20
Apr

Freelancer Site Research

Preamble Slash Rant About Upwork

What is the state of freelancer websites today in early 2016? That’s what I wondered today after a visit to Upwork raised another question – why is Upwork the buggiest major site on the web today? Now in fairness and in terms of full disclosure we built a freelancer website over the past couple of years (FWW, freelancerworldwide.com). Still I’m not exactly biased against Upwork, having worked years on Elance before the merger and choosing that platform over Guru.com, oDesk and Freelancer.com. I’m starting however to question whether it might have been better to diversify, the focus on a single site leaves us vulnerable to mergers, outages and anything else Upwork might do. It’s been fairly well reported already by freelancers and buyers, that Upwork is down almost as much as it’s up lately. Over the past 3-months, logging in several times a day, I’ve personally seen at least 3 different errors every single day. Yes, every single day!! It’s quite common to be navigating through the site, and finding yourself suddenly on an error page. Issues have range from pages just suddenly loading error messages, to weird stuff like no contracts listed in a bid form. Or projects just suddenly not on a list where it was a moment ago. These issues usually disappear after awhile. Still it’s been quite disruptive to our freelancers who are tracking time, frequently not able to run their trackers. And if you’re in the habit of setting aside some time to reply to messages, make bids, well you better adapt to the Upwork schedule of being down randomly throughout the day.

The Freelancer Site Landscape, Lots of Options and More Specialization

Stepping back from Upwork I wondered if this unstable shipwreck is the world’s leading freelancer marketplace site then what else is out there? How are Guru, Freelancer.com and others faring? What are the trends? The first revelation was that there are more freelancer sites than I ever realized, this article ranks the top 75 freelancer sites. According to their list, Guru has dropped to 6th behind “PeoplePerHour” which until today I’ve never seen or heard of. Meanwhile Envato Studio they have ranked 3rd. Right behind them at 4th they have 99Designs.com. Two specialized sites for designs, creative in the top 4. Interesting! Is this a trend I wonder, to have more sites dedicated to specific types of work instead of the big generic freelancer parties at Upwork/Freelancer.com/Guru? At least I thought this until I peeked further into Envato Studio and realized they did have some other categories including programming and development at https://studio.envato.com/explore/websites-programming.

What are Freelancer Sites Really Providing Anyway?

The most basic concept of a freelancer site is quite simple. It’s like a dating site for companies, meet cute and do a tango. Except here we expect one side to pay for everything, so it’s more like SeekingArrangement. The idea is it’s a meeting place, freelancers go because there is work for them, clients go to get jobs done without having to do their own recruiting. It’s a win-win, but we do have to step back and ask sometimes who wins the most? Without any real data to back this up I’d say there is a fairly low level of satisfaction among clients of freelancer sites. I’d rank myself as a mildly satisfied buyer at Upwork. I’ve found some great contractors that are now part of a long-term team. Some are like employees. I do wonder sometimes though for the amount of bad freelancers I’ve met along the way, is it worth it? Could we have gotten the team we have now through some more traditional recruiting effort?

For the freelancers the question is often is it worth the commission. And usually the answer is yes. Because 90% of something is better than 100% of nothing or a lot less. Yes we do have to wonder, what do we really get for that cost. And could we be more effective in selling directly to buyers if we saved the time pouring through hundreds of project listings on freelancer sites.

My Biggest Freelancer Site Pet Peeves

  1. Buyers are still terrible at planning websites and related projects. It unfortunately but so many jobs on freelancer sites have almost no planning or clarity. It’s hard to them seriously, let alone make a useful bid. It’s time consuming to skip past these kind of jobs. Sure would be nice to have a freelancer site that was “serious jobs only” where there was some analysis of the project plans to see if they met a professional standard. Despite the obvious cost of manual review and the upset it might cause to some buyers, I think that kind of dedication to quality project planning would make a site stand out. Freelancers would feel they are using their time more efficiently.
  2. India, Pakistan and other countries are bombarding freelancer sites with ESL students. No matter how we setup our jobs with English requirements for fluency or stating clearly “don’t bid on our job if you don’t speak clear, fluent English” most bidders on Upwork would not have working levels of English. And sometimes the bidders are good enough at hiding this with template bid text or by having an English speaker place the bids that you really don’t find out until you award the job. And then it becomes quickly apparent that all communication is hopeless. And then you’re left with what, lost time, maybe some lost payment if it’s an hourly job, and the joy of explaining to somebody (who is really not entirely to blame in the situation) who doesn’t understand you very well that you must fire them because you need communication to get things done.
  3. Rating systems on most freelancer sites seem a bit sketchy. Though far be it from me to say exactly what a good rating system would be, because perhaps it’s not easy to balance the needs of buyers and sellers. The perception on many sites is if you’re not perfectly rated as a freelancer you won’t be able to compete. Upwork is quite sophisticated now in it’s ways of rating, but what is lost is any ability for freelancers to predict or understand their own ratings. It’s not clear exactly how the total is calculated. Other sites are much more simplistic with just basic star ratings. In some cases one bad rating can really ruin a freelancers hopes for competing, and this can put a lot of power in the hands of buyers allowing them to manipulate freelancers under the threat of a bad review.

Highlights (and Lowlights) from Touring Freelancer Sites

task-army-no-bidding-madnessTaskArmy claims a “no bid war” strategy. I find that interesting. It’s true that the competitive nature of freelancer sites has driven down costs and become some would say a race to the bottom. Though personally I think quality freelancers can rise above that by sticking to their price points and focusing on delivery. Yet what do you do when even the quality providers are fiercely price competitive?

 

 


envato-studio-devEnvato Studio which seems really tailored to design work does have categories like programming and development, but the listings and format do not seem to make any sense. It’s not clear what exactly the developers are offering, is it time or doing this same/similar job they mention? Are the filtering, is it relevant here? Seems like a failure to adapt the platform to fit something other than design.

 

 

About Joel Milne
Lead developer at GoldHat Group.
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