Articles - 19th July 2019

Freedom and Fakers : A Life on Freelance Platforms

Words by Caroline Kelly

Before there was freelancing there was this weird thing called a salary, where you got paid to do your job. That was it, the end. It didn’t matter if you spent the day catching up on Love Island or nursing a hangover, just turn up vaguely on time and voila, actual money into your account at the end of the month.

Then for some reason, only known to you, you jacked that in and thought: “I much prefer clawing tooth and nail for my very existence and hawking my highly skilled talents for next to nothing on platforms for crap pay.”

Except of course you didn’t because, like me, you probably thought that that journalism qualification (100 wpm shorthand, losers) was worth more than just the offer of “exposure”. Seriously, how much exposure does one freelancer need? Oh, and I’ve checked, and Nationwide doesn’t accept exposure to pay the mortgage. FML.

And this is the crux of freelancing, isn’t it? That daily fight to find enough work to pay the bills and get that balance right between working for anything, because work is work, and setting your standards high enough to command the sort of salary you know you deserve as a professional.

Frankly, freelancing is not for the weak. If you’re not prepared for rejection and if you really do need to feel validated for every pitch you send and every job you quote for, you’re going to come away feeling bruised. I say this as a freelance writer who feels your pain. You can’t accuse me of being a sensitive Millennial either, I grew up when ladette culture was a thing. It just is brutal, sometimes. Other times it feels like the gods are beaming down on you as commission after commission falls into your lap but more often than not it’s a bit of a struggle.

And out of this melee of pitch and rejection steps forth freelancer platforms. Sites such as Upwork, Freelancer, Fiverr and People Per Hour (PPH). Sure, they charge you a kidney every time you send a proposal or get paid for a job but at least you’re getting paid and you do have some protection from disappearing clients (more of that later).

If I sound cynical, it’s because I am but I also do work on these platforms. I started off on Upwork and you’ll still find me on there, gaily turning down offers of exposure. I learnt the hard way, very early on how easy it is to get succoured into an offer that’s too good to be true. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt it’s that I should have listened to my grandmother’s dating advice: most offers aren’t worth a bucket of spit.

There probably isn’t much in the way of differences when it comes to these sites, they all charge you connects to make offers to clients unless you’re invited specifically, they all rake in a percentage of your hard-earned cash and they are all very popular.

Folklore dictates that Upwork and PPH are the more mainstream sites that attract the greatest variety of freelance creatives but there are others and if you want to try your hand on Freelancer, Toptal, Craigslist and the like then you’ll find each gives a slightly different offer and various degrees of protection. Some you can only access through passing a talent test while others (looking at you Freelancer) plunge you straight into peer battles akin to the Hunger Games – may the odds be ever in your favour.

But a quick aside on how not to get ripped off. Early on I spent hours producing thousands of words for a client who, well, legged it. They owed me hundreds. It was my first job, the contract was not set out properly and I was devastated. After moaning to literally everyone I knew. I realised this was also a valuable lesson and as no one wanted to hear another word about it anyway, I womaned-up and vowed never to make the same mistake again; except I just have on PPH where I fell for a stupid trick and am now out of pocket by £50. What a schmuck. You see, people are believable and even the most experienced among us will want to believe the good in people. Listen up freelancers because I’m only going to say it once: do not start a job without a (legit) contract in place. That’s it. 

Work for the pay you want, take on the projects that make you feel happy but do not work without a contract on these platforms. I said that twice, but you can see why right? Now does anyone have £50 they can lend me, I’ll pay you back in exposure?

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