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Upwork to Freelancers: No More Free Connections

Upwork recently sent out an email that completely rocked it’s entire base of Freelancers & Agencies.

Is this good news, or bad news? I’m an agency owner and freelancer who is directly affected by this recent change. I’m convinced this is good news for me, but bad news for many others, and I’ll tell you why.

Until recently, Upwork gave agency accounts 80 free “connects” and freelancers 60 free connects to use each month. Submitting a proposal on a job post would cost at least two connects, so freelancers were limited to submitting 30 “free” proposals per month. That’s 1 per day, which is not a whole lot. After that, it would cost $1 per connect or $2 per proposal. (I’m guessing exactly zero freelancers or agencies would buy the additional connects at this high rate.) You can read a much more detailed breakdown of Upwork connections, here.

No More Free Connects

But starting in May, all freelancer and agency accounts will receive exactly 0 “free” connects each month. The new price for each connect is $0.15 instead of $1.

I predict this change is going to drive new talent away from the Upwork platform, but not as much as everyone may think. It will certainly solidify the position of all existing freelancers.

One common complaint from new Upwork freelancers is that they have spent several months using up all 60 of their connects submitting proposals. This can be a frustrating time for someone who is just starting out. Now it seems they’ll need to pay $9 per month for this same painful process.

But this thinking is incorrect.

You see, the reason they are going through that lengthy process of submitting scores of proposals that go unanswered is precisely because there is so much competition at the lowest end of the market. This pricing change will solve that problem.

Now, each new proposal submitted will be up against a greatly reduced number of similar low-end proposals. This could, in fact, make it much easier to find a client.

The Bright Side of Upwork's Connects Change

Personally, I see this as a great opportunity to more easily differentiate our Doakio Upwork agency from all those other agencies that won’t even pay to host their own website. And yes, we actually manually checked the 100 top-performing Philippine-based agencies on Upwork and found that 95% of them had no website that could be found by searching their brand name on Google. Only 5% had free-hosted websites, and only one had a professionally hosted website.

“When the crowds are going one way, you should be going the other way. This is a more sure path to eventual success.”

-Alexander Doak, Founder of Doakio

I would encourage all freelancers to budget $27 (which is $9 times three months) towards landing their first contract. To make up for this, all new freelancers should raise their rates by a commensurate amount.

While this may sound like a significant amount for a newbie to spend on sending proposals, this is still way cheaper than the amount an individual spends when applying for typical office jobs. It’s almost wrong to think that they are losing money!

Also, I would encourage all new freelancers to really double down on the quality of the proposals they do submit. Make sure you are only submitting proposals that are well thought out and are laser focused on the problem presented by the client in their job post.

There will be a certain number of otherwise high-potential new freelancers that don’t understand these concepts, or are not able or willing to invest money to make money. If you know someone like that, share this article with them. They shouldn’t necessarily despair. When the crowds are going one way, you should be going the other way. This is a more sure path to eventual success.

Time is Money on Upwork

“Your time as a freelancer is valuable. Your time is worth compensation. You matter. Your life matters. Your thoughts and expertise matter. Believe it.”

-Alexander Doak, Founder of Doakio

Another common complaint relates to uncertainty in submitting a proposal. “Why should I pay $0.30 for a proposal when there is no guarantee I’ll get the job?” A valid question to be sure.

Yet, there is a principle that holds true in many situations; “Time is Money.” Even when Upwork connects were free, freelancers and agencies were still investing a certain amount of their own time when drafting and composing a proposal. (At least, I hope they were spending more than zero time!)

If you were spending time on your proposals, but you literally put no value whatsoever on your own personal time spent, then you are tacitly admitting that your own time is worthless. This demonstrates a mindset that should change.

Your time as a freelancer is valuable. Your time is worth compensation. You matter. Your life matters. Your thoughts and expertise matter. Believe it.

Try to remember that the $0.30 you spend on the proposal is nothing compared to the $3.00+ per hour your time is worth. That’s $3.00+ that you could have earned during the same hour you spent researching and drafting a well thought out proposal to a job post.

Hiring on Upwork: Then VS Now

If you’ve ever tried to hire a freelancer or an agency on Upwork (or any other platform), you are faced with a very difficult task of effectively differentiating high quality, creative masters of their craft from the wanna-be pretenders who can’t perform.

I think this change will likely reduce the number of zero-thought proposals that inevitably flood every job posting. It forces the agency owner and their agents to put at least some thought into their proposals, as each proposal is directly costing them money to reach out.

As of this writing we are still composing our list of tricks to make hiring a freelancer on Upwork easier. Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to be alerted when we publish that research.

Is this pricing change another cash grab by Upwork? Sure, you could characterize it that way if you want. It’s a fair critique. But I think the real win for Upwork is not just another $0.30 per proposal. I think Upwork stands to gain the most by making the recruiting process easier for clients that are bringing big money to the platform, and thereby growing client loyalty. All in all, a good change for everyone over time.

Will it work out that way? Only time will tell, but we are cautiously/foolishly optimistic, depending on the outcome.


  1. Arlene Raguindin

    Hi. This really made me think. I was sort of neutral with the new fees but not enraged over it as some did. Mainly because this is just a part time job and second, there are other platforms to go to. But after reading this, I realized that it is really a good move by Upwork and the pool of competitors will thin out. I am hoping that the rates will also go up. Am curious though if joining agencies will be better as they will be the ones to submit bids and not individuals? Just a thought. Cheers!

    • Alexander Doak

      Right you are, Arlene! It depends on your perspective when viewing changes like this.

      Regarding joining an agency, we’ve found that it is a bit harder to get clients to respond to proposals if they are submitted by an agency. Perhaps because clients feel they don’t need someone else involved? I do know that Upwork gives clients the option to request “No Agencies” when submitting job posts but they do not give the option to select “No Freelancers.” So there is a slight platform bias against agencies.

      There are pros and cons to joining an agency. Not all agencies are alike. Someday we’ll put together an article enumerating the pros and cons.

  2. JohnPFCar

    I haven’t really thought of or considered applying in one time fixed payment jobs and applied mostly on hourly jobs. That’s a good idea, thank you!

  3. DavidMK

    I’d probably search for jobs that require 2 Connects for a start. Applying to some jobs can waste connects if there are too many applicants. You want to get that first job, that’s the most important.

  4. Sequoia Pickering

    I found this article helpful. I feel, instead of spending time finding jobs, let us spend our time fulfilling our own potential. If you feel that freelance jobs aren’t a viable way for you to make money, just remember that your time is money, too. And the more of it you spend on things that will help you grow, the more valuable you will become and the more you will bring to the world.

    Don’t be lazy. Be a genius.

  5. Sara Dannel

    As a freelancer myself, and a prime candidate for Upwork’s new proposal pricing, I know there will still be a huge competitive advantage in being able to display an array of higher-quality work, as competitors will be forced to increase their bids in order to stand out from the crowd. There’s only so many designers who would pass up money.

    So, we know from direct experience that this is going to be very good for me. If you’re not a freelancer, and you are currently on Upwork, I hope it becomes a good differentiator between clients. And, if you are a freelancer, and you are not currently on Upwork, I hope it becomes a good differentiator between clients, too.

  6. Shauna Hobbs

    Yeah, when I saw that Upwork ended the free connections, that was the last straw for me. I quit Upwork. Thanks anyway, for your article. I did find it interesting even though I’m not with Upwork anymore. You’ve given some great advice for new freelancers and not-so-new freelancers.

    I may well return someday.

  7. Ian Pastor

    Though many freelancers were frustrated with this news of no more free connections, maybe in the long run this was not such a bad move for Upwork. I see their first quarter revenue rose about 37%.

    It will be interesting to watch our workplace continue to evolve.

  8. Kelli Rennell

    I was quite disappointed to hear of Upwork’s policy change, discontinuing free connections. I suppose, now, with the recent pandemic, people are more willing to pay, to be able to work from home. On the other hand I do like that an individual paid connect has gone down in price.

    I, for one, will probably continue to use Upwork. Thanks for the interesting article.

  9. Matty Burke

    Informative read, thanks. I recently read that Upwork is moving their headquarters to San Francisco which is interesting. At first I thought this “no free connections” would lead to their downfall but then the pandemic arrived.

    I actually think it’s fascinating that there’s a big shift in “how work gets done”. The future is here.

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