A guide to building a freelance website like Upwork: cost, time, features, monetization

guide, how to make a marketplace like Upwork

Online freelance marketplaces are witnessing rapid growth. Millions of people are turning to freelance as they feel more secure when having the opportunity to work from home and cooperate with several clients. SMEs and enterprises are hiring third-party contractors to develop short- and long-term projects while reducing costs.

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in increased demand for remote services and, therefore, online freelance platforms. Upwork reports that 12% of the US specialists began freelancing for the first time during the coronavirus outbreak.

According to Website Planet, independent professionals are projected to make up 42% of the US working population by the end of 2021. Analysts forecast that 43% of the US workforce will completely switch or at least try out this practice by 2024.

To meet changing needs of employers and contractors, companies build marketplace software that connects both parties.

This article describes how to create a website like Upwork, including timeline and cost estimations. Regardless of the type of freelance marketplace that you aim to launch, this guide will help you prioritize features, plan out the budget, and choose a monetization strategy.

Table of contents

Design of a freelance platform like Upwork

The design takes a major role in forming an impression about a freelance website. Experts at SWEOR discovered that 88% of customers are not likely to revisit a web platform after receiving a poor user experience.

Therefore, when building marketplace software, it is essential to focus on its visual appeal, involving fonts, colors, layout, and typography. However, design is not only about the visual part but also about organizing content and functionality in a way that users can interact with the system intuitively.

Furthermore, a software solution should look as intended across all screens and devices. Smooth navigation, responsiveness, and user-friendliness are key aspects of a design that attracts users and increases return on investment.

In our online marketplace development company, we recommend that you create a custom design instead of employing a template. This will allow you to work out a unique branding style and minimize chances to meet a clone of a freelance platform while improving user retention and engagement rates.

Time: 200 hours

The functionality of a freelance website like Upwork

Freelance marketplace features for remote contractors

1. Registration and authorization

Sign up/in is an essential feature of an online marketplace like Upwork that enables users to create personal profiles. An important rule is to make registration and authorization as simple as possible. For example, you can let professionals connect their profiles with Facebook or LinkedIn accounts.

Before adding a new user to the system, it is crucial to verify identity and qualification by requiring them to share documents, portfolios, certificates, and social network links. This will help you protect businesses from fraud and increase trust in a marketplace.

Time: 40-80 hours

2. Freelancer profile

A freelancer profile generally contains a photo of a specialist and basic information such as name and surname, services rendered, location, contacts, links to social network profiles, work history.

A profile should also describe skills possessed and languages known by a remote professional. In addition, it should display rating scores and reviews to facilitate the hiring process for employees while raising the credibility of your freelance marketplace.

Time: 80 hours

3. Project search

Task search is another key feature of a freelance website like Upwork. Specialists should be able to look for jobs using various filters, for example, type of work, category, start date, and salary. By allowing remote contractors to search for projects by their skills, you will significantly boost their engagement.

Time: 100-120 hours

4. Portfolio and resume management

When building an online freelance marketplace, it is important to enable specialists to create portfolios: write project descriptions, upload images, attach resumes and other documents that demonstrate experience, as well as edit information.

Time: 120 hours

5. Bidding mechanism

Independent professionals should have the possibility to reply to job offerings and set the cost at which they are ready to perform the necessary tasks. Employers, in their turn, will review applicant responses and choose the most suitable option.

Time: 200 hours

6. Invoice generation

After the project is completed and approved by the client, an online freelance marketplace platform has to generate an invoice while automatically calculating the cost. This will remove contractor headaches associated with bureaucracy issues while increasing trust due to the lack of human errors.

Time: 80 hours

7. Online payments

When creating a freelance website like Upwork, it is essential to provide online payments. By integrating a gateway service—an analog of a third-party virtual terminal that serves for transaction processing—marketplace developers deliver a variety of payment methods.

For instance, Stripe provides money transfers via PayPal, Venmo, cards (i.e., Visa, Amex, Mastercard), digital wallets (Google Pay, Apple Pay), and bank directs (i.e., SOFORT, iDEAL, eps, GiroPay, and Afterpay).

In order to protect against fraud and other security threats, payment gateways generally include features such as 3D Secure, CVV (card verification code check), and AVS (Address Verification System).

Time: 120 hours

8. Time tracking

With the time tracking functionality, you will enable professionals to indicate how much time they have spent on each task and change its status, as well as leave comments. As a consequence, businesses will be able to monitor project progress.

If you decide to add this feature, it is possible to integrate an online freelance marketplace with a specialized third-party service, for example, Jira REST API.

Time: 300 hours

Freelance marketplace features for employers

1. Company registration and authorization

Just like remote contractors, organizations should have the possibility to register on a digital freelance platform. When building a website like Upwork, it is reasonable to suggest employers sign up when viewing services and candidate profiles but this should not be obligatory.

Otherwise, the satisfaction rate may be reduced and, consequently, the number of registered companies will be lower. We recommend that you require organizations to register only before publishing a job announcement.

Time: 80 hours

2. Company profile

An employer profile generally contains information such as organization name, address, logo, sector, contact details, and website URL. In addition, the profile should include the company’s description and social media links.

Time: 80 hours

3. Freelancer search

Contractor search is among the key features of an online freelance marketplace platform. When making a website like Upwork, you should provide as many filters (e.g., skills, budget, delivery time, location, experience) and categories (i.e., translation, programming, graphic design, content writing) as possible to automate the process of seeking independent professionals. Furthermore, it is crucial to enable search by keywords.

Time: 100-120 hours

4. Messaging

Employers and specialists need to interact before and throughout the project to discuss task details. To deliver this functionality of a freelance website like Upwork, software engineers can create private and group chats while ensuring data security.

Additionally, it is reasonable to integrate a marketplace platform with a messenger, so that your employees can communicate with freelancers via audio and video calls. For this purpose, software developers can use a third-party service, for instance, Slack API.

Time: 200 hours

5. Reviews and ratings

The review and rating system is another vital feature of a freelance marketplace as it provides businesses and institutions with a trusted source of valuable feedback. Independent professionals, in their turn, will be motivated to deliver the highest quality.

However, only registered companies that have actually turned to contractors should be able to rate rendered services and write testimonials.

Time: 120 hours

6. Job posting and management

When building a freelance marketplace platform like Upwork, it is important to provide organizations with the possibility to post projects, including description, candidate responsibilities, requirements, and delivery time.

Time: 150 hours

7. User dashboard

With a user dashboard, employers can view project history and information about contracts, as well as manage account and job details. Furthermore, you can enable organizations to view lists of submissions sent by freelancers for each project.

Time: 150 hours

An admin panel for freelance marketplace owners

Serving as a web application, an admin panel allows the owners of a freelance marketplace platform to manage search categories and subcategories, set up and charge commissions, track payments, as well as view earnings reports.

What’s more, it is essential to provide the possibility to add new companies and professionals to the system. For the purpose of improving security, you should implement role-based data access control. Thanks to this feature, you will be able to assign role-based access permissions for employees and monitor who introduced which changes.

Time: 2000–2500 hours

How much time does it take to build a website like Upwork?

graph, time to make a marketplace like Upwork

How much does it cost to create a website like Upwork?

The price of making a freelance marketplace like Upwork is based on the time necessary for project implementation and software expert salaries that may significantly differ depending on the location of an IT partner. For instance, US and UK marketplace development companies usually earn $50–$150 per hour while software engineering firms in Western Europe charge $40–$100.

As a comparison, IT service providers in Belarus ask for $20–$50 per hour for hiring specialists with the same skills and knowledge.

The cost of building a freelance website like Upwork:

  • US, UK — $202,000–$693,000
  • Western Europe — $161,600–$462,000
  • Belarus — $80,800–$231,000

Therefore, by outsourcing marketplace platform creation to Belarus, you can cut expenses by 2.5–3 times while the quality of a software product and rendered services will be the same or even higher.

The success history of the Upwork freelance marketplace

Formerly known as Elance-oDesk, Upwork is a freelance services marketplace that brings together employers and remote specialists for collaboration. Elance was founded in 1998 as a website allowing organizations to hire independent contractors from over 180 countries.

Established in 2003 as a staffing firm, oDesk was transformed into an online freelance platform enabling users to find and cooperate with independent contractors. Both solutions included features such as user profiles and job listings minimizing the dependency on physical location and offering access to a pool of talents worldwide.

In 2013, Elance and oDesk announced their merger. In May 2015, the organization rebranded as Upwork while Elance continued to operate as a separate website.

Encountering competition from an increasing number of freelance marketplaces like Freelancer and PeoplePerHour, the company strove to automate the hiring process from weeks to days and even minutes.

Aiming to address this challenge, Upwork introduced Upwork Message Center, a chat tool for group cooperation in real time. Thanks to this solution, parties were able to start out collaborating immediately after a successful hire.

What’s more, Upwork provided professionals with the possibility to indicate their work status—“Right away,” “Later”, “Not looking”—so that customers could monitor talent availability. In addition, Upwork created a mobile marketplace app for job posting, candidate review, proposal submission, and communication to facilitate recruitment and work search.

After a short time, the organization also integrated a freelance website with Google Drive (a cloud service for file storage, creation, and sharing) and Jira (a software system for issue and time tracking).

At the moment, Upwork is a globally leading online freelance marketplace connecting millions of businesses with independent contractors across a variety of verticals. Since 2016, the core base of clients registered on Upwork has risen by 90.06%.

According to Macrotrends, the company generated more than $374 million in 2020, up from $301 million in 2019. In its “First Quarter 2021 Financial Results” report, Upwork announced that its marketplace revenue increased 40% year-over-year to $104.7 million. Now, let’s consider how Upwork monetizes its freelance platform to earn income.

How does Upwork generate revenue?

The world’s largest freelance services marketplace uses a combination of monetization strategies to earn income. The platform makes a profit from fees paid by both employers and independent professionals.

Upwork’s revenue from employers consists of:

  • fees for payment processing and administration
  • commission for currency exchange charges
  • membership charges
  • service costs (for instance, businesses have to pay $49.99 per month to access services such as team reporting, job post and talent search assistance).

Upwork’s revenue from remote contractors comes from:

  • service charges, which is a tiered commission charged from each invoice (a 20% rate of the amount of money earned by a freelancer, a 10% rate for job completion totaling $500.01-$10,000, etc.)
  • membership charges
  • withdrawal fees
  • “connects”, which are virtual tokens necessary to apply for projects.

As of today, more than 75% of freelance marketplace revenue is generated from freelancers.

The technology stack of a freelance platform like Upwork

To build a website like Upwork, online marketplace developers can use the following technologies:

  • Platform: Amazon Web Services (AWS)
  • Programming languages: TypeScript, JavaScript, Python, Golang
  • Libraries, tools, and frameworks: React, Redux, Redux-Saga, Django, Flask, Amazon EC2, Amazon S3, Amazon Route 53, Amazon CloudFront, Amazon EC2, Amazon ElastiCache, Elasticsearch, Node.js, NGINX, Docker, Kubernetes, RabbitMQ, Memcached, Redis, Firebase Cloud Messaging
  • Database: PostgreSQL, Amazon DynamoDB

With the view of reducing project costs, engineers can integrate a freelance platform with third-party APIs for:

  • Authorization: Gmail, Facebook, LinkedIn
  • Notifications: Firebase
  • Payment gateways: Stripe, PayPal, Braintree, Authorize.net, etc.
  • In-app messaging: Slack
  • Time tracking, project management: Jira, Trello
  • Feedback and comments: Disqus, Discord

Since software experts do not have to implement this functionality from scratch, you will improve time to market while saving software product quality.

In order to develop a user-friendly interface, we generally use TypeScript or JavaScript, React, and Redux. For the purpose of ensuring stable and uninterrupted performance, our team employs technologies such as Amazon Web Services, Python, Go, and Node.js.

With the AWS tech stack, our software engineers achieve scalability, high availability, and fault tolerance. For example, by tweaking Elastic Load Balancing, we set up auto-scaling of computing resources. Using Amazon ElastiCache, it is possible to improve the performance of system databases. By tweaking Amazon Elasticsearch Service, we deliver freelancer and project search features.

Why choose Arateg for making a freelance website like Upwork?

Founded in 2014, Arateg provides full-cycle marketplace development services, helping startups and enterprises resolve end-user needs and generate profit.

By now, we have delivered nearly 20 marketplaces to industries such as human resource management, e-commerce, healthcare, and hospitality. For instance, recently our firm has built an online freelance marketplace for a German technology company and a recruitment platform that serves more than 80,000 monthly users in Canada at the moment.

Our software experts are ready to assist you in:

  • preparing a software requirement document
  • prioritizing features and outlining an implementation roadmap
  • choosing a technology stack
  • creating a UI/UX design
  • testing and quality assurance
  • software development, deployment, and maintenance

If you aim to build a website like Upwork, contact our team. We will get back to you within 1 business day and help address all challenges. Project consultation is for free.

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