Why freelancers should avoid job boards

job boards for freelancers

Table of Contents

Freelancing and sharing economy. What other terms would have a better chance to win the prize for “Buzzword of this year”. Today, we will focus on the first one. More and more people are willing to quit their job or try a side projects in the form of freelancing. On-line job boards are platforms meant to help them with this feat. Well, I don’t think so. In this post, you will find reasons why freelancer should avoid job boards and try their luck elsewhere.

Job boards and who

First, before moving any further let’s first make clear what kind of freelancers is this post about. There is countless types of freelancers and professions and some will suit this post better than other. Since this blog and my own area is mostly about business, technology and design, this post will focus on these areas as well. In other words, if you are a web developer, web designer, designer, app developer, etc. you are on the right place.

However, that does not mean you should leave if you find yourself in different category or industry. Some of the issues job boards have might be familiar to you as well. So you can still benefit from it at least a bit.

Second, what job boards are we talking about? The biggest players will be the best one to target. So, this post will be predominantly about job boards such Freelancer, Elance, upwork, 99designs and similar ones. You should keep in mind that all of those sites will differ from each other. Some may offer different features, prices, or types of work available for freelancers. For this reason, we will not go too deep and being too specific. The viewpoint will be more about on average stage with few diversions here and there.

Fees or limitations

The first thing to tackle are fees. Many of the job boards require either paying some kinds of monthly fees or percentage based fees from every work you get done. This is understandable. Job boards need money to survive and keep going as well as you do. The brighter side of this is that those fees are not so high (in most cases). Many job boards, if not all, also offer a free plan, even though it can be very limited. On the other hand, if you find yourself already struggling with finances, it is whole different story.

Let’s be honest. The standard of living in the world fluctuate from place to place and the differences are sometimes staggering even extreme. What one can consider as a common another can see as rare. So, even though nine dollars might not look too much for someone living in the USA, it will be fortune for man or woman in, let’s say Congo. From this point, you have three options. First, make the money you need for fees somewhere else. In other words, you need to make money to work.

Your second option is to get used to limitations your free account will have. Since job boards often offer different account types these restrictions will probably vary as well. For example, some job boards will limit the number of bids on projects you can make, others will take higher percentage from your earnings. Third and last option is to screw it and simply forget about working there. On the Internet are dozens of job boards, so you can try your luck somewhere else.


Next item on the list is competition. If you are a regular reader of the blog, you might remember the last time when we talked about how competition is bad for you and can be one of the things able to kill your business. In case of job boards, this situation is even more dangerous. When you apply for, or bid on, a specific project on job boards, you are immediately putting yourself, your proposal and your price against dozens of other freelancers. Sometimes, the number of bids on one project can go to sixty or even more.

This has two problems for you. First, you will have to adjust, read lower, your price and proposal to not only the project, but to other competitors as well. Second, as mentioned above, the standard of living across the world is full of deep gaps and high peaks. Do you think it is impossible to build a website for 5 dollars? In some countries, I can get you car or fully loaded Kalashnikov for that price. Do you think you will get the job because you wrote the best proposal? Sadly, you will be proven wrong.

If you want to play the game, you need to understand its rules. Price is everything.

You should remember that on job boards, the price is what matters the most. Otherwise, the employer (project owner) could find someone where he lives or where his business is and hire him instead of searching across the world. If you want to play the game, you need to understand its rules. Price is everything. Often you will have to ask yourself, How low can you go with the price while staying viable.

No differentiation

The best way to make money in freelancing (and business) without working for minimum wage, sleeping in the dumpster and eating shit is to differentiate yourself. Unfortunately, on job boards you have very small or no chance to do that. Yes, some job boards will give you a personal page with portfolio, your photo, bio, skills, etc. That all sounds great, but how many employers do you think will take the time and go through every single bid and look at the profiles? Be honest with yourself, how many profiles would you look at?

You don’t need to do a SWOT analysis to understand how bad your position is.

The reason why would you use job boards to post a project is to save your time (and money), not spend it browsing dozens profiles and portfolios. So, if you are not the one in the list of, say, top ten bids your chances are almost zero … Or you will need to open your wallet and pay for some kinds of highlighting your bid. This will also make it harder for you if you just began. No differentiation, reviews or finished projects? You don’t need to do a SWOT analysis to understand how bad your position is.

Useless skill testing

Let’s pause grilling of those poor job boards for a minute and mention something positive. You can actually increase your chances and visibility in list of bids by testing your skills! Sure, you will have to pay for that, but what the heck. You have to think long-term! Although … Do you remember the main rule of this game – price is everything. Will couple of badges proving your skills really give you a leverage above the rest? Better yet, do these tests have any predictive value?

How fast can you search on Google and switch between tabs?

Think about it. How hard it would be to cheat on those test? You already have one tab in the browser opened, so why not open another one? For example, are you doing a test from HTML or JavaScript? Test yourself … How fast can you search on Google and switch between tabs? I think you know where am I getting to. Next thing to consider is … Price. Who has better chance to get the job? Person without any tested skills, but incredibly low price or a person with five badges and price 10 times higher?

Questionable quality

The last argument against job boards is the overall quality of bids. This is more visible on some job boards than others. It is sad, but true that many of the projects on job boards are just about copying other websites. What’s more, with poor, if not without, description of the project. Your job then, is to just open the attached URL and do the work. This will be probably a bad news for freelancers looking for more creative work. However, remember that not all job broads and all projects are the same. You have to choose wisely.

Tips for succeeding on job boards

Do you still have enough courage to take the risk and taste the water of job boards? I will give you two tips that I hope will help you succeed and make a living while keeping the love and passion for your work. So, if you are ready we can take a look at how you can gain a leverage and increase your chances.

Think contests

First tip is to forget about bidding on projects and focus on participating in contests instead. Some job boards offer only contests, like 99design, while others offer projects for bidding as well. When you switch to contest mode, your chances will increase if you are really good at what you do. As you know, in a contest you have to submit your work and let the contest holder pick the winner. What’s more, the price is set beforehand by the contest holder. Both of these factors will balance the chances of contest attendees.

Be picky

I already addressed this in the quality part, but let’s mention it again. If you still want to bid on projects, I think you should focus on quality. This mean bidding on projects with proper description of work posted by people with trustworthy profiles. Remember, if someone invested his time into creating a good looking profile and well-written description, he will look for the same standard of on the side of a freelancer as well. These types of people are also more likely to take badges for proven skills into their decision making process.

Final words

No matter how strong the freelancer ethos become, job boards might not necessarily be the best place to start your new career or business. In many cases, it can be the opposite and even cause you reconsider doing the work you love. You had better do your research and think twice before trying these waters. If you are not able to find job opportunities through word of mouth and approaching potential clients face-to-face or on social networks, you should still focus on contests rather than projects for bidding. It will will be better for you.

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By Alex Devero

I'm Founder/CEO of DEVERO Corporation. Entrepreneur, designer, developer. My mission and MTP is to accelerate the development of humankind through technology.

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