Adventures in freelancing

  • by Michael - March 22, 2015 - 1:35pm

Adventures in freelancing


I began dabbling in Elance a couple of years ago. Work was tight and it looked like the perfect way to augment my income. At the time, two players were leading the market. The local participant was and the other was My choice of the latter was because their website looked stunning: easy to navigate and a case study in functional user experience.

What is Elance?

Elance connects freelance talent with buyers. Their target market is B2B customers who need people to complete tasks requiring IT skills – writing, illustration, software development or anything that can be completed using an internet connected PC. There are few barriers to entry. You can advertise a job for free after registration. That’s it. Prospective talent creates a proposal to bid for the assignment. That’s how you connect the buyer with the seller.

Why use it?

If you understand what you need and place a value on the task then freelance websites are a great place to find talent. I used it in the vain hope that I would locate lucrative new customers. Conversely, when I was the customer I located an engineer who could install my Drupal website theme. He completed the assignment to perfection at a very reasonable cost. If you can’t find the skills you need locally then it’s a perfect fit.

Why is it often a bad fit?

The expressions “I don’t know” and “I am unsure” appear frequently in the task specifications and refers to the scope and budget of an assignment These are red flags and you should be alert to them. Freelance websites are a tyre-kicker paradise. Jobs are posted but then languish, never awarded to any bidder. Assembling a professional proposal takes time and if you make the investment preparing a pitch you hope for a good result. Elance and their ilk cater to the “budget” buyer who claim to look for quality work but are usually armed with a paltry budget. These are the same people who confuse the words “value” and “price”. Like everything in life, you get what you pay for.

Experiences to date

My first foray into freelancing sites was winning a job writing a website for a new ecommerce service. We had our first Skype conversation and then I waited for the go-ahead. I waited and sent emails and waited then gave up after a few weeks. Emails were never answered. I reviewed the website months later – appalling. Onwards and upwards! I then pitched a job that required that you write a spec proposal about the benefits of LED lighting. The advertiser promised that the successful candidate would be rewarded with mountains of work. I never heard another thing from them. An attempt to harvest free ideas? Another pitch involved some complex high-technology writing and I knew the subject matter well. I got an email asking if I could match the price another offered elsewhere: $US50? I estimated the task would take 4 days so I impolitely declined. The last straw was when I had worked on a proposal and was told approval had been given to partner with me. They promptly awarded the job to another. Looking at their website a few months later nothing had changed so the task was never completed. Thankfully, another bullet dodged.

The Component Company

Sometimes it astounds me how badly some companies can execute their marketing. This company was a good example. I always judge companies by their websites. If they look stale or cheap it makes a fairly accurate statement about the state of the organisation. The company distributed high-tech components and employed 50 staff. Searching the web revealed that they had recently updated their website. I don’t know how the previous version looked but if the refreshed version was a benchmark, it must have been hideous! They wanted to fix up an “about us” page. Actually, they needed to go back to bare metal. I pitched the job and was asked to share my thoughts about the scope of the task and duly complied with the request. And that was that. I never heard from them again. Too expensive I guess. Delving deeper into their website revealed gems like “Queens Land” which is located in Australia apparently. Their catalogue could have looked great, but was over-compressed to the point of illegibility because the creator didn’t understand how to optimise .pdf documents. These are really stupid mistakes that vindicate the need to hire a professional rather than doing it yourself poorly.

So what’s the lesson to learn from this?

Your messaging is your company. It’s vital that the quality shines with every piece of customer facing documentation. If you are using freelance websites be sure that you have set the right expectations and have a budget to match your aspirations. If you can’t communicate the point of difference between value and price then how is it possible for your customer to make an informed decision? Freelance websites are a portent of where the market will take Australian business into the future. Be ready to explain why you are better and how you deliver value. Be prepared to compete with low price, low value competitors much, much sooner than you would like.