Freelancer? More like Freefall. (Another Freelancer.com Review)

I’m not making this a very long post, as I’m up to my eyeballs in work these days, but I got an email from freelancer the other day. This isn’t unusual, as they’re particularly fond of sounding their own horns with a fevor usually reserved for vuvuzelas, but I’m more used to reading about silly little contests and the latest site they absorbed.

Now I’ve got that creeping feeling of being really taken advantage of, one I haven’t felt since I left e-Bay over their unconscionable ever-inflated fee structure. Apparently freelancer’s introducing what is essentially pay to play – where once the bids were ordered by time (i.e. first to bid showed up first), then number of ratings (fair in theory, but how can a beginner hope to be heard when some users have ratings in the hundreds and reply to -everything-?), now they are charging for the privilege of getting your bid first.

They’ve made similar moves to eBay’s comedy of errors, going so far as to introduce essentially nonsense features for real hard-earned money. Want to put highlighting on your bid? That’ll be $1. Want to take one of our tests to prove you know English, even though the timer totally gives you time to cheat/google – making it essentially worthless for actual assessment? That’ll be another $2. Want a special profile page to show off your portfolio? That’ll be $15 a month. Oh, and by the way, most of that’s on top of the 10% we take from every bid you win.

Now, if I’m understanding this crazy concept correctly, you put in a “bid” for how much you’re willing to pay to show up on top. Freelancer even helpfully tells you, much like eBay, how much more money you need to pay them to be on top. The top 3 bidders have to pay freelancer the amount they “bid”. The TOP bidder gets their money refunded when they accept and complete the project. The other two? Well, they’re just out of luck, aren’t they?

This structure is designed to invite a “bidding war” in which no one really wins except freelancer. They not only get to keep the ever-increasing bids from the two losers of the top 3, they get to keep, at the least, the money from the top bidder until he or she completes the project, and possibly forever if the project never goes to fruition. This is, of course, in addition to their normal fees.

My problem is this – being in the top spot hasn’t, and never will, guarantee you the job you’re bidding on. In reality, the first bidders in are usually foreign copy pools that dramatically underbid domestic writers and often have glaring spelling and grammatical errors in their bid text. The time difference gives them a leg up on US-based writers when jobs are posted at odd hours, but overall they will generally leap on just about anything posted. Employers don’t take something just because it’s at the top of a list – I’ve been 15th, or 20th and still grabbed jobs because I’m polite, well spoken, and I don’t mind following through. I bid only on jobs I want and can handle, not every blessed one that shows up on the site. This “bidding” system does nothing but take advantage of existing site users that are either disadvantaged by the shift to reviews-first sorting or aren’t of the right caliber to be seen and triumph on their own merit otherwise.

My mother always told me never to take a job that wanted you to spend money to start earning it – and unfortunately, it was bad faith actions like freelancer’s she was warning me against.

Revisited: That Word Chick Reviews Textbroker.com

Textbroker, like fine wine, just gets better with age. Not only have they found a winning approach to both clients and writers, they’ve done it with a style and unique approach that withstands even the sharpest fluctuations in the market. They are approachable, friendly, and clearly there to serve writers as much as the clients – an attitude all too absent in most of the freelance site sphere.

Features

Textbroker.com, or TB as users often call it, has added a forum on the writer side that is flying in the face of basic forum logic. Since time immemorial, putting up a forum has lured angry, hostile, and often ignorant people in droves. Strangely enough, the site users have circled the wagons and made a firm stance that they will not tolerate or participate in non-constructive arguments, snark, sarcasm or other tools of the much-feared forum troll species. Being that the forum is still new, only time will tell if they’ll be able to keep the proverbial walls up, but I’m rooting for them something fierce. It’s a great place to exchange information, and even your super-observant WordChick has been schooled in a few things there.

Textbroker has also added a proofreading option for work. A very difficult test, based on the AP style guide, is necessary to gain entrance – not one, but ALL possible correct answers must be chosen for each question, and a 100% score is needed. The common consensus seems to be that the test is hard enough to stump even veteran TB’ers, and with the pay set at .003 a word, most are opting to pass it by and concentrate on articles.

Presence

TB Brass has made a strong showing on the forums, answering questions and participating in discussions alongside writers. We’ve been given peeks into what their development team is up to, and it mirrors a lot of the wants and needs of the community. This, to me, shows a level of intuitive forethought that sides heavily with writers – a refreshing change in an industry where we are often ignored and swept under the rug in favor of clients. I’m eagerly awaiting what the future will bring for TB, and have every intention on being there to enjoy it.

Revisited: That Word Chick Reviews Freelancer.com

Those that have read here before will recall I gave a somewhat unflattering review to Freelancer.com the last time around. While I stand behind everything I said, I do feel it’s only fair to recognize when a potentially bad business takes steps to improve themselves. I tend to do more of my work off the site than on, but there are some improvements that I’ve noticed that I’d be remiss not to list along with my continuing issues with the site.

Payment

It appears that payment can now be given in the form of the aforementioned “debit card”, paypal, moneybookers, or wire transfer. Naturally, I opted for paypal (better the evil you know than the one you don’t, I figure) and my payment requested on the 1st was in my account on the 5th. There are limits – your withdrawal must be more than $30 and less than $10,000, but the vast majority of amounts that freelancers have in those accounts are going to be well within those limits anyway.

Site Organization

I still feel their user interface needs work – the payment/account button should be more prominent, for starters – but it’s a lot cleaner and easier to use now. I can’t put my finger on exactly what they’ve changed, but I think they tidied it up because they appear to be merging several sites together to boost their membership numbers, such as a UK and Aussie based branch. The job listings are less of a headache to read, and being that the job listings are the reason we’re all there, it’s a step in the right direction.

Features

Freelancer.com has incorporated a “test” system, where freelancers can go through a site-hosted test on everything from grammar to English to freelancer.com orientation. Naturally, these tests cost money – real, actual dollars – which I think is a little ludicrous. Once you’ve shelled out your money to take a test that proves you can effectively use the language you’re supposed to be writing in for 99% of the site jobs, you get a little icon that shows up beside your name when you place bids. I took the English proficiency and Freelancer proficiency tests, which proved I had mastered my native language and basic comprehension skills – hooray! Honestly, these tests should be FREE and MANDATORY, placing users into proficiency levels that clients could specify. That way, it would weed out the parasitic “writers” that couldn’t put a sentence together with a tub of glue.

The site has also apparently made room for a portfolio page for writers, which is indicated by another icon beside your name. I went to make my own last night and got the unpleasant news that one needs to be a “gold member” – at a cost of $25 real, actual dollars per month – to make one. The benefit is mainly that I get a 3% chunk taken out instead of a 10% one when I win a bid, but I’d need to win a lot of bid money just to break even. I’m skipping for now – as you can see I’ve done just fine setting up my own portfolio on http://www.ThatWordChick.com!

Conclusion

Jury’s still out on Freelancer. I want to love them, but they have to make some changes that benefit the freelancers – instead of themselves, monetarily – first.

That Word Chick Reviews Freelancer.com

Freelancer.com is a site that has a lot of jobs, a lot of people, and a lot of potential. However, the interface and overly complex payment and fee systems are dragging it down like a bag of bricks in a river. This is not a recommended site for beginners, as it is very unfriendly to any user who is writing to try and make income. The site gets 2/5 from me.

Starting

Thanks, at least in part, to a popular name, Freelancer.com is one of the most well-known sites for freelance writers. They have an almost dizzying array of categories, no shortage of available projects, and in general offer a lot of opportunities. The first freelance site I joined, it isn’t a bad place to supplement one’s freelance income, but it is definitely not at the top of my list. Here’s my review of Freelancer.com, as a writer.

Pro: You sign up as you would on any other site, no filter to “prove” you are a writer.

Con: Other people also don’t have to prove they’re writers.


Rates

This is one area that Freelancer is unique in, as the entirety of the site is based on a bid system. A requester will post the job they’d like to hire for, along with a budget. The budget will be expressed on the bid screen  as “$30-$250”, or something similar. The freelancer can then browse through not only bids left by other freelancers, but their specified time period as well. If the lowest bid is $100 to be completed in 10 days, you can try to outbid by placing a bid for $90 to be completed in 9 days, and so on.

One perplexing (or perhaps not so perplexing, when one considers the cut freelancer.com takes) thing is that no bid under $30 can be placed. Frequently, and maddeningly, you’ll see small projects where the requester passionately explains that they can pay no more than $20 or $25 for a very small project (sometimes this is reasonable, other times not so much) and can’t accept bids for more than that amount. With a bidding system in place that literally won’t allow that, you have an inherent problem.

Additionally, bidding over the amount you’ll actually accept poses a problem to the freelancer, as the fee taken out reflects the larger amount, not the amount in private agreement between you and the requester.

As an aside here, the bidding process on freelancer.com is much like getting bodily hurled into a tank of angry, toothless sharks. You’ll see the majority of bids come from (and this is being kind!) illiterate “writers” – most of whom are foreign – that cut and paste completely irrelevant information or very poorly spelled text in their bids. I’ve seen excerpts from a dating ad, acai diet drink, and even a list of skills utterly useless for writing, such as a fondness for astronomy and violin music. They will put a vague sentiment, such as “I am ready to work project 4 u. I am Rameesh and I write very good sentences so fast. Please to choosing me4 ths projct” – complete with text-speak and bad spelling intact. Additionally, there are writing “houses”…literary sweatshops, a term I often reference..competing, with hundreds of feedbacks that the individual writer couldn’t hope to go toe-to-toe with. You see, the more feedbacks a writer has, the higher he or she is shown in the bidding list, regardless of what they bid.

Pro: Budget and competing bids are clearly visible.

Con: Can’t bid over $30, Absolute mess of fellow bidders, Heavily skewed towards those with feedback.



Payments


This is easily the worst feature of Freelancer.com . For anyone using this site as a first foray into the world of freelancing, don’t be surprised if you get so disgusted you consider just walking away. Writers doing these freelance industry gigs make little enough, but Freelancer.com holds up a multitude of flaming hoops to jump through before you even see what little of your money there is left.

1.) They take your money. Freelancer.com skims 10% off the top of YOUR money, in addition to what they take from employers. If you win and are awarded a bid for a $100 project, they take $10 right away out of your “Freelancer Account” – an in-site tally of what you have. Don’t have anything in there yet because it’s your first job? Well, then you’re looking at an ugly red -$10 before you even write your first word. After you write your piece, give it to the requester, and they approve it, they’ll pay you through the freelancer site. Then, using our example above, your account will show up as a nice green +$90.

2.) They won’t give you your money. Okay, so we have $90, great! The cable bill’s due next week, lets take that sucker out. Uh-oh, what’s this?

CUTOFF TIME
After consultation with our users, we’ve moved the cutoff time for weekly withdrawals from 10th June 2009 onwards to 5pm Sundays EDT (New York), corresponding with 7am AEST (Sydney). For your payment to be processed on Mondays/Tuesdays, please ensure your withdrawal request is lodged before then.

IMPORTANT
The very first withdrawal is delayed for security reasons. First withdrawal by any method is delayed for 15 days since the day, when funds were added to account. Next withdrawals are sent without delays.

 

Leaving off the fact that it looks like they hired one of the incoherent toothless sharks from the bidding wars to write the thing, from what I can gather this says that the first time you want any of your money, you have to wait for over two weeks.  After that, it looks like they have restrictions on what day you can even request your money to get it in any sort of orderly fashion.

Oh, but what’s this? A page to sign up for a pre-paid debit card I can use to take my money out? Well that’s fantastic! Wait, no it isn’t.  It’s a scam that charges fees for everything under the sun and takes upwards of a week or two to even give you your money.

Oh, and to add insult to injury? Freelancer.com charges YOU a DOLLAR every time you transfer money to your paypal account, a process that will still take more than 2 weeks, at least initially.

Pro: There…really isn’t any.

Con: Ridiculous wait times, alliances with strange scammy “credit card”, their fees are taken out before you are even paid, fee to transfer your own money to paypal.


Layout

This is another real downside to Freelancer.com. Oh, sure, there’s tons of jobs, but if you didn’t have the foresight to select the category that job is in, a minimum of 48 hours beforehand, you can’t bid. Sign up after? Still can’t bid. When you’re signing up, you have to literally click everything you can possibly imagine that relates to your skills – and with a restriction on how many you can select or change (unless, of course, you shell out $20 / month to be a “gold member”) this can be tricky. Say you write marketing copy for the IT industry. Well, if the requester wants copy written, he or she may put it in an IT section because they think, “Hey, this has to do with IT, it must go here!”; obviously, you wouldn’t have signed up for IT work, and you have no chance at that job now.

On the bidding page, there is a “project clarification board” where people post writing samples sometimes, and a way to contact the requester via private messages. I was on the site and had done several jobs over two months or so, and bid on about three times the ones I actually won, and I had no earthly idea how to send these private messages. Eventually, I got hold of support, who guided me to the “Inbox 0/0” beside the requester’s name and I figured it out. However, it shouldn’t take a reasonably intelligent and adept woman that long to find something she was looking for – how about a “send a private message to this requester” hotlink, guys? Don’t you think that’d be slightly more intuitive?

In addition, despite recent posts claiming they are fixing the problem, scam requests like “Need 50 high quality credit card numbers” and countless “jobs” for people to post on craigslist, list on eBay, transfer funds through Western Union, etc abound, making it an unfriendly and dangerous place indeed for the naive newcomer to the site. As a rule of thumb, no requester should EVER ask for your real name, address, phone number, login codes  or “act on my behalf ” requests to ANY site, or essentially anything personal about you. If they do, it is a scam to steal your identity.

Pro: Again, not really any to speak of.

Con: Hard to navigate, Have to choose your available skills very carefully, no way to add a skill in order to bid on a job you find, lots of illegal/hacker type jobs listed.

That Word Chick Reviews TextBroker.com

I found textbroker.com through the forums on a work from home site, which is how I find most of the ones I work on. I’m actually so fond of it, I’m loathe to share, but if it stimulates business for the textbroker site it may mean even more work down the road. Thus far, I’ve done approximately 30 articles for the site in two weeks, somewhere in the realm of 8k words total. I give Textbroker 4 out of 5 pens – it is a good freelance site with very few problems, no real fees, and a solid payment system.

 

 

Starting


To get into textbroker, you have to submit a sample article to assure them you have at least a rudimentary grasp of the language. I used a budget decorating article that I tried to use to get into About.com (didn’t make it), but which About.com never used themselves. Your sample article isn’t used by textbroker either, so you don’t have to worry you’re doing free work for nothing. My entry article was approved the same day, and I began writing pretty much immediately.

Pro: Your sample article isn’t used, response and acceptance are very fast.

Con: Must submit a sample article to start writing on the site.

Rates


The rates are based, essentially, on “star rating”, which presumably is your measure of writing ability, as decided by Textbroker. I’m a fairly skilled copy writer, having done this work for a living for a few years, and I was given a rating of 3/5, which surprised me a little, but from all I’ve read isn’t out of the norm – 3’s seem to be given to everyone, regardless. When I wrote in to customer support, they told me articles were “typically rated within a week” of being accepted on the client’s end – and miraculously, the one article I had done at the time was instantly graded…a 3. The other 29-ish articles I’ve done have all sat, approved and paid for by the client, for times varying from 3 weeks to yesterday, with not a peep from Textbroker. Thankfully, the TB rating isn’t dependent on your getting paid – the only thing it does, from what I can tell, is effect your star rating, and thus the jobs available to you at various star levels. From what I read elsewhere, you have to write in to support and poke them to get your articles rates, because it doesn’t appear to be done automatically.

A “client rating” system is built in, but only about half of my clients rated me on their own, and it doesn’t appear to make any difference in what I’m paid or my rating, at least from what I can tell so far. I’ve pasted what it looks like below:

Textbroker.com 's Client Rating Chart

Textbroker takes 30%, but it’s already removed in the rates that are shown. I like this a lot, because I don’t have to do math before I can figure out if a job is worthwhile or not. If the job pays $3, you get $3, period. You can take out that $3 fully and Textbroker doesn’t touch it. Articles available at the 3 star level are in the realm of .50/100 or .75/100 – occasionally you’ll get lucky and find a straight 1/100. The lengths of the requested articles can vary anywhere from 150 to 475 words, which was the longest request I’ve seen thus far. The rates are expressed in a range of words – the client wants an article to be 300-350 words, say, and if the rate is 1/100, the rate would be shown as $3.00 – $3.50.

Pro: Textbroker takes its cut out before the rates are posted.

Con: No apparent auto-rating time system on TB’s side, Client ratings don’t seem to make much difference, Have to contact support to get reviewed.

Payments


Here is where, in my opinion, Textbroker really shines. They pay twice a month by paypal, and all you have to do is click the “pay me” button before midnight on the 15th for a payment around the 16th, or before midnight on the 20th for payment around the 21st. Having only paypal as a payment method really cuts down on the scams and foreign “word sweatshops” that often litter other freelance sites – because paypal verifies identity and foreign banks charge large fees for converting money into the U.S. based paypal system, the majority of requesters on the site seem to be U.S. based and English speaking. All payments for jobs you’ve done will be paid within three days after submitting, unless the client requests a “tweak”, in which case I believe it extends the window two more days. I’ve only had one out of 30 jobs that I felt abused this – he requested very small changes that weren’t in his original order and always managed to find something else at the 2 day 23 hour mark – took me a week to get my $2.50 from him.

I have requested a payout on the 20th, (which must, by the way, be over $10) and received the money the next day in my paypal account. Make sure you check the paypal address carefully, because you can’t “unclick” a payout request. You need to send in a W9 form before you can request payment of any kind. I opted to send mine through first class mail, and even traveling cross-country, I got an email within the week stating it had been posted to my account information and I could request payment.

Pro: Request payment system is simple and straightforward, no fees are taken out, minimal competition from foreign writers, You’ll always get paid in 3 days, barring rewrite requests.

Con: Must send in W9 form by mail or fax, can only get paid twice a month, Paypal only payment option.

Layout


User-friendly for the most part, the only point of aggravation I can muster really is that when you click an article to read the extended instructions and decide if you want to write it, you either have to “x” out of the dropdown page or click “I do not want to write this article”. When I was first starting, I was afraid clicking “I do not want to write this” would take it out of availability for me, because a few I was semi-considering but wanted to look around a bit more.  It does not remove it from availability, it just “unsticks” it from your article jobs screen so you can look at others. A very, very handy feature is a fantastic word count tool built right in – when you’re on the “write the article” screen, it not only counts how many words you’ve done so far, it also shows your payment from the client at that point, allowing you to see the money add up with each word.  I could see this being a huge motivator for some freelancers.

The jobs are laid out in a grid that breaks them down by star rating – for myself, a 3 star, all the jobs that the client selected a 1, 2, or 3 star quality rating for would show up to me in clickable orange numbers on the chart.  The categories vary from automobiles to home and family, you can expect about 30 categories to choose from at any one time, though not all will have jobs available in your star level. All of your past assignments will be shown under “assignments > statistics”, which is also where you’ll find your rating chart that denotes if TB or the client has rated your articles.  It is important to note that you cannot see the text of your articles after they are submitted, so if you like to keep your work for records like I do, copy and paste it into an email and send it to yourself or a word document before submitting.

Pro: Word count/money earned counter built in, clear grid system by star rating for available jobs.

Con: Have to “unstick” advanced info screen on potential jobs, can’t see your submitted work except in edit requests.