Relying on job bidding sites to find freelance work puts control of your freelance career in someone else’s hands.
Since you’re reading this article, I probably don’t have to sell you on why freelancing is important.
(For those of you who may have accidentally stumbled in, traditional on-staff work puts all of your income and livelihood entirely in someone ELSE’s control. That’s a pretty dangerous place to be.)
Whether freelancing full-time or on the side, freelancing lets you boost your income, control your schedule, clients, and workload, not to mention working when and where you want to.
…As long as you’re doing it right.
…And many new or struggling freelancers definitely aren’t.
I don’t blame them: Upwork (and Fiverr and Freelancer.com and other job bidding sites where you can bid on freelancing projects) sure seem like a great solution. “It’s so easy! People need freelance help and they post the projects on the site — then all I have to do is pick from the projects, reach out to them, and do the work!”
And yeah, that does sound easy.
If only it actually worked that way.
How Job Bidding Sites Work
First, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page about how these sites actually work. Say Client A wants a new logo designed by a freelance graphic designer. It’s easy for her. She:
- Describes the work
- Gives her budget
- Posts the job on the website
All she has to do now is sit back and watch the bids roll in. Once the job listing is live, interested freelancers spend time (for free) putting together the best possible proposal.
They make a case for why they’re the best for the job, and provide a quote for the work.
A Race Toward the Lowest Price
At this point, you may be thinking this sounds like a great deal for freelancers. Scrolling through these sites sure sounds like an easy way to find clients.
But let’s be real. It sounds too good to be true, and that’s because it probably is.
Think of it this way: Every time you bid on a job, you’re competing with dozens of freelancers. Each bid costs you (unpaid) time to craft a thorough and compelling proposal that stands out from the crowd.
But it’s worse than being a time suck. Remember, too, that people posting projects on these sites are, by and large, not looking for the best of the best. The reason that Client A is using this site in the first place is because she wants the best work done for as cheap as possible.
In order to put yourself in the running at all, not only will you need to send a great proposal, you’ll also have to price your services lower than your standard rate to remain competitive with the other bidders.
The trouble with these sites is that you end up losing out no matter what. “Best case scenario,” you get the work—but for much less than your standard rate.
Worst case—and far more likely simply because of the ratio of freelancers to projects—you waste a lot of time putting together proposals that don’t even get work.
And that’s not even to talk about the horror stories I’ve heard from people who’ve been held hostage on projects by clients who make threats about posting a bad review. Or that fact that you don’t get to actually partner with the client as an equal; you have to work strictly as a producer.
Client A wins every time.
While it might be an “easy” way to find work, it’s definitely not the most productive use of your time and energy.
You’ve started a freelance business to control your income and your schedule…and on these job bidding sites you’re controlled by who and when projects are posted and whether or not they choose you. You’re still giving up control.
It’s a lot like that TV show, The Bachelor. When you’re the bachelor and you get to choose from among 25 fabulous women, the ratio is reeeeeally great for you. But when you’re one of the 25 women competing for one guy, it’s lousy.
If you want steady, predictable success as a freelancer, you need to flip the ratio.
The Real Math on Freelance Platforms
Of course, there will always be freelancers who say, “you can absolutely make six figures on Upwork or Fiverr!” It makes for a great flashy headline.
Sure: you absolutely can make six figures on these platforms. But doing a little math shows you it’s both an exhausting and inefficient way to hit six figures.
In the article, one of the freelancers says:
“I average $60 per order, and that’s counting a 100-word email. That average also includes the $5 gigs I did at first. But excluding those, I would say my average is about $100 a job right now, so if I have 27 jobs in the queue, that’s $2,700 …
“Freelancing is very roller coaster. One day I might have two to three things to do, but I’ve had days when I had 27 things to do, which is an 18-hour workday … On any given day, I’ll have 40-50 jobs in my queue.
“But I appreciate that even if I work hard and have 20-30 jobs to do in a day, I have a lot better life because I don’t have to deal with bosses, I can tell people I don’t want to do a job that I don’t want to do. And I have flexibility. I’m taking my wife to Europe on a hiking trip for two weeks.”
There are a few things to unpack here. And we’re not doing so to point fingers at this freelancer; they likely never learned how to freelance (it’s why we created a course … so you don’t make these mistakes) You can absolutely hit six figures, but:
You Do Not Need to Work 18-Hour Days
We didn’t get into freelancing to work even more than we did at a full-time job! This is a recipe for freelancer burnout.
What this says is that this freelancer does not have a process for scheduling client work. Or, more likely, they’re taking so many jobs on the client’s timeline because that’s what the client posted on the freelance platform and that’s what the freelancer agreed to.
When you pitch businesses directly (more on that below!), you set the deadlines. The vast, vast majority of the time, clients aren’t expecting a rush job (and if they are, you can charge more!).
We’ve even had freelancers in our community tell us they’ve turned down work because they couldn’t squeeze it in, only to have the client come back weeks later and ask if they had time. Freelancers are often scared to lose out on work when that’s generally not the case.
You Do Not Need to Have 40-50 Jobs in the Queue
How stressful! Some freelancers have 40 to 50 jobs over the course of an entire year—and can still hit their income goals. Having 27 tasks in one day to complete is unrealistic. Of course, if you commit to them, you have to hit your deadlines, which is what leads to 18-hour days.
Think about it: 6 AM to midnight?! That’s insane.
Wouldn’t six figures be a lot nice working six or seven hours each day? (No guarantees here—you’ve got to do the work!) When you know how to pitch correctly, you know how to control your workload and ramp it up if your project load is lighter (and you want more work) or ramp it down if you’re going on vacation, for example.
You Do Not Need to Rush Your Work
As a professional freelancer, you know the amount of time it takes to complete various projects in order to deliver value for your clients.
In order to average $60 an order for a 100-word email and make $150 to $200 an hour, that means this freelancer is churning out 2 or 3 emails per hour. These clients are getting mediocre work, at best.
Plus, the stress of having to work at that speed to meet those rates is also a sure path to burnout.
There is plenty of high-paying work for freelancers; but that work is not on job bidding sites.
You Can Go to Europe (Or Anywhere You Want) Without
All of the benefits this freelancer cites are possible … without rushing, the pressure of double-digit jobs in the queue, and 90-hour work weeks.
In fact, when done smartly and with an effective system for finding and landing high-paying clients, you may decide to work four days a week and hit your income goals. Or you may hit your goal in 3 days a week, or part-time hours, or … you get the idea.
Pitch Businesses Directly
If you want to be successful as a freelancer, and be constantly fielding multiple opportunities, you need a proven, repeatable, scalable system of outreach.
No, I don’t mean those terrible copy-and-paste, one-size-fits-all pitches that most freelancers send — I mean the kinds of value-based pitches that consistently get potential clients *thanking* our students for sending them.
Freelance platforms may seem “easy” and “less scary” than pitching … until you learn to pitch correctly and realize it’s just providing a business with a gift.
The best freelance pitches land you high-quality clients rather than bargain hunters. You’ll stack the odds in your favor by avoiding competition with dozens of other freelancers. And you can maintain control of your career by charging the rates you deserve.
Plus, you become a valued partner to your clients, a freelance expert versus a freelance executor. You can pitch projects you want to do that will help your client’s business. And you can work with clients you want to work with.
Prospecting will always be the most productive way to build your client base and earn a great living.
When YOU are in control of the opportunities, you are in control of your income and your workload. Want to make more? Dial up your outreach. Want to take a little break or scale it back for a while? Dial it down.
This is also, importantly, why dry spells and “feast or famine” cycles are NOT inevitable for freelancers.
The freelancers who experience dry spells are the ones who are waiting for clients to find them or hoping for projects to pop up on sites like Upwork.
But when you are consistently reaching out (which, by the way, gets faster and easier the more you do it), you consistently have work and income flowing in.
Dry Spells Happen to Freelancers Who Are At Someone Else’s Mercy
One more quick thing: I posted about this on Instagram and a woman replied saying, essentially, “UpWork was great for starting my career and I use it to get fill-in work on slow weeks.”
As I replied, sure, some people get lucky. But, imagine if she’d been able to *start out* her career (and continue) not having to wait for people to post work, not having to bid against other people, setting her own rates and timelines, and being able to be a true partner for her clients instead of a producer?
Freelancing is about being free — about controlling your own income, schedule, and work. The way to do that is by using a proven, repeatable, scalable system for finding and landing high-paying clients…not by giving up control to Upwork.
Listen to the Podcast for More
Your turn! Have you tried landing work on job bidding sites? Let us know about your experience in the comments below!
Last Updated on December 20, 2023 by Kate Sitarz