Sunday, June 6, 2010

Reality Check For Online Freelancing by Michael Wrights

Work in Your Pajamas! Earn a Six-figure Income! If You Can Write a Letter, You Can be a Successful Freelancer!

Oh, boy, I've seen all the hype. Too good to be true? Yep. I really like the six-figure income, it sounds great until you come to realize that two of the 'figures' are on the wrong side of the decimal point.

So, what is online freelancing really like? It's like a job more than it's like an adventure. A job full of trepidation and worry, where you struggle to find useful work at a wage scale you can live on and for a client who isn't out to screw you. After a year and a half of online freelancing, I've seen the landscape - oh, and I've never worked in my pajamas.

The first hurdle is getting an online presence. I currently am signed up with five different broker services. Yes, five. Each has it's upside and downside. But mostly, the multiples are for hunting purposes. To find jobs at a decent pay rate, I have to spend a few hours every day reading and bidding. And bidding isn't just a click or a simple cut and paste operation. To actually get work, clients often demand samples of previous work and a few rounds of discussion. I checked my 'win' rate at elance recently - I'm at 17%. I actually get about 1 in 6 jobs I apply for. And that is considered a high rate. At oDesk and GetaFreelancer and RentaCoder, my statistics are much worse. So, half the day is shot pursuing work. That leaves a few hours of actual writing (if there is work).

What happens is this: without work you begin to take on anything at all, even really low-ball jobs, just to get some money coming in. You find out quickly (especially if you are based in a first-world economy) that people who live in countries with a very low cost of living have a price advantage. I would starve working for $1 an hour, but there are places in the world where that is decent money. After a 18 months of 'working the system' I pull in about $200 a week, and that is with an excellent reputation at multiple freelance sites. $200 a week isn't enough to live on, and I keep a second job to make ends meet.

There are no vacation days, no healthcare, and no 401K. The instant you quit hustling, the money stops. It's great when an occasional good project comes along, but these are few and far between - the market is saturated with freelancers, all competing for the same small paycheck. And, unfortunately, when you are burned by an unethical buyer, you have no recourse. And of course, each freelance site further chips away at your income by collecting various fees.

All in all, it's more of a hobby than a paying career. If someone is truly interested in the writing game (or programming or other freelance category) I'd recommend getting a degree and a solid resume and do it for a paycheck instead of constantly struggling to make minimum wage.

Michael Wrights owns and authors webJestic.NET