So, what’s with these freelancing websites then?

product design freelancing website blog post

I’ll be honest with you, I thought these freelancing websites would be a doddle for both the client and the designer.

They’re not. But first, a little background.

The rise of these freelancing sites and the “Gig Economy” in general is a result of the uncertainty in the economy in many industries and areas, not just design. Deliveroo and Uber both use a “Gig” based workforce and zero hour contracts also spring to mind, although at least they get the perks of being an employee.

Companies, large and small are becoming more and more comfortable not hiring permanent staff and keeping their overheads down whilst putting a contractor’s time against their OPEX. Freelancing websites work with this perfectly. They usually have a low cost, they don’t recur and are usually completed very quickly. It’s a similar story when it comes to web design and the use of services like Wix and Squarespace (both of which I’ve used) and with photography it’s stock images. These things give the Marketing Managers complete control of what they use or don’t use – and it can be to their detriment.

And yet, you’ll find me on those sites

Design as an industry is and has been under attack for a while now. Designers are being left feeling undervalued and disposable with the rise of gig based freelancing websites and the drop in remuneration that follows.

Freelancing websites such as Freelancer, Peopleperhour and Updesk have their place, it could be for white background-ing photos or proof reading an article. But when the design is as involved as packaging, product, graphic or web design, the designer for the benefit of the client needs to feel they are making a difference and feel valued.

And yet, you’ll find me on those sites…

 

Why we’re on them.

 

It’s only been a week but ten proposals later and not even a nibble.

I’m on these websites ultimately to gain visibility and potentially meet long term clients who appreciate what our design brings to their ideas or problems.

I’m fully aware the vast majority of the people posting jobs to these sites are simply after the cheapest person they can find but there must be some people posting jobs that do have an appreciation for good design and a relationship that flows, right?

 

The Key Players

 

There seems to be two kinds of design based Gig websites. Sites like Freelancer, Peopleperhour and Updesk (a merger of Elance and Odesk, reducing competition and increasing fees – more on that later!) seem to focus on the quantity of designers in their pool. For example, the average amount of proposals for each job I’ve bid on on Freelancer is 59. Freelancer even boasts a live counter stated nearly 23 Million registered users.

Then there’s the newer, more premium services like Toptal that boasts only the “Top 3%” of professionals are chosen with their 5 stage screening process.

 

Getting Started

 

I’ve set up on the three most used and well known sites and for the most part they are all similar and very Linkedin-esque. The profiles are clean, you can have a portfolio, put your skillset and write down a good, interesting bio.

Ding ding ding! Peopleperhour are the first to ask for money in the process of gaining work through these sites. The offer a £4.99 fastrack to speed up your application from the usual 7 day process.

In an attempt to forge you into a more useful service to clients all three websites almost demand you take a skills test. Tests in English (US & UK) and numeracy are amongst the favourite and once taken you can proudly wear your badge to try to entice potential clients. There are some design based tests you can take too:

freelancing website skills test
A fair attempt, I'll admit

The Good The Bad & The Ugly

 

Now, you need to understand that I’ve only been on these sites for a week – it’s really that quick to discover these issues…

Low Bidders Low Value

If you’ve ever seen the typical bids that go into some jobs you know how dumbfounded I was when I initially saw bids for card-nbased packaging for a craft beer set (3 bottles and one tulip glass). Bids were coming in at an average of £93 for the whole project including branding design and creating production cutter guides. The budget for the project was £20-£250 and a logo was supplied. Wonder how much they paid for that.

These low bidders are, as far as I can see, the catalysts for the low budgets and the low value people are putting these jobs.

How can they?

Was my first thought.

How are these people able to offer to do these jobs for so little and yet maintain a good reputation with good feedback from their clients? I’ll have to get back to you on that one but I can hazard a guess at a number of things.

The client has complete understanding of ‘you get what you pay for’. They expect so little that anything they get will probably exceed expectation. A quick look down the list of people that have proposals on the craft beer project shows that only 4 are from the US or UK with the majority coming from India and eastern European countries. Can the living costs really be so low that they can generate a decent income charging a fraction of what designers in the UK need to charge?

You’ve won with your bid

Firstly, congrats. Now, have you seen the fee you’ll be charged?

– People per hour – 15% fee on the first £175 of a given month and 3.5% after that. That’s only if you haven’t used all your proposal credits as 15 new credits will cost you £14.95.

– Freelancer – Flat 10% on pretty much everything

– Upwork – 20% on the first $500 with a new client. 10% if you stick with the same client on billings of $500 to $10k and finally 5% over $10k still with the same client. Picking a new client slaps 20% on the first $500 again.

But Mike, I hear you say, they’re a business, they need to make money. I’m totally at ease with that, but, I too am a business and I need to make a certain amount of money. In theory, you pass these bills on to the client but then you find you’ve priced yourself out the competition.

Getting noticed

Is difficult.

Not only because of the sheer amount of bids but because the bidders with a proven track record on that site get posted at the top of the list leaving a whole raft of potentially better, more experienced designers lower down. At the time of writing, I had 5 jobs open on Freelancer and the amount of bids were 56, 40, 89, 73 and 40. And even if you post a price at the lowest end of the jobs budget you are among 15 or so that have done the same.

There are a few ways you can boost your visibility. You can pay to have your bid featured at the top of the list at the fee of 2% of the bid amount on Freelancer or you can pay $1 to highlight your bid in a green box. In my view, the best way to increase your chances of winning a bid is to tailor the proposal write up to each job – you’d be surprised how many don’t (more on that soon).

Project Briefs – Brief by name and by nature.

They are, for the most part, awful. They are missing so much information that it is often difficult to make even a reasonable guess at what people need and what to charge. I’ve seen quite a few one line briefs.

But people still bid on them.

a basic freelancing website project description
You're gonna' have to give us more than that.

Lack of Appreciation

As we have touched on previously, perhaps the lack of appreciation for design skills has been eroded away by the competition on price that these websites are akin to. Maybe the people that put these jobs on are stuck in a loop of low budgets for low expectations.

This a wider issue that has been looked at extensively within the design industry so give it a Google if you want to read more about this.

low bids for a high cost job on a freelancing website
They must know they'll achieve very little with that money?!

Middlemen

As with most services in life there’s always a middleman willing to position themselves to make money from someone’s service and someone’s need.

This isn’t an issue I have personally seen, it’s one that people report online and here it is:

  • Job is posted by a client for £100
  • Middleman bids and wins due to the their credentials on the site.
  • Middleman puts the very same job on the same or different site for £55
  • By the time the clients get the work back it’s only worth less than half what they paid and the middle man has made a high percentage of the budget for very little work.

Problems For The Client

 

Language barriers

Let’s say the client has posted a good brief, it outlines key deliverables, timescales and has a reasonable budget (these do exist actually, but are few and far between). The job then goes open to the whole world. While all of the bids are written in English they are coming from people whose English is not their mother-tongue and as a result, things, logically, will be missed or get lost in translation.

Despite what their 88% English pass mark tells us…

Here a few examples of these folks’ profile bios:

 

Hello!  I’m (removed), i have 9+ years experience in Designing.I am NEW to Freelancer but i am expertise in this field.
I’m open to new kinds of projects and I always enjoy taking new challenges.
Give your business a professional look and will increase profit for any organisations.”;

 

“Hello,
I am here to help and support your jobs in an ongoing  manner. We will only deliver quality product and make you happy is our goal. You will get to know once you use our services. I am sure that you will be happy enough and recommend me for others aswell. Request you to come to chat so that we can discuss more about the project”

You can blame the lack of UK and Us designers on the low value – a vicious circle.

I have my suspicions on how well a client’s needs can be met when there isn’t a fluid, easy conversation. Perhaps these bidders write better proposals?

Nope, they do not.

Bolt ons

The costs don’t just pile up on the freelancer either. There are costs associated with getting a project done fast, getting it noticed and even to keep it secure with an NDA – within Freelancer as a company, that is…

costs for clients on freelancing websites
Yes, it is £5 to delete your job...

The Dummy

 

In an attempt to really see what I was up against I set up a dummy account and posted a fake job to see the kinds of proposals people were sending and how the bidders were presented to me.

It was enlightening.

The budget for the project was £250-750 and was for packaging for 3 separate products plus the branding. I deliberately left off the deliverables as most of the briefs do to entice any questions or queries from the person offering themselves.

To my surprise the proposals came through in an automated, live stream fashion. Similar to how Confused.com give you your car insurance quotes. 

bids on a fake project to see propsals

Here’s the summary after 5 days:

  • 81 proposals
  • Lowest bid £250
  • Highest £833
  • Average £337
  • 6 bids from UK/US

 

I could only find 3 proposals that had seemingly read my brief by quoting the type of product I needed packaging for. The majority of the other proposals were stock replies in broken English.

 

Hello Employer,

Kindly don’t ignore our Bid before going through our portfolio. We would love to work with you on your project as we have gone through your project description and understand the job completely.”

 

“Hi,
JOB TITLE: Help With Packaging Design – Card + Print

We can deliver DESIGN ( 2-4 Initial Logo Concepts) Unlimited Revisoin less than 24 hours with professionalism. “

 

You may have noticed the site has a part to play in who gets picked for the job. There’s a “suggested” freelancer box in the top right that they claim is the best person for the job. In my case they were a logo designer with no experience in print or card manufacturing – not the ideal person. To make it even harder for less “experienced” designers the bids are presented to you 8 at a time and sorted based on reputation, though this can be changed and filters can be applied. Freelancer even goes to the extent of emailing the single suggested profile to me!

This explains why there’s so much price competition, people are scrambling just to be visible let alone get picked for a job.

 

So, what to do?

 

Despite all this I am still going to search, bid and win jobs. The visibility alone is worth it. Perhaps a client picks someone who does not know what they’re doing the first time around but they may have read my in depth proposal detailing timescales, client sign off points, the processes involved and the promise to include them in the process as much as they want to be included.

Should people still be looking to get jobs done on these sites? Still, that depends on the job. With design however, it’s the trade off of something you’d be genuinely happy and thrilled with versus a cost you’d be happy paying in the short term.

Is this downward trend of using Gig Economy going to improve anytime soon? I’m doubtful. Increasing political tensions directly affect many businesses views on their future.

Should It change? Without the Gig Economy there wouldn’t be awesome companies like Uber and Deliveroo. I guess the answer depends. If you want work from designers that is meaningful, that tells a story and something that both the client and the designer are proud to create and have a real two-way conversation about then not going down the Gig route will serve you well.

The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.

– Benjamin Franklin

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