Should I Try to Find Work through Freelancing Platforms?

At my freelancing meetup group, this question pops up every time. In fact, the subject of freelancing platforms is one of the most-talked-about topics in the world of freelancing—whether it’s in person or on Quora. From “which is the best freelancing website?” to “how do I increase my sales on <insert freelancing platform here>?” to “should I use freelancing platforms at all?” (For other common freelancing questions, check out the FAQs.)

The answer isn’t simple. Never is, is it? If you look at the history of freelancing, some of the biggest sites (Fiverr, Upwork, Freelancer, PeoplePerHour) have been around for more than a decade, meaning they’re unsurprisingly overcrowded with freelancers and difficult to break into for newbies. But even if you’re new to the game, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should avoid them.

You see, these sites have thousands, millions maybe, of buyers already looking for freelancers. When you’re a new freelancer, one of the hardest tasks is finding potential clients. If you try to find clients just through your personal website or word of mouth, then you’re severely limiting your potential audience. You have to find the clients and get them to buy your services—that’s two tough jobs. On freelancing platforms, the clients are already there, so that’s just one tough job for you.

I’ve seen a lot of snobbery when it comes to the subject of freelancing platforms, with some people suggesting that new freelancers should avoid them completely, like they’re selling their soul if they even create a profile on one of these sites. Yes, the fees aren’t ideal. Yes, some buyers are looking to pay crazy low prices. Yes, some freelancers are trying to low-ball their competition out of the field.

However, you don’t have to fall into these traps if you’re diligent. And the fees are a fairly reasonable exchange for the services that freelancing platforms offer (escrow services, withdrawals to bank accounts, conflict resolution, access to clients, the ability to see a buyer’s feedback, etc). It’s not like you’re getting nothing in return for the fee. What you’re paying for is essentially access to numerous clients and protection against bad buyers.

Plus, no one is saying you have to choose one of the big four sites. There are countless new, upcoming, and smaller freelancing sites with less competition. There are industry-specific sites with buyers looking for exactly what you’re offering. For example, I gain most of my work through a book-specific freelancing site, where there are 70,000 authors and around 500 editors, which is a far better ratio than if I tried to find clients on my own. Fiverr and Upwork aren’t the only options.

When freelancers criticise these sites, perhaps they had a bad experience on one of the sites. Or maybe they didn’t stay on the site long enough to see whether it’d be fruitful. Or maybe they’re successful now and have forgotten how freelancing platforms helped them get there. Ideally, we’d all like to find work through our own personal websites or networks and not pay fees to freelancing sites. But for the 15% in fees you have to give up, it’s worth it to get customers. Then, when you have enough clients, you can go off-site.

What do you think about freelancing platforms? Have you had success with them or not? Which are your favourites? Leave a comment or get in touch.

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