An Analysis and Review of Popular Online Freelancing Marketplace Sites
I had mixed feelings about whether or not I should write a chapter assessing freelancing sites for the Online Freelancing Guide. Part of this was my usual paralyzing perfectionism—I have a habit of thinking that if I can’t write something perfectly, I shouldn’t write it at all. But in the case of an analysis of other sites and the companies that run them, there were bigger concerns as well: issues like objectivity, fairness, accuracy and even potential conflicts of interest.
In the end I decided to proceed with this chapter for a simple reason: it’s important. If you plan to be an online freelancer, you are going to spend a substantial amount of time using these marketplace sites, and you need to understand how they work, how they compare to each other, and how to get the most out of them. Without understanding these sites, even trying to explain how to be a good online freelancer would be pointless. And since there are really no guides on the Internet right now that thoroughly examine and contrast these sites, I decided it was something I had to do.
And so I did. In this section you’ll find an extensive analysis and review of five of the most often used and arguably most important freelancing marketplace sites. These companies—which I colloquially call the “Big Five”—are Elance, Freelancer.com, Guru, oDesk and vWorker. They are all sites that I have used myself; I have done over 250 projects combined on these sites, with the majority of that work on Elance, oDesk and vWorker.
One problem with most reviews is that they tend to focus on generalities and impressions, rather than important specifics. In the case of freelancing sites, I realized that you want to know more than just my opinions on which sites are “better” than others: you want details on how they work, where their strengths and weaknesses lie, and what it’s like to use each one. To that end, I came up with a set of thirteen different criteria for evaluating these sites. I start out this chapter explaining what these criteria are, and then use them to assess each of the five major sites that I mentioned above. My hope is that this has allowed me to cover all of the most important information about each site, and that you’ll also be able to more easily contrast them this way.
Following the sections covering the Big Five sites, I have two special summary topics. One compares the total cost associated with using each of these five sites; that’s more difficult than it sounds, because they use very different fee structures and some have hidden costs. And the other is an attempt to summarize my earlier reviews by grading the Big Five in each of the thirteen assessment areas, and then weighting those scores to come up with an overall grade. It’s not a perfect way of comparing the sites, but I think you’ll find it useful—and certainly, it requires a lot less reading. :)
I conclude the review with a section containing shorter reviews of three additional marketplace sites. These are ones that are smaller or of less general appeal than the Big Five, but sites that I had experience with or that I felt warranted at least a shorter review.
Before proceeding into the actual reviews, please be sure to read the caveats and disclaimers, which are in the first topic of this chapter.
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