More people want to be freelancers

The global freelance economy is expected to grow to $2.7 trillion by 2025. Some experts estimate that freelancers will make up the majority of the workforce within a few years. In the United States, for example, this is expected to happen by 2027.

Sources: World Economic Forum & Flexiple.

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Nasro Djebbar
June 24, 2022 6:24 am

I regularly hire freelancers. I have worked with some great freelancers that are professional, punctual and produce excellent work. Sometimes they have come about through unexpected proposals wherein they admit they aren’t a perfect fit for the job but still think they have some value to add. On the flipside I have worked with some complete disasters. Developer freelancers come to mind. Frustration followed by frustration. It’s a double-edged sword no matter how much vetting you do.

As more freelancers enter the marketplace, more needs to be done to ensure proper talent with the right skills are signing up. Some entrepreneurs have realized how bad things can go with freelancers on open platforms so they have created niche platforms that cater to clients that want reliable, skilled contractors. Upstack and TopTal were created to fill this need for skilled developers. The issue as I see it isn’t just about skills. It’s about the basics. If a freelancer can’t get the simple things right, then I have no confidence in their ability to get the job done well. Here are my biggest annoyances with freelancers:

1] DON’T talk to me in text speak. This is a professional relationship. It drives me crazy when freelancers talk to me like I’m their buddy. No, for the time being I’m your possible future boss. Act appropriately. Do people not realize that their chances of getting hired are low if they say “yesss gonna wrk real hard”? It’s not just text speak. Sometimes the casual nature of their messages puts me right off. It doesn’t scream professionalism when someone is late to an interview and says “Sorry, been busy. Something came up.” That leads me onto my next annoyance.

2] DON’T break your commitments. Really, how difficult is it to put an interview or a meeting in your calendar? I arranged an interview with a freelancer recently and they no-showed. I was angry AF because it’s a waste of my time. Even more annoying was the response I got from the freelancer: “Sorry it slipped my mind. Can we reschedule?” Get the F outta here! How can I trust you to do a good job if you can’t even turn up at the right time? It’s the simplest, most basic thing in the world. Set yourself a reminder. Put it in your calendar. Stick a post-it note on your forehead if you have to. Just turn up when you have made the commitment to. It annoys me to no end that freelancers still can’t get this right.

3] DON’T ask me to give you a 5* rating. If your work was good enough then I would give you a 5* rating. Don’t ask for it like you are entitled to it regardless of how well you did the job. My most memorable experience of this is when I hired an app developer team. They did a truly abysmal job, and I was dumbfounded when they asked for a positive testimonial. If your work is worth 5*, it will get 5*. Asking for a good rating is a guarantee that I won’t hire you again. Also come to think of it, everyone that has asked me to give them a good rating has never done a decent job. Those freelancers who are confident in their work don’t need to beg for good feedback.

Jenna T
June 25, 2022 4:55 am

I have worked with a mixed bag of freelancers. It isn’t any different to your average workplace where there is a spectrum of talent, from the highly motivated to the totally incompetent. Sometimes I think it’s better to be on the incompetent side of the spectrum, or at least act like you’re on the incompetent side, because no one wants to work with you and you avoid many tasks as a consequence. But I digress… Back to freelancing.

Getting a job as a freelancer requires skill and effort. Putting effort into a proposal betters your chance of getting hired. Just like the traditional way. Putting effort into your resumes, cover letters and applications give you a better chance of getting your foot in the door, especially when the competition is thick. Similarly hiring the right talent requires skill and effort. There is an assumption that all the work is done by the applicant. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Hiring is a big deal. If it’s done haphazardly, the business can suffer. Nothing will tank a business quite like a workforce of incompetent staff.

That’s how it goes with freelancers too. I think one of the reasons freelancing gets a bad rap is because of the mismatch between the client and freelancer, not any shortcoming of the freelancer per se. If the hiring manager doesn’t vet their candidates properly, then of course there will be a mismatch. The job won’t get done according to the client’s satisfaction and the blame is put on the freelancer. Had the hiring manager picked the right client for the job, things would work out better.

Here are a couple of things I look out for when hiring freelancers;

a) Copy & pasted applications. I put these at the same level as low effort applications. If I’m hiring a video editor and a freelancer sends an application that praises their copywriting ability.. just no. Some applications are so lazy as well. Check out the attached image. This is from a request to have a custom YouTube thumbnail made. What do I get? Someone who wants to write a mission statement (for $150!) and someone who wants to suggest a catchy name for my business. Also where do I begin with the “plaz get me order”? πŸ€¦πŸ»β€β™€οΈ

b) Proposal and message mismatch. If a proposal is long, detailed and customized to the job, but subsequent messages from the freelancer are short and broken, alarm bells should be ringing. Never hire a freelancer without asking some questions first. In these circumstances the freelancer could have gotten someone else to write their proposal. As much as it is tempting to hire a freelancer on the basis of their brilliant proposal, it is better to be patient and make sure you hire the right person. Opportunists are everywhere, even on freelancing platforms.

c) Examples of previous work. For big projects it’s especially important to ask for a portfolio of clients and get in touch with them to ask about their experiences of working with the freelancer. If the freelancer is legit, they will happily provide a portfolio or list of references. If I ask for examples of previous work and they signpost to their reviews, that’s a big red flag for me. Reviews can be bought. We have all heard of click farms. Review farms exist too. If you’re going to hire a freelancer for a big project based on their reviews, then for goodness sake, read the reviews and check if they look legit. I always feel a bit of disappointment when I find what seems to be a good freelancer and they point to their reviews when I ask for more info about their previous work.

To make freelancing work, you need to put the work in as a client. Freelancing can open the doors to a great number of skilled workers while also providing opportunities to those wanting to climb the career ladder. Do your due diligence and hiring freelancers can be a great addition to your business.

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Jason Ng
June 25, 2022 7:08 am

I’ve been on both sides of the relationship – freelancer and employer. My issue on Upwork, Freelancer and Fiverr is I give my freelancers good feedback even when I’m not satisfied with their work. I try to be in their shoes and understand that to get future gigs, they need to build their feedback scores.

Generally as employers, there is a risk in hiring someone with no feedback. Things can go horribly wrong when you do. I’ve been there and swore that I’d never hire a no-feedback freelancer again. Many employers think like me. It’s a protective mechanism after all. Just like with eBay, you feel more confident buying from a seller that has good seller feedback.

My empathy is misguided. Maybe I’m uncomfortable with the inevitable ensuing drama if I give a freelancer a low score.
Although I want to give good feedback despite poor work, it’s harmful to the platforms and other employers. Employers will be hiring freelancers, using my reviews as a guide. In effect I’m misleading other employers by giving inaccurate feedback and harming many business relationships in the process. This is one of those examples where it’s better to do the right thing even if it means disappointing other people.

Ernest Vicente
June 26, 2022 9:21 am

Of course the freelance economy is expected to grow. Putting up with corporate BS has a limited shelf life. No wonder so many people leave the rat race and freelance. Companies also benefit massively thanks to freelancers. Getting someone for a one-off task isn’t a hassle anymore. Google’s workforce, for example, has more freelancers than employees. And now as we see, the workforce balance in many countries is tilting in favour of freelancers.

Like with any new development in the business world, there is resistance to change. I hear all the time how freelancers don’t perform as well as trained, long-term employees. The argument against freelancing is that employees should be invested in. The training and familiarity with a company will result in better work than from someone who is hired as a one-off. I get it. The idea makes sense in theory.

The fallacy with the argument is that is places the responsibility of the project outcome on the freelancer. The freelancer has their part to play. So does the hiring company. As a freelancer, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve received unclear instructions from a client. Too many to count. I have tried to ask for clarification but if things aren’t clearer after the 3rd, 4th, 5th time of asking, you’re better off giving up. In the past I’ve tried to provide work in a way that I think the client wants. This has almost always led to disappointment. The client gets disappointed and I’m left with a blemish on my feedback.

Fortunately it’s not a one-way thing. We can review clients too. Unreasonable workload, unrealistic deadlines and unprofessional conduct are all things we can highlight in our reviews of clients. We can also respond to a bad performance review, explaining our side of things. I like how transparency exists for both sides, not just the employer.

The downside to the growth of freelancing is the glut of spam on freelancing websites, which can hinder my and other hard working freelancers’ visibility to employers. The cynical side of me thinks some freelancing websites tolerate the spam because it gives them the chance to promote paid-for boosted visibility services; just like Tinder Boost, which heightens your profile visibility for 30 minutes or Facebook’s “Boost a Post”, which shows your posts to more users than via organic reach.

Back when a lot more people were getting access to the internet, email spam was an often-discussed topic. Someone who was more familiar with it than I was explained that spam emails selling something could be sent to hundreds of thousands of people, and if even one person purchased the product, the spam effort was worth it. Presumably the same concept applies on freelancing websites. Most of the time, spam applications from freelancers are ignored. Maybe, just maybe, one in a thousand will get through and result in a job offer; making the spam effort worthwhile.

I want spam to be eliminated because I don’t want to be crowded out by copy & paste mass applications. Employers want to get rid of spam because their time, just like ours, is valuable. They don’t want to skim through spam when they could be reading proper freelancer applications. But freelancing websites have their own competing interests. User satisfaction is a big deal. But so is the ability to sell boosted visibility services. Without a healthy bottom line, freelancing websites cease to exist. So we have it. Spam makes the user experience worse for all, but in my view is tolerated by higher ups to keep the money coming in and to keep shareholders happy.

Cristina Pellini
September 1, 2022 1:29 pm

To coincide with the massive growth of freelancing, I think it would be very valuable for freelancing platforms to provide free Communications Skills courses for freelancers. Lots of these freelancers have the requisite skills to do the job, they just don’t know to communicate properly with prospective clients. It’s easy to take the term “professional communication” for granted. We know what it is, but someone from the slums of Dhaka who’s self-taught in coding?

From what I gather from responses here, not too many people are impressed by txt speak. I wouldn’t be either. But from the perspective of freelancers who haven’t been exposed to a professional or corporate environment, how would they know any better. Their command of the English language isn’t going to be perfect, and neither would their “business English”. If platforms provided some guidance on the right way to communicate, I think this would be immensely helpful to many freelancers who aren’t getting hired.