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My Hellish Experience Learning How to Avoid Scams on Upwork

Before you move your work with an agency off of Upwork, I have tips to share with you that come from my experience of being burned.

“You’ve totally nailed this!”

My eyes skimmed the words on my screen. I had just gotten my first copywriting review from an e-commerce brand owner selling face masks during the pandemic. I was beaming, unable to hold back my excitement.

At the time, I didn't know that this was the start to my first million in sales, and a year of intense frustration that would lead to a nasty mental breakdown.

After completing an advertorial for this client, I took on other projects writing copy for companies in the SaaS, B2B, Info product, and education industries among others.

I was writing everything for everyone, until I got another message one night in December 2020.

“Hey, would you like to come and work with us on more projects? I'll get you into our Slack and have you set up.”

I was stoked! I met this client on Upwork and was so glad that his results made him want to retain me on his team. So I said “Why not? Put me on.” That turned out to be a mistake.

Keep seeking better options

We moved our communication from Upwork and into Slack where I discovered I was one of the only two writers in the space. They promised to keep bringing me new clients and paying for my work.

So naturally, I slowed down on the outreach aspect to focus on writing great copy for my clients. But the thing is when you slow down on outreach your source of leads and clients also dry up. I didn't know this at the time.

Don’t trust blindly

Fast forward a few months later, and the client introduced revenue share payments. I thought this was good news for me. At the time, I was earning about $2k/month and was getting frustrated with each passing day.

Know your worth

I accepted his low pay for the projects. Partially, because I didn't know how much my skills were worth. And also, because I knew I would make a lot more money from the upside of a revenue share.

But, the entire payment was only discussed on chat.

Get a binding contract

As I completed project after project, something started to feel off. Anytime I asked to see the result of my work, I got excuses. I knew the client was running ads that included my work, and they were getting paid well for it.

He once mentioned the amount someone paid them for my work and I remember screaming, “wtf!” I was getting less than 1% of what they made from my work. I had no other significant clients, so I was living off this work with the agency.

Ask to see your results

Seeing your results show you where to improve, and in this case, it gives you an idea of how much you should be making from your income in a revenue share.

I saw almost nothing. They told me I was outperforming everything they'd tested earlier. I saw my writing on the Facebook ad library and client websites, but the actual numbers for most of the projects? Hidden.

I had messed up and I was beginning to feel it. They were slipping out of paying me for my work. And that was not all — the projects allocated to me started reducing. The more I demanded to see the results, the faster communications died down. Until one day, everything stopped. No projects. No messages. No money. Nothing. I felt like I had just played a dangerous game and lost. It was not the first time I’d be taken advantage of, but it stung like hell.

Restarting my career

Yes, I had become a crazy-good writer. I understood copywriting and marketing better. My copy sold products for 7, 8, and even 9-figure e-commerce brands. I could boast of a million dollars in sales from the few results I was shown. But, I was running broke and I didn't know where to restart my career.

So I buried myself in my room and fell into depression for the next few months. While still handling a mental breakdown, I started getting more consistent with Twitter. I got  more one-off copywriting projects for e-commerce brands and info product businesses, but I still wouldn't consider myself a full business owner with a consistent income. It continued to fluctuate. So this year, after 20k followers and a variety of projects in the portfolio, I decided to build something of my own in the e-commerce space where I first worked as a copywriter.

Writing for e-commerce brands has been the most fun part of my career, and I want to do more of it. As if the universe said, “I hear ya!” Mark popped into my life this year, and he has a bucketload of experience in the DTC e-commerce space (and he’s a super great guy!)

We've done some work together in the past few weeks and we’ve now decided to partner up on something for e-commerce businesses, an opportunity for e-commerce brand owners to make even more money while doing less.

Be careful

Transitioning from content marketing to copywriting wasn't an amazing experience, but I became something more powerful in the process. I can't wait to see how much I can help brands grow with my skills.

I’m proud of how I’ve grown, but I share this as a cautionary tale so that your learning experience won’t be as painful. If you're planning to move your client relationship off Upwork, remember these tips: 

  • Don’t stop seeking better options
  • Don’t trust blindly
  • Know your worth
  • Get a binding contract
  • Ask to see your results.

They will hopefully prevent you from being scammed on Upwork.

This post is an adapted and expanded version of my Tweet thread.

Level up your copywriting

Many copywriting experts, like Jake, are surprisingly open about their experiences. Check out our build in public inspiration post for actionable lessons on copywriting and client relationships directly from the pros.

Jake Victor

Direct response marketer with over $2M in sales in the past year. Founder of Copy Eden.