So, you may have decided to quit your soul-shattering and monotonous job to be a freelancer – or are at least fantasising about the idea. You may have even envisioned giving your boss the middle finger and having your own freedom as soon as you start freelancing.
Or maybe you’ve already taken the freelancing path. You thought that you’ll soon be working your own hours, travelling the world and working from your laptop on a sun-drenched beach in Thailand, right?
If you have been down that road that I and many other freelancers have, you may be bitterly disappointed. Because the reality of freelancing does not compare to those sky-high (yet justifiable) expectations.
In fact, you may even have found that through freelancing, you can’t even afford the plane ticket to Thailand in the first place! Let alone make a sustainable income to cover basic living expenses.
So let’s cut to the chase, I am here to tell you that you won’t escape the rat race, travel the world or live life on your own terms – Not through labelling and advertising yourself as a freelancer anyway.
Before you feel like this will be a negative “Go back to your day job” post, it won’t be. But before actually quit your job to be a freelancer, for the love of God, read this post first!
Because not only will you feel empowered after reading this, but this post will also save you a ton of time, effort and disappointment! Plus, I could also save you from throwing the towel in. Because boy, freelancing drove me close to giving up!
Newsflash: Being A Freelancer Will Not Set You Free
Let’s face it, you made this decision to beat the rat race. But I have some bad news for you, despite the “free” in freelancing – freelancing can be an even bigger rat race than your regular nine to five job!
Why? Because you’re competing with an online global market. Which differs from applying for a job and competing with applicants in your city or local area. So what does this mean? This means more competition, lower pay and fewer odds of succeeding (to which we will get to later!).
Essentially, freelancing will not provide that golden key to unlock those shackles which are financially tying you down from paycheck to paycheck.
In fact, the “Free” in freelance may even ring alarm bells. Because you’ll find your work being undervalued and choosing beggar clients expecting work done for free. So if you don’t play your cards right, you won’t make enough to cover your day job. You will also experience less feast and more famine.
Now you may be wondering, “Why should I listen to you?”. Because I’ve been there, done it and worn the slave labour t-shirt. Plus, I’ve faced almost 2 years of trial and error to realise what works and what doesn’t.
So if you’re just looking for beer money and some extra change, this post is not for you. However, if you’re wanting something that is sustainable and that will pay the bills, read on to be enlightened!
Why You’d Never See “Freelancer” or “Freelance” On My LinkedIn Ever Again!
So you may be wondering what I did to detest the word “freelance” or “freelancer” with a passion. Well, first of all, I started out as a content writer and social media manager – And finding freelance work or gigs in these fields was painful!
Because when freelancers start out (particularly writers) you get caught up in what I call the “Freelancing circle of death” – Because that’s sure what it felt like, going in circles!
This freelancing circle of death consisted of placing endless bids, proposals or applications on:
Freelancing bidding sites
Or freelance writing job boards
Then you rinse and repeat. With the odd low paid gig here and there. Sometimes you can send off hundreds of applications and hear absolutely nothing back.
Refreshing my e-mails became a chore. The worst part was sending endless bids and applications over the weekend and looking forward to a busy Monday for some responses and work – only to wake up to an empty inbox and realising that it was all in vain.
And believe me, I would never go back there! Hence why I do not identify as a freelancer anymore.
If you’re resonating with me right now and have been through this, let me tell you one thing: It’s not you. Because these conventional platforms that freelancers use are rigged to make money out of you, not for you to make money.
And I am going to explain why…
Freelancing Expectations vs Reality:
Expectation 1: But Isn’t It Safer Using Freelancer Platforms?
Reality: No. Because a lot of these platforms rule in the client’s favour. Plus, many freelancing platforms such as Upwork, People Per Hour, Freelancer and Fiverr process payments through PayPal and an Escrow account. So essentially these platforms don’t do an awful lot to protect you and you could cover yourself.
Also, it’s not uncommon for freelancers accounts to be shut down before getting paid. Simply google the name of these freelancing platforms along with “Trustpilot” to see it for yourself.
Finally, it takes a lot of screening for freelancers to become accepted onto these platforms. However, when it comes to clients, that’s a different story! Because anyone can sign up as a client and post a job instantly – I’ve tried and tested this out before.
As a client, I even managed to post several listings without connecting any payment methods or confirming my e-mail address. So the sense of security that you “get” with these platforms is false.
Expectation 2: Can’t I Simply Gain Consistent Work Through A Content Mill?
Reality: Yes, you sometimes can! But that work will be extremely low paid as you’ll have to work for abysmally low rates per word. For example, you’ll earn around $0.001 – $0.10 per word tops. Because they’re called content mills for a reason, the name is self-explanatory!
Essentially, content mills are the middlemen which take a large chunk out of your earnings. What this means is that you’ll have to crank out as many cheap SEO articles at a time to even make your hourly wage worthwhile. So if you don’t work extremely quickly, you’ll be making less than minimum wage. In fact, you’ll be lucky to even make as much as the minimum wage or enough to replace your day job.
And yes, I’ve written for content mills before. I was even accepted on one of the top “high paying – creme de la creme” mills that only accepted 2% of applicants and paid $0.10 per word. And I have one thing to tell you – Even then, It’s NOT worth it. Because the work is inconsistent due to many pitch rejections, expired job listings and inactive client accounts.
So with content mills, you either crank out a ton of poor quality content until your fingers go numb or land high-paying gigs once in a blue moon – If you’re in the top 2% of writers!
What makes it worse is that you’ll be ghostwriting – Which means no work will be published under your name. This will make it even harder to find consistent clients and work because you’ll have no writing samples or portfolio to showcase your work.
Expectation 3: But It’s MUCH Easier to Find Clients & Make Money on a Freelancer Platform, Right?!
Reality: Because that’s where all the clients and businesses are right? Wrong!
In fact, these platforms will make it much harder for you to land clients. Because these platforms are saturated. So saturated that the number of freelancers outweighs the number of listed jobs.
For instance, with every job listed, you’ll see 20-100+ applicants swarm for this one gig. So what are the odds of your proposal even getting opened and read? That’s right. Very slim!
Also, there is a reason why I refer to freelancing platforms as “virtual sweatshops”. This is due to the many lowballing freelancers from the third world who are willing to work for literally next to nothing. Because the costs of living are lower in these countries and these low rates can cover food costs under conditions of poverty.
So how does this affect you? This decreases your odds of getting hired since there are so many people willing to work for a lot less. So be prepared to have a lot of ignored proposals and get pushed to lower your rates.
And to add insult to injury – Most platforms take a whopping 20% fees out of your wages AND you’ll have to pay for proposal credits to apply for gigs. So in most cases, you’ll be losing money, not making it!
As I mentioned, these platforms are the middle man – They are set up to make money from you, not for you to make money.
But, before you say, “I know people who have done well on these platforms” or “you have to start somewhere”, read on…
Expectation 4: But Isn’t It Easier to Build Up My Rating & Reputation on A Platform?
Reality: No, it’s not easier. Because people who are the top in their field lower their rates just to keep up appearances. You’ll also have to smile and deal with a lot of sh*t from demanding clients due to your reputation being on the line (Remind you of a particular nightmarish Black Mirror episode maybe? – We will also get to the clients later!).
Plus, there are absolute horror stories about people who are active on these platforms for years and built a 5-star rating – Only for their profile to suddenly get deleted for no reason. Don’t believe me? Read this.
So the bottom line is that 5 stars on Upwork or People Per Hour will NOT get you very far. Because if they suspend your account, you’ll have no work or samples to show for it. It’ll be extremely difficult to pick yourself up from that double damage (Only hardcore Black Mirror fans will get this pun!).
Expectation 5: But I Don’t Have to Answer to Anyone & I Can Work My Own Hours, Right?
Reality: Since your reputation is on the line on content mills AND freelancing platforms, no. You’re not free to work your own hours and not answer to anyone.
You’ll be turned into grovelling peasant once these platforms reel you in. Because all it takes is one bad client, one-off day or one mistake to put a real dent in your rating or for your account to be suspended.
Plus, since you’ll have to lower your rates, you’ll be working all of the hours that God sends to make ends meet. So you may have given your boss the middle finger, but you’ll soon be wanting to do this with these crummy clients.
Most of all, many clients don’t give feedback. So you’ll have to grovel and chase them up for a good review.
But if you’re going to do anything, please DON’T be reduced to grovelling for work like the example below.
This was from my client account when I listed a job with no details for $5 an hour. So I hope this helps you to realise the desperation that people are driven to on these freelancer platforms.
Expectation 6: I Can Find High-Quality Clients on These Platforms as Opposed to Cold Pitching, Right?
Reality: No. Because many high-quality clients don’t pay for cheap bulk SEO content from a content mill or use freelancer platforms. Because nine times out of ten, many clients on platforms like Upwork are looking for fast and cheap labour. Yes, you can find the odd good client on there but that’s VERY rare.
If you’re a new freelancer, you’ll be under a ton of interrogation by potential clients due to the lack of trust. Plus, these cheap clients will push you past your boundaries and ask for the world at their feet. Because they’re not willing to pay a decent price – That also means that they won’t have respect for you.
And guess what? You can’t ditch ’em because these platforms always rule in the client’s favour and you’ll have to grovel to keep up appearances (as mentioned before).
On top of that, many clients will expect free samples and work as part of a “probation” period – Never, ever fall for this or offer to work for free! Because if some of these low-quality clients had it their way, they would have freelancers work for free if they could. And believe me, it has happened as I’ve seen it.
Expectation 7: Can’t I Just Land an Ongoing Remote Job on Freelance Job Boards?
Reality: Yes, you can – occasionally! But freelance job boards are a virtual representation of the gif above.
Because hundreds of desperate writers and freelancers will be ready to pounce on a job as soon as it’s listed.
Plus, there are many sketchy advertisements and scams to avoid. Because there are many clients asking for free samples and free work on the sly.
The bad news is that a lot of the jobs listed don’t state their pay (for a reason!). There are also a ton content mill advertisings – Which is a no-go as you may know by now.
Also, you’ll be stuck in the same freelancing circle of death since many of your applications will disappear into thin air. Especially if you apply through those Google doc form applications!
And believe me, it’s like sending applications into an abyss. Essentially, you’ll be much better off investing your time into something more productive.
And yes, I’ve landed a “long-term” gig before from a job board at £0.04 per word. However, this client was so slow to work with that I backed out after it taking 2+ months to approve an article I wrote.
I’m Ready to Take The Plunge, What Can I Do?
You’re much better off ditching all of these platforms, building your own website, setting your own rates and marketing your own services.
I thought it the previously mentioned methods were safe and trusted. Because it’s easy to take the “safe path”, especially if your marketing skills are lacking.
The bottom line is that if you drop the “freelancer” label and start your own business, you really can work on your own terms! There won’t be as much competition, low balling and compromising. Most of all, your work and efforts won’t be done in vain.
Most of all, once you stop labelling yourself as a “freelancer” and start identifying as a business owner, you’ll find better clients, earn better money and your overall wellbeing will thrive.
Since this post was quite lengthy, I will be covering my wakeup call, marketing and how to really kickstart your business in my future posts.
I hope that you enjoyed this and that this has inspired you to leave the virtual rat race and not throw the towel in!