Freelancing, the on demand economy and outsourcing is the future of the worldwide workforce. Upwork are the company that are leading this change. For them to continue to be market leaders then a lot of things need to happen. Here are some ideas on how to improve the site.
1.Each country should have it’s own management team. This may already be the case but this isn’t obvious if it is. Each country is different and therefore has different challenges. An expert based in each country would enable the company to grow in each market. Whenever there is a newspaper report, blog article or TV show about freelancers it is always Xenios from the People Per Hour website who is featured. Upwork needs more visibility in the UK market.
The company really needs to market itself more in the UK. I went to a Tech City event a few years ago where there was a representative from Elance (the previous name for Upwork) giving a presentation. The presentation was poor and not one person on the tour even spoke about Elance for the rest of the day. It was so uninspiring that it didn’t grab the attention of anyone there. Even a poor presentation could have been improved by giving out some Elance promotional products so that people remembered the company name.
The freelancing market as a whole is under-marketed. On a weekly basis I read people on different start up forums and facebook groups say “There should be a site where you can find people with any skill that you need for your business”. This is exactly what Upwork does but it is not highlighted enough.
The country managers should understand marketing, have preferably used the site themselves and should understand the freelancing market. If they actually hired successful freelancers from the site to be country managers then they could be ambassadors for the site too. They could be the people that represent the company in the media, it could be them that teach people in the online communities about the benefits of the site and so on. An outreach program through visiting universities should be an important part of this strategy. It would be a good way to attract high quality freelancers but those that go on to join companies will know about the site and could therefore transmit knowledge about the site to the companies that they join, thus increasing the number of clients and jobs posted on the site. The country managers should inspire students to become freelancers, to work through the site and to trust people who offer their services on there.
2. The reputation of Upwork needs to be improved. I’m a member of the Facebook group “London Start Ups”. It is by far the most active start up community in the UK, it has thousands of members and every day there are lots of posts. People are always looking for recommendations for developers, marketers and so on. Two weeks ago someone recommended Upwork to find a developer as one of the comments and immediately a developer replied and said “No self respecting developer would ever work on Upwork”. It’s a quote that has stuck in my mind. Upwork has such a bad reputation that people don’t want to be associated with it. For the company to continue to grow it has to persuade people that its a good site to get work from and its a good site to find workers.The general consensus I tend to read is that the quality of client on Upwork is terrible.
Upwork must strive to persuade people that you can find quality clients on the site and that quality workers are on there too. This can be done through numerous case studies being highlighted, Youtube videos being made where freelancers tell their story and even a documentary could be produced.
3. The site needs to help freelancers grow their businesses. At the moment the site offers no help whatsoever to grow from a freelancer to a company. Even Google employs business development managers to help agencies grow but Upwork offers no such advice or help. At the moment when freelancers get too busy they just leave the site like I have. If Upwork helped freelancers to transition their businesses from freelancer to team then they would retain a lot more of the best people on the site.
4. Upwork should act more like a recruitment agency. At the moment if someone wants help finding a freelancer then an Upwork Success Manager will contact freelancers asking them to bid on the job. These Success Managers seem to have zero industry knowledge. I only work on Adwords and Bing yet I get contacted by Success Managers asking me to bid on Facebook advertising jobs. And once they have contacted you their role is over. Upwork should train these staff up in each vertical so they actually make correct recommendations rather than wasting peoples time and they should take an active role throughout the whole hiring process. So for example they may contact me and ask what kind of jobs I like to take on and if I have any requirements i.e. spend over $20k per month, not in the ecommerce industry and so on. If the recruiters understood the freelancers then they could make much better recommendations.
5. Along the same lines there should be account managers in each vertical too. Account Managers could play a huge role in the growth of the site, freelancer retention and helping improve freelancer quality. Account managers should be there to help answer any questions that freelancers have, they should be constantly asking for feedback on how to improve the Upwork experience and they could be the people that help freelancers grow their companies. Upwork could even go one step further and have experts in each field as account managers. These account managers could ensure that the work being produced is of high quality. If it isn’t then they can help teach the freelancer or in a worst case suspend their account. This would give people more confidence in the site. They could also act as someone that freelancers can seek advice from i.e. like you would do a manager or another team member in a normal company. This would therefore improve the experience for both freelancer and client.
6. Vacation freelancers – freelancers on Upwork find it hard to take vacations due to their clients needing them 24/7. This makes it hard for freelancing to be a viable long term career option. If Upwork were to have a pool of freelancers that you could take your place when you go on vacation this would make the site retain their best freelancers longer and would improve the experience for both client and freelancer. For clients they would be assured that no matter what happens – a death, a birth, an accident, a vacation etc, they will always be covered and will have someone available to do their work for them. This makes it more likely that companies would trust Upwork as an outsourcing partner.
7. Project managers – just like account managers and recruitment consultants, each project when it starts should be assigned a project manager. These managers would oversee each project to ensure that it’s moving along at the right pace and that there are not any issues. If there are any issues then these project managers would try to help resolve them as they happen. This would help streamline projects, reduce disputes, mean more jobs are completed successfully and just adds another level of trust for potential clients to use the site
8. The payment protection system needs to change. At the moment you are only covered as a freelancer for fixed price jobs or hourly jobs. In my industry most work is done on a percentage of spend basis. In the past I’ve been ripped off by clients who just stopped paying but got no protection from Upwork and lost out on money. This is one of the reasons I no longer use the site. Upwork should make it so that freelancers and clients can create written agreements on the site which covers what is to be paid, what is expected in return and so on
9. An academy that freelancers must go through and ‘pass’ before they are allowed to bid on projects. As a client on Upwork nothing is more frustrating than getting template proposals sent to me that haven’t even read my job description. An academy would teach freelancers what they should do to win work, how to keep clients happy, how to be happy themselves, how the site works etc. This would just improve the experience for everyone. It could be gamified too so that badges are given to freelancers who pass this course
10. The contact email address on your account should not have to be your paypal email address. I don’t check my paypal email address so I don’t see any communications from Upwork
11. The site should have hourlies like People Per Hour and Fiverr do. A lot of the time I will use Fiverr or People Per Hour rather than Upwork just for the convenience of being able to buy an hourlie straight away
12. Although there is a top rated freelancer system on the site, this should go further and have a separate list of 20 or 30 freelancers in each field who clients know they can trust
13. Profiles should be improved massively – people should be able to upload blog posts to their profile that clients can read etc. Please see below how I would like profiles to look:
14. There should be a hall of fame for successful projects along with case studies.These would be high profile projects. This gives more credibility to the site and is another area that can create trust
15. Need to highlight to clients that just like in the job market, clients effectively have to pitch their jobs to freelancers. As a freelancer I pick and choose who I want to work with. Why should I work for a particular client? At the moment there is an assumption that just because you are a freelancer you should jump on a job that is offered to you when that isn’t the reality
16. Freelancing is a lonely career choice and sometimes depressing. Upwork should do more to help freelancers overcome this. There should be slack groups, forums, chat rooms, Upwork specific co-working spaces in big cities, meet ups, parties and so on
17. Finally an most importantly for me, Upwork should try to launch a start up using just freelancers from the site. This should be documented the whole way through with blog posts, videos and so on. This would get picked up by veturebeat etc and would spread across the internet. It would make the perfect case study if it was successful and would become a major trust factor for potential companies. Not only this it would be tremendous marketing for the company. Whenever the start up was mentioned it would be “The start up launched completely with Upwork”. I suggested this to the old Elance CEO Fabio Roseti a few years back on Linkedin. A few weeks later Elance launched a terrible half hearted effort at a ‘start up bus’ but didn’t do as I suggested, Not only this – if the start up was successful then Upwork would earn money from the start up itself.