Some freelancers avoid platforms like Upwork and various freelance job boards because they claim there aren’t any good opportunities there. I completely disagree: there are indeed profitable posts on freelancing job sites. However, there are plenty of listed freelancing gigs that are horrendous.
Some of the posted jobs that are bad news aren’t all that are obvious. Others are obviously problematic. Here are my top seven signs that the freelancing gig you’re considering will actually be awful.
In all fairness, I did land a few awesome freelancing gigs from really vague posts, but I had to ask a lot of questions (and get a lot of answers) to be sure these weren’t total duds. And, when I was starting out, I took on a few nightmares too.
Being vague about the job requirements, deliverables, timeline, payments, and more are most often indicators of the incredibly poor communication that will follow, possibly keeping you from getting the work done. In these cases, your reward is often less-than-stellar feedback that could hinder you from getting hired for decent opportunities in the near future.
2. “Best offer” offerings
Some folks who post freelancing gigs are shameless. They lay out high expectations and plenty of prerequisites in their listings, and make it clear that they want high caliber work for the lowest price possible. Whoever meets their requirements and offers the lowest price gets the gig.
Don’t be in the race to the bottom for these! If you “win” the gig, get ready to be walked all over. These clients don’t value the work you do.
3. Quickie quotes
These are sometimes “best offer” gigs in disguise, but usually you can end up taking a big hit on these. So what do I mean by “quickie quotes?”
Some employers want you to give a quote right away when you put your hat in the ring, but often you can’t. Usually these same listings have a ton of variables in play regarding the size, scope, and timeline of the project, and you would need to do quite a bit of exploring to unearth answers and get to the point where you could throw out any numbers. If the client is agreeable and lets you do some digging around, that’s a good sign. But what if they stonewall you?
If you threw out a bid and they bit, watch out! Next thing you know, you are on a 48-hour turnaround with a project twice the size of what you expected at a rate about 20% lower than your usual.
4. Set work hours
Some freelancing gigs need set work hours, but others don’t… unless the employer requires it so they can micromanage whomever they hire.
If syncing up with your new “boss” for set work hours on the regular isn’t necessary for a gig, be wary of it. I’m guessing they will run you ragged. And unless they are in the same time zone as you, these work hours may not really work with your schedule.
5. Industry ignorance
Again, I’ve taken on gigs that went really well with folks who weren’t too savvy on the stuff they were asking me to do–heck, I’m going to say a good 1/3 fall into that category! But I’ve also had some daunting uphill battles with clients who knew that they needed to get on the content market marketing bandwagon, but didn’t really have any idea what that entailed, what they should expect, and what it would cost.
If someone is too clueless about what they are asking for, you may not want to go there. If you do, brace yourself for lots of project creep, a wonky work flow, regular phone calls to explain every little thing, and unrealistic expectations.
6. Tight turnarounds
A posted job with a tight turnaround is a giant red flag for me.
Yes, sometimes things come up and you’re scrambling at the last minute–that’s happened to me before! But, this isn’t the case with most freelancing gigs listed with really tight turnarounds.
For many of these gigs, the turnaround time is getting tighter by the second. Usually when the client says they need it in a week, it was a week from when they posted their gig. Now here they are three days later asking you if you are able to whip up a 10-page white paper that’s been revised twice and is publication-ready in less than four days–and they promise that the data you need for it will be sent to you sometime tomorrow.
7. Bad feedback
Hey, I’ll take a client on a freelancing platform with no feedback over a client with poor feedback any day. This is because it’s in a freelancer’s best interest to leave good feedback–negative commentary closes the door on ever working with that person again. So if a freelancer has said that an employer has poor communication, unrealistic expectations, bad manners, or problems paying on time (or at all), I take their word for it and assume that the reality of working with that client is probably even worse than what is written there.
And this follows for what kind of feedback clients leave for their contractors. If it looks like a client is opposed to giving up any more than four stars, I’d stay away. I wouldn’t want my feedback score lowered by what could well be an overly critical, impossible to please client on a freelancing gig that was maybe already sucky.