The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Freelance Websites
By Kate Gettinger, OD December 30, 2020
In today’s day and age, you don’t have to go too far to find someone willing to accomplish a particular task for you. We can have food delivered straight to our doorstep, someone can come over to build an IKEA table for us, and now we can even outsource jobs for our business. As optometrists and business owners, there are a slew of options available online for finding someone to do everything from designing your company’s logo to creating and managing your website. But before you rush to log into some of the popular freelance websites like Upwork.com, Fiverr.com, and Freelancer.com, it’s important to know the pros and cons of hiring a freelancer, as well as what situations are more or less appropriate for freelance work.
When Should You Consider a Freelancer?
One of the great things about freelancing websites is you can be spoiled for choice when it comes to selecting the right person for the job. If you have a very specific task in mind, you can quickly and easily sort through potential applicants and within a matter of hours make a suitable hire.
If you have a relatively vague idea of what service you need, you may be able to firm up your demand for the position based on the talent pool that applies. Many freelancing websites have applicants pitch bids for the role, and you may get inspired based on someone’s proposal for the position.
Keep in mind, however, that if you give a freelancer relatively loose reins, this can work to your advantage or disadvantage, depending on the skill and discipline of the hire. If a freelancer has a good amount of experience, they may be able to fill in the gaps and deliver a phenomenal final product that perfectly captures the essence of what you desired. A less experienced freelancer, however, may fumble with a lack of guidance and you may find yourself struggling to get a job completed, and it may fall far short of your expectations in the end.
Freelance websites can be an excellent option for one-off jobs, such as designing a graphic for a promotion or social media, as well as steady repeated work, like creating content for an online blog.
These sites are ideal for anyone who has a firm idea of their budget. It pays (literally) to do your research and see what the going rate is for the job for which you’re looking to hire. Suppose you want someone to make a Facebook cover page image for your office’s business page. You can search to see what the top-ranked freelancers charge for this sort of work, as well as the entry-level freelancers. You may not have the budget set aside for the top-ranked users, but it can give you a perspective of what price you may be looking for so that you aren’t paying too much but aren’t also lowballing your applicants. Good freelancers know the value of their work, and if you don’t offer enough compensation to gain their attention, you’ll find yourself struggling to find a suitable hire.
Freelance websites give business owners the opportunity to save money in the long run as long as they do a little research and understand the terms of the freelancing agreements. Most websites have safety nets in place in case a freelancer doesn’t complete a job to your satisfaction, but you risk losing valuable time if you find yourself repeatedly waiting on unreliable hires. If you’re not ready to take the time to look through applicants and evaluate them based on their skills and experience, then you probably aren’t going to be successful with freelancing websites.
The good news is that if you know exactly what you want and you have a deadline to meet, freelancing websites let you firmly communicate these deadlines with potential applicants, so anyone who applies is already committing to your timeline. If you need something as soon as humanly possible, you can cut out a lot of wasted time by posting the job on a freelancing website. Even if it is 1 am, you can often find late-night freelancers who are willing to turn a job around for you before sunrise. In a pinch, this can sometimes be a critical advantage of freelancing websites.
One of the main perks of freelancing websites is you can obtain a very unique employee that can offer a fresh, new perspective for your business. If everyone around you is using the same local firm for content or media images, bringing in outside talent from a freelancing website may quickly set you apart from the rest of the fold. However, there are certain times where it may make more sense to stay local and potentially pay a little more.
When You Should Avoid Freelancers
While freelancers have their notable advantages, there are certain situations where a freelancer may be a more risky business choice.
First of all, any position where you have difficulty imagining the job functioning smoothly in a purely remote capability is obviously not the best match for freelancing work. These websites are designed for remote work, so if you’re looking for someone to come fix your office’s computers whenever they crash or clean the waiting room on weekends, you should likely look to local companies.
Also, as a medical business, we have to take additional precautions for certain types of jobs if we are looking for freelancers. Any position that requires handling sensitive information, such as patient medical records or insurance billing and coding, comes with its restrictions. You need to be cognizant of the limitations and regulations in place due to HIPPA, and ensure that all data transactions are done on a secure server. However, when working with freelancers you often cannot guarantee what happens to your data once you send it over. What was originally secure may end up on an unprotected laptop using an internet cafe’s open Wi-fi network.
Therefore, you are taking a bit of a risk if you decide to outsource anything involving patient records to freelancers. It may be a less expensive option to hire a freelancer to do your billing and coding, but often it is safer (and more legal) to trust these sorts of jobs to credentialed companies and clearinghouses.
Finally, speaking of legal issues, it may be worthwhile to have a plan of action should you need to get an attorney involved. If you plan to invest a lot of money into freelance work, it is reassuring to have this resource to come to your aid if necessary.
While most websites have a skeleton of legal protections in place for both employers and freelancers, it is a good idea to have a lawyer available should you need to protect yourself if worse comes to worst. If you are just planning on hiring a freelancer here or there for small jobs, it may not be necessary to have a legal back-up plan, but anyone who is planning to consistently exchange a lot of money with freelancers or wants freelancers to handle sensitive medical information would be wise to have a legal advisor in the wings.
There’s a learning curve to hiring correctly on freelance websites. And here’s the caveat. You can find absolute freelancer gold as you do more and more projects on these platforms, but you'll be burnt eventually. You must be very mindful about the projects you post. For example, let’s say an Upwork freelancer could develop a WordPress website for $1500.00, but a reputable web development company in the healthcare space could do it for $5,000. You’re busy. You need 100% communication and less stress. That $3500 savings isn’t worth it in the end if the cheaper freelancer takes twice as long or can’t finish the project at all. However, you might be able to get a brochure designed for $250.00. If that project doesn’t pan out, you have the option to negotiate a settlement with the freelancer, dispute with the freelance website, or just walk away with less grief and financial loss. It’s a balancing act on these freelance platforms.
In summary, freelancers can be a great asset to business owners. Freelancers can help fill a niche role or provide fresh talent if you’ve exhausted local sources. You can use freelancers to find more budget-friendly alternatives for smaller task-oriented or design jobs, and remember you’re also taking a time risk on anyone who offers to do a job for near nothing.
As always, you have to be vigilant for scammers and time-wasters, and if you plan to handle a lot of business on freelancing websites it is helpful to know your legal rights and what to do if things go awry.
But for the savvy business owner, a freelance platform is another tool in the tool kit. Finding a and a skilled freelancer can be as valuable as any local employee, potentially helping set your practice apart from your competitors and saving you money in the process.