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The Trouble with Freelancer.com

Updated on March 19, 2014
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I have been seriously trying to get into freelance writing and translating for a couple of months now.

Freelancer.com says it is currently the largest website bringing together employers and freelance workers, it boasts almost 10 million verified users, and says that 5 million projects, worth $1.3 billion since 2001 have been posted on the site. Although the rumoured merger of O'Desk and Elance might knock it off from its position as the biggest site, if you are trying to get into freelancing, chances are that you will have come across it.

Below are my impressions about using the site. To get one thing straight right away, Freelancer.com is not a scam! It is possible to earn money writing content, software, designing logos or translating. This does not mean that you won't get scammed, if you don't use the site properly.

In addition, there are some problems with the site design. As with most such marketplaces, the employer is king, and the system gives him or her a multitude of advantages. After all they are the people who put the money on the table, and there is no lack of desperate freelancers trying to make a few pennies, no matter how skewed the system is against them.

Milestones offer important protection on Freelancer
Milestones offer important protection on Freelancer | Source

Milestones, Your Basic Protection Against Being Scammed

The greatest fear people have when approaching a site like Freelancer.com, is that they will work hard at a project, submit high quality work, only for the "employer" to disappear and never pay up.

There are many stories of people to whom this has happened. Appeals to the site's staff are useless, there is nothing they can really do about this. You can, of course, leave the employer negative feedback, but that doesn't quite make up for doing a lot of work for free.

However, if you use the milestones system properly, you can protect yourself to a certain degree. The employer pays in a certain percentage of the price you agreed on, into the system. You carry out part of the project and submit it, after which the employer releases the milestone, if he is happy with what have you done.

This doesn't offer complete protection, but it does ensure that you don't do the whole project for nothing.

Feedback for Employers and Freelancers, Another Safeguard

Another system that aims to protect both employers and freelancers is the feedback system. Maintaining a good reputation is essential if you are to win projects, of course. However, it is also wise to only bid for projects where the employer has a good reputation.

I certainly would never bid for a project before checking out the employer. If somebody had submitted a number of projects previously, and nobody had complained about them not paying up, then the chances that you will get your money if you do the work well are pretty high.

One aspect of the feedback system that I think is done well, is that the feedback about you is not released until you've provided feedback about the employer. This ensures honesty, people will not give undeservedly good feedback in the hope that it will be reciprocated.

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You can lose money and reputation through no fault of your own if the employer bails on you.
You can lose money and reputation through no fault of your own if the employer bails on you. | Source

Abandoned Projects Aways Hurt the Freelancer

One of the worst aspects of freelancer.com is that if a project is not completed, it always appears as if it is the fault of the freelancer.

Yes, sometimes projects don't go anywhere because of employers. Lets say you win a bid for a project. You accept it and ask the person who submitted the project to set up a milestone payment, but receive no reply. The employer simply goes radio silent, and doesn't respond to any messages.

You are completely correct in not doing the work, and certainly in not submitting it. However, this will affect your completion rate, which is shown on your profile every time you bid for a project.

This is not so terrible if you've already completed many projects, nobody who's been on the site for a while has a 100% completion rate, so you don't look too bad relative to other people. But if you are unlucky, and the employer disappears on your second project, your completion rate drops to 50%, which makes you look unreliable.

An even more serious aspect of the system, is that Freelancer's cut of the project payment comes from the freelancer's money. And it comes out as soon as you accept the bid. You pay 10% of the "earnings" before you start working, if the project goes to plan, you're ok, you will get the full payment for the project when the employer pays. But if the employer disappears after you take the project, you lose money and reputation.

Withdrawing Money from Freelancer

Withdrawing money from freelancer.com is quite easy. If you are in Australia, New Zealand or India, you have the option of a transfer to your account. Otherwise you can use Paypal or Moneybookers. There is also the option of having the money wired to you, although this does involve a fee, whereas the other methods are free.

The first withdrawal does present some problems, because it is delayed by 2 weeks. Apparently this is for your security. The problems arise, because during this time you could need to spend some of the money, if you win a bid for a project, for example. If the money in your balance falls below that which you've asked to withdraw, the transfer will be cancelled.

At any rate, you should always have some money in your account, to pay for bids. You might also require a positive balance if you've opted for an upgraded membership, or if you plan on taking freelancer tests.

The Depressing Ocean of Spam

The most depressing aspect of freelancer.com is that you will be flooded with terrible projects. There are two very different types of employers (and freelancers), and unfortunately the site has found no way of filtering them.

The majority of employers expect to pay peanuts, presumably for fairly low quality work. Writing projects offering $1 per 500 words are fairly common. For the life of me I cannot understand why anybody would agree to work for so little money. Admittedly, in countries with low cost of living, that money might not seem so bad, but you can definitely earn more writing on bubblews, or probably here on Hubpages.

Most of these projects are written in fairly bad English. Those employers also give feedback that indicates a fairly casual relationship with the English language. Presumably they cannot really tell a well written piece from semi-gibberish, and they are looking for cheap content that will pass copyscape (almost all the project descriptions make a big deal of the fact that the text must pass copyscape, presumably copying content from the internet is rife).

Luckily these are not the only projects on the site, there are some people who are willing to pay ok (although still relatively low) money for good content. But having to wade through all the rubbish to find something worthy of bidding on is soul destroying.

The Terrible Problem of Subcontractors on Freelancer

Sometimes it seems to me that the whole site is made up of what I call "subcontractors". These are people who pose as freelancers, but they don't do any of the work themselves.

Instead they have a whole stable of freelancers working for them. Their job is bidding on any project that comes up, they then pass the work to the real writers. The majority of bids on projects comes from these people. You can spot them because they've completed hundreds of projects, and are usually working on about 30 projects at any one time. No person could handle as much work as these people do routinely.

Because of the number of projects they've done, they dominate the bids. Individual people, especially beginners, are usually listed at the bottom, underneath all the subcontractors. They do generally have good feedback, but I really don't think it takes that much to receive good feedback on the site, especially if you take the projects from the "as long as it passes copyscape" employers.

Conclusions

Freelancer.com is not a scam. It is possible to earn money on the site. However, the overall impression, is of a site where most of the projects posted are extremely low paying, many of the employers have problems posting intelligible project descriptions, and the most active people are the ones who earn from passing the work to other writers.

Decent projects can be found, but you will have to wade through an enormous amount of rubbish to find them.

In addition the site's practice of taking their cut of the payment from the freelancer's balance, as soon as a project is accepted rather than when it is completed, can cause problems.

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    • profile image

      Adam 3 years ago

      TRUE! the site's practice of taking their cut of the payment from the freelancer's balance, as soon as a project is accepted is unfair!

      Cause many times, employer refuses to release milestone and disappears!

      Also don't rely on payment verified icon on employer profile only! that can be achieved by a virtual debit card. Even the Featured/Sealed/Private seals are many times much affordable than paying $300 to the freelancer! so beware!

      By the way the ones who don't pay the hardworking freelancer will pay more on medicines and losses! Karma Police is there!

    • aa lite profile image
      Author

      aa lite 3 years ago from London

      Yep. I think the feedback previous freelancers gave the employer is the thing to look at, but nothing is totally safe. I mean you can actually find reasonable projects there, and in some cases it leads to a steady relationship, but everybody should be aware going in that the place is a jungle!

      I have heard good things about guru.com However, I think it costs more to be a member of that site, I might try it out, though, because I am so fed up with the flood of utter rubbish. I think freelancer.com might end up being a site purely for very cheap low quality internet 'content'.

    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 3 years ago from Philippines

      I subscribe to Freelancer.com but never got a job from them. One of the reasons I hesitate to use Freelancer.com is because it doesn't guarantee payment. Your article is very helpful in pointing out its good and bad sides, and how to protect yourself with its limitations.

    • Keesha Metcalfe profile image

      Keesha Metcalfe 2 years ago from The Beautiful Caribbean island of Jamaica

      I personally use Freelancer.com and really like it apart from the pulling of fees as soon as a project is rewarded. I disregard all low paying jobs and only bid on the ones that are worth my time and effort. Regarding the project completion feature, it may not always be a bad thing to have less than a 100% completion rate. It does not necessarily mean that you have not completed projects that you won, it just means that you may currently have work in progress and employers are able to see that. This gives employers an idea of how much time you have available for work. Nice post!

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