Digital Nomads Freelance Economy Talent virtual work


March 14, 2016


The world of virtual work has exploded with more and more talent committed to work from anywhere. Last fall LinkedIn announced the launch of a pilot program called ProFinder, which connects companies to talented freelancers. Although ProFinder is currently only open to Bay Area professionals in accounting, graphic design, and writing and editing, the program is expected to grow and succeed because of LinkedIn’s massive membership.

But the social network has its work cut out for it — with sites like Upwork and Freelancer leading the way over the past decade, LinkedIn may be too late to the freelance marketplace game.

For freelancers, the plethora of freelance job sites has many of us dazed and confused about the best options. There are several factors to consider:

  1. How much of my hard earn money will the site take as a service fee and are there other hidden fees that will shrink my dollar,
  2. Does the site require the buyer to put the project money in escrow or have some other way to ensure I will get paid for the work,
  3. What is the quality of projects on the website, and
  4. Will I be competing with a global marketplace of freelance talent that drives down what I can earn.

I am inspired to talk about this topic after being seduced by to complete a profile. During my daily walk through the web they came to my attention and the job offers looked mighty good. It wasn’t until after I had completed the process that I realized Outsource expected me to pay for the privilege of competing for a job. Big Opps. Now I had to figure out was it worth it.

UpworkThere is very little information out there for freelancers about the value of using any particular site, and there are pros and cons to all of them. While a global marketplace for jobs is a plus it also means you compete with talent that is willing to work dirt cheap.

The global competition pushes job pricing way below market value. There have been web coding offers for $1 to $2 an hour.

I focused on the best websites to find freelance jobs for a broad category of work. There are sites like Toptal, which if you pass their rigorous prescreening process, promise cream of the crop opportunities with clients like, J.P. Morgan, and Airbnb, but the site is limited to web developers and designers.

Here is what I found out about the “top” sites for freelancers.


The leader on the job boards, freelance marketplace giants Elance and oDesk merged into a single company that recently changed its name to Upwork. They revamped their platform to serve more than 10 million freelancers. Upwork offers a wide range of job categories from web and mobile development, writing, sales and marketing, design, management consulting and legal projects. Upwork aims to make the entire process as frictionless as possible, offers payment protection, and a software application for hourly projects that takes screenshots of your work to satisfy clients that you weren’t just fooling around on Facebook.

Upwork now even offers freelancers access to affordable health insurance and other employment benefits. Plans start at $105/month and can include benefits like 401(k), dental coverage, and W-2 tax filing. Upwork, like all of the sites, handles the money transfer, which is a huge value add when you and the client are in different countries.

Upwork charges 10% of freelancer’s payment instead of an upfront payment for freelancers. Companies pay nothing. The disadvantage is that anyone can and will post jobs and quality of the postings isn’t the best. Upwork does provide you with some historical data about companies, but it’s a freelancer beware environment.


The “world’s largest outsourcing marketplace” boasts over 10 million registered users and $1.3 billion in projects posted. Freelancers have several options for work, including project-based jobs, hourly work and contests. Freelancer competitions allow you to compete with other freelancers to earn engagements and create a winning brand. With millions of projects posted, a contest win is a way to get your name out there as a top freelancer to attract more clients. While all of the job sites send you postings that match your specific skill sets once you create a profile, Freelancers seems to offer better fits for me as a writer. Freelancer only charges the employer 3%, which means there is a low quality bar for projects, and charges freelancers 10% of money earned through the site.


A little different from your average freelance job-listing website, instead of having companies post their projects so freelancers can apply, this site has freelancers create “gigs” based on what they’re best at. That way, freelancers sell their services to the companies that find them. You can categorize your gig by keyword so it shows up in multiple searches. Given the name, buyers come here looking for talent at a bargain. However, you can build up a reputation and make a living through repeat business.


Branded as an elite online work marketplace that enables organizations to find and engage top-tier finance and consulting professionals for project-based work, SpareHire offers top talent without the high cost of an expensive firm or hiring a professional on a full-time basis. They claim to have former McKinsey and Deloitte consultants in their stable of freelancers. Although, I met the requirement of two years of consulting experience I never heard back from them. Even after two emails to confirm their process.


A “purpose-driven business that desires to help people start and build their own businesses and live their dream of being independent.” They have over 600,000 jobs posted and over 150,000 satisfied buyers in over 226 countries.

The site has received a number of recent very bad reviews that claim freelancers have not received their funds and the escrow process has not been fairly followed. I signed up for the site and found it very interesting that at no point did they advise about the fee arrangement, be or that I would have to pay to bid for jobs. After digging through the site I learned that I am given 15 free proposals and must pay for any more, and the fee for using the site is 15% (excl. VAT) on the first £175 (or €210 or $280 USD) earned in the month and 3.5% (excl. VAT) on all work earned after that in the month.

See additional reviews at Best freelance websites- people-per-hour-review


The site is designed to help businesses easily manage an independent workforce. In addition to talent found on the site, companies can bring their own independent contractor workforce into a private talent pools. Companies can build custom, on-demand talent pools based on skills, location or certifications. They make it easy for talent to join the site with an offer to import your LinkedIn profile (it didn’t work when I tried it).

Freelancers, independent contractors and consultants use WorkMarket at no cost. They can receive work and get compensated without paying anything. Companies pay a subscription fee, so they have to be serious about using the site as a source of talent.


The granddaddy of freelancer websites, claims a global pool of over 1.5 million freelancers, also known as “Gurus,” ready to help businesses with technical, creative or business projects. Guru offers a payment protection guarantee. Meaning businesses pay Guru and Guru disperses the finances to the respective Gurus. Funds can be sent by Guru through PayPal, credit card, e-check, or wire transfer. In addition to handling the 1099 filings and foreign exchange translations, Guru has created “loyalty dollars” which help businesses collect up to 2% cash back when paying with check, e-check, or wire transfer. Guru offers over 220 categories and easy steps for finding and hiring the perfect freelancer.


The site requires you to sign up and pay a monthly fee. My assessment ended there.

Something that is both a pro and a con is the relatively small amount of users. The hefty membership fees ensure that only those that are very serious will apply to jobs. Thus, clients receive fewer—but higher quality—applications. Clients don’t have to comb through hundreds of poorly matched proposals and if your quote is not read in 5 days, Outsource will refund the credits back to your account. The 70,000 current registered users are dwarfed by powerhouses like I had to question an investment in a brand new site.

Outsource guarantees that if you’re not hired within 6 months, you can have another 6 months of membership for free.

One reviewer of reminded me of something I hadn’t considered, surprising for a reformed lawyer, the blanket statement regarding IP rights assignments. For those offering design services this can be important.

See More Reviews of Freelancer Websites

Check out this Top Ten List for Other Options or this discussion on Quora



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