Upwork, Guru, PeoplePerHour: a Subjective Review of Freelance Marketplaces

Freelance marketplaces, freelance platforms – however you call them, they are one of the easiest ways to get a gig as a new and inexperienced freelancer. They have their good and their bad sides, and in this text, I will tell you shortly about both.

I decided to describe 5 places which I have personal experience with: Upwork, Guru, PPH or PeoplePerHour, Freelancer, Remote  and compare their pros and cons – among them size, fees and various features from the point of view of a motivated book designer. Getting jobs through them isn’t as easy as it may seem – you’ll have the mystic art of writing effective proposals to master – but they’re generally a pretty good way of supplementing your income and getting a foot in the door.

1. Upwork

Upwork started its life as Odesk in 2003, and today it’s probably the biggest platform of its kind on the Web. At first, it didn’t really have good reviews – I tried my luck on Odesk in my early freelancing days and got a distinctly bad impression. The site was rifled with bugs, bots and known for clients offering pennies for complicated, time-consuming tasks – I left as quickly as I came.

In 2013 Odesk merged with Elance.com, and thus Upwork appeared – at first very much unfinished and with all the sins of its earlier incarnation. Improvement was, unfortunately, slow – but it happened.

How does it look now? Let’s get one thing clear – currently, you won’t a find a freelance marketplace with more jobs than there are on Upwork. It’s the best known, the biggest and the most popular, and even though things are happening with the speed of a particularly lazy sloth, the bugs and bad support are getting replaced with a better and more stable service. For example, quite recently they implemented a possibility to download invoices with both yours and the client’s data clearly displayed, which you might need for taxes depending on your country’s laws (and which many platforms don’t provide). At the same time, the site has also in the last couple of years introduced some very questionable changes regarding usage fees, which aren’t exactly endearing it to freelancers.


If you have a contract for $350 on Upwork, you will get $261.90.

There are several stages to fees with Upwork. For the first $500 you bill a particular client across all contracts with them, you lose 20% of your earnings. For billings between $500.01 and $10.000, you lose %10. If you exceed that amount, you lose only 5%.

But wait, there’s more!

If you live in the EU, on top of their standard fee Upwork will deduce VAT from your earnings unless you provide a valid VAT number. It doesn’t really matter to them that, like me, you’re not obligated to pay VAT in your country – the VAT is apparently “being assessed on the services provided by Upwork, not the services you provide to your clients”.

Currently, they’re the only platform that deducts VAT from your earnings. For example, for a $350 contract, the standard Upwork fee is $70, which reduces the amount to $280. If you’re Polish, after VAT you will receive $263.90… and if you want to withdraw your money to Paypal, you have to pay another fee of $2.

Why this system doesn’t work for book designers? Prioritising longer relationships sounds fine and dandy if you’re working with bigger clients. If you’re a small fish in the sea, you will often collaborate with many different indie authors, who might or might not write more than one book in their lifetime. If you’re good and made a favourable impression, they’ll come back. If you work with them only once, you’ll keep losing 20% of your earnings for most contracts.

TL;DR, or a summary

Upwork was created from a merger of Odesk and Elance. It’s the biggest and most popular platform of its kind on the Internet, which means there is the biggest amount of new jobs each day, and therefore your chances of getting one are quite high. The site does have some very useful features (like allowing you to download complete invoices for each job), but it’s also fighting with bugs and the support is generally unreliable. It will also take away more than 1/3 of your earnings if you live in the EU – the contract fees are high, and on top of it they deduce VAT.

2. Guru.com

Guru was founded in Pittsburgh in 1998 and is a rather small but reliable, well-functioning and well-managed marketplace. I’ve been working through Guru for a few years now and I don’t really have anything to complain about – the website is easy to use and they will routinely send you new job leads depending on your speciality and search results (which may or may not be well matched – you can get programming leads while being clearly marked as a designer).

On your profile, you will have the opportunity to upload several portfolios. Each should be assigned to a service you provide. For the services, you will be required to declare your hourly fee and a minimal fixed-price fee.

The biggest and saddest drawback to Guru.com? It’s small. This, unfortunately, means that there are few jobs to apply for, and each attractive book design job will be in high demand. Therefore, the competition is quite intense, which means that your chances of actually getting a gig if you’re a beginner are low.

There are several account types for freelancers:

  • basic – free
  • basic+ – $8.95/month
  • professional – $15.95/month
  • bussiness – $24.95/month
  • executive – $39.95/month

If you decide to buy one of the monthly memberships, you will get perks such as a lower service fee, being able to feature your proposals, free skill tests, a search boost in the Guru freelancer database and a few others.


If you have a contract for $350 on Guru as a basic user, you will get $317.67.

Each of the different account types has different fees:

  • basic – 8.95%
  • basic+ – 8.95%
  • professional – 6.95%
  • bussiness – 5.95%
  • executive – 4.95%

There is also a $1 fee for withdrawing your money to Paypal.

TL;DR, or a summary

Guru is a platform that is easy to use, reliable and, unfortunately, small. The fees are very affordable, they have several different account types with different perks, but unfortunately if you’re a book designer, there are few jobs and a lot of competition.

3. People Per Hour

PPH is a relatively new platform – it was founded in UK in 2007. It’s also a platform that works slightly differently than many others – before you will be able to submit proposals, your profile will have to be complete and approved, which may take a few days but is generally a good way to avoid scammers and fake accounts.

After you get the green light, you will have three months to bid on jobs. Within those three months, you will have to get at least two contracts and receive positive feedback from clients for you to be able to continue to use the platform. If you don’t, you will lose the possibility of bidding, but fear not – for a $13.95/month, you will receive another chance – another three months.

PPH is a fairly big and popular platform, which means that there are quite a few book design jobs appearing every week, and they generally pay well. You will have a decent chance to find something for yourself if you remember to actually spend some time submitting proposals – three months are definitely enough time to get your profile confirmed by receiving positive feedback.

Besides the regular bidding process, you will be also encouraged to post hourlies – small tasks or projects for a fixed price, that can be completed within a short amount of time.


If you have a contract for $350 on PPH, you will get $280 or $332,50.

PPH has two kinds of fees for new members – for the first £500 | €600 | $650 earned within a month you lose 20% of your earnings, but if you exceed that amount, your service fee will fall to 5%.

TL;DR, or a summary

PPH is a big, popular platform which screens its users to discourage fake accounts. You have a good chance of finding a well-paid gig if you spent some time and effort on submitting proposals. Their fees are quite high for the first $650 earned within a month (20%), but over that amount they fall to 5%. Besides the regular bids, you also have the ability to offer smaller, “packaged” services – hourlies.

4. Freelancer.com

Freelancer.com is a massive platform that was formed from several others in 2009. It has two basic ways of earning money – bidding on proposals, or participating in contests – the latter being, in my opinion, a particularly evil way of shamelessly using inexperienced freelancers to work for free.

A few more words about design “contests” – there is absolutely no guarantee that the winner will be chosen, and that anyone will get paid. You risk running into a very real possiblity that the person holding the contest is just looking to get some ideas for free. Remember – have some respect for yourself and your work. You deserve to get paid, and not slave away only to find out that the money was only imaginary.

Despite being a big platform, Freelancer doesn’t really have that many book design jobs, and the ones that do appear are often badly paid. To be quite honest, I tried working there twice and I resigned quite quickly both times – the interface is cluttered and confusing, and skill tests, which often help with getting better jobs, are often costly to take. There are several options for a paid membership, but I have no idea if they actually help with anything – for me, Freelancer is a marketplace where you have to spend quite a lot of money to even have a possibility of getting somewhere. Maybe it was just bad luck, but I can’t really recommend it as a good place to look for book design jobs.


If you have a contract for $350 on Freelancer, you will get $315.

For every contract you start, Freelancer will take a 10% of the agreed upon amount at the beginning of the job – which means they withdraw it not from what the client pays you, but from your bank account. Now,what happens if you get an unresponsive client who won’t pay you? Lose all the hope of getting that initial 10% back – it’s non-refunable.

TL;DR, or a summary

Freelancer is big, but the confusing interface and the fact that a lot of options are paid make it a bad place to look for jobs. You can both send proposals and participate in contests (and you should avoid the latter like the plague), but the jobs you’ll find will likely be badly paid, and the 10% service fee is take out of your account and it’s non-refundable.

5. Remote.com

The first thing you will see when you go to Remote.com is that it looks pretty and professional. It’s a new platform – it appeared in 2017 and honestly, it shows. You can find two kinds of jobs there – smaller, one-time gigs, or full-time or part-time positions.

There are also two kinds of profiles on Remote – a free one and a premium one. If you’re a free member, then after completing your profile and setting your preferences you will begin to receive e-mails when the platform’s AI finds a job match for you, or if you receive an invitation from a client. For those jobs, you can bid for free.

If you want to browse jobs yourself and decide which ones you’d like to submit a proposal to, you’re going to have to upgrade to a Pro account. It costs $19/month for 10 applications or $49/month for 30 applications. The more costly option has some additional perks, like a dedicated job search coach, for example.

When it comes to book design, there are quite a few interesting and well-paid jobs to bid for, and the monthly membership is a good way to weed out fake accounts.


If you have a contract for $350 on Remote.com, you will get $315.

There is a standard service fee of 10% for each job in addition to the membership, and as far as I can see, that’s it – there are no more fees.

TL;DR, or a summary

Remote.com is new, but promising – the monthly membership fee makes for a good screening process. It’s worth giving it a try since the projects are generally much better paid than the ones you can find on other platforms.

That’s it!

I hope I didn’t bore you too much and that you’ll find the information above useful – I decided not to list every feature of every platform and make it a more subjective review, listing both the bad and good experiences I had with the marketplaces above.

This list, obviously, doesn’t exhaust the subject – there are many more places where you can try your luck and earn some money for quality design work. If you’re new to freelancing, try out Upwork and PPH first – there, you’ll have the biggest chance of being successful.

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