Freelancer: The New New ‘F’ Word?

 

Recently, I was considering an offer I received to wade into the world of freelance writing. I can see the value in doing it. As a copy writer who is new to the scene, I am laser-focused on two things: (1) getting my work in front of potential clients and (2) connecting with as many people as possible. Freelancing is one easy way to make both of those things happen. I can list my services on pay-per-gig websites to get my foot in the door and I can connect with other writers on the many freelancer forums out there to build my network. I have done these things.

But labeling myself as a freelancer still makes me kind of twitchy.

collaborate

Here’s the monologue playing on a loop in my head:

“I own my own business.”

“I am an entrepreneur.”

“An independent contractor.”

“I am NOT a freelancer.”

 

So, what is it exactly about freelancing that makes my skin crawl?

Upon reflection, I have three main concerns, which I will argue in a moment should also concern anyone who is considering hiring a freelancer:

  1. Freelance rates undercut the perception of value for the services I provide;
  2. Freelancers are not free to focus on quality;
  3. Freelancers are not free to build relationships with clients.

Now, before I go into why my concerns are relevant to you, I want to clear something else up. I probably should have said this earlier, but my intention is not to offend or to criticize freelancers doing good work. Freelance work can be a real lifesaver, especially for creative people who are trying to pay the bills while between jobs, going to school, or starting a new business. The freelancer life can also be great for people who, for whatever reason, want to work from home or need more flexible work schedules than the corporate grind typically allows. Freelance work can even develop into a very fulfilling career (like it did for this guy). It also saves small business owners time and money.

I get why outsourcing and freelancing is popular. And I’m thankful for the true freelance work I’ve done in the past when I was between teaching jobs or short on cash. I found working for places like Textbroker mostly enjoyable, as part-time work goes. But I did find the requirement to produce a set number (which always seemed just a tad too high) of words within a set amount (which always seemed just a tad too small) of time really stress-inducing. In the end, the low pay was simply not worth the stress. So, it’s easy to see how my past experience with freelancing is shading my present judgment.

Still, my three concerns should be your concerns too. Here’s why:

  1. Freelance rates undercut the perception of value for the services I provide.

If you have ever landed on websites like Upwork and Fiverr, you know that there are tons of freelancers from all around the world, with a wide range of skills, looking to do jobs like the one you need to have done. $5, or less, will buy you a 500-word blog post, complete with research and SEO, from one of 2,000+ freelancers. Sounds great, right?

These ridiculously low rates seem like a problem only for me and other freelancers trying to compete in this marketplace, rather than for you and others in the market for content to post on your website. But this is only true if the services you provide could not possibly be delivered by a freelancer. Otherwise, freelance rates undercut the value of your services too.

And even if your business is part of some magical industry where you don’t need to worry about anyone undercutting your rates (Congratulations!), you still should be concerned. The old adage holds true today: if a price sounds too good to be true, it probably is. We all have to pay for value.

Just take a moment to consider how freelancers on these websites are able to work so cheaply. For one thing, many are working outside of the US (I’ll spare you the lecture on the ethics of labor exploitation). Sure, this situation could workout well with some freelancers and for some kinds tasks, but when you hire in this way, you are practically rolling the dice.

Suppose you hire a web designer for $2.50/hour. Will you be able to communicate in real time? What if they do the work while you are asleep? Seems very efficient. But suppose you review the work when you wake up and decide you need something changed. You email them with the change, while they’re asleep. They make the change the following night, while you’re asleep. You wake up and are still unsatisfied with the work. You’ve lost 2 days of potential website traffic because you were trying to save about $60. Not so great, right?

  1. Freelancers are not free to focus on quality.

When you are checking out writers’ advertisements on freelancer websites and the number of words makes an appearance in the title or anywhere near the rate, that is your first clue that quality is not the first priority. Any competent writer will tell you that there is no correlation between the length of a piece of writing and how moving it is. Just consider your own company’s tagline. Taglines are short and good ones are sweet. But I’m willing to bet that you went through a whole process before you finally landed on The ONE that shouted at you from the page.

I don’t know about you, but with my business, I am not willing to sacrifice quality in order to save money. This means that if you want your content to reach a certain audience or express your company’s values and your voice, you need to hire someone who you can trust to deliver quality work. I take a lot of pride in the content I deliver. This is one big reason I don’t bill my clients based on the time I spend on a project. I run away from projects that make me feel like I’m a human writing machine cranking out copy according to an artificial timeline. That’s just not fun for me. And if I’m not having fun, I can’t be creative for you.

  1. Freelancers are not free to build relationships with clients.

Finally, for me, the least appealing part of working as a freelance, word-pumping machine was the lack of direct contact with clients. Many freelance websites make money by taking their cut from the freelancer’s pay. The website serves as the middleman and writers often do not know where their content goes after they submit it. The reason for this barrier is to make it harder for businesses to independently hire writers whose work they like.

Keep in mind that if you are looking for ghostwriting that captures your voice, you will get better results if you hire a writer with whom you can build a rapport. Have I mentioned how much I enjoy having coffee with amazing and inspiring people? Why, yes. Yes, I have. The more fun details I know about you and your story, the more I can develop copy you will LOVE. The more I know about your clients, the more I can write copy that connects with them. And connections lead to sales.

 Does all of this mean you should NEVER hire freelancers?

No. Just like the original ‘F’ word, there is a time and a place to use freelancers.

There are many good reasons to hire freelancers, especially for those of us who are just starting out. This strategy tends to be cheaper (as long as you are smart about it), requires less paperwork, and takes less onboarding time. But I always worry when I run into small business owners who have fallen into the trap of thinking that quality work is a luxury they cannot afford. It’s not a luxury to be able to hire someone other than a freelancer. We all make choices in our businesses about where to funnel resources.

What I’m advocating here is simply mindfulness. So how about this: I will pledge to be mindful about the freelance jobs I take on, if you pledge to be mindful about the freelance jobs you hire for? Do we have a deal?

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