The Internet is an extremely competitive marketplace. Between our earlier discussions regarding email marketing, social media, and banner ads, this is hardly a shocking revelation for returning readers, but if this is your first foray into our blog (welcome!), these posts cover an extended breakdown of the ways companies try to get your attention, and subsequently your business, while you are surfing the Web.
Companies like ours and freelancers who operate entirely within an online business model are especially pressured to find avenues where they can stand out. They have to be bolder, louder, and more aggressive in their marketing strategies.
This can make it extremely difficult to sort out who is and is not trustworthy – especially when it comes to your website design, SEO, and overall online presence.
Today, we’re going to help you take the first step toward sifting through this mass of online noise by analyzing the pros of cons of hiring a freelancer over a small company like ours. Before we can do that though, we need to start by asking an extremely important question.
What is the difference between a company and a freelancer?
If you’ve spent some time looking through our website or researching Midwest Websites as a whole, you know what we’re about – high quality, customer-focused service for businesses that want to create or strengthen their place online. We’ve built a brand that revolves around designing and implementing custom plans for each client, utilizing our small size to work quickly and efficiently.
As a company, we also have our own clearly defined playing field for doing business. We’ve taken the steps to be recognized by our state and Google, invite and encourage feedback for the work we do, and ensure that feedback is publicly visible in places where it will be easily found.
While offering a lot of the same services, freelancers differ from companies like ours in a couple key ways. Rather than deferring to a typical business structure, freelancers often choose to operate in a completely independent capacity (think cold calling, mass emailing, and door-to-door sales). Some offer their services through larger third party marketplaces like Fiverr or Upwork, building a reputation through a structured environment that isn’t their own.
As a result, a freelancer’s brand or operating process is not nearly as established as an official company’s, and they are even treated as disposable in shadier cases. This breeds a very wide degree of variance with freelancers in areas like:
Note that this does not mean all freelancers are going to deliver you a negative experience; some that I know are actually quite exceptional. It does mean that you’re taking a pretty serious gamble with your funds and results without a vetted lead.
Put another way, I liken the process of hiring an unknown freelancer to Russian roulette, except anywhere between 2-5 of the chambers are loaded depending upon where you look for your hire. To give you the best possible odds, we’re going to review each of the above bullets in more detail so you know how to identify early warning signs as they come up.
Fluid work schedules can lead to fluid work ethics.
Work at home businesses are not for everyone. While they can be very tempting for those who are sick of getting up at 6:00 AM every morning to deal with commute traffic, corporate policies that keep you from doing your job the way you want, and irate customers who manners and logic forgot, many fail to reflect on the necessary traits to start and operate one.
Discipline, knowledge, and a strong work ethic are all mandatory traits you need to get your enterprise off the ground, let alone for getting it to a point where it is thriving. These skills temper a fluid environment into a tangible foundation you are able to build upon.
This is also why companies tend to offer consistent hours, set up processes a specific way, and have the basic framework of a routine for various projects. Consistent operating procedures can be a strong support pillar if you struggle with discipline or your work ethic, giving you a checklist to run through that is designed to keep you focused and on task.
While capable freelancers will adopt many of the same traits and processes successful companies use, doing so isn’t a requirement. Freelancers can work as much or little as they like to get by, on their schedule, on their terms. Sometimes you’ll get a workaholic who gets your project done ahead of schedule, sometimes you’ll wait 6 months for a basic website.
Factor in the idea that anyone can declare themselves a freelancer without any kind of substance to back them up, and you end up with a freelancing market that is about as consistent as a bag of every flavor jelly beans. Make sure you look at the little flavor booklet before biting the bullet to hire one (read: Do your research BEFORE hiring). Seriously, we can’t stress this enough and you’ll thank us later.
Freelancers are only as accountable as they make themselves.
Companies go through a lot of steps to establish legitimacy and accountability. A few steps we’ve personally taken involved filling out paperwork to recognize us as a company in Iowa, setting up social media and search engine accounts to invite and discuss feedback, and speaking with attorneys about legal precautions and contract verbiage.
While conscientious freelancers will go through some of these steps to assuage doubts or bolster client confidence, many who operate independently simply don’t bother. Doing so is extra work that they aren’t being paid for, and it generally offers little legal protection they don’t already have.
For example, if a verbal contract goes south, you wind up with the freelancer’s word against yours in the courtroom. These situations are murky at best (and on purpose), often failing to recover any money you paid the freelancer should they elect to take your money and run.
Hiring through sites like Fiverr, Freelancer, and Upwork introduces a degree of legal accountability you won’t receive from a local, fully independent freelancer, but even these “structured” environments come with their share of risks.
The first risk is the level of client and freelancer standards the third party itself enforces. This discussion pretty succinctly outlines a number of issues with Upwork, ranging from muddled client job descriptions to an emphasis on cost rather than quality – something you never want from a website or SEO project, as it can do severe harm to your search engine rankings.
Your second risk ties in pretty closely with the first. Providers like Upwork have terms of service that are supposed to ensure smooth, high quality transactions that protect all parties. They also tend to enforce them on a whim, which is unfortunately their prerogative, as disgusting as that is. They’ve even got the reviews to prove it.
The third risk is the prevalence of scams in these third party environments. There are prospective clients and freelancers trying to scam as much labor and money as they can get away with, creating a minefield for provider and consumer alike.
You’ll always have a degree of risk even when hiring an established company for a project, but it is far lower than what you’ll find with most unknown freelancers. If having a clearer picture of the people you’re hiring and the promises they’re offering aren’t enough, a company’s brand and reputation also has considerably more time and value attached to it than those of a freelancer. This creates proportional incentive to follow through on your project with the excellence you want and deserve.
Freelance web development is the most dangerous job on the planet.
This was a popular running joke during my years assisting customers at GoDaddy. As soon as a customer’s freelance web developer was paid, they disappeared off the face of the Earth and were never heard from again.
Based on the volume of calls I personally received from customers who lost contact with their developers, I can’t say there isn’t some truth behind this dark bit of humor.
You see, freelancers aren’t under any contract or obligation to stay in touch with you. Particularly unscrupulous individuals might present you with a phone number or email address to help make the sale, but if you’ve already paid them, there’s little to no consequence for ignoring your project or messages. They have what they want from you and you have virtually no recourse for hunting them down or holding them accountable.
Legitimate companies are held to a much higher standard, however. Clear communication avenues are an absolute must, and customers who aren’t able to use them for prompt responses are quick to express their wrath on social media, review websites, and Google. Sure, some of the outbound emails and notifications get annoying, but you cannot reasonably deny the effort to stay in touch that is behind them.
Cheap prices always bring cheap results.
Have you heard the expression “if something looks too good to be true, it usually is”? This simple statement is especially true when it comes to hiring freelancers. Finding people who charge 2 or 3 dollars an hour is extremely common nowadays, and one of the primary factors for this stems from the low cost of living for many countries outside the United States.
If this is sounding like a familiar lead in, that’s because we have an article that touches on the hazards of outsourcing when it comes to quality copy. While bigger companies enjoy ignoring these problems because cheap labor brings in better profit margins, all the dangers of directly hiring someone who does not know English as a primary language apply here too.
If you need a recap, those dangers are:
- Confusing copy with non-native dialects (British English vs American English)
- Spelling and grammar errors
- SEO penalties that result from the issues above
While you might be able to avoid these issues by hiring domestically, independent freelancers and portals like Freelancer, Upwork, and Fiverr double down on the often treacherous freelancing market by introducing scams that can include:
- Theft of your hosting platform or account
- Filler copy/spam copy
- Outsourcing to less capable freelancers
It isn’t always easy to catch people who are doing these things either. Between falsified reviews and even falsified profiles, scamming has gotten quite a bit more intricate since the first among an endless sea of Nigerian Princes started reaching out to your email inbox.
If this hasn’t convinced you to steer clear of that $5 deal on Fiverr that is clearly going to be the exception to what we’ve told you (yes, that’s sarcasm – it is never the exception), remember that it is almost always going to be a lot more expensive to do a project more than once if the person doing it for less fails to deliver or damages what you have beyond repair.
If I can’t trust the third party sites, who can I trust?
Small companies or privately managed medium/large companies should always be your first points of contact. They have the freedom to put the customer before profit, usually have their act together as far as communication and quality, and are incentivized to be better than the larger companies and conglomerates in order to compete against them.
Local freelancers also have the potential to be a good resource. Knowing where they live and meeting them in person are both good ways to ensure the accountability your project requires. As with any company, a bit of research beforehand is critical to ensure you aren’t wasting your time prior to setting an appointment.
Any other freelancer you consider is going to be an unknown in most cases. While we generally recommend against pursuing them, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself:
- Minimize their access to your accounts
- Don’t pay them in full up front
- Don’t invest any money you aren’t prepared to lose
- Get any information you can about them before you reach out
- Back up any data they will have access to prior to hiring them
When it comes to your business, there’s no such thing as being too safe or secure.