The key to avoiding the 20% hit on Upwork is to develop long term clients. Long term clients are great to have but they require:
1 - strategic selection
2 - sustained hard work
This doesn't happen in the span of a few weeks.
I say strategic selection because frankly, there are a lot of people who use Upwork to try and resolve a problem but they have one or more of these attributes:
- they have limited funds
- they have limited understanding or capability to understand the issue
- they are not prepared to pay for value
- they have no intention to do anything for the long-term
- they have trust issues
You may be making a few dollars working for these type of clients but it is all short-term gain. You need to be strategic by searching for possible long term clients and when they don't exhibit the behaviours of a long-term client, reduce them in your list of priorities or drop them altogether.
To a long-term client you are a trusted advisor. You have repeatedly given them good advice and shown that you are prepared to do whatever is necessary to solve their problem. You have demonstrated this over and over again. To the point where they would never even think about using someone else.
If they have a long term vision and can find the budget to fund that vision, then by showing that you can deliver you will repeatedly get their business.
This takes a lot of effort and sacrifice. Occasionally I come up against really hard problems and if it is a long-term client, I will turn the clock off until I resolve that issue as:
1 - My motivation is to be an expert in this area, not clock as many hours as possible.
2 - I want to deliver, even when the going get's tough. If you deliver on the tough problems, a client with enough understanding will realize you just did something that they couldn't of done themselves.
Repeated business with a long-term client who recognizes value means that you will be only be charged 5% once you go over the $10,000 mark.
unfortunately Upwork puts roadblocks in place to make this behaviour hard. Specifically, they:
- allow virtually anyone to ping you with offers which are 1/4 of what your advertised rate is. If you don't respond within 24 hours then your communication is penalized
- have tests which have had the results made so public that doing them legitimately is unviable since you are completing against multitudes who have all the answers pre-ordained
- ask you to do 6 hour unpaid projects on a third-party website and then penalize your status if they don't like the result