02 Sep Why Freelancing Websites Suck
You dream of leaving Corporate America behind. No more cubicle life for you! It’s time to set yourself free. So you get started on a freelancing site and wait for the cash and the great opportunities to roll in… but WTH is actually going on?!?
✔️ Sites like Upwork, Fiverr, and Freelancer.com can be a decent place to get started and/or to garner some positive reviews and testimonials. They can also suck the life out of you and ding you with fees.
✔️ At some point, when you are ready to truly grow and scale your business, you will look around and realize: it’s nigh on impossible using one of these platforms. You’ll probably also feel a tremendous sense of burnout, too.
✔️ These sites often promise to have the freelancer’s back. If you work, you’ll get paid on time every time. But is that the reality?
✔️ Customer support is often terrible. Freelancers and clients sniping back and forth at each other on the feedback pages accomplishes nothing and looks tacky.
✔️ Pricing is usually a race to the bottom. The clients shopping on these platforms are often not your ideal prospects either. Why? Well, TBH, some of them are downright abusive.
Links to articles I mention:
Need more? Email me: https://causeyconsultingllc.com/contact-causey/
Transcription by Otter.ai. Please forgive any typos!
Welcome to the Causey Consulting Podcast. You can find us online anytime at Causey onsultingLLC.com. And now, h re’s your host, Sara Causey. Hello, Hello, and thanks for tuning in. Today I want to talk about freelancing marketplaces, the good, the bad, and the ugly. So if you’re not sure exactly what I mean, when I say a freelancing marketplace or a freelancing website, I’m talking in particular about sites like Upwork, freelancer.com, or Fiverr. Now, please understand, I’m not picking on any of those websites. In particular, all I’m doing is offering you my assessment based on my own direct experiences, as well as the experiences of my coaching clients, and my consulting clients who also have utilized these types of sites. So we’ll begin with the good or the positive aspects of sites like these. Let’s say that you are wanting to get started. as a freelancer, you’ve never gigged before, you’re kind of scared of the idea of being really truly out there on your own, you’ve already ruled out the possibility of being attempt through a temp agency, because let’s face it in that situation, you’re not really an independent contractor, you are a W two employee of the staffing company. And at any point in time, you can be treated as an employee, not as an expert, not as the authority figure, not as the independent contractor on the outside that gets to set your own rules. But you’re really treated as an employee, except you typically don’t have any benefits or any real rights. So it’s good that you’ve already concluded that’s not for you. Now, a freelancing marketplace can be a great alternative, it’ll give you the opportunity to get your name out there to see and be seen. In an arena full of people, it would be sort of like shopping at Walmart or Costco, you’re going to see a wide variety of people, when when you’re on one of these freelancing marketplaces, it can also help you to just get that first gig. If you need that injection of confidence, you need to be able to prove to yourself that somebody will hire you to gig going through a freelancing marketplace can really help you to get that first real gig. Now, it doesn’t always work out that seamlessly, I’m just saying that it can help that can be one of the positive features of it. It can also help you to cede some credibility, to be able to get some testimonials and some five star reviews and some good feedback under your belt. That way, as you begin to move off of these freelancing marketplaces, and deal with real, actual direct clients, you have a testimonials page or carousel or something that you can show them case studies you can present some kind of evidence is proof of concept to say, Yes, I am capable of doing this. It can also as a creative help you to build up your portfolio, you get some work under your belt for doing technical writing or graphic design or whatever. And then you’re able to put that portfolio together again, with the end result in mind that my real clients, my direct clients, people that are going to be engaging with me and paying me without a middleman will see this and they will appreciate the work that I’ve done. So I would really say those are the good aspects, something that’s a little bit more of the aspect of dealing with them is a lot of them promise that you’re going to have some kind of payment protection, they tell you that as long as you follow the rules of engagement, which are often a bit complicated. They’re never quite as straightforward as the marketing department makes them seen. If you follow the rules of engagement, they will guarantee that you will get paid there’s no way that the client can renege and not pay you. And I think Upwork slogan in fact, is an hour worked as an hour paid. And you’ve heard me use that phrase before in in my podcast episodes, because I think it’s so important. Getting away from contingency based work and trying to live your life on a wing and a prayer and maybe they’ll pay and maybe they won’t that’s that will cripple the cash flow of your business. But these freelancing websites often over promise and under deliver on that. And it can be difficult to get a customer service rep on the phone or on a chat window and explain the situation adequately so that they understand what has happened. So I would say if the main reason that you have been relying on freelancing websites is because you think there’s payment protection there you think there’s no way that you could ever work it out. not get paid for that hour, I would just be careful of really relying on them as a crutch or getting a false sense of security that okay, well, no matter what happens, the client can’t shake me in the back, right? Right? Not necessarily. Now we can move on to the juicy stuff that I know, you’re all waiting for the bad and the ugly. Any of the articles that I mentioned in this episode, I will drop links to in the write up for this episode so that you can find them and read them. They have definitely brought some insight and some comfort to me. And I believe that they will do the same for you. I’m going to be necessarily vague in speaking about my own experiences, just suffice it to say, it’s about like, being I don’t know a gladiator in the arena. It’s like there’s there’s so much chaos, there’s so much noise, there’s so much distraction. And there’s there’s people everywhere, and it’s just a noisy, cluttered space. And there are new freelancers coming on to these websites all the time, the barriers to entry are very low or non existent altogether. And there’s a real true race to the bottom on pricing. If you’re damn good at what you do, and you know it, you have that level of self confidence to say, my time is worth more than this, at some point, you’re going to hit burnout, you’re going to reach the saturation level where you say I can’t do this anymore, there’s too much noise, there’s too much clutter, there are too many people offering to do subpar work for pennies on the dollar. Like it just doesn’t even make sense for me to be here anymore. Like for me, it really has started to become a situation of like, I almost feel like I’m lowering myself to be on here. Like I’m cheapening my own name, and I’m cheapening my own brand, by putting myself out there on the sites. Now some of you listening may think, Well that sounds arrogant or cocky, I don’t mean for it to. For me, it comes from a real place of confidence, as well as knowing myself being able to juxtapose what I do and the output that I’m able to give to my clients with the other kinds of work. And the other types of deliverables that I see coming out of these platforms. People who are really good and who are really talented will stay on these websites for a season. And then once they get a book of business built up, they get their name out in more places, they roll up the sidewalks, and they don’t use these websites anymore. And I’m beginning to see why that is the case. I mean, it really has become so clear to me. And from a financial perspective, when I ran the numbers, and I saw what a low percentage of my income was actually being derived from these sites. I was like, holy cow. Why? Why would you even think about it, to go back to the peredo principle, as well as to Tim Ferriss, his book, The Four Hour Workweek. One of the things that Tim talks about is how he in one of his previous businesses, how he had clients that were just a straight up headache, and he was able to hone in on these two particular clients that caused him the most grief. And he told them like, there’s, there’s going to be a change in the situation, and you either Buck up and deal with it, or you can fire me as a vendor, it’s fine. One of them decided to buck up and come correct. And the other one fired him as a vendor, and he went on with his life. And the earth did not spin off of its axis, there wasn’t a nuclear fallout, he just went on with his life. So when I did this Tim Ferriss type of assessment, and I really looked at, okay, my ideal clients that are awesome, they treat me with dignity and respect. The projects I work on for them are interesting, I genuinely enjoy what I’m doing. And then clients that are on the other side of the spectrum. You know, for me, the problem children that I have had in my business have come from these Freelancer websites. And that’s just me being honest, it’s me pulling the curtain back on my business and saying, here’s the situation as I have experienced it, maybe you’ve experienced something different. But for me, it just didn’t make sense to continue driving in migraine headaches for pennies on the dollar. So I was looking at sort of a cost benefit analysis of breaking all this down. Less than 3% of my income had come from these freelancing websites and yet, I’m gonna say a solid 90 to 95% of the migraine headaches that I’ve had in my business have come from people that were generated by or or were having me work through these Freelancer websites and I just thought, Oh, hell no, their life is too short. There. There’s plenty of business out there. They’re good clients around that want to engage with sneeze and experts on their own terms. They Want to really respect the gig and be respectful of everyone’s time and set realistic expectations? I just don’t need this in my life anymore. So you might be scratching your head and thinking, well, if the return on investment is so poor, then why do people continue using these sites? After they’ve gotten over that initial hump of landing their first two or three clients, and they have some testimonials that they can publish? Why would they keep on doing this? Glad you asked. So in an article on double your freelancing.com, titled, escaping Upwork, how and why you should move out of marketplaces, this very thing is covered and it’s covered very well. I want to read a passage to you now. In fact, freelance writing.com found that the average freelance writer was earning less than $14 a day when they tried to run their business through marketplaces. That’s $434 a month. But despite all of this, people keep coming back to these marketplaces. Why? Because their system is easy to use, it reduces uncertainty and simplifies the hardest parts of running a freelance business. This makes it a comfort blanket for freelancers who then become dependent on the platform, your income lives and dies by people coming to the platform. If it’s not on the board, it doesn’t exist, which is a dangerous way to be running your business. In quote, my God, I can’t agree more. This is such a fantastic summary and it hits a couple of points that I want to make. The thing about it being a comfort blanket, or a security blanket that makes you too dependent 100% true. You can get in the habit of instead of doing other types of marketing and business development activities that might be higher touch, or that might feel a bit scarier. You just go on one of these platforms, and I’ll see what’s on Fiverr. Today, I’ll see who’s looking for somebody on Upwork, I’ll mess around on freelancer.com, see what’s new, it becomes a way that you can almost do your business development and your marketing on autopilot, you’re really not even thinking about is this the best choice for me is this work that I want to do, what kind of person is going to be on the other end of this requisition once we actually get started. So it does in fact become like a weird, creepy security blanket that makes you too dependent on it. And you don’t want to lose your business development, your sales and marketing skills, you even becoming lazy, and discontinuing testing. And beta testing is something you do at your own risk. Now, this author also mentions your income lives and dies by people coming to the platform, it’s a dangerous way to be running your business. This is like what I’ve told you guys repeatedly about never leverage your entire income, your entire ability to feed and provide for yourself and your family on a platform that you neither own nor control. Now in my situation, since less than 3% of my income was coming from these freaking places, it just made sense to me to rip the band aid off like you’re gonna hear if you’ve been thinking of this as a security blanket, like a place you can always fall back on in case of I don’t know the zombie apocalypse, you got to just let that go. You need to put on your big girl pants and just say, Yeah, I have to let that that phase of my business die. It’s time for me to really live on my wit’s end to get away from these these situations that are causing me undue headaches for low amounts of money, and ridiculous bull crap. There’s also an article on medium.com freelancing websites to avoid like the plague by Lizzie Davey will also obviously drop a link to it. In the write up, I want to read a passage from her article that dovetails in quite nicely, she writes, you’re at the mercy of the site. I’ve heard horror stories from freelancers whose sole income came from freelancing websites, then one day, the site simply shut down their account for a trivial reason. And they lost access to all their clients and their entire business. From there, they have to build their business up from scratch. This is a huge problem with these kinds of sites, they have so many rules and hoops, you have to jump through and they’re constantly throwing people off for doing tiny things wrong. That shouldn’t have even been a rule in the first place. Once you’re banned, you can’t go back. For a lot of freelancers. This means the end of the road for their dream of self employment and quote. So again, this is a great point of don’t leverage your ability to provide for yourself on a platform that you neither own nor control. An algorithm can change, you can get banned or shadow banned. And you want to you want to always keep in mind that these websites are ultimately catering to the client. Now I’m not saying that they don’t have there aren’t some sites that treat clients like dirt. I’m not saying that at all. Honestly, if you want my real opinion, nobody wins. The clients are not are often not getting great output and then the the freelancers are often not getting hooked up with ideal clients either just kind of becomes heartburn inducing experience for everyone. But I digress. One antidote to this is to make sure that you are fine double. If you are john doe, the technical writer, and you don’t have your own website where somebody could find you, that’s a huge mistake. One of the reasons why I advocate for having your own website is because it’s a safer alternative to being dependent on someone finding you on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, you want to make sure that you have ownership of your own content, and you have a way of being able to reach clients or prospective clients that is not dependent on LinkedIn, or Facebook or Twitter. If one of those sites banned you, or you got shadow banned, or everyone decided, Okay, that’s passe. We don’t want to do it anymore, then what would you do? It’s so much better. If you have your own email list, you have all of that raw data backed up somewhere, and you have your own website with your own content. But it has to be fundable. So if you’re john doe, the technical writer and you don’t have your own website, how are they going to find you? If you’re john doe, the technical writer, and you’ve named your company something wackadoodle? Like, Sally, the dog technical writing calm? It’s like, well, how is somebody that sees you on a website like Fiverr, or Freelancer or Upwork. And they go, Oh, john doe, the technical writer, he looks good, I want to check him out. How are they going to find you on Sally, the dog, the technical writer.com, they’re not going to connect the dots, you need to make it as simple as possible for you to be found. The second thing I will say is, whenever possible, have a bug out plan. Now, I’m not sitting here on this podcast telling you to violate Terms of Service, or to do something that will intentionally get yourself kicked off. That’s not what I’m saying at all. I’m saying have that plan b. so that in the event that whatever platform it is you’ve been using goes belly up, and it just doesn’t exist tomorrow, or whatever platform you’ve been using decides to ban you or shadow ban you, maybe the algorithm decides that, you know, your job success score shouldn’t be good anymore. And you’re on the third page, instead of the first page of results, you need to know that you could still reach clients, if you had somebody who was an awesome individual to work with that you located through that site, or they located you through that site, you want to have the bug out plan. Again, I am not sitting here telling you to break Terms of Service or to go around and do something sneaky, that will almost certainly get you kicked off. I’m just telling you, for your own reference your own point of information, it would be good for you to know that if you’re working with Jane Doe at ABC marketing company, it would be good for you to write that down, have that data somewhere so that you’re not like oh my god, I did a job for somebody last year and I don’t remember her name, you need to have some kind of system like HubSpot or CRM or even if it’s just an old school notebook, write this stuff down, keep records of it. So that if you ever wanted to reach out to Jane Doe at ABC marketing company, or ABC graphic design firm, again, not going around the platform, not trying to solicit them out of an act of contract. But let’s say that you worked with them. And then six months, you don’t hear anything and you’re not working with them on that platform anymore. could send a LinkedIn Connect request, you can friend them on Facebook, there are plenty of ways that you can protect yourself without running the risk of getting banned. Or you know, having someone say that you violated the terms of service. I would always say at the end of the day you need to caveat emptor let the buyer beware and protect yourself. I would I’m much more concerned with you protecting yourself than these freelancing websites protecting themselves. Okay. Okay. I want to read a bit more from Lizzie’s article. In particular, I want to go across her bullet points here. She talks about the problem with these kinds of freelancing websites and her summaries are excellent. Number one is the client is in charge. Number two is the pay is dreadful. Number three, you’re at the mercy of the site. Number four, you can’t build a business using these sites. I agree with every bullet point that she’s made there. And she also mentions that there is a race to the bottom on pricing. There’s so much competition, that someone who might charge $15 for a project that you would charge $150 for it’s probably going to get seen more often than you will. I also want to really point out that the client being in charge is not in your best interest and it’s also not in the best interest of the project or the deliverable. You are the expert You are the authority figure you know what you need to do in order to be successful. So if somebody wants to come in and hijack your project and try to tell you all of these little nitpicky things that they think you ought to be doing, like in the last episode, or sorry about Ned, the needy or Mike, the micromanager, somebody that wants to hijack the process and belittle you, or get into every minute t tail, you How many times did you drink coffee? How often did you get up and take a pee pee break? I mean, let’s get real here. That’s, that’s crazy. You don’t want to invite people like that into your business. And with these freelancing sites where the client is in charge, it really shifts the dynamic, it shifts the balance of power, from there being two people working together to employee and employer, you better do what I tell you to do, or else Or else I’ll complain to the freelancing site, or else I’ll leave you bad feedback, or else or threaten not to pay. I mean, it’s like this weird sort of Damocles that hangs over your head that really is not present when you’re out on your own and making your own way and setting your own rules of engagement, not having to abide by somebody else’s. Another article I want to cite is from Proteus themes, and I apologize if I’m mispronouncing that, the title of the article is why you should avoid freelance marketplaces at all costs. And I think sometimes in life, we have to really have the experience before we’re like, yeah. Oh, god, yes, I understand why this person would say that. So we’re going to read from this article. ideal clients are far and few between. While there are some exceptions to this rule, the type of clients who post job offers on freelance marketplaces will be a far cry from your ideal clients. There are countless stories online about clients not giving feedback on time and derailing the entire project, avoiding payment or requesting refunds, and even reporting freelancers for fraud. This could also mean that you won’t be working on your dream projects, but rather accepting work for the sake of filling up your portfolio. And quote, I would definitely agree that by and large, your ideal clients are not going to be lurking on these freelance marketplace, job boards, they’re just not. Now, are there occasional exceptions to the rule? Of course there are some of these people just don’t know where else to go. They say, well, we need a 1099 Freelancer to help us out for about a month or you have got this project and we might need somebody for 10 hours a week. I don’t know for the next three or six months, I’m not even sure definitely going to have to be a freelancer. We don’t need a full on employee for this. I mean, where would I even go? Well, so they they get on Google or they asked somebody in the office Oh, go to Upwork Oh, go to Freelancer Oh, you should probably be able to find that on Fiverr. So sometimes it’s just a lack of knowledge that there’s anything better out there. That’s why it’s good to have your name out there in other ways besides these freelance marketplace websites, and it’s also good to do some marketing, do some cold outreach, do some warm outreach, ask your great clients for referrals, find other ways to land your dream clients then searching for them on these Freelancer marketplace websites. I want to read again from the escaping Upwork article on double your freelancing Comm. marketplaces are the bargain basement full of low cost items nobody really wants. They’re just there to sell the product and not have it hogging space in their stockroom anymore. But from the ground floor up, you’ve got the premium products people want to buy, they come with a higher price tag and better quality to go with it. If you wouldn’t want to buy from the bargain basement don’t accept leads and clients who run their business in their in quote. I also agree with that, again, based on my own experiences, as well as experiences that have been shared with me by my coaching and consulting clients. The final article I will read from is from web crunch.com. And it’s called how not to freelance. And the portion I want to read to you is titled just say no to job bidding slash freelancing sites, the system is broken. So the author writes, I can’t stress enough about how websites like Upwork freelancer.com, or Fiverr are poison for freelancers. In my opinion, the only people who benefit from these sites are the site owners themselves. I get it as a freelancer, you need money to keep the lights on. These sites help pay the bills if you can stand them, but I for one cannot and here’s why. I’m almost 100% sure you want to grow your business who doesn’t? The truth about these sites are plain and simple. They won’t allow you to scale. You may want a project here and there have success with it and get paid less than you’re worth of course, but what happens from there, on to the next one, right? You are basically working for scraps just to get by Do you enjoy it? My guess is no. And the author goes on to share a post on Upwork where somebody wanted work done for $6. People were actually says like they had like, five to 10 proposals, and we’re interviewing people, and it’s like for six bucks. Boy, anyway, let me continue reading. In this example Upwork gets their cut, of course, the contractor gets a good deal, maybe even some decent work, and you’re left with little to show for it. In other words, you get screwed. This is all Not to mention the fact that you probably aren’t working on anything too exciting, or at least something you would prefer to be working on. I know, I wasn’t when I made the mistake of trying out sites like this, end quote. If you’re in financial crisis mode, and you have to do what the crisis demands to get by, I understand, if you’re just starting out, and you’re trying to get your name out there, and maybe you don’t really know yet what kind of clients you want to work with, or what kind of projects are the most appealing for you to take on, you’re just trying to get your feet wet. And it seems like this site could be a good place to do it, I also get it. But I think you need to have an exit strategy, you need to start looking at your way out, you don’t want to become dependent on these sites. And you definitely don’t want to try to make a living to say this is going to be my sole source of income. From here on out, there are so many variables to that, that could absolutely wreck your finances, that I would have tremendous amount of heartburn. I would never from a coaching or consulting perspective recommend that you do that you’re you’re putting too many eggs in a basket that you don’t own or control. Another thing is, do you really want to be jumping through these hoops? Do you want to be at somebody else’s mercy of like, whoo, you know, if they if they give me a negative review, then the algorithm will downvote me and people won’t see me. Or my job success score will go down and I won’t be as visible anymore. And I’m gonna have to explain to prospects why I have a 90% rating instead of 100%. Like deep Do you want to be in that space? I know I don’t. So I will not tell you just slam the door shut. Just walk away and say To hell with it and escape these websites immediately. No, no, no, no, I’m more conservative than that. I think it’s really important for you to not only build up your confidence so that you have what you need mentally to be able to do that have what you need financially to, it’s a lot easier to make these decisions about how you call the herd and thin out that which is unwanted. When you’re in a good place financially, when you have enough business to go around. There’s food in the larder and money in the bank, it’s much easier to take a step back and subtract the emotions from it. You can really look like I did and realize okay, so 90 to 95% of my headaches are only bringing in less than 3% of my revenue. That’s not a trade-off I am willing to make anymore. We hope you enjoyed today’s episode. 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