One of my primary concerns going into 2014 is how dependent I’ve grown on freelance marketplaces. This includes sites like oDesk (I personally do not use Elance) and of course some of my favorite writing sites like Writer Access and Blogmutt. The lure of having assignments there to pick and choose from, not having to deal with clients one on one and a whole host of other “benefits” have resulted in my neglecting a lot of things that perhaps I need to take a look at. If you’re a freelancer, there may be some reason for you to be concerned too!
Let me be clear about something
For a long time, I’ve maintained that sites like oDesk and Elance do have value for freelancers. However, with that said, I also believe these sites have some significant drawbacks. One of the biggest drawbacks I have seen (and experienced) is that it tends to make a freelancer far more complacent about their own business. Let’s face facts: Let’s look at some of the things that these marketplaces “take away” from your business:
- Limiting risks – being a business owner means you are taking risks. Oftentimes, sites like oDesk and Elance help minimize that risk by guaranteeing payments. While this is certainly not true 100 percent of the time, it is true the bulk of the time
- Marketing skills – in order to build a successful business, one needs to hone their marketing skills constantly. While there is no doubt that using an online marketplace STILL requires you to do some marketing, it’s nothing like trying to market yourself out in the wild blue yonder
- Establishing credibility – one of the best things about oDesk and Elance is that you finish a job and you get feedback most of the time. Whether you work for one hour, one week or one month, good feedback typically results in “overnight credibility”. Let’s face it, things don’t work that way in real business most of the time
- Financial problems – perhaps one of the best things about using these sites is they generally take care of most of your accounting problems. Freelance sites collect your payments and pay you for your work. In the traditional “business” model, you’d be invoicing your clients, chasing them for payments and waiting for the check to clear. Then at the end of the year rather than getting a 1099 form from your “client” (which in this case is oDesk or Elance) you would have to figure out who owes you a 1099 and in some cases, chase after it
These are some of the problems that I see as a freelancer who has depended on freelance sites. These “shortcuts” are not unique to freelance marketplaces either; for writers, the content mills are the same. These sites tend to “shortcut” our instincts to run a business and create our own “niche” in our market. Let’s face it, even the worst assignments on these sites make it far easier than chasing down new clients. While we may moan and groan about the clients, chances are we still go back and look for work. Some freelancers prefer oDesk, others prefer Elance and everyone has their reasons for doing so: But the question remains — are you really growing your own business or are you just helping fuel theirs?