When money is tight, finding a freelance job is one of the best ways to cover a few extra expenses, stretch your budget a little further or pay down some extra debt. Freelance jobs typically don’t require much of a long term commitment, and often can be worked into your already busy schedule. The trick, however, is finding those freelance jobs. While everyone has skills to offer, finding someone who is willing to pay for those skills sometimes proves to be a challenge. Which is where online platforms for freelancers comes in.
Freelance platforms help connect people looking for work with people looking for workers. Typically the platforms help facilitate payments, offering guarantees to both the client and the freelancer. In return they charge a fee, often a percent of the transaction. Each platform, however is a little different. They all charge different fees. Some let the client pick from freelancers, while others have the freelancers bid on jobs. Various platforms also tend more towards different areas and types of freelance jobs.
Freelancer, Upwork and Fiverr are three of the most popular freelance platforms. Each one has something unique to offer, so we’ll take a closer look at each one individually.
On Freelancer, clients looking for freelancers post project that freelancers can then bid on. A freelancer’s bid consists of both a price or rate for completing the project, as well as a pitch with reasons why the individual is a good candidate for the project. Freelancer is quick to point out that the lowest bid is not necessarily the bid that a client should or will take. It is up to the client to then select which bid he or she thinks is the best fit for the project.
Like many platforms, Freelancer maintains an escrow of funds between the client and freelancer to help ensure freelancers get paid for work completed. Before the freelancer begins work, the client pays into this escrow fund. The client and freelancer agree on certain milestones, and as the freelancer accomplishes milestones to the client’s satisfaction, payments are released to the freelancer. In theory, this ensures both that the client receives quality work and that the freelancer doesn’t get stiffed. There are, however, numerous claims that Freelancer goes to great lengths to maintain ‘issues’ with freelancers’ accounts and often holds funds indefinitely. While the volume of such reports does give reason to pause, it is also hard to substantiate these reports.
Freelancer’s revenue structure is based on fees collected from both clients and freelancers. There are several different fee and membership structures for both to pick from, but in short, the more you pay, the more visibility you receive.
Like Freelancer, Upwork consists of clients posting gigs, freelancers bidding on gigs, and clients finally selecting from the bids. Again clients don’t necessarily pick the lowest bid, but rather can factor in the freelancer’s pitch, and profile, which includes a summary of work history on Upwork and satisfaction ratings from previous clients. Upwork also offers a payment protection program similar to Freelancer’s Milestones.
One of the more notable differences between Upwork and Freelancer is the fee structure. The majority of Upwork’s revenue comes from commissions on payments from client to freelancer. These commissions fall on a sliding scale , starting at 20%, and moving towards 5% as you complete more work for a single client. This means that unless you develop a good long term working relationship with one or a few clients, you may be stuck paying the fairly large 20% commission.
User testimonials on Upwork are a mixed bag. The majority of negative reviews seem focused on the overwhelming number of low bidding freelancers that make it hard to find freelance work that pays decently. However, there are also many accounts of freelancers that have developed a good portfolio of positive ratings and good work and are able to charge very healthy rates, well into hundreds of dollars per hour. If you are willing to put in the work to develop your profile, Upwork can be a very fulfilling platform for a freelancer.
One of the complaints against platforms such as Upwork and Freelancer is that simply looking and bidding for gigs can turn into a part time job (and an unpaid one at that). Fiverr eliminates this problem by having clients come to the freelancer, rather than vice-versa. On Fiverr, you post a service, or a ‘gig,’ along with your price for the service, of which Fiverr takes a 20% cut. Clients then browse through freelancers’ postings until they find a gig that meets their needs.
The downside of this system is that the gigs you advertise are a generic service rather than a specific project. Once a client contacts you, the two of you still have to discuss exactly what the client wants. You may run into situations where the client’s project is worth more than your posted price, or that you simply aren’t able to/want to do their specific project. While there is always the option of the buyer or seller requesting a cancellation, this process can also cost time. Fiverr also keeps their 20% commission, even in the event of cancellation.
While freelancing can be a great way to earn some extra money, or even a full-time income on your own schedule, it is not without it’s challenges, ranging from communication to integrity. Each platform attempts to navigate these challenges in their own way. No platform is perfect, and there will be people disappointed with each platform. Some freelancers prefer to forgo the platforms entirely and go it alone, although this too comes with challenges.
Picking a platform ultimately comes down to your needs and work style. If you are up for the long haul of developing an appealing profile and portfolio of projects and writing killer pitches, you might have a good shot at being very successful on Upwork. If you’re wanting a slightly more casual platform, where you don’t have to worry about the large commissions, but also might not find as much high paying work, perhaps Freelancer is a better fit. And if you don’t want to do the legwork of pitching for gigs, and are also flexible regarding the precise work you are willing to do, Fiverr might be best for you. And if you end up not liking the platform, there’s no reason you need to stay.