Don’t get ripped off on Upwork. It’s tough in the beginning, I would know. I started from scratch myself. I went on and off for about 9 months and still haven’t earned enough to replace a full-time income. Yet, since then I’ve fully justified my latest pay rate, which doubled since then—and yes, I have paying clients who are happy with that rate and ecstatic about the work I do for them.

What would you do for $20? Let’s take a look at one of the more questionable gigs that’s available on Upwork.

“Show me you want this assignment by submitting a cover letter that compares the Casper mattress vs. the Leesa mattress in 500 words or less. I need to know you have native English + want something long term. Bid: $20 and below. Expected delivery: 2-3 days. Long-term work potential: 50,000 to 150,000 words.”

First of all, Upwork has a nifty feature. When you decline a job, you can list the reason. One of them is, “Client asked for free work.”  This, my fellow freelancers, is free work. You can also flag postings that you haven’t been invited to yet.

I’ve submitted proposals where they ask for sample work just like this. I haven’t once gotten a paying gig out of it.

Instead, point towards old work that you’ve done. Go and find a small business you like and offer to do free work for them in exchange for a reference. Do anything but put pen to paper for a measly $20 (which comes out to $16 after Upwork’s fees). Any client with half a brain should be able to see the quality of your previous work and that you can produce similar results for them.

Second of all, the tone is suspiciously arrogant. “Show me you want this assignment,” he says. Excuse me? There are tons of other jobs out there paying much more than that. Why would I want this assignment? “I need to know that you have native English…” he says. These are red flags that this client will not only be demanding and domineering, but also has an attitude of entitlement. As for the native English bit, if someone wants to know that, all they have to do is have a chat with you or ask you to go on their website and talk about anything—the design, the content, the business model, anything. There are so many different ways to get a feel for someone’s command of the English language.

I’ve seen this kind of attitude quite a lot in my dealings with small business owners. They have huge egos and grandiose whims, but don’t have a commensurate amount of money. In other words, they demand the best all while insisting on paying bottom dollar—the want everything for nothing. Stay away from these people. They’re going to be nightmares and can tarnish your reputation. They also have the typical MO of dangling some imagined big reward in front of you. Who knows if you’ll get it. Most likely not, to be honest.

Bottom line: Spotting bad clients on Upwork is a crucial skill for success. In the long run, passing on these low-quality gigs will actually benefit you. Don’t fall for the quick buck. It’s never as quick as you think it’ll be anyway. If you need money, find it in other ways. If you start take low-paying gigs from questionable clients, you may end up getting stuck in that vicious cycle.