Professional Development Collaborative

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In the Gig Economy, Freelance Marketplaces Are Where Projects and People Intersect

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Freelance marketplaces are a growing industry where freelancers with marketable skills have an opportunity to earn extra money – or even generate a primary source of income.

According to industry experts, the “gig economy” is on the rise and participation could jump to as much as 40 percent of the working population. Though the percentage is disputed, Intuit says, “The number of contingent workers will exceed 40 percent by 2020.” And Hubstaff says “the gig economy is growing at a rate of 27 percent higher than that of full-time jobs.” Others say 1 in 3 workers will be part of the gig economy by 2020.

Companies have downsized more and more job functions such as design, IT, HR, customer support, writing and editing, and have laid off many older workers. However the need for the job functions didn’t go away. The growth in SAAS (software as a service) has helped create freelance marketplaces by diminishing transaction costs, increasing market flexibility and providing cost-effective outsourcing solutions and IT. The marketplaces provide the platforms for talent and buyers to find each other and manage the process of connecting and setting the structure for creating projects.

It makes sense for freelancers to join forces and be found on a marketplace, since, if reputable, they can have a larger draw for work than people could possibly find striking out on their own. It also fills a niche in the economy where businesses wish for flexible human capital and workers wish to be independent of one employer and have flexible work hours.

The marketplaces offer a pool of talent broken into categories, with profiles depicting expertise, experience, portfolios and references. Some marketplaces screen the talent and have a range of skills to choose from while others only accept the top 1-3 percent of their field. These marketplaces are more reputable and the jobs are more robust and of a higher caliber, and the costs and fees are higher as well.

There are several models for how the marketplaces make money. Some charge fees to the buyers, some to both the freelancer and buyer, and some charge for subscriptions of varying lengths of time.

Buyers offer up projects for freelancers to bid on, and the buyer selects from the pool. Sometimes the marketplace chooses who they think is a good fit. Another model, used in the design field, involves contests where the winner gets the contract, which can be good for practice and to get your designs some visibility. But if you don’t get the contract, you don’t get paid – which doesn’t seem like a fair trade for the work done. As with any emerging endeavor, one can expect there to be mergers and acquisitions and many changes as this new frontier evolves.

Navigating and playing the freelance sandbox is rife with challenges. One is that competition is now global – and fierce. Bidding against others who are willing to do the project for a lot less is frustrating. Some workers underbid because they don’t know their worth or underestimate the time involved. And buyers themselves can be unclear on the scope of a project, directions or price range, and poor planning and late decisions on the bidding process that encroach on delivery dates. Jobs can be pulled after the initial bidding process, or during bidding. That doesn’t even touch late payments or cancellations with no payments. Also, in becoming a freelancer, you lose the security of a steady income, but the fix for that is that you can take on more clients if the work is there.

In the design sphere, as with other fields, there are many specialties such as print and electronic design, advertising, banner design, illustration, animation, web design, mobile interface, photography, videography, logo design and more. There are marketplaces dedicated to this field, but also marketplaces that offer multiple specialties with a much broader offering to the community, such as:

Freelancer.com is a crowdsourcing marketplace for multiple disciplines. It offers design competitions to prove your skills and compete for projects. Projects have options for fixed price or hourly terms and participants can set schedules, costs and milestones. Fees vary for both parties using the marketplace.

Upwork.com accommodates short and long-term projects, hourly and per project work and entry-level engagements. Use the network to chat, share files and collaborate from your desktop or mobile device. Invoicing and payments are made through Upwork. This site includes pre-vetted talent, a search algorithm for finding talent and varying levels of service. Fees vary for all parties.

Toptal.com is a multidiscipline marketplace featuring screened, seasoned talent (top 3 percent) and a large list of internationally recognized firms. They match the high-end talent to the firm for mission-critical projects to augment their staff. Projects can be worked off- or on-site. Fees vary for all parties.

iFreelance.com allows you to keep 100 percent of your earnings, and earns money by levels of membership. Freelancers can promote their service on their platform and search a database and bid on projects.

Other sites include project4hire.com, peopleperhour.com, 99designs.com and guru.com. And there are many micro-sites that offer small projects for lower cost and quick turnarounds, but be warned that some of the “projects” can border on the ridiculous. Among these are Fiverr.com, Taskr.in and Zeerk.com.


Edie Fossey, a marketing graphics traffic manager, can be reached at ediefossey@gmail.com.

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