Building an Upwork marketplace MVP

Upwork is a popular gig marketplace that connects freelancers and those seeking contract or gig services such as administrative work, design services, and IT help, among other things. If you’re thinking of building a gig marketplace, here is an outline of the product considerations for a marketplace like Upwork.

Overview

Upwork has two audiences it must cater to: freelancers and people or organizations seeking freelance work, otherwise known as clients. For freelancers, Upwork provides a platform to find work and promote their services. For clients, Upwork helps find talent for short term projects. Organizations can either browse through freelancers and solicit services from them directly or they can create a job posting that receives bids and proposals from freelancers. 

The platform handles the discovery and discussion of terms and facilitates the transaction. Freelancers are encouraged to transact on the platform because they are reviewed at the end of the contract, which in turn helps them get more business. For the marketplace to work, it needs a few basic things: 

  1. User onboarding
  2. Finding freelancers
  3. Messaging and communication
  4. Posting jobs and getting bids
  5. Handling transactions
  6. Reviews

Upwork’s primary business model is taking a service fee as part of the transaction. This starts at 20% and decreases after a certain threshold. Upwork also has additional business models such as charging freelancers to get additional credits for submitting proposals, but this guide will only focus on the transaction fee. 

Onboarding

With a marketplace like Upwork, getting the freelancers on board is likely the place you want to start with as it will be easier to attract buyers with completed freelancer profiles. You’ll want to capture basic profile information and details about their skills and expertise to create their account. However, it is also important to have clients create accounts as well since they could be posting jobs that freelancers will bid on. Below are the onboarding components to focus on for both parties.

Account sign up

Start by having the sellers create an account so that you can save their information. For an MVP, a simple email and password signup is likely enough, or you can consider adding social logins as well. Sample sign up

Additional information

Next, you’ll want to capture some additional account information such as their location, what they want to call their shop, a bio, or anything else you’d want to display. To make it easier on the seller, you can break this into sections and walk them through with a step-by-step flow. Sample info gathering flow

Admin approval

Early on, you’ll want to ensure only high quality sellers make it on your platform. One way to do this is to have an admin approval step where you manually approve sellers after they complete their profile. To do this, you can set up an admin dashboard and add a place to approve new sellers and email notifications for sellers alerting them of their approval. Sample admin dashboard

Finding a freelancer

The next thing to think about is how clients will search for and select freelancers. They will likely want to search and filter based on things like skillset, price range, and experience. From there, they may want to click in and view more details about their profile.

Searching through freelancers

Clients will likely want to search and filter through freelancers to find their ideal candidate. Making it easy to narrow things down while presenting visual cues is a great way to help them find what they need. Consider including key information like rating, subject area, or location if time zones are a factor. Sample product search page

Viewing individual freelancer

Clients will click into the specific freelancer they are interested in to see more details. This can include their bio, experience, and later on, reviews from clients. Sample product page

Messaging

It’s common for clients to message freelancers to describe their needs and assess if the freelancer can perform the required tasks or discuss terms.

Messaging

You can add a simple chat widget to the bottom of the product page. New messages can trigger emails to notify either party that a message is in their inbox, and they can log in to view it. Sample messaging widget

Posting jobs and getting bids

In addition to clients being able to find freelancers and contact them directly, they may also want to post the job they are looking for and let freelancers contact them and bid for the work. Clients will need to browse through proposals, message freelancers if needed, and select the proposal they would like to go with.

Posting a job

You’ll need a page where clients can post a job for freelancers, including things like job description, budget or desired hourly rate, tags for type of work, and anything else helpful to freelancers. Sample form entry page

Submitting proposals

Freelancers should be able to browse job postings that match their skills, then submit a proposal if they’d like to bid on that job. The proposal should link to their profile and include custom things such as a cover letter or message on why they are a good fit, as well as their desired rate for compensation. Sample proposal submission page

Browsing proposals

Clients should be notified when new proposals come in and be able to see and read through them, sending messages to freelancers if clarification or discussion is necessary. Sample proposal browsing page

Selecting freelancer

Once the client has chosen a freelancer, they should initiate the transaction and close the open job posting so other freelancers know it is no longer available. Sample freelancer selection page

Managing the transaction

To ensure trust in the platform, you’ll want to assure freelancers will get paid and that clients will receive the services, which usually has a time delay as the freelancer does the work. Holding the funds in escrow, either through Stripe or another service is the best way to cater to both sides. The transaction should be released after the client approves the work (or when you as the admin confirm the work has been completed if that is easier to start with).   

Payment processor with delay or escrow

A third-party payment platform such as Stripe can handle the transaction and can be set up to release the funds upon approvals via the client or you as the admin. Stripe Connect

Reviews

Reviews can be a critical way to encourage quality work from freelancers and help clients find the best talent. This can be a two way street with freelancers also reviewing the clients. This should be set up as part of closing the transaction so both sides must fill out the reviews to close the job and transfer the payment.

Reviews

Asking for reviews is expected in gig marketplaces and is a chance for both sides to give feedback. A simple 5 star approach helps quantify the ratings, and a text box helps give extra color that can be displayed for future users to see. Review popup

Administration & analytics

After setting up the seller and buyer sides of the platform, you’ll want to add a few administrative things to manage your platform overall. Being able to see all the users on your site, the transactions that have happened, and general metrics will allow you to get insights into how your marketplace is performing and give you a place to handle any problems.

Dashboard

To manage users and view transactions, you’ll want to set up a dashboard page that displays the happenings on the site. Sample admin dashboard

Basic Analytics

You can view simple metrics such as number of visitors, time on site, where people are coming from, etc. using a tool like Google Analytics. Google Analytics

Event Analytics

If you want to include more advanced analytics, you can integrate with a more advanced site that looks at specific event triggers and aggregates the data for you. A tool like Amplitude can track specific user behavior over time and has a basic free plan. Amplitude

Launching your MVP

Now that you’ve finished your basic Upwork MVP, you can launch your marketplace and start getting feedback! Early on, it’s helpful to be hands-on and talk to your users directly. Find out what they like or don’t like and where you can add or modify things on your platform. Check in with freelancers or clients that may have lapsed and with those who are active to fix the things that aren’t working and double down on the things that are. And remember to take time to enjoy all the progress you’ve made - you’ve gotten past the hardest part which is starting!

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