A client perspective on freelance bidding sites

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A friend, Betty, was looking for a freelance graphic designer to help her with the second generation of her small business website; unfortunately, the two design contacts I gave her weren’t able to help out. Before asking me for additional recommendations, Betty sought out one of the most popular internet freelance bidding sites. The winning bidder offered to create a logo for $100.

It was, quite simply, a disaster:

  • The winning bidder had a great-looking portfolio, but the first designs he sent her were garbage.
  • After another round of garbage, she became suspicious that the logos in his portfolio weren’t even his creations.
  • He was based in Yemen. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but you’re taking your chances with an overseas vendor.)
  • Betty wasted a lot of time and energy, and is no closer to having a logo than she was 2 weeks ago.

As a client, she experienced exactly what I could have predicted. I tried to be gentle about saying, “Gee, Betty, what did you expect for $100?”

So, how can this client perspective help freelancers improve their business? I’m not going to say, “Never use freelance bidding sites,” because that’s between you, your bank account, and your deity of choice. But it is certainly an argument to be mindful of a couple of things:

  • You’re competing on price, not talent.
  • You’re competing against an unknown volume of people—and market logic dictates that the better the project, the larger the volume.
  • You may be competing against people who are unscrupulous, and put things in their portfolios that aren’t their own original work in order to win.
  • Even if you win, you may lose. I don’t feel sorry for the “winning” bidder, but he didn’t get paid a cent for whatever time he spent on it, since Betty rejected his work.

If you want to make money freelancing, you need to get beyond bidding sites and their ugly cousins, the content mills. You can find freelance jobs that go beyond “the real minimum wage,” but it takes a little work, ingenuity and persistence. For starters, head to Jenn Mattern’s great suggestions in a post this week for those freelancers interested in Moving Beyond Penny Per Word Writing Gigs. Read it, and heed it.

In the comments: What’s been your experience, as a freelancer or as a client, with freelance bidding sites?

Image courtesy of Jasmaine Mathews.

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  1. says

    There’s no nice way to put it. I recently got hosed. When things are slow, or I just need something different or challenging to work on, I sometimes hop over to a bidding site to see if anything interests me. It’s rare, but I do find decent gigs with acceptable pay to apply for from time to time.

    A couple of months ago I got a fixed-price gig, had a phone interview with the company’s rep and thought all was dandy. It was supposed to be a pretty big project with about half a dozen white papers. I wrote the first one, and asked for feedback. I never heard a peep back, and still haven’t been paid for it. Needless to say, I didn’t write the rest of the white papers for the project.

    I’ve tried contacting the marketing rep a few times. No answers, no apologies, no nothing. For as long as things were working out, I was willing to play ball on these kinds of sites. But one bad experience, and I’m finished. That’s all it takes. I canceled the job and left some pretty honest feedback for the people running the site. Sadly, though, because the job was never officially completed, this feedback doesn’t show up for other freelancers to see.

    I keep an eye on the company’s web page. If that white paper ever pops up, someone’s going to have a whole lot of explaining to do.

    But even after all of that, I’d never tell a fledgling writer not to use these kinds of sites. Back in the day, they helped me establish a pretty solid portfolio of work. My advice would be to use them for as long as they give you what you need, but don’t rely on them forever. Have a plan to wean yourself and build real relationships with awesome clients and cut out the middle man.

  2. says

    First off. I’ve been remiss in welcoming the Doctor back. 🙂 The doctor is in the house!

    My experience with bidding sites has been great because I’ve never used one. 😀

    We are our own worst enemy. I was dismayed that a well-know former freelance writer actually suggested in a book of his that those looking for a freelance writer go to online bidding sites. *Sigh*

    Funny-my post today covers the hiring of a business writer, directed towards newbies who never hired one before. Great minds. 🙂

  3. Dr. Freelance says

    @Emily, yikes. Thanks for sharing your honest and cautionary tale. Like you, I’d never say never, because there’s a million ways to run a business. But I think you’re right on that the prudent thing to do is wean yourself as soon as possible and go direct.

    @Cathy, thanks! That’s surprising that a freelancer would recommend that–counterproductive, methinks–but I guess it would depend on his audience. Since you didn’t include your “great minds” link, I’ll do it for you, because I think it’s educational for freelancers, too:
    “Insights for Newbies Hiring a Business Writer”. 🙂

  4. says

    Never used them. But I floated around one a few weeks ago and some of the rates posted made me die a little inside. It struck me as so demeaning, all of these hopeful freelancers lined up and competing for crumbs. Yeah, I know good projects *can* be posted on there but the system seems rigged against the writer. I prefer to steer clear.

  5. says

    From the client perspective, posting on one of these bid sites can be a nightmare–you have to wade through a flood of responses, many of which turn out to be from unqualified people. Of those that are possibles, you still have to be very suspicious, for the reasons cited above. Plus, what if the work from the web designer in Estonia turns out to be garbage? If you waste a few weeks looking for the cheapest contractor, only to find yourself back where you started, you’re costing yourself money.Search instead using professional association websites, like the Graphic Artists Guild or the Editorial Freelancers Association. You won’t find someone to edit your 100,000 word manuscript for $500, but you will quickly find an experienced and accountable professional who will do a good job for a fair price.
    As for responding to requests on these sites, avoid wasted time and deadbeat clients by putting the energy into your marketing instead.

  6. says

    I don’t use bidding sites. The fact that an employer posts on one tells me this is not someone looking for quality, and said employer will be a pain the butt to work with. Don’t need the hassle.

    I work with clients who value what I bring to the table, not who want it at the cheapest price.