A fluff-free guide to pre-freelancing

Darryl D. on February 20, 2018

I’m a developer, and I have peers that are developers. I have a day job, and my peers have a day job. I freelance, my peers don’t. Combo breaker ... [Read Full]
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Do you have any suggestions for avoiding Upwork, which many of us view as a race to the bottom? $20/hr is ...not a competitive rate for a professional.


$20/hr was just a suggested initial rate for the first work you do in the Upwork platform since nobody knows you there.

You can for instance charge much more than this for your first time and still get rewarded but the idea is to get positive reviews at a lower rate so you can get better rates in the next job and so on.


I think that's really low for some countries? I got $40 for design/graphic side and $60/hr programming. I did do some flat rate while keeping an eye on the scope...

Personally $20 is not much for anything, in all due respect. That would be like if you didn't have any experience like even from a day job... :/

I would push for $40. I was making that when I was just pretty much getting started at 22 years old.

The parallels to the desk job doesn't work here as you have to pay business license and other regulatory and you'll be eating some of your fee through administration of your client. It all costs and it's hidden.

You seem very hung up on the $20/hr lol. You can obviously choose w/e initial rate you prefer. But I think the spirit of the "start at $20/hr and go up" is basically "start low and charge more and you build your reputation".

I'm also pretty sure this post assumes you are not freelancing as a full-time job... since the post starts off with "talking to co-workers". But even if you were a 22-year-old looking to freelance full-time.... $20-$25/h at 40h a week is not bad (unless you live in New York or California). $20-$25/h @ 40h a week is about $3200 - $4000 a month. That is very much a livable wage in a lot of places. And chances are... someone will only have to charge this low rate for 1 or 2 months. Once they have 2 or 3 clients in their history.... they can raise their rate.

The parallels to the desk job doesn't work here as you have to pay business license and other regulatory

I would disagree. Using something like UpWork or Freelance does not require a business license nor does it have any regulatory costs. Aside from the administrative cost of finding a client... you have what ever (optional) "premium membership fee) the site offers.


$20/hr is just the (suggested) starting rate. Not a permanent rate.

You can draw parallels to a "traditional desk job"... This is just like taking a low-paying entry-level position to gain experience so you can then apply to a mid-level position that actually pays decent.


I would strongly go against that rate... is there a country difference? Might as well do crazy spec work and see nothing for the efforts at all. I consider it too much sunk costs in that respect.

I know the issues regarding getting the work all too well.

Log your hours on how much you ate spending getting the client v. the work, never mind your administration of the business side and your licenses, etc.

I would suggest not-for-profit for experience instead of undercutting and not getting real value for yourself. Help those that need it then charge the rate later for clients who can pay. Get experience from the others and build from that, IMHO.

I would suggest not-for-profit for experience instead of undercutting

I would agree that if all you are seeking is experience, the not-for-profit route is a valid one.

But in this context, the initial low rate is not for experience but to gain a reputation / ratings on the platform (in this case, UpWork). You can have 20 years of real-world experience... but with zero ratings or history on a hiring platform like UpWork... it will be next to imposible to get someone to pay $60/h

The flat-rate projects is also a good route for starts IMO. But... those usually end up being the most amount of effort and with the least satisfied clients (because they expect The Mona Lisa for the price of a Kinkos 1-hour print job).

The honest truth, nobody cares if the cost of living in your country is high. They only care if it's low because they can then take advantage and get cheap work.

I'm not sure I follow your plight. Logging hours usually takes minutes, it's common to log them at the end of the week opposed to as you go along. I also haven't heard the need for any business administration or licenses needed, care to elaborate?

Working at a lower initial rate will give you some experience, but the bigger win is a rating and review that could land more ideal clients at an ideal rate. Your experience outside of Upwork is great but, when people go on Upwork to find freelancers, they care about what you did on the platform too.


Are you only looking to avoid Upwork due to $20/hr?

If so, the time and money it would take to land freelance projects will be a bigger loss than this initial rate. Keep in mind, you are not quitting your job to work $20/hr. You are working this lower rate to make your life substantially easier down the road when trying to land clients who are willing to pay $80/hr.

Think of it as your initiation price to freelancing :).


To be honest, I glazed over the word pre-freelancing when I read this, so this makes a little more sense to me now than it did at first. But I avoid Upwork entirely for the simple reason that it's a race to the bottom. The few times I have tried writing proposals on work posted there I saw that the RFP was swamped with obviously underbid work by people who are clearly not going to deliver good work (obvious because if you can't deliver a good proposal, you're not going to deliver good work either).

The same is true on the other side as well: there are countless RFPs that are total crap: they want 1000 hours of work for the price of 50 - and they still get bids.

I work on both sides of the fence. Using Upwork to find freelances and using it to find work.

I will say this, 90% of those proposals are BS. It's actually great that you can see them because everywhere outside of Upwork is the same but, you can't see how many and who is applying. That's amazing insight.

When looking through those proposals, you filter them down very quickly. The first to go are usually agencies and spam. First to be read are those who respond as if they read the description, which is why I mention the formula above.

The few times I have tried writing proposals

Keep in mind, it's a numbers game. Not much will happen from a few proposals. I can send out over a dozen of quality proposals within an hour and proceed to do that a few times a week if needed. With my profile, I usually get 5-9 people inquiring by the end of the week or the next week.

Also, keep in mind, lot's of people first go with cheaper developers for the sake of price then find out it's more expensive due to lack of quality. The second time around guess who they target :)


I have a question, what should I do if I end up receiving too much responses for the proposals I send ?, for example I sent 20 proposals and then I get 8 interested clients, and that's probably more than I can handle, but neither I want to lose that potential client.


That's a very good problem to have! Usually only a few would want to move forward. I typically prioritize the client who is best at communicating, giving details, etc... Also what is mostly aligned with my skills. For the other people that also want to work with you, ask if they mind waiting until you have more bandwidth. Usually once people decide on a person they like, they don't mind waiting. If they choose to not wait, let them go and just reach back out once you do have bandwidth since they did express interest. They may still need more help.


:) hey nice ! thanks for your response, really trying to reach out any doubts before I get this freelancing path a shot... I'll probably still have questions once I get started jajaja.


I am curious how you deal with the IP issues. I read the user agreement, and it looks to me like anything I use in the project that may have previously been mine (like a library I independently developed) becomes the client's sole IP that I cannot use anymore without permission. Seems like it would be pretty hard to reuse common (especially plumbing) code between projects. Which is something I would want to do as a freelancer.


Upon Freelancer’s receipt of full payment from Client, the Work Product, including without limitation all Intellectual Property Rights in the Work Product, will be the sole and exclusive property of Client, and Client will be deemed to be the author thereof. If Freelancer has any Intellectual Property Rights to the Work Product that are not owned by Client upon Freelancer’s receipt of payment from Client, Freelancer hereby automatically irrevocably assigns to Client all right, title and interest worldwide in and to such Intellectual Property Rights. Except as set forth above, Freelancer retains no rights to use, and will not challenge the validity of Client’s ownership in, such Intellectual Property Rights. Freelancer hereby waives any moral rights, rights of paternity, integrity, disclosure and withdrawal or inalienable rights under applicable law in and to the Work Product. If payment is made only for partial delivery of Work Product, the assignment described herein applies only to the portion of Work Product delivered.


It's really hard to comment on things like this because I'm no lawyer. I can only speak from experience and have yet to have any IP issues or have any "sue happy" clients. I would just put the library on Github, apply a license and move forward. I wouldn't get hung up on anything like this.


I think this post is good advice. Problem is Upwork seems to be starting to knock back beginners trying to get into the game due to oversaturation of skills. Any advice to actually getting approved to work on Upwork when being a beginner.


Great article !! Do you have any comments on hourly rate versus project based price? Which mode is better?

Also where should one create portfolio? Launch my own site?



I have a lot of comments on hourly vs fixed, I have a post I'm working on as we speak, sign up on freelanceafterfive.com to get the update. I'm pretty opinionated about this topic and want to explain why before just giving an answer.

For a portfolio, I would say use a template stating off or a template service like carrd.co/ just to get moving and sending out proposals. While that's up, start working on something a little more custom if you need to. Keep in mind, the more time you spend on your site, the less time you spend sending out proposals, find a balance :)

Let me know if this helps!


Hi, but what if the client did not understand any of the tech side? Is that a way to explain more simple enough to them?


I would consider that an opportunity to teach in addition to execute. It's also important to inform the client that they're hiring you to do both. If you're not comfortable (or just don't want to...) I would suggest going to the next client.

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