When I used to work in the corporate world as a brand marketer, we had the luxury of having large budgets, teams, contractors, resources, and agencies to help us manage our projects, tasks, and business needs. However, when I branched off to start my own small business about a decade ago, one of the rude awakenings I had was suddenly being completely on my own.
When I started out, I found myself having to figure so many things out on own like how to build a website, write a licensing contract, submit a trademark application, design a logo, invoice clients, or record my own podcast. Then, you actually have to DO the work. And let me tell you, wading through HTML and CSS to get a button to appear on a certain spot on my first website was NOT fun. Nor should I have been spending my time trying to do this all on my own.
One of the big appeals of starting my own business was the autonomy and control it offered, so one of my big struggles when I was starting out was letting go of my desire to do and control everything myself so I could instead delegate these tasks out to people who actually knew what they were doing.
How I Started Hiring Freelancers
Long before the freelancer movement really took off in the late 2010s and early 2020s after the Covid pandemic opened the floodgates to remote and distributed workforces, I began dabbling in hiring freelancers to help me develop my business. The first project I ran was a naming contest on Crowdspring to come up with the new name for my business (ILUMITY). I suddenly had hundreds of ideas from Creatives in over 20 countries around the world.
Running that crowdsourcing project was a real lightbulb moment for me because I realised that I was no longer limited to working with a specific person at a specific agency located in a specific city. Rather than spending tends of thousands of dollars contracting with a naming agency with months of meetings as I used to do when working in corporate branding, I spend a few hundred on a crowdsourcing site and had a name selected within a week.
So Many Freelance Platforms Exist!
Over time, I began discovering more platforms like ODesk and Elance (now Upwork), and began relying on freelancers to form what became my virtual team on platforms I captured in this 2014 blog article on freelance resources to brand your small business. I’ve since hired freelancers to on many freelancer platforms including Upwork, Fiverr, Freelancer, PeoplePerHour, DesignCrowd, Squadhelp, CrowdSpring, 99Designs, using them for my business including brand building, technical assistance, and design tasks.
I’ve seen how leveraging the freelance economy can be an efficient & cost effective tactic to grow your small business, but not all freelancer platforms are created equal. A simple Google search for “freelance hiring platforms” reveals literally hundreds of different sites where you can find and hire freelance talent.
To save you a bit of time in sifting through them all, I’ve capture my views and client hiring experiences on various leading platforms below based on my past decade of experience of finding, screening, and hiring freelance talent. Note, my focus below is on the client experience, not the freelancer experience, which could of course be different.
Recommended Freelancer Sites
When I think of different type of work that exists, it can range from shorter-term, simple, executional tasks to longer-term complex, strategic projects. Basically, when it comes to hiring freelancers, as someone who’s hired freelancers from many platforms, let’s just cut to the chase. You basically have two choices depending on the scope and complexity of your project: Upwork for complex projects or Fiverr for simple tasks. Contra seems to straddle both.
Upwork has been my go-to platform for finding high quality freelancers. I’ve used Upwork since 2013 before it was actually named Upwork. At the time, the platform was was known as Elance, which merged in 2013 with oDesk to eventually be relaunched as Upwork in 2015.
Upwork has extremely useful search filters, and the job postings are designed to allow clients to more easily hone in on qualified candidates through the use of screening questions, filters, and cover letters. While I’ve made plenty of bad hires on Upwork (and all other platforms), I’ve found that candidates on Upwork are a bit more thoughtful and professional in their approach. The platform also doesn’t restrict your communications, so you’re free to speak and discuss project details with one another.
I’ve hired over 50 freelancers from Upwork over the years, and here are just a few of the many freelancers I’ve managed to find on Upwork over the years:
- Intellectual property attorney
- Sound engineer
- Podcast producer
- Music curator
- Research assistant
- Designer (check out this TopTal freelancers hiring guide for an overview of the various types of freelance designers).
- Website developer
- Virtual Assistant
One freelancer I found on Upwork produced 60 episodes of my podcast over the course of four years. The attorney I found in Upwork has represented me for nearly a decade. I’ve hired all of my Career Relaunch® podcast producers exclusively from Upwork. Overall, my hiring experiences with Upwork have been overwhelmingly positive.
I hired my first freelancers from Fiverr in 2013 to create a simple logo, sharpen a low-resolution image, orchestrate some music, tweak a photo using Photoshop, voiceover a script, and create some simple infographics for me. For simple, straightforward tasks, Fiverr is a solid place to go if you need something done quickly that is more executional rather than strategic in nature.
Fiverr’s gone through quite the evolution over the years. Initially seen as a place where you could get simple tasks one for literally $5, it’s since evolved to cover a wider range of projects that well exceed $5. In its early days, it had a bit of a bad rap because the quality of freelancers was all over the place, and you could buy services that seemed a bit sketchy (e.g., buying social media likes, followers, views, etc), which is still the case today.
However, their search filters are an effective way of narrowing down to the most relevant, qualified candidates. Additionally, the overall branding and user experience on the site has improved over the years. Also, they have some fun services on there like having a guy with a deep voice do a movie trailer voiceover or convert a photo into a Simpson’s character. I actually interviewed a leading Fiverr voiceover artist on my Career Relaunch podcast, who pulled back the curtain on what it’s like to be a freelancer on these platforms.
One downside of the platform is that you’re limited to communicating with freelancers via Fiverr messaging, which is challenging when you actually want to just talk something through or discuss a project live. Also, I still run into my fair share of low-quality freelancers, but in all fairness, they exist on all platforms.
I discovered Contra in mid-2022, and so far, so good. Freelancers on Contra come across very professionally. More often than not, they actually seem to read your job posting and have directly relevant skills, which isn’t always the case on most other freelancer sites.
While on other platforms, you get the long tail of freelancers, including some pretty low quality, unqualified ones claiming to have skills they don’t, on Contra, freelancers who matched with my job seemed to have the relevant skills I was seeking.
My main complaint with Contra is that the user experience and site navigation isn’t quite as intuitive as other platforms, at least when I used it for the first time. The site is rather buggy, with some links not working at times. Formatting a job post was extremely cumbersome with finicky formatting complications, and some navigation around the site felt less seamless compared to others. You can’t seem to “reject” a candidate after you begin messaging them, only when you have not yet messaged back to them, which seems odd. It does seem though that any minor bugs are quickly getting squashed though, and the issues I’ve noticed are subtle.
In June 2022, I spoke directly with their product team after they proactively sought my feedback on the site. They were extremely eager for and receptive to my feedback. Afterwards, I walked away feeling like the Contra team has a solid philosophy in place to further optimise the platform over time. It’s very early days for me with Contra, as I’ve only used it to post a couple jobs as of this writing. However, I feel like Contra has tremendous potential. I’d recommend checking it out.
Design Contest Sites
Another category of freelancer sites exist focused on posting contests instead of job ads. I’ve run contests for naming and design tasks, and found it to be a very useful way to source a wide range of ideas from a wide variety of freelancers around the world.
The crowdsourcing contest platforms I’d recommend:
- 99Designs– logos, web design, graphics (I’ve used it for web design)
- CrowdSpring– naming, logo design, and other design projects (I’ve used it for naming & logo design)
- DesignCrowd– business cards and other design projects (I’ve used for business card design)
- SquadHelp– naming contests only (I used it to help me name my podcast)
They all run the same way where you post up a design contest then award the prize money to the freelancer who has the best idea or design. Then, you can continue working with them on other projects if you want.
Freelancer Sites I DON’T recommend
Besides the site not being the most user-friendly for searching and finding freelancers, I found the onboarding process to become a client extremely laborious and cumbersome on Guru.com. You have to verify your identity and payment method. I understand the reasoning behind this to avoid spammers, but it created a lot of upfront friction.
I also tried repeatedly to add payment accounts, but I couldn’t get it to work with my US bank details or PayPal details. It took me over an hour to move through the process, and even then, I had to wait additional time to gain “approval.”
The process honestly felt similar to what it would take to open up an international brokerage account🤦🏻♂️. By the time I finished the process and my job was posted, I already had several high quality applicant proposals on Upwork.
In a couple days, I did receive some proposals on Guru, but half of them were from “verification pending” freelancers, which certainly didn’t instill me with confidence.
In the end, I gave up on the platform very quickly and never used it again.
Freelancer gets a big thumbs down👎🏼 from me because of the poor freelancer quality, strange auto-proposal system, and continual upselling. I found it very odd that within seconds of me posting up a job, I suddenly had over 10 proposals already sitting in my inbox. There seems to be some sort of instant, automated matching system that auto-sends “proposals” from freelancers who have profiles that seem to match your job specifications.
Additionally, within minutes of me posting up an ad, I immediately had a Freelancer “recruiter” immediately send me a chat message trying to upsell me to promote my listing. They offered a “free recruiter upgrade,” (which they seem to do every time by the way), that enabled them to find high quality freelancers to match my job listing. The three they recommended were dreadful and didn’t even bother to answer my screening questions. In fact, within a day, I had 23 generic “bids,” from freelancers, but not a single one seemed to have read my actual Brief.
Having used the platform multiple times, mostly to find designers, I’ve literally never found a reliable freelancer on this platform. I found Freelancer to be one of the worst platforms for hiring. Steer clear of it.
Others sites to avoid
I have not had positive experiences on the following sites:
- PeoplePerHour– although I have hired from this site in the past, more often than not, my experiences with freelancers here seem to be poor. Recently, I’ve also noticed my job posts do not always get approved even though they seem to post fine on other sites. The site claims this is because my hire rate is low, but that’s because the quality of freelancers who come through tend to be low. Some seem legitimate, but overall, I’ve found freelancers on this site to be more impatient and unwilling to address basic screening questions including in my job posts.
- ServiceScape– only a limited selection of freelancer types are here (editors, translators, graphic and designers). I also couldn’t find a way to post a project or job advertisement. Something about this site feels very dated.
Freelancers Can Propel Your Work Forward
While you may be nervous about relinquishing control of your business and delegating tasks out to someone you don’t know, freelancers can really help free up time and space you can dedicate to expanding your business, working with more clients, or just taking a breather! Allowing someone else to tap into their expertise and help me out has really enabled me to take my business to the next level.
Although the quality of freelancers on these sites can be quite mixed, with enough due diligence and patience, you absolutely can find someone you feel comfortable entrusting with an important part of your work. From personal experience myself, I’ve found wonderful freelancers on platforms like Upwork or Fiverr whom I’ve worked with for years and now feel like permanent colleagues on my virtual, global team. Given the incredible ease, reach, cost-effectiveness, and flexibility of freelance hiring, I don’t see myself returning to traditional hiring anytime soon.