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Table Of Contents  The Online Freelancing Guide
 >  Introduction - Online Freelancing Overview, Options, Opportunities and Challenges
      >  Introduction and Overview of Online Freelancing

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Comparing Online Freelancing to Traditional Employment
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Comparing Online Freelancing to Conventional Freelancing

If you’re an experienced conventional freelancer—as opposed to one who works online—you probably found much that was familiar in my comparison of online freelancing to tradi­tional employment. And you also probably know why: different styles of freelancing are still much more similar to each other than they are to conventional employment. Whether you work online or not, as a freelancer you will enjoy benefits such as independence, flexibility, self-determination, and the ability to work in the way that suits you best. And similarly, whether online or not, you’ll deal with issues such as income uncertainty, annoying clients, time wasted looking for work, lack of benefits and so forth.

All that said, though, there are some important distinctions between online and conven­tional freelancing. The advantages and disadvantages of these methods primarily relate to two main issues: how you obtain new projects, and how you interact with clients. Conven­tional freelancers use, well, conventional means for finding work and dealing with their customers; online freelancers use freelance marketplace sites. And as is usually the case, there are benefits and drawbacks to each.

The following are the main advantages of online freelancing when compared to a more traditional approach:

  • An Abundance of Leads: Every project on a freelancing marketplace site is a potential lead: an opportunity to get a new project, and possibly, a long-term client. And there are literally thousands of new projects listed on these sites every day. This wealth of potential work is probably the biggest advantage of online freelancing compared to more traditional approaches.

  • Low Lead Cost: Online freelancers who complain about the fees associated with using freelance marketplace sites are often laughed at by experienced professionals who have worked for years at offline freelancing. While the fees for these sites do add up, they are still very small in comparison to what it costs to try to get clients and work the “old-fashioned way”. The cost of buying lunch for a single traditional client, or doing one “snail mail” flyer mailing, can cover several months of activity on a freelancing site.

  • Low Barriers to Entry: It is much easier for a newcomer to become established as an online freelancer than a conventional one. The startup costs are lower, and you don’t have nearly as much of a “chicken and egg” problem of lacking clients because of a lack of experience and vice-versa, as exists for traditional freelancers.

  • More Opportunities for Freelancers in Less Populated Areas: This is somewhat related to the point just above: conventional freelancing is much easier if you’re in a big city, because there are more people to serve as potential clients. Online freelancing is entirely viable no matter where you live, as long as you have good Internet service.

  • Broader Client Base: Conventional freelancers tend to get a lot of their work by referrals and word of mouth, leading to a regional orientation in their clientele. Online freelancers can draw from an international pool of clients.

  • Better Communication Methods: Many freelancers prefer online communication methods, such as email and freelance site workrooms, over the face-to-face meetings and telephone calls traditionally used for dealing with clients. Online communication is arguably slower, but it is easier to refer back to past discussions, and to keep client communications organized. It’s also less disruptive when you are trying to concentrate.

  • Tracking and Management Tools: Most freelancing marketplaces provide useful tools to help you keep track of work and manage your freelancing business.

And, of course, there are some pretty significant drawbacks to going online:

  • Poor Quality Projects: If the availability of leads is the biggest advantage of online freelancing, this is the biggest disadvantage. It’s true that there’s lots of projects on freelance marketplace sites, but finding good projects is often a different story. Many of the freelance marketplaces emphasize quantity over quality, and try to get clients primarily by advertising themselves as places to save money. The average value of a project on a freelancing site also tends to be lower than projects found the old-fashioned way. There are certainly some gems out there, but you’ll sift through a lot of rubble to find them.

  • Poor Quality Clients: This goes hand in hand with the problem of poor quality projects. Again, there are some very good clients on these sites, but also a huge number of cheapskates, liars and con artists. The emphasis on cost savings seems a major contributor to this problem, as does the tendency of Internet anonymity to embolden people to behave in ways they would never consider if dealing with a freelancer face-to-face.

  • Lower Rates: Expect lower to significantly lower rates for the same type of work when online compared to regular freelancing. This is a combination of clients with tight budgets (as I just discussed) and the high degree of competition from other freelancers, some of whom live in places with a very low cost of living. There are exceptions, but these are few: generally only those at the tops of their fields, or those who work in specialty fields, and who also work very hard over the long-term to cultivate relationships with good clients.

  • Increased Chances of Payment Problems: All freelancers have issues with non-paying clients from time to time, but these are made worse online. You can protect yourself by using a site with proper protections such as an escrow service and low- or no-cost arbitration, but this reduces the number of project leads you have to choose from, and may increase fees.

  • Freelance Site Annoyances: Some freelancing sites have rules and policies that make them a nuisance to work with, and customer service is not always the best.

  • Communication Problems: Online communication is sometimes better than more traditional forms, but not always. There are times when one ten-minute phone call will accomplish more than a half-day of tossing emails back and forth. And isn’t any online substitute for a face-to-face meeting—no, videoconferencing is not the same.

As always, there’s no need to make an all-or-nothing choice here. In fact, many freelancers decide to complement their existing businesses with a second career as an online freelancer. This can be a great way to get the “best of both worlds”, enabling the freelancer to use online freelancing when their customary freelancing business slows down, and vice-versa.

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Comparing Online Freelancing to Traditional Employment
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Is Online Freelancing the Right Choice for Your Skills?
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