Why freelancer websites cannot work for all but the smallest tasks

2019 saw me spend most of my time building products and solutions for my limited company. We will definitely need to find decent projects in 2020, and whilst doing research, have been reminded about how risky being a freelancer is.

You can find out more on my Limited Company here.

Info Rhino on Twitter

and here


As a contractor - getting short term freelance work is a natural addition to contracting. Work can range from a few days to weeks and months. Similarly, when I have outsourced work, freelancer websites seem to be a great place to look.

I have never been able to bring myself to sign up for one of these sites, simply because of the complexity they add to the party. Not being a lawyer, I still have an understanding of the complexity of agency agreements. These involve three parties, the client, the supplier and the agency. The agency has to look out for their interests without regard for the client or supplier. 

Now, it won't do an agency any good to create such terrible agreement terms, but if you read through the agreement, it rarely favours the agent or a supplier.

* Slight caveat with this post - this largely about IT/Technology freelancers, but this applies to most scenarios.

A success story, and why I think it worked

We don't want the entire blog to become negative. I have used fiverr twice to have logos designed for two of my websites. The amount risked is not sufficient to get too bothered about, and the person is skilled, good to work with, and flexible.

The reason it worked, was because the level of risk was comfortable and whilst designing logos is a skilled affair, it would not be that hard to get it replaced by somebody else.

Now - this doesn't mean fiverr was great. No, indeed they put a load of hurdles in place to make it as complicated as possible. Indeed, one of the reason this person was effective is because they had learned how to get around the fiverr system.

Should I use a freelancer website as a freelancer?

What are the alternatives to a freelancer website?

The only real alternatives are agencies and setting up your own website hoping to get traffic.

Creating a brand - personal and corporate

I rebranded Info Rhino, maybe 6 months ago now. There is one small fix to do with canonical urls. I think the website is pretty awesome but could be wrong, there are many questions over, whether it is effective and conveys the right message. I haven't had any business through the website, but have had people contact me offering awards and affiliations. Traffic has been fair, but it needs to be a lot higher.

This blog has tailored its content significantly, away from more contentious topics to ones relevant to software development and solutions. This should act as a funnel into Info Rhino, but redirects are low.

Finally, there is a Twitter account - but, I really don't think Twitter is a good medium for business.

Paying for advertising and search engine optimisation

Rather than paying a fee to a freelancer website, pay it to Bing or Google instead. The research I have undertaken, tells me something along the lines of the following;

 Platform Traffic when paid Thoughts 
 Google  Debatable Competition is extremely high, even when paying. A lot of keyword collision.
 Bing  Moderate Competition is extremely high, even when paying. A lot of keyword collision. Less people advertise on Bing, but Bing has less users.
 LinkedIn  Unknown Users are often not decision makers. LinkedIn remains predominantly an employee directory. How likely is it an employee will do a Google search to find a supplier.
 Facebook  Unlikely For many products around lifestyle - Facebook is incredible at driving traffic to your site. Is Facebook right for a technology consultancy? Is the most we would expect to be, a Like? 
 DuckDuckGo  Probably  Low usage compared to other sites - but the search results are less diffused than Google.
 Twitter  Not sure Need to investigate Twitter. A lot of businesses are on Twitter, but do they excite paying customers? 

Those are just some of the options, without going into paying for directory listings and paid features.

Getting gigs through traditional agencies on paid job listings

This is how most freelancers find their work. Having lots of agencies creates competition and these agencies tend to be more accountable legally within your jurisdiction.

Word of mouth

Being referred by a colleague or a friend is a great introduction and likely to significantly enhance your chances of getting hired.

Referral Schemes

This is where users or site visitors can refer somebody they know to your services, they think will benefit from them. I will be putting a module into my CMS website purely for referral programs.

Partnership programs

As a software solutions provider, we are looking at new products constantly. If there are genuine competitive advantages to a supplier's software, then partnering with them to provide their services makes sense. The main challenge I see, is the time it takes to become a partner (learn their software) and whether committing to it benefits. However, I certainly see partnership programs as adding to the network effect of your organisation.

Writing content on feature blog sites

I joined the website https://dev.to/ and have written a few blog posts. That has got me, so far, 900 views, 40 reactions. It is early days, I haven't seen any click throughs to my Limited company website. The audience are engaged, but unlikely to be decision makers, are often beginners, but putting content in alternative forums does help.

Direct Selling and Prospecting

Most technology people are product people. They think people want to read and hear about how great they are, and the product will sell themselves. The truth is, virtually nobody cares about what you are doing. Everybody is going to have to do real selling to try and push awareness of the brand.

Overall opinion on alternatives to freelancer websites

There are many alternatives. It is a lot of work to try and grow a presence, and getting paying customers as a technology provider is incredibly hard without a sales process. Being on a freelancer website certainly is a lot easier in terms of effort.

The one thing that still astounds me, is this idea on how a customer who doesn't necessarily think they need help - find you? Desperately in need of your services and expertise, yet they don't realise they need help. How do we create the google keyword tags for that?

My opinion on this is, there is a lot less certainty to not using freelancer websites. The overall effect in self-promotion will be greater than freelancing over time. The connections will be higher and your brand will appear professional, and will tell a better story.

Freelancer websites, the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

These are just common sense considerations, which are being put out on here, so you think a little more about why you would choose to join and use a freelancer website.

I read one large freelancer website had 2 million users, and had generated $120 million for these people. Well - that is $60 a person. Assuming there is a power law distribution, we can assume that some people make a lot of money, a huge number virtually nothing, and a distribution along the range.

The freelancer website goes through a lot of hoops to ensure they continue to get their cut

Many things get over-complicated. When you are a website who wants repeat revenue, letting them use your platform to connect and go off on your own is not a good idea. Severe penalties exist for violating these. Making things increasingly complicated does not bode well for effective project delivery.

A supplier cannot hire a team to deliver a project without taking a huge amount of complexity

A freelancer to build a small website is one thing, but a full-blown application is another thing altogether. Some sites may offer teams, but if you are operating through a middle-man, it has to be harder.

Arbitration can work against you

You can have done the work, and then receive a challenge and not get paid. A client can have substandard work delivered, complain, and still have their money deducted.

How does support work?

Nearly all new technology needs some support. Sure, you could repeat purchase through the freelancer website, but again - more complicated. Their is unlikely to be a contractual obligation from the original freelancer website to support the solution.

Race to the bottom is evident

The sites are littered with people willing to undercut you. Whether this means people charging more money never get hired, I don't know, but chances are you will continue to lose work to inferior freelancers.

Freelancer websites implement draconian measures to appear fair or offer value

Anybody who is a developer of software knows the following;

  • Long periods of concentration, result in better software quality.
  • A break away from the desk often provides the inspiration for a breakthrough.
  • A pen and paper is often the best way to find a solution.

One website thinks it is a good idea to install spyware which lets your supplier see what is going on your desktop, and even implements billing into the affair. Orwellian to say the least.

Freelancer websites can work well, when the requirement is simple

  • If a company just wants some additional support.
  • If a company wants a small piece of development done.
  • If a company wants a design or prototype created - freelancing is a good option.

Final thoughts on freelancing - as a client or supplier

One thing I am doing this year, is setting up a networking site. It is very different to the types of websites we see now. There is a gap in the market, and bringing attention to your brand or company is important.

Freelancing websites should be a perfect foil for small companies providing services, but so far, I cannot find one that doesn't bring more problems than it solves. I will finish on a true story of an experience I had trying to find a developer.

Outsourcing to the Philippines

I absolutely, could do with additional help on my property platform. A friend recommended I source Philippine developers. I spent time registering, writing a specification, a test, reviewing CVs. I have hired developers professionally, so I know what I was looking for. A 3 month stint would have really helped.

  • The costs were comparable with UK salaries - there was no free lunch.
  • The developers were not business savvy.
  • It would take my time to train and engage a freelancer.
  • A lot of the profiles oversold skills they didn't have.
  • There were some good developers, but they were very expensive.

The end result was a lot of time wasted, and a small fee to the agency website. Something which should have been simple, just could not work. This is coming from a software developer who has hired/recruited staff in the past.

Add comment