Are freelance marketplaces killing the freelancer role?

It’s 2015, and it is said by many that there has never been a better time to do what you want. There has never been a better time to take advantage of the opportunities the world has to offer you. And in the world of 2015, technology is very popular. The humble programmer, once shunned and ostracised, is now in the limelight, outbidding the likes of Beyoncé and Jay-Z on Beverly Hills mansions.

So, how do you do it? How do you tell your boss to fuck themselves, run out the door, get an IKEA LINMON desk and a snobby coffee cup, and never set an alarm again?

In the ten years I’ve been a front-end developer, the way people find work, and the way companies hire employees has changed considerably. I was always of the understanding that to get paid to do anything, you had to have a job; and the world of being able to work from your own home was just a myth perpetuated by the “WORK FROM HOME AND EARN MILLIONS!” spam e-mails that have since been replaced by bank phishing and scam lottery wins. Fortunately, through a combination of luck and networking, I managed to have my eyes opened to freelancing during my last months as an employed front-end developer. But even then, the idea of working from home was a scary one. Where would I find the work? How would I pay my bills? If you’ve ever been anywhere close to being in the same shoes, I’m sure you asked yourself the same questions.

I went for it anyway. And like anybody who starts out, some months went great, and other months really didn’t. I just didn’t have the time to market myself enough to find the work, and do the work to pay my bills. Both tasks were full-time jobs!

I can’t remember exactly when it was, but eventually I discovered freelancer marketplaces. You’ve probably heard of them too – websites like PeoplePerHour, Elance, and oDesk. Well, imagine my excitement (and sighs of relief) when I learned that there are websites where freelancers like myself could create a profile and feature our work, and buyers who are looking to employ the services of a freelancer can post jobs on the website for us all to bid on – with the winner being selected to complete the job and get paid to do it. Fantastic!

Unfortunately, there was soon a bitter taste left in my mouth, because the downside to my experience with the freelancer marketplaces was that they were open to freelancers all over the world. I needed to earn a certain amount of money per hour/day/project to live, but the front-end developers I was competing against needed to earn a completely different amount of money; some considerably higher, and worryingly, some considerably lower.

It’s completely understandable that as a buyer, if you’re presented with a selection of talented workers, you’re most likely going to employ the cheapest one. And when you’re up against people who are working in a completely different economy, like in the Middle East, how do you compete with a developer who is similarly talented to you, who only has to charge £3 per hour?

Now, this isn’t to say that work is exclusively given to cheaper workers on any freelancer marketplace, but as cheaper freelancers become more available on these marketplaces, the value that is placed on the work that creative people do is significantly reduced. Every time I get an e-mail notification from a freelancer marketplace telling me that a new job has been posted that meets my skill sets, and that the buyer wants a front-end developer to make them a website for their budget of £30, I worry that my place in the world of freelance developers is dwindling.

I recently watched an episode of Silicon Real with Matt Barrie – CEO of Freelancer, and I found it interesting that one of Freelancer’s USPs was to empower people in the west to crowdsource work to the Middle East.

“We empower entrepreneurs on two sides of the world. We empower small businesses, startups, and consumers such as you and I in the west to get things done. And we empower entrepreneurs in the developing world to get jobs that don’t exist”

If freelance marketplaces are focusing on empowering people in the west by allowing them to crowdsource work for considerably less than what they’d pay to a professional in their own country, then where does that leave the freelancers in the west who are trying to find work?

I think the answer is to not put all of your eggs in one basket. Don’t rely on one avenue for all of your new work to come through, don’t forget to think outside of the box, and don’t forget about traditional marketing methods. Face-to-face networking, telling people what you do, and word-of-mouth marketing are still some of the best ways to get new clients.

Furthermore, with so many freelancers out there in the world trying to get work, having a niche is a really great thing. If you want to specialise in making websites for musicians, or only taking photographs of food, that’s great! Work at your niche and make as many people aware of it as possible.

And if you’re just starting out then I recommend you check out as many freelancer marketplaces as you can, but try other things too!

Has the popularity of freelancer marketplaces affected how you get work or your income? How do you find work as a freelancer in 2015?

2 thoughts on “Are freelance marketplaces killing the freelancer role?”

  1. I have to agree, since Dan is the reason I’m even in this industry today! (Thanks buddy) Being able to work from home is amazing. I started by using People Per Hour and it’s now pretty flooded. You can still find people on there willing to spend to get someone local. But refferals and word of mouth I have to say are my biggest source of work.

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