So if you’ve read any of my posts before, you’ll be fully aware that I tend to rant about stuff (hence the hugely unimaginative name for my blog) and perhaps you’ve even read my previous Freelancer post which details by almost entirely negative experience when taking the initial steps towards becoming a freelance writer. Today, I’m going to try and summarise some of the main points that can help you to not only find solid work but avoid all the dipshits who will try and take your time, money or both. I’ll throw in a few personal experiences here and there but ultimately I’m going to try and keep this as concise as possible…something I inevitably failed to do!
What is Freelancer?
So Freelancer is a hub, of sorts, whereby freelance workers can find employment (and vice versa). I hate many, many, MANY aspects of it because the site, it’s rules and it’s charges are absolutely criminal…but once you start finding work, you can’t help but look beyond these downsides. It should be noted that if you can find work ANYWHERE else, I’d recommend doing so. I tried UpWork but even once my profile was approved I couldn’t find a single job. So this post will focus solely on Freelancer but I’m sure much of what I’m going to say here can be applied to other similar sites.
Main Freelancer Scams
Again, if you want to see the negative side of Freelancer (which is the side that greets you upon joining) then you only have to head over to my previous post on the topic. I’m sure you’ll be able to feel my rage through the screen. Freelancer is not a friendly place! Not only are many, many people looking to rip you off (one way or the other) but the staff and their “rules” are not going to help you out in the slightest. Sure, if you report someone then they will deal with it…but if you lose money or don’t get paid then they pretty much just leave you to struggle with it on your own. As such, I’m going to take you through some of the common problems you will likely encounter, how you can avoid them and some of the tell-tale signs of a scammer.
Stealing your Time
One problem you are almost guaranteed to encounter is people who don’t pay you. I know, I know, you’re wondering why I’ve titled this section “stealing your time” rather than “stealing your money”…trust me, all will be explained! So when you accept work from anybody, you essentially enter into a contract with them: in exchange for you completing the tasked job, they will pay you the agreed upon amount of money. In an ideal world, that is exactly how it would work. Freelancer is far from ideal.
Any time you start off with a new employer, you run the risk that you’ll work your ass off and then they’ll simply take the work and vanish. When I first started out this happened to me a lot! There are of course some simple steps to take in order to avoid this from happening. We’ll take a look at these in a moment.
Stealing your Money
Of course Freelancer is in many ways an investment…an investment that will not pay off if you can’t avoid the scammers. As I mentioned before, Freelancer will do NOTHING in relation to your money. Here’s why this is a problem for you: Every single time you accept a new project, you get charged a fee. This fee varies but is usually an absolute minimum of 3 pounds, dollars, Euros or whatever else. Long story short, you have to pay to work for an employer. You’re essentially betting that they will pay you. We’ll touch on this in more detail during the next section but one thing to keep in mind is don’t hastily accept projects without discussing details with employer first.
Also keep in mind that people can be dicks…and so you might accept a project that sounds great and then the person just leaves. Sure, you don’t lose any time because you haven’t done any work yet…but you do lose money. I was spending more money than I was making when I first started out and the staff at Freelancer refuse to do anything to help because freelancers being ripped off benefits them. The system isn’t broken; it works exactly how they planned it.
These are basically the two main issues you’re going to encounter. So how can you avoid these? In all honesty, I’m not sure you can completely. When you first join the site you have no reputation at all. Nobody paying a decent amount of money is going to want to employ you and so you need to dive into the murky waters and just hope that the greedy river goblins don’t drag you down under!
Avoiding the Scammers
Let’s take a look at the simplest methods for staying away from these scummy pieces of shit! I’ll write this based on the assumption that you’re completely new to Freelancer and therefore have no reputation, no reviews and often no choice but to aim low.
1. No Reputation or Information
The first red flag is a pretty standard one. If the profile contacting you is brand new (especially if it was made within the last week) and is blank, then they probably have no long term plans for the site. Sometimes, when you click on a profile, it will take you to the employee page instead of the employer page. This means that even a reputable employer may appear to have no reviews. You can always ask the employer if they’ve work on the site before and you can ask for a direct link to their employer page if you’re having any problems.
Similarly, if the profile has a small number of reviews but ultimately still appears largely blank, this can be a red flag. You don’t want to rely entirely on the reviews as many profiles will work with other profiles to give fake reviews. Obviously if they have an incredibly large sample then you have less to worry about. A blank profile alone isn’t enough to ditch a potential employer but its the first red flag out of what could be many.
2. Taking Work Off-Site
This is something that the Freelancer site will reiterate to you over and over again…of course, the reason they do it is because they don’t want their site to be used for networking and then to lose out on off-site financial transactions. They also claim that it relates to their ability to help site users but that’s absolute bullshit. Not once have they helped me in any way and they won’t ever, ever, EVER give you any money back.
However, not a single person who wanted to move the conversation off-site was fully trustworthy. One of them even paid me for half the work and then just disappeared from the face of the world. Bearing in mind that half the work was about 12 articles! I keep using free versions of copyscape to try and track down the work that I did for them! Other examples include transcribing jobs that involved working over a long period of time before being able to “claim” money. Sketchy projects like these should be avoided where possible.
3. Always, Always, ALWAYS Use the Milestone System
When you first start out, you’re going to come across a lot of incredible sounding jobs. These jobs will often state straight away that payment is every Tuesday or every two weeks or even every month. I even had someone try to hire me for 6 months of work, claiming that I’d get paid at the end. Even if the project sounds like your dream job, keep your expectations low and remain level-headed.
The simplest way to root out a scammer is to demand that you’re paid for each piece of work. You don’t have to be aggressive or rude about it. For example, whenever I bid for a project I always mention that I work strictly through the milestone system. To clarify this point, I’ll confirm with any potential employer BEFORE accepting the project that payment will be for each portion/piece of work. Any respectable employer will agree to that. After all, you know nothing about this person. Are you just supposed to take it on faith that they’ll keep their word?
Once you start to build a professional relationship with someone and you know that payment won’t be an issue, you can begin to cut back on the use of the milestone system. For example, my current employer started off by paying me per article, then every two articles. Once I started getting regular work, this spread to once a week and now I tend to just wait until I’ve completed the project in its entirety before asking for payment. So my advice would be to set up any sort of milestone just to find out if a potential employer is actually willing to pay or not.
4. Get ALL the Details before Accepting a Project
Again, this may seem like common sense but once you start finding projects that sound interesting, it can be a natural reaction to jump the gun a little bit. No matter how compelling and detailed a project description was when you bid for it, establish everything you can about the project within the chat function on the site. The more details you can compile within this window, the better. Ask questions such as: When is the deadline? What sort of work is it? How long does everything need to be? What is the total payment? How will the milestone payments be divided up? What style of writing will it be?
You’re probably wondering why this is so important prior to accepting any project. It actually serves three functions. For starters, it helps root out scammers from the get go. They tend to reveal details that simply sound sketchy or they will try to keep certain details from you. Secondly, it will stop you from accepting a project that will be hell to complete. I’ve made the mistake of accepting a project with very few details and while they only took a few hours to complete, it was painfully dull. The problem is that as soon as you accept the project you’re financially invested and so to just breakeven, you have to complete the work. Failure to do so not only results in loss of money but also in a negative review. This brings me to my third point.
In the event that your employer tries to dupe you into doing more work and you’re worried that failing to do so will result in negative reviews, you NEED to have all the information at hand. Freelancer staff can remove negative reviews if (and only if) you can provide evidence that the employer was being dishonest or manipulative in some way. So have everything detailed in the chat is a great back-up option.
5. If It Sounds Too Good to be True, It Usually Is
Another worrying scam that I’ve only recently encountered on the site is people trying to steal your identity. Freelancer isn’t the only freelance site but as far as I’ve found, it’s actually one of the easier ones to get work from. Upwork, for example, requires you to be approved. As such, people will steal your identity (sometimes through promising payment for doing so) and will use your face and qualifications on other sites. My encounter with this was a guy offering me a project involving writing film reviews. The pay was good (too good) and he claimed he needed proof of my qualifications and UK residency.
I don’t actually live in the UK but according to my driver’s license, I do. So I sent this scumbag my scanned copy of my university degree and a photo of me holding my driver’s license. I purposefully hid my full address as I was aware that the whole ordeal seemed off. The piece of shit then came up with some excuse like “my marketing manager has just informed me that we need your full address to send you information that can’t be sent online”. On that note I reported him and his account was deleted.
The first red flag should have been the payment though. That’s not to say that you won’t find great offers on Freelancer. I get paid more now in two weeks than I would in a month at my previous job…but you have to weigh up everything about the employer, the work and all the other aspects I’ve mentioned so far.
6. Use Freelancer as Intended
The final point I’m going to mention is related to other project types that you may come across on Freelancer. As I mentioned in the last point, people may try and employ you to set up profiles in your name and with your experience on other sites. This will typically involve uploading confirmation photos, forms of ID, etc. Don’t…just don’t! These are never, ever, ever going to end well and you’re just allowing yourself to be noticed in a negative light on these other sites. When I first started on Freelancer, I fell for one of these scams because it sounded simple.
For over a month, this person used a profile that was in my name and with my photo and information. I refused to give up complete control of the account and when they refused to pay me (the account had already been blocked by this stage) I simply messaged the staff at UpWork and explained the situation in full. All I wanted was to have my information removed.
Another example is people trying to buy bitcoins. I almost fell for this one and it is only through complete luck that I didn’t. Some guy was looking to buy bitcoins for more than they are worth. I had some spare and thought, why not? What you have to remember is that transactions can be reversed. So this guy sent me like $200 which appeared on my Freelancer account. I was just about to send him the bitcoins, I had everything set up and just need to click “done”…when I thought I’d double check the money…and it was gone. This guy had essentially reported himself to Freelancer who reversed the transaction because it broke terms and conditions and had I sent him the bitcoins, I’d have been down over $100. Just use Freelancer for the jobs it allows. I mean the staff aren’t going to help you with anything anyway but they certainly won’t help you if you break their rules.
7. Freelancer is NOT Your Friend
This point might sound a little ridiculous but it’s something that I’ve mentioned a bit throughout this post. However, after posting this article I decided that I should come back and make this lesson/warning a point of its own: Freelancer is NOT your friend. The staff are not there to help you, they aren’t there to help you earn money, they aren’t there to make sure that you get a fair deal, they aren’t there to stop you getting ripped off. No…their sole function is to earn money for the site and avoid people taking business off-site.
Am I paranoid? Possibly…but not in regards to this. I recently completed a project and in doing so one of my milestones had to be updated to a higher amount. To do this, the employer has to send the employee (me) a milestone removal request. When you receive this request, it comes with the following message:
“Once you approve the request, the milestone will be removed from the project. If you decline, the milestone will remain unchanged. However, it’s likely your employer will initiate a dispute process and may leave a negative review.”
So essentially, if you read between the lines here, Freelancer are telling you that failure to accept this change (regardless of what the change is) will likely result in the employer giving you negative feedback.
I subsequently ended up on another page and found this:
Please note, the only way to gain feedback and reputation is to be paid through Freelancer.com. The higher your reputation, the higher you will appear in the bid list for future projects.
Freelancers with the highest reputation are earning hundreds of thousands of dollars per year!
Remember to communicate regularly with the employer. Lack of communication is the leading cause of problems.
Even when they are trying to sell you the idea of joining Freelancer, they are still trying to stop you from taking money or work off-site. I can understand this from a business perspective but shouldn’t customer support be the priority? This company is so focused on earning money that their moral compass spins Beyblade (90s reference).
Assume that Freelancer will not support you, no matter how right or wrong you may be, because chances are they won’t!
Finding Solid Work
Obviously, the main goal of any freelancer is to find solid work. Going from project to project, achieving very little experience or money is not a great long-term plan. When you first join, you’re going to be slightly disadvantaged but everyone starts off in the same position. In this section I’m going to share some tips for finding solid work.
1. Flesh out Your Profile
This one should go without saying. If your profile is blank, you don’t have a picture, you haven’t uploaded any examples of your work into your portfolio and you haven’t worked a single project yet, then you’re unlikely to find any long-term work. Take some time to really sell yourself! If you don’t have examples of any work then write some. I simply used previously written blog posts or university essays as mine. Simply edit them, make them presentable, and then upload them. It’s really that simple.
2. Take Advantage of Freelancer Offers
On top of charging you fees per project, Freelancer also has the audacity to limit site functionality to those unwilling to pay for a membership. When you’re starting out on Freelancer, using the free membership is going to be extremely challenging. You only get 8 bids and it takes about 90 hours for just 1 bid to regenerate. However, they will often offer trial memberships for new members and if they do, take it! I got about 300 bids with my trial membership. Just remember to go on and deactivate the auto-renewal. I simply set a reminder on my calendar for the day before it would renew and then I cancelled it.
If there aren’t any trial memberships available, I would recommend paying for one month of membership. Starting out on Freelancer is all about building up a reputation and with 8 bids, that’s going to be nearly impossible. Look at it this way, you’ll likely use up all 8 bids on your first day and in order for you to regenerate all 8, you need to wait 30 days!!! Obviously the bids regenerate one at a time so you won’t be completely without bids but getting work with a blank profile is challenging and you really do need as many bids as possible.
3. Start from the Bottom
Step 3 is unfortunately not a fun one. When you’re new to Freelancer and have zero reviews, you’re going to have to do some boring-ass work. Not only is it boring but it pays practically nothing. You need to just look at it as an investment. As long as you’re making enough money to at least cover your membership (if you had to pay for one) and your fees, then do anything you can. Find work that is simple and quick!
My advice would be to go for small pieces of work that require little to no time. Even if you do them for free, most reviews are done per project so if you do 5 or 6 small projects that take maybe two or three hours then you’ll already be off to a great start. This is the only time I’d suggest working for the middle men (something we’ll touch on in a moment). Ideally, you want to get each small piece of work from a different employer but make sure that it is related to the work that you want to do. For example, if you want to write creatively, don’t do SEO or copywriting. Do creative writing! Only move to other areas if you’re struggling to find any work at all.
4. Demonstrate your Ability
Working through Freelancer is one way to demonstrate you writing ability (assuming that that is the area of work you’re doing) but you need sources from outside the website as well. The more ways that you can demonstrate your passion for your work, the more likely it is that people will hire you for more long-term projects. If you’re planning on doing blog writing, then start a blog.
I have three blogs on the go at the minute: this one, my mental health/travel blog and a random weed blog. So I cover a range of different topics. If you don’t have the time or energy to start your own blog then you need to at least contribute to an already existing blog. If you need a way to do this then follow this link and you can write a guest post on my travel blog. Then at least you can send evidence of your work.
Similarly, if you’re trying to enter a niche area of writing, you need to demonstrate a passion for it. I regularly contribute to a movie review site called Movie Babble, where I’ve written about Braveheart and Star Wars movies. Why? Because I love writing about movies and it’s the area I hope to one day work in. Even if you only write one guest post somewhere, it’s just another piece of evidence that demonstrates your ability and passion.
5. Avoid the Middle Men
Now, this one is going to seem a little strange and ultimately, you may choose to ignore this step depending on the sort of work you wish to be involved with. The “middle men” are employers who are part of an agency. Working for them is going to pay very little, involve incredibly dull work and rarely benefit your exposure (if at all). This is how the middle men work:
They bid on as many jobs as they can find (sometimes on other websites). They then hire people like you to do the work, paying you half (sometimes less) of what they are getting paid. Typically, they give you multiple pieces of work involving various types of writing and payment is usually delayed quite drastically. You then get one review for 6 or so pieces of work while their profile gets a positive review from you and from the original employer. This then boosts their profile and allows them to get more and more projects.
I suggest avoiding these people for two reasons. A) They are shady as fuck! That’s not really a reason but I felt like I should mention it. As I said a moment ago, payments are always delayed, you’re paid very little and they are awful at leaving reviews. When you’re starting out, it can be a handy place to start but once you’ve already received several reviews, you need to move away. You can get solid work from such people but you will not make much money doing so. B) Allowing these people to win more and more project bids means there is less and less work going directly to Freelancers. It just creates more of a long-term problem.
6. Build Relationships
When you’re starting out, you’ll find that you build relationships with people. If they only offer you pennies for work and they are nothing more than a stepping stone then just forget about it and move on…but if you’re writing frequently for them and you know they’ll need more work in the future then don’t be afraid to ask for more money. For example, if you had written for the same employer for a few months because the work was pleasant enough but the pay was a little less than what you needed. Wait until you’ve completed a project and when they offer you a new one, simply state that you can only do it for an increase in payment.
Similarly, if you work for someone and the work isn’t incredibly boring but the payment isn’t great, provided it isn’t taking up too much of your time, it can be useful to continue doing the work. To give you an example, when I first started out and had reached the stage of clawing my way out of the mud, I got work writing blog posts about Pompeii, Italy. My employer and I got on well, I did everything to his guidelines and met all expectations and as I enjoyed writing about the topic, I continued to do so. Was I getting rich? No…but I was still getting paid, still getting reviews and creating more examples of my work, ultimately creating a higher level of exposure.
Now, I’m working once again for the same employer but this time I’m writing information on Ancient Roman structures for a Rome guide app. I love learning about history and Rome is one of my favourite places in the world so the opportunity is excellent. Not only that, but once it’s completed and released, I can download the app and demonstrate it as my work.
Exposure isn’t as big an issue when you’re first starting out. That being said, the more published work that you can get your name attached to, the better. This is usually a problem when you’re starting out as most of the work isn’t related to you. You might be doing someone’s psychology homework (true story) or gathering information on types of violins (also a true story). So in these instances you’re not going to be involved with the process beyond supplying your work.
However, if people are asking you to write blog posts or something similar, then getting your name somewhere on the website (or at least getting a link that you can send future potential employers) is a vital step. That adds to the previous point of developing relationships with your employers. If you can get to know them and ask for your name to be credited somewhere (even if it means you’re paid slightly less) then it’s worth doing.
Thanks for reading! Are there any other insights I can offer you about freelancer work (particularly on Freelancer) or do you have any questions? Let me know down below!
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