How to Find Great Freelancers on Upwork (Formerly oDesk)

Upwork is a website that connects freelancers with employers. It’s been around since 2006 and it’s an alternative to other sites like oDesk.

Editor’s note: oDesk and Elance combined and rebranded as Upwork after I wrote this post and before it was published. While the term oDesk will be used in quotations, we will refer to the site as Upwork. They’re still basically the same site, so don’t worry.

I’m sitting in my home office, gazing out over my quiet little neighborhood in Southeast Portland, while I type this. I can hear the distant buzz of vehicles, and once 3 p.m. arrives, I’ll hear the school bus drive up to the corner to drop off a group of elementary school students.

I’m at home at 11 a.m. on a weekday because I work remotely; I’m employed by Palo Alto Software, but I seldom go to the office since they’re in Eugene, Oregon, and I’m presently residing in Portland.

This isn’t unusual; remote workers, freelancers, and unorthodox workplace arrangements are all growing more prevalent. Whereas it was previously considered normal practice to complete all work in-house, more and more firms are turning to freelance workers to finish tasks for them.

Is freelancing a viable option for your company?

Freelancing is so popular for a reason: it allows you to have a degree of freedom that you can’t always achieve with permanent employees. Perhaps a particular skill set is required for a one-time project. Is it practical to recruit a permanent employee for a one-time project?

Alternatively, your local talent pool may be depleted, and freelancing provides a way to locate qualified, competent employees from outside your town or city.

As a result, freelancing is often a good option. It’s more flexible, frequently less costly, and you can find a freelancer who can help you with almost any task you can think of. Upwork is a popular site for both remote workers and employers.

What’s the best way to discover excellent freelancers? Here are 11 methods to consider:

With the rise in popularity of freelancing comes an influx of applicants that may be daunting. How can you know who is skilled, competent, and capable of completing your job on time and at a high standard?

I asked Ben Patterson, our Senior Web Developer here at Palo Alto Software, to explain how he selects freelancers for projects at Palo Alto (yes, we employ freelancers on occasion!). In addition, I spoke with a number of businesses in different industries who have had success working with freelancers and asked them how they choose who to employ.

Here’s what these businesspeople had to say.

1. Create a comprehensive, specific job ad to possibly filter out unqualified applicants.

It’s critical to keep your search as simple as possible from the outset when utilizing sites like Upwork. You’ll very certainly be dealing with dozens, if not hundreds, of responses, so simplifying the process as much as possible will save you time and effort.

To that end, make your ad as thorough as possible to exclude freelancers who may be unqualified—or who are just throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks.

“It will take a lot longer to evaluate applicants than it will to create your project description,” says Nigel Ravenhill, director of marketing at AdChemix, Inc. “Take your time creating it and be clear with required background, skills, language competence, and portfolio submission requirements.” “You’ll aid in the weeding out of the ineligible.”

Starting with a high degree of specificity will help you obtain candidates who can really finish every aspect of the job you need done. Mike Scanlin, CEO of Born To Sell, advises against saying, “I need a website created.” “Rather, say, ‘I’d want a three-page brochure site.’ Responsive mobile-friendly design with double-opt-in MailChimp email registration form, built in HTML/CSS/Jquery/php, passes all w3 validator tests,’ and so on.”

A clear ad will not only help you eliminate unqualified candidates, but it will also enable you to clearly state what you are seeking for right from the start. “Be as exact as possible,” Mike advises. “In the job description, state precisely what you want and anticipate. This will save a lot of time and money in the long run.”

2. Give your article a “unique identifier.”


Requiring the usage of unique identifiers, such as the phrase “purple frog” in an email subject line, helps to filter out bots and inattentive freelancers.

One of the most frequent recommendations I heard was to add a recognized phrase in your article, which prospective freelancers must mention in their application. It was nearly unanimously praised!

This may range from using a witty remark in the email subject line to asking candidates to respond to a particular topic, such as their favorite color. It confirms that the candidate has read and understood your job posting, making it simpler to filter through your application pool.

“Adding a unique identification that all oDesk employees who are applying to the job must cite is definitely the most useful suggestion I have utilized for oDesk,” says Paul Manwaring of Internet Marketing Hustle. “To make it even more difficult, I’ll put it at the end of a random phrase in the project brief to filter out all of the auto bidders.”

Topstone’s president and chief security engineer, Cale Dansbee, concurs. “Include a magic word or phrase in your project description—for example, say in the middle of your project description: ‘Interested freelancers must include the words purple frog in their answer.’ This helps you filter out the bots and auto-responders that may rapidly fill your inbox. Those that bring up the purple frog indicate that they have read your project description.”

And what about apps that don’t use your unique identifier? “Anyone who does not cite the ID at the beginning of their offer is instantly removed,” Paul adds.

3. Don’t undercut your pricing or you’ll lose excellent freelancers.

It’s tempting to underprice your project since, after all, who wants to pay more than they have to for a service? It’s reasonable if you want to keep your pricing range modest, but be cautious; you may wind up with freelancers that are less competent and qualified.

According to Joseph Chiu of ToyBuilder Labs, “one important thing to bear in mind is that low-balling the pricing range can drive away more experienced/qualified responders.” “You will insult and drive away most of the excellent manufacturers if you ask for a 40-hour work and a $500 fixed-price budget.”

So, what’s the answer? Cale advises, “Pay a bit more and get a lot more.” “You are already saving 60 percent or more on the cost of having the job done by utilizing crowdsourcing, so don’t cut corners.”

And what if you’re concerned that you won’t get enough freelancers to reply to your ad? Don’t be that way. You’ll most likely get responses from highly competent, well-qualified freelancers, and the only “talent” you’ll scare away will be those who are less skilled and ready to work for a low price. “You will almost always receive a lot larger reaction if you give a little higher purse in return for the work,” Cale adds. “As a consequence, you can be more picky about who you work with.”

4. Look at a freelancer’s ratings and hours spent to obtain a feel of their experience.

Screen Shot 2015-05-15 at 12.17.28 PM

Upwork profile of freelancer Cynthia Paul.

“Not all contractors are equal,” argues WebDiner’s Matt Harper. “We exclusively employ individuals with over 100 hours of previous work and a four-star rating or higher.” Before you employ a freelancer, sites like Upwork provide you with a wealth of information on them, which you should pay attention to.

When you click on a prospective freelancer, you’ll see how many hours they’ve worked, their star rating out of five, their hourly rate, and customer feedbacks. When selecting a freelancer, use this information to your advantage; you may limit your results to just include those that have a certain star rating or amount of freelancing hours under their belt.

“Use the hourly, minimum average feedback rating, and language proficiency selection boxes to restrict the amount of unqualified people,” Nigel advises. It works in opposite of search criteria, so you don’t have to go through a lot of profiles.”

All of this isn’t to say you shouldn’t hire new freelancers with less hours—they’re frequently eager to establish a reputation for themselves and will go above and beyond to do excellent work and get good ratings and feedbacks. “While many people believe that you should only employ individuals with a lot of excellent ratings, we’ve actually had more success with newcomers on the site who want to produce some high-quality work for their first feedback,” says Mark Aselstine of Uncorked Ventures.

5. Ask to see previous work instead of a résumé.

While a résumé is usually the best method to assess whether an applicant is suitable for a position, it may hold you down when recruiting freelancers. Furthermore, resumes may not sufficiently demonstrate if a freelancer can complete the specific position you need and really carry out your vision.

“The number one piece of advice I give people looking to hire freelancers on platforms like eLance and oDesk is to skip the C.V.,” says Lanie Lamarre, who helps entrepreneurs get out from under their massive “solopreneur” workload by hiring freelance help and has a lot of experience finding qualified candidates. “There are more important things to accomplish with your time than gaze at a resume conga line. Plus, they don’t tell you what you actually want to know: “How does your experience relate to my needs?”

Instead, what should you do? “Force applicants to authenticate themselves to you instead of copying and pasting what they do for everyone else,” Lanie advises. To do so, get samples of their previous work or have them work on a short “test” project before hiring them for a bigger project—we’ll go over this in more detail in #7.

6. Have a Skype conversation with your freelancer before employing them.

Schedule a brief Skype chat before you

Before you hire a freelancer, schedule a quick Skype call to make sure you and your freelancer are on the same page.

While it may seem to be a lot of effort to contact with someone you may or may not employ, a short five to ten minute chat with a prospective freelancer can help you get a feel of them that you won’t be able to obtain through email alone. “We always manage individuals through Skype and have a conversation with them before hiring,” Matt adds. “I can ensure they are a competent communicator and understand my idea this way.”

It will not only assist you in determining whether or not a freelancer understands your project, but it will also make you feel more at ease working with them and guarantee that you are both on the same page.

Cody McGraw, creator of SCOUT Military Discounts, says, “The greatest advice I can offer when recruiting on oDesk or Elance is: a phone call, even a brief Skype session, goes a long way.” “I’ve used oDesk to employ a few freelancers, and a quick five-minute chat can alleviate a lot of concerns, such as: Is this individual a robot? Is this individual capable of comprehending precisely what I’m searching for? “Do they seem enthusiastic about what they do?”

Prepare a few short talking points and contact prospective freelancers ahead of time; this will ensure that you are speaking with a genuine person who knows the scope of the project and can communicate successfully across various platforms.

7. First, give your freelancer a modest assignment to work on.

So you’ve discovered a competent freelancer and are certain that they’ll perform an excellent job on a critical assignment. You talked with them through Skype, and they seemed to be enthusiastic, well-prepared, and not at all like a robot. Isn’t it time to employ them for your large essential job right away?

Stop—don’t be too hasty. Try out your freelancer on a little job first, maybe a portion of the bigger project you’re hoping they’ll take on. This allows you to ensure that you and your team work well together, that they communicate effectively while doing their tasks, and that the final result meets your expectations. “If you don’t like someone for $50 worth of work, you’re not going to like them on a $5,000 project,” says Josh Lindenmuth, CIO of Payce, Inc. “I’d even make up little tasks just to assess people,” she says.

This “little project test” may also be included into your selection process: “Let’s suppose you need 100 pictures produced for a project. Crowdsource a modest project and invite freelancers to reply with one or two samples of what they would accomplish for you. “From there, you may choose a freelancer who is more suited to your needs,” Cale adds.

8. Create small tasks with a clear goal in mind.

Even if you appreciate the work of your selected freelancer, it’s still a good idea to keep your freelancing assignments specified and limited. Ben Patterson, a Senior Web Designer at Palo Alto Software, recommends keeping freelancing projects focused and targeted. He adds, “The freelancers on oDesk are best suited to short tasks with a well-defined scope.” “I wouldn’t pay someone to work on a long-term branding project, but I may hire someone to create three different logos.”

“Be extremely specific,” Joseph says. […] The more precise you are in your requirements, the simpler it will be for them to create an answer that fits your needs.”

9. Maintain a tight relationship with your freelancer.

Don’t simply hire a freelancer, put them to work, and expect to hear from them again once the job is over. Make it a point to communicate with them on a regular basis, as this will keep you both up to date on where the project is at, if any feedback is required, and so on.

“Expect to remain in close touch with someone after you’ve employed them,” Ben adds. “At least once a day, I prefer to receive an update. Some freelancers may not be willing to do so, but if they are, I would consider it a fault on their part.”

Be cautious of a freelancer who isn’t excellent at keeping you updated, particularly if you’re working on a project where time is critical. “My work often requires a quick turnaround,” says Brett Bastello of Inseev Interactive, who specializes in content marketing and link building. “So it is critical for me that the freelancer checks their email/messages several times a day and shows dedication to the assignment and project; that they truly want the opportunity.”

This may not be as important if you’re working on a project with more flexibility, but in general, a freelancer who fails to provide you with updates and contact with you is an indication that the freelancer has the required professionalism and communication skills.

Setting defined milestones with numerous stages is a good idea.


Break down your project into manageable chunks so that freelancers can meet certain deadlines.

To make the most of freelancing sites like Upwork, make your project plan well defined and ideally limited in scope, like I mentioned in #8. However, modest, readily allocated tasks may not always be available.

What if you’re working on a large project and need assistance from a freelancer? “If your project is big and includes many stages, set explicit milestones,” Paul advises. “This will guarantee that both you and your freelancer are aware of the tasks that must be performed in order to be paid.”

Mike goes on to say, “Never give a big project to anybody, even if they did a good job on your little one.” Always utilize milestones and pay on a weekly basis,” he advises. This is a potentially successful approach; if your freelancer performs an outstanding job, they will have finished a bigger project in the end, but by allocating little portions at a time, you avoid committing to a temporary employee over whom you have much less control than a permanent employee.

You can guarantee that you remain on track and that each phase is done successfully by adding milestones and dividing the project down into smaller parts. Mike adds, “I’ve had projects take up to six months, but I always paid weekly with milestones so no one went off track.” “Signing up for a $10K project without milestones is the worst thing you can do. “This is a catastrophe waiting to happen.”

11. Do you think international freelancers are a good idea or not?

Freelancing sites may be a bit of a mishmash—you’ll find anything from highly competent individuals to the hilariously bad, bots, and everything in between. It’s a bit of a risk because of the huge pool, and with freelancers from all over the globe, you’ll want to make sure you’re comfortable dealing with foreign freelancers. “Because ODesk employs a large number of foreign employees, you must occasionally account for language hurdles and time differences,” Ben explains.

If you intend to employ an overseas freelancer, a lot will rely on your individual project, the peculiarities of your workplace, and your time restrictions.

“When I have a project that needs an NDA contract, I try to employ only Americans,” says Daniel Alarcon, a content writer for CallTools. Working with foreign freelancers may also be difficult due to timezone differences, according to Daniel. “Collaborating with freelancers on the opposite side of the globe is a nightmare. You must stay up late and provide instructions on anything you need. It’s exhausting to have to stay up all night hoping that the freelancer will show up on Skype.”

Aside from the time difference, possible language barriers are another essential factor to consider. Freelance employment are divided into two groups by Dan Adler, creator of WinkBeds: those that need a lot of language understanding and “creative decision making,” and those that do not.

For more creative, flexible tasks, he suggests working with freelancers who are proficient in your native language (and ideally in your timezone). “You’re counting on this individual to grasp your vision and competitive advantage, as well as to develop your company’s assets. “Don’t spend time with individuals who don’t grasp your language, vision, or the level of effort you demand,” he advises.

That said, what about tasks that don’t need this kind of freelancing work? “Outsourcing your project to another country is ideal if it does not need many creative choices or judgment calls. When given appropriate instructions, there are many competent engineers in other countries who can get task-oriented tasks done extremely well.”

That’s all there is to it. While you may encounter difficulties due to the unique nature of your project, if you are thorough in your hiring process, communicate with your freelancer, and use freelancing services for clearly defined, measurable projects, your chances of developing a successful freelancer relationship are much higher.

You’re now ready to seek out the finest freelancing talent available. Good luck and have fun looking!

Have you had any success with the freelancers you’ve hired via Upwork? Do you have any advise for other business owners?

Upwork feedbacks are not the only thing you should consider when hiring a freelancer. You should also look at what type of projects they have completed in the past, how long they’ve been on the site, and their portfolio. Reference: upwork feedbacks.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is oDesk same as Upwork?

No, oDesk is a website that allows users to find freelance jobs. Upwork is a website that focuses on connecting companies with freelancers and staff.

What is oDesk called now?

ODesk is now known as Upwork.

Is Upwork available in Iraq?

I am not sure what you mean by this.