If you’re outgrown Upwork or just want to explore options for your agency, this post has some great alternatives. We’ve reviewed hundreds of job sites and Upwork alternatives for agencies and found there are a handful of really great options.
In a recent survey, a large portion of Upwork users said they want to leave. Why? Well, basically Upwork has some really unfair practices.
For one, they keep raising their price and cutting deeper into your profits.
But also there are horror stories of Upwork holding clients ransom from their own users. They’ve even banned users for no reason. This can cause anyone to worry about putting all their eggs in one basket.
Recently, Upwork has even started charging up to 20% per transaction, while also charging client’s 2.75% of every payment made. These fees highlight a fact about Upwork that should make agency owners worry: it’s their platform not yours.
And you’re at their mercy. If you’re a client service company using Upwork, you may not actually own the relationship with your own clients like you think you do.
In general, I don’t believe in transaction-based fees for professional marketplaces, because I believe they create bad terms for all parties. So nobody gets a good deal.
So where should you look instead? Let’s dive in to the best Upwork alternatives for agencies.
1. Your own network
The first place you should invest is your own platform. You don’t have to build the next ebay, but you should create an experience on your site that is on your terms. For example, a simple Wufoo form that asks new clients value-discovering questions is a great way to onboard your clients.
I’ve heard good things about Clutch.co. It’s basically like Yelp for web agencies. You create a listing, have clients give you reviews, and in exchange get leads from the site. You can also house your portfolio and work samples directly on the site.
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3. Job Boards
Job boards have a different pricing model than marketplaces. Instead they charge client’s a flat-fee, usually per project posted. The job board transaction ends there, that means if you use one to win a client YOU own the relationship with them. Not the job board.
(Want to know the best job boards for agencies? There’s a link at the bottom of this email with the answers.)
4. Google Search
There’s a ton of fresh opportunities you can find using Google search, if you make few tweaks to your search. Use the advanced search features, like getting results from the last week, looking for your specialty keywords (i.e.: website design and development), and looking for specific project types (i.e.: RFPs, hiring, seeking, part-time). You can even search for filetypes so when searching for RFP’s you can only look through PDF’s.
5. Twitter Search
Thousands of businesses turn to their network when looking for help on projects. Tapping into this is a great way to build relationships. The key to sorting through tweets is finding keywords people use when looking out for help. In addition to words like RFP, agency needed, and your industry or work type – add words like “email” (to find people who leave behind an email address) or “looking, need” (to find people who specifically want help).
6. Communities like Hacker News and Reddit
HN has a monthly freelance hiring thread, while Reddit has a couple subreddits dedicated to helping clients find freelancers. Opportunities like these are usually high-quality because they come from people who are a part of the community. Keep an eye out for other communities that may refer work to one another.
This is my private referral network for agencies. This year alone we’ve had about 50 people post a project exclusively through the network. With the average project budget being around $10k-20k, these are some of the most valuable leads on the web.
Now, in all of these alternatives to Upwork for agencies, you’ll notice a trend: YOU own the relationship with the clients you find. They’re truly your clients.
Be wary of newer services (like Toptal for example) that try to take a percentage, or manage the project. It usually means they’ll nickel and dime you and get in between you and the client where they don’t belong.
After all, it’s your professional process that is going to provide value. Your work is what the platform is selling. Don’t let them own you too.
Flexjobs has one of the highest volume of high-value projects and client jobs.
It works very differently from Upwork so let’s dive into why I think it’s such a great alternative.
Okay. So it’s no secret that Upwork has some iffy projects. Problematic clients, low budgets, and unrealistic demands – are, unfortunately, part of Upwork’s brand at this point.
That means you end up wasting a lot of time filtering through Upwork, instead of sending Upwork proposals.
That’s part of why I think you’ll love Flexjobs if you’re looking for an Upwork alternative.
Out of every Upwork alternative, Flexjobs has the most high-quality jobs and projects.
This is because Flexjobs is actually a job curation service. Not a platform. So you’re pay a monthly subscription, NOT a percentage.
That’s means you pay the same whether you land $1 worth of work or $100,000 worth of work.
And their curation is the best I’ve ever seen. They source thousands of jobs and completely filter out anything that’s not high-quality.
That’s why I recommend Flexjobs if you’re tired of some of the scammy, low paying, or tedious projects you find on Upwork.
My favorite features on Flexjobs:
Awesome search and alert filtering
Because Flexjobs is built for contract work, it allows for job filtering on things you actually care about as a freelancer or agency, like: location, keywords, remote work level, contract type, and even work schedule. This makes it a great option for subcontracting out work too.
They also do a great job of highlighting and awarding companies for specific and unique accolades like: Fortune 500, 50 best companies for Latinas, and American Heart Association fit-friendly companies, just to name a few. This highlights the quality of the curation on the site.
No middle man or percentage fees
Because Flexjobs is a job curation service and not a platform, they connect you directly with companies. There’s no middleman software or platform you have to use.
Often, you click directly onto a companies website and apply there.
This is great because as an independent freelancer or agency, you want to own the relationship with your clients.
Overall volume and commitment to lifestyle
With Flexjobs you are guaranteed to only find high-quality, serious freelance job listings from clients who are looking for quality freelancers and willing to pay decent money. They don’t have quite as many jobs for agencies as freelancers but you may find a few here or there.
And why trust me, anyway?
I’ve personally curated 11,000+ of the web’s best contract opportunities since 2013. I feature these opportunities exclusively on Folyo’s Referral Network and Newsletter.
I monitor nearly every freelance site and job board in existence (by hand).
So I’ve gotten to know pretty much every Upwork alternative out there really well. And early on in the process, I discovered that finding great clients comes down to the quality of job sources you have.
So I’ve been reviewing and rating freelance sites for years based on the following criteria:
- Volume. It doesn’t matter how awesome a site is if it doesn’t have enough great gigs. Period. You want to join a site that is regularly frequented by clients who are looking to find freelancers. That’s Upwork’s greatest feature.
- Quality. You want a site that offers high-quality work from genuine clients who are willing to pay what the work is worth.
- Lifestyle. You choose to freelance or work with clients because you love the life it creates. Whether it’s through remote work, respectful boundaries, or the project ethics, a freelance site you use should support that life.
- Pricing and ease of use. There’s nothing worse than wasting a bunch of time on a complicated site or having some random company eat into your profits.
Those 4 criteria are how I decided on Flexjobs as the best Upwork alternative for most people.
After all, you want a lot of high-quality opportunities. And in the end, the best job board for agencies is ALL the job boards. I know because that’s exactly what I do with my referral newsletter.
Speaking of which, if you’re a graphic or UI design freelancer or agency, my newsletter is an even better alternative.
Now, there are some other job boards and freelance platforms that could make sense for specific niches. Let’s dive into those next.
Best Upwork Alternative for Agencies:
Best for Design Freelancers and Agencies
If you do graphic design, UI/UX design, or product design, Folyo’s Referral Newsletter is an even better Upwork alternative than Flexjobs.
Since we focus on projects just within these design niches, we can monitor even more opportunities.
For example, we find RFPs and other contract opportunities on sites like Google, LinkedIn, Slack and more. Since we know exactly what a great design project looks like these are exclusive 5-and-6 figure deals.
Since 2013, we’ve helped design freelancers and agencies make millions of dollars in client work. And unlike Upwork, clients who post on our newsletter are private, so they’re only approached by our members.
Registrations are currently closed, but you can sign up here to get notified when there’s a spot available.
Best for New Designers Without a Portfolio
If you are a freelance designer without a portfolio, 99Designs is another great Upwork alternative because it will help you build up your portfolio while you pitch clients.
Since 99designs hosts design contests, you apply by submitting spec-work. While not the best long-term strategy, new freelancers can see success by approaching 99designs as a portfolio building tool. It’s an easy way to get real client briefs, that you can use to build up your portfolio.
Any projects you land should be viewed as a cherry on top.
Should You Consider Getting Your Agency Off Upwork?
Compared to a lot of people, I’m actually pro-Upwork. Yes, there are negatives of using it. But I think Upwork teaches you about setting boundaries and identifying red-flags when working with clients.
Still, there are dangers to staying on Upwork for too long. If you rely solely on Upwork for years, you will never really own the relationship with your clients. You’ll also need to pay very high fees to Upwork for whatever you earn.
That’s why I recommend using a hybrid approach. If you’re currently seeing success on Upwork, by all means, keep it up.
But mix in some different sources (like the ones above) to bullet-proof your business further. Otherwise, all it takes is one change to Upwork’s policies and you’ll be in a world of hurt.
What to do next
To build a truly resilient client pipeline, I believe you need many sources.
While platforms like Upwork can help, they shouldn’t be the only way you find work. In fact, I think the best way to find clients is to build your own pipeline.
That’s exactly what we teach in my new course, Endless Clients. It’s a step-by-step walk-through on how to find 10+ $10,000 client projects in your niche, whenever you want.
Registration is currently closed, and we only open a few times a year, so sign up below to get notified of a spot when we open up.
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