Okay, this topic is a bit of a reflection of where I feel I am right now in my career. This and a choice which I feel I will soon have to make. Do I continue as a freelancer? Or do I hang up my writing overalls and stick my finger to the Internet once and for all?
First, though, some context:
To start, last October I created my first cryptocurrency news writing gig on Fiverr. It was an instant hit and I quickly thought: “Hold on, why should I be doing this for $15 - $25 when I could (possibly) be doing the same thing and accepting potentially more lucrative cryptopto payments?” You see, a lot of my clients were offering to pay me in crypto and at the time, crypto was booming.
Because of this, I started scouting for work online with clients directly. I picked up quite a lot of this between November and March. However, then things started to change. Sites I had been working with were still publishing content. In fact, they were publishing a lot more of it. They just weren’t that interested in working with me anymore.
Had I failed my clients somehow? I couldn’t see how. Many of my articles were receiving hundreds of comments just hours after being published. Hell, I even had major industry insiders like John McAfee retweet several of my articles.
Then in May, my Fiverr orders started drying up. At the same time, excitement surrounding the cryptocurrency market was dying down. In this case, I presumed that my sales slump was a result of this. However, in August, I started to realize that something more sinister was afoot.
On freelance platforms like Guru, PPH, and UpWork, a lot of people were starting to look for long-term cryptocurrency writers. Having hundreds of articles in my portfolio, I started to apply for these jobs. However, in every case the process went like this:
Client: “We’re really impressed with your articles. How many can you turn around per day?”
Me: “3-4, all optimized to pass with a green light in Yoast for SEO and readability.”
Client: “What is your price per article?”
Me: “For a 500-word article, $25.”
Client: “That’s a little too high. We pay our lead writers $4 - $7 per 700-word article. We also need unlimited revisions. Can you match this?”
Me: “Go to hell. If this were the 17th Century even a slave trader would be embarrassed to be in the same room as you.”
(I made that last part up.)
After this, I started revisiting some of the blogs I used to write for and two things became apparent. Firstly, today many of these are now clearly making more $$$'s, thanks to sponsorship deals, paid product promotions, and ad revenue. At the same time, though, many are now publishing badly spun content from news ticker sites. In other cases, content is often inaccurate and/or curated by people who seem to be non-native English speakers/writers.
To get straight to the point, something happened between October 2017 to March 2018. Websites which had been hiring writers direct had started outsourcing their content needs to agencies who hire bottom dollar freelancers and focus on quantity over quality.
I proved this to myself recently. I was hired by a reseller who was willing to pay my regular rates. Sadly, this person later decided to try and blackmail me into working for less. They informed me that my content wasn’t worth the price paid, and they would be forced to review it accordingly unless I agreed to work on a heavily discounted second order.
There was no truth to this claim. I proved this by complaining directly to the site hosting one still unpaid article. They, it transpired, were paying a market rate annual salary to a person they thought was a one-man lead writer with an exceptional portfolio.
Of course, we all know that reselling happens. However, I didn’t realize until this point why freelance platforms themselves are arguably the topmost reason why it is so difficult to succeed as a freelance writer.
Take a step back, and you start to realize that so-called ‘freelance’ platforms actually cater more to the needs of resellers than they do freelancers. They vacuum up a gigantic labor force. Then they make it easy for resellers to dive in and get what they need as cheaply and (occasionally) as rudely as possible.
You launch a business. You hire a market rate writer to curate content for you. Your blog gains traction, your brand gets noticed, you’re succeeding! Then like all business owners, you get greedy. Someone says, "Hey, why don’t you use this content marketing company I use? They can cut your content curation costs in half and double the volume!"
In almost every case, these third-party SEO and content marketing firms hire from places like Guru and Fiverr. These are platforms where there is always someone willing to work for less. As a result, prices are continually driven down across several creative industry sectors.
And so we come to my current predicament. I used to think that freelancing was working for me as a career choice. It was hard getting established. However, I eventually matched my former real-world salary. Now though. I’ve got to a point between not moving forward and possibly starting to struggle. At a point you see, freelancing on sites like Fiverr and Upwork becomes more about survival than it does progression.
Of course, the answer to this conundrum is to develop your career by hunting clients independently. Sadly though, my experience this year shows me that a perculiar paradox eventually becomes apparent. You find a great client, then a third party finds them, offers to do what you were doing for less, and takes the business you just lost right back to the Fiverr/Upwork/PHH sales funnel you started from.
(There is clearly a quality difference, However, by the time a site has become established, Google seems to care more about the volume of content that it publishes per day, rather than the actual quality.)
Another solution could be to simply try and be the best at whatever you do on whatever freelance platform you work on. However, as these platforms evolve, they increasingly do so in tandem with the erosion of basic freelancer security.
Gig economy workers working for the likes of Uber and Deliveroo, are starting to have their rights as workers championed with calls for things like minimum wage and health benefits. However, this isn’t ever going to happen with freelancers on international platforms like Fiverr.
Given all of the above, I’m starting to look very hard and logically at my choices over the past 6-years. I think I made the right ones for the time they were made in. But as it is, I don’t think I’m making the right choices now.
I work on platforms where I will never benefit from any security. The longer I work on these platforms, I help these grow and compound the reasons why it is so hard for myself and other freelancers to get established independently. Worse, the longer I am part of this cause and effect cycle, the harder it will be to pick up where I left off in the real world.
At present, I’m still undecided about my future. However, if you are new to freelancing, you might want to consider my story. Alternatively, if you have another point of view, please share it!