Freelance Sites and Content Mills – Should You Use Them?

Anyone who has looked for online work or someone to make them a cheap logo will have come across the freelance sites and content mills, where you can register as a supplier or employer for a small fee and access professional services. The former website Elance is one such example.

For a new freelancer trying to build up a portfolio, client base and testimonials, it can be tempting to sign up for these sites as a quick way to find work. Likewise, for a new start-up looking for budget business support, they can seem the ideal solution.

Why not to Work for Freelance Sites

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I’ve considered these sites myself, both as a VA and as a copywriter, when I’m having a lean month and have bills to pay. But I’ve always resisted, never getting much further than viewing the available work. In my opinion, they should be avoided whenever possible.

It appears that to succeed as a worker on a freelance or content mill site, you have to be constantly checking for new job posts so you can apply as quickly as possible and beat the hordes who’ll be competing with you.

The requirements are often unrealistic – a fast turnaround time, little guidance and a pitiful rate. To make a good living you’d be churning out masses of content (or logos, infographics or ebook covers) all day every day, and the quality of this work will inevitably be affected.

On both sides, I wouldn’t recommend them because it undervalues your profession and the time you’ve spent honing your craft. If you accept poor pay, you’re setting a precedent for others to have to do the same. And as an employer, you’re looking for someone to complete a task that you either haven’t got time for, or more likely, the skill for. You’d expect to be paid well for your work, so why shouldn’t freelancers?

There’s also a concern that, particularly for writing, people who accept a lower rate aren’t native English speakers. While their living costs are lower and they’re no doubt good at what they do, there’s a risk of miscommunication on the brief, or the need for you to correct their grammar.

However, in the interest of fair play, I did an internet search to see if anyone disagrees with me.

The first result, from stackexchange.com, would suggest not. One contributor explains that he applied for lots of jobs but had no luck, so spent considerable time crafting a proposal for a task he was well-qualified for. He didn’t get it, because plenty of people were prepared to work for $3 rather than the $58 he asked for: http://bit.ly/2cDkhGX

Another site, offering advice to freelancers, says that the fact that you’re competing on price rather than quality is a negative. Even if you have multiple small payments, they will still take a long time to build up. He also says that it’s time-consuming to set up an account, take competency tests and gather positive feedback to encourage more people to work with you. http://bit.ly/2dkTMG3

In Defence of Freelance Sites?

But a friend of mine insists that he goes to one of the better sites straight away when he’s looking for a graphic designer, for instance, and pays them well. He actively filters out those who are only asking for a couple of dollars, reasoning that you get what you pay for. He also searches for the kind of supplier who’d be a good match, and invites them to tender for his work. This way, they’re not constantly searching for the best opportunities in the slush pile.

I’ve just read a book on content marketing by Charlie Marchant of Marketing Ninja, who highly recommends them as a place to go to find freelancers. He sounds a note of caution, too, around using native English speakers.

Some people think it’s actually a positive to use freelance sites for portfolios, as you can build and enhance your CV, and it allows you to keep your hand in. It’s also good to have as a press cuttings file if you don’t have anything else. Many even say they’ve found long-term clients through these sites.

Maybe if you’re careful about the work you choose to apply for, make sure they’re going to pay you fairly and have reasonable expectations (particularly on turnaround times) freelance sites can be used alongside looking for other work. Just don’t rush to accept the first thing you see and be careful what you agree to do.

I personally still advise my clients against these site, but I know that people still look for freelancers on them, mostly because they’re cheap and convenient. I’d say be prepared to have to give a lot of instruction and make changes to what you get back (particularly if it’s copy).

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