean I would be paid little more than $2 an hour, before Upwork takes its 20% fee for all my earnings!

I have written for Lonely Planet, Trail and Summit, 10adventures, Play Iceland and Highly Sensitive Refuge to name a few – so I’m not setting out in the world of writing! Even if I was, you can’t justify being paid that little.

Remember: you matter, and your work matters!

Writing someone else book for them or riding Icelandic ponies through the black forest – a difficult decision…

Be Flexible With Your Income Stream

I do not have enough money to refuse any jobs that I’m offered, you might be thinking.

The thing is, when you accept a job because you have no other choice, you are giving away your freedom to someone who would seek to exploit you. My best advice in this case, would be to remain flexible in your income streams.

Before I was able to make regular income via Upwork, I took up several casual jobs to tide me over. For example, I was paid to exercise horses, look after children, and even do a little cleaning. Try printing out a few resumes and references in advance, and be prepared to pass them to a local bar or restaurant if things get a little tight.

Final Thoughts

My outgoings are extremely low because I am a slow traveller living in an off-grid van that runs on solar. I also exchange my time for food and accommodation via Workaway if I find a place really want to go to with a host family that can genuinely welcome me into their home and help me to learn new skills.  

The aim is to work in order to live, not the other way around!

The only new purchase that I have made for a year now is my blue light filtering glasses. I always recommend learning to live with less and buying second hand as a rule, but these are one thing that have made working online genuinely better for my wellbeing, as they stop me getting headaches and light stimulation that keeps me awake at night. Sensitive people, you get me!

I also recommend you get a foldable travel keyboard if you have to work on your phone or tablet. It will save you so much precious time!

If this article resonated, you might like to check out The Highly Sensitive Nomad book.

Related blog posts:

Thanks to my lovely husband, Florian Roquais, for the photos.

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Published by rph_writer

Freelance writer and Journalist. Author of Highly Sensitive Nomad.

7 thoughts on “How to make a living via UPWORK on the road

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