As a writer, I’ve never had a huge amount of success with freelancer sites. I’ve criticised them a fair bit too, generally cursing them for their race to the bottom mentality. Low, low prices are offered by poor quality writers which is then followed by better writers desperate to land a job or two.
However, while setting up my portfolio I decided to hire illustrators to bring the site to life. Some of my articles were published on sites that used images I don’t have the rights to use, and my short stories have no images at all. Rather than use free stock images, which I’m doing for my blog posts because I don’t have much money, I thought I’d do something a little bit different. I had no idea where to find illustrators for hire, so I opted for these sites that I wasn’t overly fond of.
By doing this, and going on the other side of the employer-freelancer dash, I picked up some useful tips for myself and others who bid on projects.
Obviously you know to provide great work, to meet deadlines and to communicate well, but what else should you do?
Freelancer.com vs Upwork
I used these two sites essentially because I know of them. I didn’t know where else to go, but have since found this list which may be useful to some.
I put my ad for The One That Got Away on both, planning to widen my scope for finding the best illustrator in my budget. The differences were huge. I invited six freelancers from the applicants to a paid test, and five of those came from Upwork.
As a general rule, I found the quality of applicants a lot higher on Upwork (as well as the fee quoted, which is a fair correlation). Freelancer did have some good workers too, but it also had far more spammers and time wasters.
After this, I’ve tended to use Upwork for more difficult projects and Freelancer for things that are more straight forward. As an employer, Upwork has a much better site — both in terms of design and functionality (and generally not being really annoying).
I should probably also highlight some of Upwork’s negatives. The main annoyance seems to be a 20% cut from all freelancer pay, which seems amazingly high (plus a percentage or so from the employer as well).
This story from Shadi Al’lababidi — Why you should never use Upwork, ever — was hugely popular on Medium this week and seems to have garnered huge support.
Still, regardless of where you’re looking for work, here are a few things I noticed that happened far too often and put me right off the applicants.
Read the ad
Sounds obvious, right? Someone posts work, you have a look at the ad, maybe check out the attachment, consider answering the questions. That’s not how it seems to work, especially not on Freelancer.
I posted an ad for an illustration to go with my dog cafe article. Within five minutes, I had 23 applications.
Sure, the ad was small. The article isn’t too long (read-o-meter estimates that it takes two and a half minutes to get through). To do all that and craft a covering letter especially for me? I’m very suspicious.
I’m especially suspicious of those two that say “I have read Your (sic) project description” and “I have gone through [your] project description” because they both failed my very easy test: I asked all applicants to put the word ‘woof’ in their covering letter, just so I could easily weed out those who didn’t read it.
In total, I received 65 offers to complete this work and only 15 of those followed my instructions. All the others were binned immediately, without me even bothering to check their portfolio. There were probably some incredible illustrators in that group, but I want to hire someone honest and who can follow instructions.
Put some effort into your pitch
Having the best pitch doesn’t always win you the job, but it does help show another side to your working capacity. After I’d binned all the irrelevant applications, I looked at the portfolios and generally made my decision from there.
Sometimes the final decision is ridiculously hard for me to make. For some jobs, I could easily have gone two or three ways, and I’m sure I would’ve been happy with any of the options. I’ve asked some friends to help and they can often back up my initial hunches, but sometimes the quality of the pitch really helps.
I ended up giving the fisherman image to Daniel Greenhalgh to create. Obviously he had a great portfolio (and he’s drawn me a cracking cover) but his pitch is the best I’ve seen for any of my projects, by a long, long way. He not only made it clear that he’d read my story (which is the minimum I’d expect), he brought me back to my high school days with the level of detail he went into with his analysis. He looked at all the aspects, gave his opinion on why I’d done things and delved into areas that went beyond my original intention. If he was prepared to put that much effort into a pitch, I knew he’d work hard on the actual job.
Other freelancers have tried other ways to stick in my mind. I’ve had humour, compliments and all manner of positive approaches, and they can all help.
What I don’t want is a list of copy and pasted skills you have or things you think you can do (especially when half of them have nothing to do with the project). I definitely don’t want an entirely copy and pasted application, even if you are paying to have the ‘recommended’ banner slapped above your face, and definitely don’t apply for two of my jobs with near identical offers.
Also, don’t do this:
Don’t bombard me with messages
Just like I’m not going to award the project to you just because you’ve got your application in five seconds before the second person to make a bid, I’m also not going to cut down my decision making time just because you ask me to.
Without shaming anyone in particular, I have one conversation in my inbox where the applicant has sent me 33 messages to my 8. Two of those from me are telling him to give me a bit of time to see what else comes in. After my last one of those, he tried to start conversations with me on three consecutive days. Another three were asking questions that were clearly covered in the ad.
Of course, you should ask for clarification when you need it, but don’t ask things like ‘you say there’s an article?’ when there’s one clearly attached and there’s a note in the ad saying it’s attached.
Take the lead
If an ad is very specific in what it wants and how it wants that done, then you should follow orders and explain why you’re the best choice for that job. But if an ad asks for ideas or for you to suggest what you think would work best, show off your expertise. Don’t keep asking what they want, because often they want to be wowed. Someone who takes controls and says ‘This would look great for you. I can do it like this and you’ll love it’ is much better than a wishy-washy answer that covers everything but offers nothing.
I guess what this all boils down to is taking time to create a good pitch. For most freelancers that’s as much as you have to impress potential employers. If you don’t do that, you’ll be discarded almost straight away.
If you plan to use freelance sites to find work, I would definitely recommend putting an ad out there to see the kind of responses that come in. You may well be surprised how bad some of your competition is, and you can learn what works and what doesn’t quite quickly.