Freelancer.com - Freelancer Community Characteristics
As hard as it is at any time to describe a large community in an accurate and objective manner, it’s especially difficult with Freelancer.com. The site does not make any statistics or summary information available about its freelancer community. Unlike some other sites, it is also not possible to easily discern much about the community in general terms by looking around the site itself; I did my best, but there simply isn’t any way to get quantitative data about the freelancer community base. That leaves subjective impressions, and that’s what I’ll do my best to provide here.
In earlier topics I mentioned that I like Freelancer.com’s system of allowing a user to be both a client and a contractor. However, while this theoretically means there could be users who act as both, in practice the client and contractor communities are quite distinct. I looked over a fair number of profiles and was not able to find even one user in the sample I selected who both hired and worked on the site: everyone was either a client or a contractor.
The client and contractor communities are also very different, as you might imagine. Freelancer.com does not make any secret of attempting to appeal to businesses who are looking to outsource work to save money. This leads to a predictable geographical segmentation of users, with clients tending to be more from Western countries, and contractors much more from developing nations.
It is actually possible to do a provider search on the site, and to specify that you want to look for contractors from particular countries. This search was extremely slow—about a minute for each one—so I couldn’t do it for as many countries as I would have liked. To give Freelancer.com’s servers a break, I just did it for two key nations: the United States and India.
The site told me that of the roughly 2.2 million users on Freelancer.com, 400,000 are from India. This was not a big surprise; India is a major source of freelancers, especially in the “budget” range. But it also reported 300,000 Americans, which was a bit of an eyebrow-raiser. The search function says that it only looks for providers, but I’m skeptical about this: not only because of the large number, but also the aforementioned integrated user accounts. So I have to wonder if those really were all active contractors, as opposed to a big chunk of them really being clients.
Regardless of what the provide search function shows, the reality of the freelancer community is easily seen by looking at the bids on actual projects. Wherever those 300,000 Americans may be, they are not submitting proposals: the vast majority of actual bidders are from south and southeast Asia. There are particularly high percentages of users from India, Pakistan and the Philippines, which again, are well-known outsourcing hotspots. My guess is that many of those American providers were active at one time but have simply left the site as project quality has decreased (and I speak from personal experience, since one of them is me!)
Overall, I rate the quality and professionalism level of the freelancer community at Freelancer.com as below average, when compared to other sites, and especially those marketplaces that compete directly with it. There certainly are some very good providers on the site, who have completed many projects and have good feedback scores. But these are solidly in the minority compared to the truly staggering numbers of low-quality workers who bid on nearly every project.
Freelancer.com’s preference for open bidding makes it pretty easy to scope out the nature of the freelancers who are active on the site. While some proposals are indirectly hidden by the freelancer writing “see PM” and sending the proposal privately, others are openly displayed and make it quite obvious that most of the people on the site are far from professional. Many proposals are exceedingly spartan, often containing just a single sentence. Many of them contain English that is poor in quality, or even incomprehensible. It’s also very common to see “bids” that consist of nothing more than a contractor literally begging the client to give them work, without providing any valid reason why it is deserved. The completion rates of many of the bidders are surprisingly poor, indicating a lack of follow-through on past projects.
Of course, a client only needs to hire one person (usually), and so the large masses of unqualified people can readily be ignored if a decent number of good freelancers bid as well. But here too, I have been surprised to find how common it is for this not to happen. Perusing the project listings reveals dozens of projects with only one or two bidders who have a solid track record, and sometimes, not even that; this is worse than I have typically encountered on other sites.
For example, I loaded a project looking for 3D design work, and out of 27 total proposals it had one bidder with over 1,700 reviews, one with 57 reviews, five with just 1 to 5 reviews, and 20 with no reviews at all. Once again, the operative phrase is “quantity over quality”—and this despite a stated budget of $750-$1500.
Many clients are obviously willing to put up with this in exchange for the possibility of getting their work done cheaply. But it can’t take too many experiences on the site for them to become rather jaded. If you want to be an active contractor on Freelancer.com, be prepared to deal with skeptical clients who are aware of the issues above. They will want you to show that you are a member of the small minority of qualified freelancers, and not the overwhelming majority of random workers looking to make money in any way they can.
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Last Site Update: October 21, 2011
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