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Freelance bidding sites promise writers empowerment and the ability to start a writing career, but is that really what they offer?
It seems as though these sites are always at the center of controversy in the freelance writing world.
On the one hand, they take a bit of the risk out of launching a new freelance writing career by answering one of the most-asked questions: where am I going to find clients? But on the other hand, their policies are in place to protect their bottom line.
So, I will start off by saying that, yes, freelance bidding sites can help you launch a freelance writing career.
Just what kind of career? Well, that part's up in the air.
Freelance Bidding Sites Aren't Going to Hand You Clients
This probably goes without saying, but freelance bidding sites aren't actually going to give you clients. In fact, don't even make it easier to get clients. And I know what you're going to say, "but Naomi, you just said that they answer where you're going to find clients."
What freelance bidding sites do is give clients a place to post their jobs. Freelancers can then bid on those jobs in hopes of getting hired.
If you don't know where to look for clients, these freelance bidding sites are a great place to start because they have lists of them. But before you go jumping in headfirst, let's take a look at the pros and cons of these freelance bidding sites.
Pros of Using Freelance Bidding Sites
Well, like I said, if you're new to freelance writing and don't know where to look for clients, then these freelance bidding sites help answer that question. At least, they give you a starting point. Rather than hunting down companies on the internet or paying for ads on social media, you can go to one spot and find companies that are already looking to hire. Instead of reading through a sea of scams on Craig's List or trying to sift through the classifieds in newspapers and on various other sites, you can hunt in just one site.
And instead of pitching endlessly to different sites, you can centralize all your efforts through just one site.
Along that same vein, if you've never worked in a freelancing capacity before and aren't really sure how to pitch to a potential client, those bidding sites make that pretty easy as well. Most of the time, you just need to follow the instructions provided by the prospect and fill out the form that the site has provided.
Not only that, but getting hired on these sites isn't even all that hard.
When I decided to go back to freelance writing after a four-year hiatus, I sat down with my husband to have the talk about what it would mean and the idea of quitting my job to go back to writing. We were already behind on a couple of bills at the time, so quitting my job didn't feel like the best idea. I hopped on the computer that night, set up an account on Elance (now part of UPWork), and had my first client before I went to bed that night.
That's how fast those sites can sometimes work.
Do they work that fast for everybody? Honestly, I don't know. I had a couple things going for me at the time, including the fact that I had already been freelancing as a writer and a web developer for a few years before I quit to go to school. So I already knew what to look for, I already had samples built up, and I already knew how to write and send a proposal.
However, I feel even beginners would be able to find clients on one of these bidding sites faster than they would if they were to just hit Google without a plan and try to find a client. The systems are just set up to be faster than the normal pitch via email system many freelancers use outside of those types of sites.
Plus, those bidding sites make bookkeeping and tax information a breeze. If all your clients are coming through those sites, you don't even need any third-party apps for your tax records. Just download your transactions and you can use that to figure everything else out. And, speaking of taxes, the fees you would pay to some of those sites for hosting your profile are considered business expenses, so you can use your receipts for those as well.
Cons of Using Freelance Bidding Sites
Like I said, these sites are often the center of controversy, so of course you know that means there's a downside to them.
For one thing, they are highly competitive. In fact, they've always been super competitive, but since Covid-19 has thrown so many millions of people out of work, the competition on these sites has gotten even worse as hundreds of thousands of people turn to freelancing to try to earn an income.
However, the growing number of freelancers aren't the only reason things are getting competitive on those sites...it's also the growing number of new freelance writers. A lot of new freelance writers are so new that they haven't even made the decision to truly launch a business yet -- they are still thinking of writing as a side hustle or filler work to let them earn a little bit of money. As such, a lot of new freelance writers haven't taken the steps most entrepreneurs need to take before launching a business:
- They haven't written a business plan, and therefore don't know their own goals.
- They haven't identified their ideal client or market.
- They haven't established their mission statement and therefore can't define how they stand out.
These bidding sites publicly advertise jobs to their entire workforce, sometimes even publicly to the world. But they also show off quite a bit about the bidding process. You can often see who else is bidding and how much they've quoted to the potential client. So, take a new freelancer who doesn't know which leg to stand on, throw them into a public auction through which they are trying to get hired to make money, and what do you get?
A race to the lowest bid.
So, every project gets dozens, sometimes even hundreds, or bids placed on it by freelancers of various skill and experience level - not just experience in writing, but experience in running a business and bidding.
Another disadvantage of these freelance bidding sites are how they make their money. Let me give you a hint: if you are able to use a site for free, then you are not the site's client -- you are the product the site is selling to their clients.
Most of these sites operate by allowing freelancers to sign up and bid on projects for free. Now, yes. They make their money in a variety of ways:
- Listing fees
- Bidding fees
- Percentage of payment transactions
- Rush order fees
- Featured or highlighted fees
And, yes, it's true that as a freelance writer you can pay membership fees. But let's take a look at what happens when a client or buyer pays money versus when a freelancer pays money. When a client or buyer pays extra money to the platform, they get recruiting services that will help them match up with better freelancers. They get rushed services and highlighted listings -- they get better products, right?
What do freelancers get when they pay higher fees? The chance to bid on more projects, but not necessarily better clients. Not better projects, not higher pay, not better benefits related to the projects. They might get to highlight their bid to make it easier for the client to find them but they don't necessarily get a better client.
Because freelancers are the product, not the client.
Which means these sites can run without you, the freelancer, but cannot run without the clients or buyers. Why is this important? Because it comes into play at nearly every argument that breaks out on these sites: the platform almost always sides with the client or buyer over the freelancers.
- Did the client ghost without paying you? That's going to be hard to prove.
- Did the client go back on their word? Also hard to prove.
- Did the client suddenly decide they didn't like your work and want their money back? You're probably going to have to refund it.
No matter what the situation is, if the client files a complaint to one of these sites, the chances of you winning are slim.
And one final disadvantage to these types of sites: they aren't well-known by clients for bringing the best freelancers, just the most affordable. You can compare these sites to an online thrift shop, really. When people walk into a thrift store, they might find treasures. They know it might be a little disorganized and that some of the products might not be up to par, but they're not planning on spending a lot of money anyway.
No one goes into a thrift shop expecting to pay a lot of money, and they know you get what you pay for. They don't seek out the creme de la creme there in the thrift shop: they seek the best they can find for the money they are willing to spend.
Of course, they might find a real treasure, and they might even be willing to pay for such a treasure should the shop owner realize what they're selling. But far more just try to stay within their preconceived limits.
So, Should You Use One of Those Freelance Bidding Sites?
The truth is, this is going to be up to you. And I know, people hate it when I give that as an answer because it's so vague. However, keep in mind that those sites do work. There are plenty of freelancers who make money using bidding sites. And not just pennies, but actual income they use to support their families.
And there are others, like me, who didn't start to truly flourish as freelance writers until they got off those sites and established their own presence online.
But I will say this: the strategies that you would use to run a business while relying on one of those sites for clients are going to be different than the strategies you'll use to run your own business independent of those sites. Writing a proposal for a company you've found via a search on Google or while roaming across LinkedIn can be very different than putting together a bid for a project you've found listed on a bidding site. So, I think your safest bet is to learn how to run a business as if you had no plans on using one of those sites at all.
At least then the skills and knowledge you gain can still be put to good use.
Now you be the Judge: Are Freelance Bidding Sites the Empowering Solution They Claim to Be for 2021?
I have to say yes-ish. Yish?
If you're brand new to freelance writing and have absolutely no idea where to start, how to find a client, or what a mission statement is, then yes. Hopping onto one of these freelance bidding sites to launch your career can be very empowering.
However, you want to monitor your activities on these sites carefully and make sure you are not getting sucked into a rut. And as you gain more experience, you want to move off these sites as soon as you can or you may find they are actually holding you back.
Did you enjoy this article? Here are some more posts on freelance writing you may like:
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- How to Become a Freelance Writer (6-step startup guide)