Are you saving money on freelancer sites? Think again.

One of the things we’re often criticized for is how ‘expensive’ is compared to ‘free’ services like Upwork and Freelancer.

First, these services aren’t exactly free. You’re charged a payment processing fee and the VA is charged a commission.

Second, if you’re the nice kind of employer who pays commission fees out of pocket so your VA can get their salary in full, you may be surprised how much more you’re actually paying if you do the math.

Let’s say you got a Premium subscription ($99) to and you found a Filipino virtual assistant within a month (which is usually the case for most of our clients). The VA you hired has a salary of $400. So on the first month, you shell out a total of $499. That’s the salary and the subscription combined.

Now that you’ve found your VA, say you decided to cancel your subscription (which is totally okay with us, by the way). By the 2nd month, you’ll only be spending $400. $0 on subscription fees.

Let’s say you hired another VA on one of those platforms. Upfront they charge 3% processing fee per payment. Plus a whopping 20% commission on the first $500 you spend and 10% LIFETIME commission.

1st month
VA salary: $400
Processing fee: $12
Commission: $80
Total: $492

At this point, you’re probably saying, “Aha! I got you John! Upwork is cheaper!”. Yeah, it is cheaper by $7. But if you got the Pro account, things start to get interesting.

Total First Month VA Cost
Upwork Premium Pro
$492 $499 $469

But let’s say, in the interest of fairness, we stick to the premium account. You saved 7 bucks, yey! I just want to remind you that you’ll be charged a processing fee for EVERY payment. And the 10% commission is lifetime. So for the rest of this working relationship you’ll be paying an additional $52 ($12 processing fee plus $40 commission). So how does this all cost, let’s say, if your VA worked for you for 6 months and you’re paying them once a month?

Upwork Onlinejobs
1st month $92 (fees plus commission) $99 (subscription)
2nd month $52 (fees plus commission)
3rd month $52 (fees plus commission)
4th month $52 (fees plus commission)
5th month $52 (fees plus commission)
6th month $52 (fees plus commission)
Total $352 $99

That’s a difference of almost $253! Imagine if you paid twice a month or weekly? What if you really like that VA and you work together for a year? Two years? Imagine the cost.

Let’s say, again in the interest of fairness , we reduce the commissions by half.

Upwork Onlinejobs
1st month $52 (fees plus commission) $99 (subscription)
2nd month $32 (fees plus commission)
3rd month $32 (fees plus commission)
4th month $32 (fees plus commission)
5th month $32 (fees plus commission)
6th month $32 (fees plus commission)
Total $212 $99

To put things into perspective, to match the $352 cost in fees and commission, you’ll need to subscribe to our Premium account for 3 months and 5 months for the Pro account. To match the $212, you’ll need to be a Premium user for 2 months and a Pro user for 3 months. That’s more than enough time to hire an entire team of Filipino employees.

Must find ways to save…

Now, you’re probably saying, “John, I can save money by not paying the commission at all. I’ll just pay the processing fee”. Yeah, probably. But I would go against you on this one, not because you’re wrong, but because I think by doing this you’re supporting a system that’s unfair to workers.

The initial 20% and lifetime 10% (or 5% if your payments reach $10,000) commission may not seem like much, but it’s a lot of money for your Filipino VA. $2 can buy them a decent lunch. A $20 commission can buy a weeks’ worth of lunches. This means for every year that they work for you they actually lose around a month’s salary ($480) to commissions. That’s money that can go to rent, utilities, paying for school, etc.

Regardless of whether you pay much more or less than $400 (for part-time), the math comes out the same. Your VA takes home a lot less money. You end up spending more.

Imagine if you’re taxed that much every year, how would you react?

Update as of May 2019:
To add insult to injury, not only are these virtual assistants charged every time they get a job, they’re charged $0.15 per proposal. This means every time they fail to get a job, they’re charged for the privilege.

Imagine having to pay for every proposal or contract you lost or didn’t push through? How much do you think you’re lost every month? Every year?

So when a virtual assistants charged every time they send a proposal and a commission for every project they get, it’s no surprise they would charge much higher rates.

Because of how the system is set up, you’ll spend more on virtual assistants. They have to charge so much more just to cover the costs of getting a job.

And this isn’t just our theory. Watch this video by DJ Naydee where he attempts to hire from and other platforms and where he realizes the difference in costs between them.

Real business owners can see how bad this system is for employees and how this can cost businesses in the long run.

When your employees feel cheated out of their earnings, they lose motivation which affects their work.

And when you have to pay an additional 20% of your employees salary every time just to cover the fees, the costs are going to add up. If you’re going to spend all that money on your employees anyway, use it to motivate them instead.

Ryan just shared this to me when asked about his experience with Upwork versus

I have used your service in the past (more than once) and been very happy with it. I tried Upwork a few months ago and much prefer your service.

The biggest reason is that upwork constantly tries to stay in the middle of the transaction. They take 20%of the workers pay every week…. that is too much.

I’ll gladly pay a fee to you as someone who provides a platform for me to connect to potential candidates. I think you provide agreat service. I don’t think that Upwork should be taking the employees money forever. Theoretically, the people hiring are the ones that can afford to pay the service fees. The workers shouldn’t be charged over and over and over again.

I really like that I pay you a flat fee and you let me reach out to whomever I want. If the person replies, I can chat with them directly via email and don’t have to go through a third party system that is monitoring whether or not I send my email address to the other person. Once I find someone to hire, I don’t need your service for a bit so I can easily cancel. The next time I need someone, I’ll pay another flat fee to you for the privilege of using your system.

In conclusion, I like your business model a lot better. The employers are paying the fees to you rather than the employee constantly owing you guys a portion of the money they earned.

I’ve used your service several times and will continue to do so.

Keep up the good work!



If you want to be a decent guy and pay your outsourced workers a decent wage without losing an arm and a leg in the process, a Pro or Premium subscription may not be so bad after all.

Note: Due to UpWork increasing their fees, we have updated this blog as of MAy 22.

Julia Sta RomanaAbout Julia Jasmine M. Sta Romana

Julia has been working for since 2012, first as a writer and now as its social media manager and content development specialist. She also founded the Davao Virtual Assistants Association, the biggest VA association in Davao City.

She’s a full-time wife and mom and volunteers her time as an internet rights advocate.

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