5 Upwork Client Red Flags Freelancers Should Look for When Starting on Upwork

Before you apply to a job on Upwork, take a minute to screen the client’s profile. You want to ensure that the clients you work with will pay you and rate you positively at the end of the Upwork contract. Positive reviews and ratings are key to a high Job Success Score, so when you’re starting out, it’s especially important to work with clients who will give you a good review. To do that, learn how to spot these common Upwork client red flags so you can focus on the projects and clients that will be enjoyable, pay well, and help you build your Upwork profile.

5 Upwork Client Red Flags to Check For

Set yourself up for success by avoiding projects with these Upwork client red flags.

1. The client’s payment is unverified.

When a client hasn’t verified their payment information, it’s a little riskier to work together, although it doesn’t mean you should avoid these clients altogether. Choosing clients with verified billing information means that you get your money faster—and it guarantees you’ll get paid.

2. The client provides a vague job description.

A one-sentence job description might seem like a good thing. At first glance, it looks like the client has low expectations and won’t ask much of you. But a vague job description leaves room for the client to be dissatisfied with your work and give you a negative review. Clients who write “Seeking a writer for writing a creative writing..” (the double period is a verbatim quote, I promise) in their job description may not be able to effectively communicate their expectations and guidelines to you. That means they might be unhappy with your work—even if you did the best you could with the information they communicated.

When reading job descriptions for Upwork projects, look for clients who give specifics, such as the program they want you to use, a deadline, what the word count of the project is or should be, etc. If you do end up applying for a vaguely described project, ask for the details during your interview. Before you accept the Upwork contract, be sure you have the information you need and have clearly established expectations with the client.

Job title: Proofreader With Marketing Knowledge

Seeking a Proofreader/Editor to help ensure marketing deliverables adhere to brand standards, formatting expectations, proper spelling and grammar, and punctuation as outlined by clients.
An example of a vague job description on Upwork.

3. The client has not successfully worked with other freelancers.

Working with a client who is completely new to Upwork can be risky because you don’t know what you’re getting into. If the client has posted previous jobs, take a careful look at how the freelancers rated the client and what their feedback was. Red flags include reviews that say the client is unresponsive, the client is difficult to work with, or the client doesn’t have clear expectations. If several freelancers have posted warnings about working with this client, steer clear of them! It’s often not worth your time to help a client who is difficult, picky, or sets unrealistic deadlines or expectations.

One star review of client that says: Client was EXTREMELY rude. They completed insulted my writing, gave no constructive feedback, and incorrectly suggested that I did not care about the …

One star review of client that says: Client refused to pay me for more than 4 hours of my time (which I offered at an effectively discounted rate because of her circumstances).
Multiple freelancers have had issues working with this client.

4. The client’s average hourly rate or prices for past projects are not in your pay range.

When you’re viewing a project on Upwork, you can often see the client’s average hourly rate or see the prices on completed fixed price contracts.

A major Upwork client red flag is an average hourly rate of $4 or project prices that are way less (or more) than what you charge. If you apply for a client’s project and bid $50 per hour but notice the client generally pays $4 per hour, it’s likely that your proposal won’t be read and you’ll end up wasting connects (and your time). The same thing will happen if you notice the client wants a certain level of experience that you don’t have yet.

If you end up bidding much lower than you can afford to work for, you’re doing a disservice to yourself and making it harder for you to earn the wages you deserve with future clients. Look for clients with average hourly rates similar to yours and with fairly priced previous projects.

$6.66 / hour average hourly rate paid
28 hours
This client’s average hourly rate is $6.66.

5. The client does not leave positive feedback for other freelancers.

If the client hasn’t left any feedback for previous freelancers they’ve worked with on Upwork, or if the client has rated freelancers less than five stars, consider moving on to another client. When you’re getting started, receiving feedback of less than five stars—or no feedback at all—will tank your Job Success Score. And a low Job Success Score makes it much tougher for you to land interviews for future Upwork jobs.

You want to look for clients who leave their freelancers positive feedback, preferably both a five-star rating and written compliments. Building up five-star ratings and positive written feedback is how you establish yourself as a trusted freelancer on the platform, so look for clients who can help you achieve that.

List of Upwork ratings and feedback for previous jobs. Client has rated five clients with five-star ratings and written comments like "Freelancer was a pleasure to work with."
This Upwork client leaves positive five-star ratings plus written feedback for freelancers they’ve worked with. This is a good sign!

Finding the Right Clients on Upwork

Finding the right clients can seem daunting when you’re first starting out on Upwork, but looking for these red flags will help you find the Upwork clients who you’ll be able to work with for the long term.

Want to learn more about getting started on Upwork and best practices for interacting with clients? Read my blog post about how I got started on Upwork.