Say ''no'' to freelance work on freelance websites

Tim Radelj Remic November 16th 2019

There are countless ways to get in touch with clients as a creative professional. One of the more popular ones is offering your expertise through websites, such as Fiverr, Freelancer and 99designs, which allow people to list their services, with the website acting as the broker. They are a fantastic source of income for plenty of creatives and here are a few reasons why you should stay far, far away from them.


1. You’re one in a million

The most obvious one is something the websites boast about and use as a selling point. The massive variety and sheer number of other designers and creatives really doesn’t help anybody but the website owners. It doesn’t really benefit the clients because for every 1 professional you’ll have 10 people looking to make a quick buck with what they believe is an “easy” side job, which makes it hard to both choose and go through the offers presented to them.

For you, as someone offering your services, it is, however, downright crippling. No matter how perfectly you setup your profile, you’re still practically invisible to potential clients. It’s the same problem portfolio websites have. It’s impossible to stand out if you’re just one of the thousands clawing for the attention of the same few. You’re easy to replace and easy to forget.


2. Your prices will not reflect your skill level

These websites, price wise, also favour the buyers heavily. Not only are you competing with thousands of others, which takes away any and all leverage you have as a professional, but you’re also competing with people from all over the world. For example, while 10$ is hardly enough for a large pizza in Slovenia, barely a cup and a half of coffee in the USA, it’s worth a lot more in India.

So, while you’re somebody who would charge a reasonable amount for your services based on your living standards and expenses, it would still be several times higher than what somebody from a different country can afford to charge. And their offer, profile and services are right there, next to yours.

It’s true that serious clients, who expect quality work, don’t often go for the cheaper options, and you have a massive advantage over someone from half a world away in terms of knowing your client’s market, competition and way of life.

It’s also true that your quality may be several times higher than the other person’s and that you don’t want a client unwilling to compensate you for your time properly – nor should you. Despite all of this, you still wasted time, motivation and your nerves on something that will ultimately get you nowhere.


3. You can’t show off your personality

These websites often don’t offer a whole lot of customization to your profile and they don’t reward different, creative ways of thinking. You’re limited in how you present yourself, which is crucial for finding clients you’re compatible with. You’re given a few words, a picture and a small portfolio to summarize your whole personality and career.

On Freelancer, for example, even the payable options which usually unlock a few more features don’t even really put a dent in how you’re putting yourself into a little box. It’s exactly why we always recommend having a website of your own.


4. Your work quality will suffer

Since you’re competing with thousands for jobs, you’re forced to lower your prices and increase the volume of the work you offer. If you drop your prices enough, eventually, after the first euphoria of finally selling your design work wears off, you’ll begin to resent yourself, the client and the website for the fact that you’re creating your best top notch work for yard sale prices.

With this, sadly, comes a drop in motivation, which leads to a drop in quality. You’re essentially mass-producing work that isn’t up to par, isn’t unique enough and, most importantly, will not look good on your portfolio nor be a worthy reference to get better clients in the future.

You will find plenty of sellers on these websites use stock resources to mass produce work, tweaking only the details before turning it in. One “unique” and “custom” logo ends up being sold to numerous clients. And, honestly, what else can you expect for a few bucks?


5. Cheap clients are difficult clients

Basic psychology tells us that we usually don’t appreciate something if we get it too easily. We’re happier when we have something to strive for and work towards. Clients are the same. The people who pay the least will commonly appreciate it the least and ignore your expertise and advice. The most frustrating part is that these people usually expect the most, often not in quality, but rather in countless versions, drafts and endless revisions until they finally say yes.

This will quickly wear you down emotionally and mentally and it’s never worth it. You just may end up a glorified tool, a button pusher if you will, for someone who doesn’t care about what you have to say or offer. And that can exhaust every ounce of passion you have for your creative endeavours and lead to subpar work.


6. You have no control or protection

The buyer holds all of the power on platforms such as these. In which other industry can you, as a client, walk up to somebody selling something and have complete power over the price? There have been numerous cases where clients have blackmailed, abused and threatened sellers on these websites.

You’re going to struggle a lot to get work without any reviews, which are crucial on these platforms. A review, which is otherwise a welcome byproduct of a successfully completed project, is used as a tool of manipulation and extortion by some.

A client can demand free work that wasn’t agreed upon, delay payment, be abusive and blackmail you and can still freely put up a negative review that will be there forever. One negative review will put a black mark over anything you’ve done up to this point. This is a very common occurrence and the worst part is they get away with it.

You, as a seller, aren’t protected at all. Where you could normally stop working with a horrible client completely, you’re under the threat of a negative review ruining your reputation. Where you would normally be protected by a contract, you’re frequently met with poor customer service from the platform’s staff.


7. You don’t control the relationship with the client

If you check out your city’s small businesses right now, find those with a lacklustre visual identity and offer to work for them, chances are, you’ll land a few business opportunities. And the awesome thing about it? You’re highly likely to build a relationship with them and have a long-term client. It isn’t very optimal for creatives to hop around and search for new clients all the time.

Getting a good client is difficult and much less likely on platforms such as Fiverr. The clients there are often other creatives looking for somebody to do what they can’t or can’t be bothered to, and those who are what you would normally classify as a client are usually one off and gone.

You’ll make them a logo and never speak to them again. That’s the business of cheaper service platforms and that’s not how you make a decent living as a creative. Having a relationship with a client where there’s mutual respect and appreciation benefits you both and is the optimal way to go about it.


8. Clients don’t know about it

As we’ve already established, a lot of the clients on these platforms are other creatives looking to fill in the gaps in their work. You have creatives underselling creatives, creating a pretty toxic relationship towards the value of your work as a whole.

If you ask your ideal client if they know what Fiverr or Freelancer are, you’ll be met with one of two responses; either they’ve never heard of them or they know to stay far away from them. That’s because the whole concept is heavily marketed towards designers as that’s where the money comes in. Designers not only provide the work and pay the commission out of their part of the deal, but they also advertise themselves and their work.


9. Contests equal exploitation

This one is a pet peeve of mine. I’m mentioning it here because these websites often hold contests, or even work primarily with contests to please clients. The company 99designs in particular adopts this way of doing business.

Everything clients should need to judge someone’s quality of work and sense of style is their portfolio. It’s easier to host a contest than it is to search for the right professional to work with and do your research. You, as a creative, shouldn’t bear the burden of proving yourself to a client because they can’t decide. Clients don’t get to demand free work and tens of submissions to pick and choose from, if they choose one at all.

In no other industry is it acceptable to ask different people to complete the work, only to have one of them be chosen and the rest disregarded. Imagine walking into a restaurant, demanding a few different dishes from different chefs and saying you’ll pay the one whose dish you like, if you like any at all. Contests demand volunteer work under the pretense of offering payment to the lucky winner.

You’ll most likely waste precious time you could spend creating something of worth or even relaxing and enjoying life and you’re just as likely to feel disappointed and suffer from a loss of confidence for no good reason. Contests are a lottery. Don’t encourage them.


10. It undermines your value as a creative

These platforms devalue creative work in two ways. Firstly by thriving on a community that undersells each other to bring in clients while giving all the power to the buyer and secondly, by stating outright in their advertisements that expensive design work is ridiculous and that people can get it done for very little money on their platform.

There’s a handful of very talented people you can find on these websites that will do good work for a low price. There’s also plenty of people not on these websites who definitely charge too much for the work they put out. It’s up to you as the seller, however, to assess your value, set your own prices and adjust them accordingly as you get better and better.

Your time is your own and no one can tell you you’re ridiculous or insane for charging what that time is worth. Proper design takes years to develop and your skills and sense of style continue to grow as long as you continue to encounter different projects and push yourself.

You’re getting paid for the knowledge, expertise, talent and time spent learning, not for the blunt time spent creating something. Any platform that lives off of you not valuing yourself properly is one you should stay far, far away from.


11. It’s not all bad

There are websites that may well be worth your time, such as Toptal. What’s so different about websites like this is their exclusivity and the mentality of the people involved.

Clients that hire there are well aware that the prices actually reflect industry standards, with hourly rates being well upwards of 60$. Those who apply to work there go through a thorough process before getting accepted. They may share some of the issues listed here but those are few and far in between, at least compared to the more mainstream options.

Another important thing to note is that the websites described here aren’t the same thing as the websites where you can earn a passive income. Earning a passive income through websites like Creative Market is a great way to earn some money off of things you’ve already created that other designers just might need.

Some people make a full-time living this way, although aiming for that may be slightly unrealistic for most. Selling resources isn’t the same as selling services and it is something I definitely recommend you look into.



So, why do so many people still rely on these platforms as their primary source of income? Well, two reasons. First, there actually are a lucky few that started early enough to build up their profiles to where it’s really worth it for them. They stand out and have a considerable reputation.

There are also those who are just stubborn enough to push through the first few annoying months until they finally start seeing greener pastures. The biggest reason, however, is something 99designs states that I couldn’t have said better myself: “You design. We’ll handle the rest,” and “All in a safe, secure workspace”.

The effort needed to start is minimal. The price of admission is very low, both in terms of money and time spent. It looks safe, easy and risk free. Which it isn’t, when you consider the arguments made in this article.

When you take a better look at what “handle the rest” really means it starts to make sense. Marketing, client relations, control over the value of your work and being in charge of your own finances all fall under “the rest”.

These are all things that fall over to the business side of creative work, rather than, well, the creative side. Which makes sense once you consider what graphic design actually is. You’re just as much a business owner as you are an artist. The sooner you step up and embrace that, the sooner you’ll be on your way to attracting clients you actually want to work with, doing the work you love to do.