There is a common and shared belief amongst the top freelancers in the industry: a great career in design starts when you are able to say “No”. Once you’re past the initial hurdle of having to scramble for clients and projects, you will build a body of work so consistent, polished and effective that you won’t need to look for clients anymore. That is the dream of any freelancer; to have the bills covered regardless, and to be able to only work on the projects you truly care about.
I was reading this interesting article by Benek Lisefski on Blank Page the other day, which in turn was inspired by Dr. Jon Younger’s predictions for the freelance market on Forbes. It got me thinking. I have always believed the best freelancers are the ones who are able to find and build their own niche, a solid network of contacts that can guarantee a steady influx of work, meaning that competition will be relatively manageable – sometimes non-existent. Yet what most beginner or intermediate freelancers are facing right now is the same problem that consumers and advertisers alike are facing all over the world: a problem of noise.
There is a lot, everywhere – but it’s not good enough
The most expert freelancers will not necessarily feel this issue as much. Those who have been doing this for over 20 years will hardly see an argument for navigating the web looking for work. But as we step into a new normal, and as the border between remote employees and freelancers shrinks to paper thin, we can predict that more people will turn to the freedom of freelancing over full-time work. Meaning there will be a large influx of new freelancers in the industry. And they will all have the same problem: “just how in heaven and hell do I find some decent work?”
By doing a quick search online, one could be easily fooled into believing that there are quality opportunities aplenty, and that there is a plethora of platforms able to provide that. You couldn’t be more wrong. On one thing from Benek’s beautiful article I do agree in fact: most freelance platforms are stinking crap. They offer penny-value, non-curated work opportunities on a global marketplace, where you are competing with professionals who potentially don’t hold the same life standards as you. The result of that is that these platforms milk your money with the seemingly noble intent of offering you life-changing opportunities, but in truth, they’re only standing in the way between you and really good clients.
The psychological trick there is that, by seeing hundreds of opportunities readily available at any time, you believe that there must be something there that is worth your time. I only ever did two jobs using one of these platforms; I was paid next to nothing to edit an entire 120-pages pilot script, and even less for a few hundred pages of game localisation. Every time I go back to my old profile to have a look, I see sub-par projects advertised with nefarious budget. For someone just starting out, it’s absolutely normal to feel discouraged by this grim outlook.
You are often left wondering: “am I ever even going to be able to make a living without crunching my ass off for 50 hours a week?” But when you are looking at everything that these platforms offer, the answer is often no.
The problem of unfiltered
Surely these freelancing platforms have to make money somewhere, and by taking a good chunk in commissioning fees on every single project they will, inevitably, play with large numbers to grow. Chip off a little bit here and there, which may not seem much to the average freelancer, and you’ve slowly built a consistent revenue.
The problem is that this certainly works in favour of these platforms, it absolutely works in favour of the clients, but it sucks for the average freelancer who turns to these just to kick off a freelancing career. Surely the original mission and intent of these platforms is noble; to offer a simple solution to the much complex problem of freelance outreach. But in doing so, and in attempting to offer as many unfiltered opportunities, they are only harming the freelance market and discouraging the professionals and intermediate freelancers who are still building their portfolio. And I can assure you, my friend, that there will be loads in that situation.
Towards Curation and Collaboration
Contrary to the still much wise Benek, I am not against these platforms entirely. There is a lot going wrong with them, surely. Yet some freelancers need a place to start, and it makes sense that they would turn online to find work. Creativepool exists for that reason too: to connect talent to the best opportunities all over the world – but in doing so, we choose to approach the problem differently.
Our studiogigs are handpicked, curated and only published if we are absolutely certain that the budget (where specified) is at least standard for quality work in the industry. The main advantage of such approach is that only the best clients make it through, meaning our certified freelancers (studiopros) can easily build meaningful business relationships through Creativepool. It is entirely different from publishing an unfiltered range of opportunities, with ridiculous budget, knowing perfectly well that most junior freelancers will agree to something like that to build their portfolio.
That is exploitation. If we want this industry to grow and flourish, it has to stop right now.
The value of collaboration
There is one more positive trend and behaviour which I have personally experienced in the freelance industry: people love to help each other. We all had to start out somewhere, and those freelancers who are too authentic to get swallowed by their own ego will gladly help you succeed with some tips and pointers to lead you in the right direction. Need tips on finding work? They will assist. Need a community of freelancers to join? There are countless Discord servers and Slack communities out there (which, now that I say it, makes me think that perhaps we should have one too) entirely focused on niche freelance work. Whether you are a writer, programmer, designer or illustrator, you can not only find broader communities for your needs, but more focused groups as well – such as Narrative Design or UI Design.
The Internet is huge, and the best people out there love to be approached with a request for help. Leave your arrogance at the door and stay as humble as you can. Admitting that you need help will get you very far in this industry.
Of course, you can find loads of inspiring freelancers on Creativepool as well. Just head over to our Talent tab and look for companions in the job title of your choice, perhaps even have a quick peek through our Top 25s to connect with the best professionals in your niche. Feel free to discuss, team up, work on projects together, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. The best thing about Creativepool is that members among our top talent ranks are also a prime example of authenticity and humanity (most times).