Constructive criticism for Freelancer.com

3 04 2012

No whinging or complaining here please, only constructive criticism and helpful suggestions

I’ve received many a comment on my blog posts, The Trouble with Freelancer Part 1 and Part 2, and it seems that a lot of people have a lot of say about the way that Freelancer.com is run. Fair dues – the reason I wrote that post in the first place was to have my own little rant about my experiences with the site.

Recently however, I’ve had a number of emails and comments from people who don;t just want a whinge and a moan – they want to help make the world of online freelancing a better place. From other, rival companies to Freelancer.com wanting to make their own sites better, to individuals wanting to set up their own sites, it seems that everyone loves the idea of being able to find work online, but the perfect business model has yet to be found.

So, I present this new blog post to you as a platform to post your constructive criticism of Freelancer.com (and other similar sites) and to make suggestions as to what you think could be done differently, done better, or even to applaud the things that you like about Freelancer. I’m hoping that one of our more technogically and entrepreneurially-minded friends will take these ideas on board and help to develop the online freelancing marketplace for the greater good.

I must absolutely stress that the comment space on this post is NOT for complaints about Freelancer – to do that, please comment on this post, or even better, take up your umbrage with the company concerned. I moderate all comments on this site, so please make sure that any comments here are only of the helpful kind.

Over to you…

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16 responses

3 04 2012
Darcey

Awesome Lisa, I’m eager to hear what people would like and what people don’t like.

I think I have a concept on preventing scam employers, but not so easy for scam employees however.

I am in the process of mining through what features online transaction systems such as paypal, worldpay offer in the ability to send funds and to automate a payment from their account via my account to the job winner (employee) and in turn this is all tied into a timesheet, invoice and employee and employer rating system. It will also flag content handed over on payment for current invoice, every step of the process. I’m catering for worst case scenarios, it may not be the most comfortable process (who likes to fill in a timesheet lol) but it guarantees employee and employer satisfaction along with an exchange of work carried out to that point. This would allow the employee to see the funds have been allocated for the job and if it’s not then the system wont allow the employee to start the work. If they freelancer and the employer decide to process timesheets and payments manually then the risk is their own (nothing I can do there).

Scam employees, however is a bit more tricky, but I think I have a system which will allow the employer to verify the employees details, work and references. It will never request full working examples of the employees work to be handed over to any employer thus protecting the employees work. Especially when the employer is an individual hiring rather than a company.

Work in progress… But it’s coming…

I look forward to reading peoples wants and don’t likes…

Darcey@AllForTheCode.com

4 04 2012
Vicente Gambito

I would like to see a freelancing site that is able provide freelancers with some kind of “career pattern” towards professionalism. Weeding out scammers is fine for starters; but I think latent talent of new comers should be channeled towards professionalism rather than be wasted on elaborate schemes for scams simply because no one cares about their opportunities for professional development.

4 04 2012
Tony

Darcey, I saw your other comment regarding posting to Facebook or twitter. Personally, I wouldn’t as fb and twitter to me is personal and separate from my work life. However saying that others might and it could be useful. Another site that may be worth considering is LinkedIn that is a professional site that may get traction. I consider this a marketing tool for your project and the website in general and provides little value outside this.

Good luck with your venture. As mentioned above, there isn’t a perfect system yet and I am sure it’s out there. I have used elance which has produced some reasonable results and I would check out as you work through.

For me as an employer I don’t mind an escow option but to me it’s not clearly outline how both parties can use it to be advantage. I also want to have a plain and simple understanding of terms, not complete legal document of 30 pages to read through.

4 04 2012
Darcey

I will make the facebook and twitter posints optional 🙂

I’m with you on the escrow feature, but I don’t quite like how they do things, I would like to tie this in to the employee and employer more tightly via the invoice, timesheet and employer & employee confidence rating systems I’m building. It will clearly illustrate the employee has the funds there to pay you as they have been placed into a secure area for release as the job progresses.

Also escrow costs a bit so I will try an implement something myself via paypal. The only issue is 100% refunds are not possible as pay pal charges (something I am currently looking into – but even if it does charge it will be fraction of the amount compared to the other sites).

I’ve already got linkedin patched in for employees and this in turn effects their confidence ratings. However everyone will be requested to fill in their linkedin like profiles and work history (simply an online cv) which also affects their confidence ratings.

The terms & conditions for my site will be simply stating content is created by the user for the user and covering me where it needs be. There always the small print but I will be just using something standard.

Fees for the paypal escrow like application I will build will be up front and clear. Refunding will simply be charged at the cost of what 3rd party api like paypal or worldpay charge to do this. But I’m still heavily looking into this.

There will also be online Non Disclosure Documents and Basic contracts available for digital signing. I will be making this an automated process which will be carried out tennis game style via email between the employer and the employee. Only once both parties have completed and verified all will both be legally bound and have documents which will stand up in a court of law for either the employer and the employee if required (small claims court).

Good comments Tony, if you think of more feel free to voice them and I will see what I can include in the system. I don’t think there can be a system which completely fits everyones needs but lets see if we can get a step closer to something I would actually use myself, I’m not too trusting with the others.

4 04 2012
Tony

So quick!

To be honest, I haven’t used these online freelancing sites alot. I do however like elance and how it’s managed but I did get confused initially how the process works. From an employer point of view alot of the freelancers have very incomplete pages which doesn’t gather alot of trust for employment. I think there should be a minimum of profile completion before allowing to bid.

On the other side I think the employer can easily setup an account with little verification so the same would apply.

I think you are looking into it extremely thoroughly but I am sure there is a fine line between making it legally sound and upfront understandable for both parties to know what eachothers obligations to making it easy to move forward. It’s not to critizise but it would be difficult to get the balance right.

For me, if I was doing this project which I would sit down and write down every detail into a worksheet to look at the comparisons from the major competitors and see how you can improve them at each step.

4 04 2012
Darcey

That’s one of the issues I have, as I am not going to be able to run through the process of actually using these other sites unless I use them as both an employer and employee.

But I’ve built internal intranet timesheet, employee and invoice systems before so my goal there will be as before… Keep it simple.

I did post a job on freelancer.com xmass time and found it a complete waste of time, the responses were pathetic and their profiles were even worse. And as being employed on there I didn’t like the fact that I would be a no ratings person when I’m competing against companies with teams of people with high ratings… Something I hope to address with the confidence rating.

I’ve been flow charting quite a bit and have a model database in build, but so far it’s quite a simple system. The system wont distinguish between an employer or an employee as you can switch any time you want and profiles will be required to be filled in by both.

I like the idea of limiting job applications if you haven’t filled out your cv (added to the list).

My process flow is quite simple.

1. Login or not it don’t matter 😉
2. 2 paths availble, search for a job or post a job
3. Post a job will require you to log in and fill in a form then sit back while it accumulates applicants
4. Browse for a job will simply be through a 2 tier level category system – i’m thinking something like freelancer.com crossed with totaljobs.com for this
5. Job hunters log in to apply and setup their profiles

For employee whom has chosen a winning applicant the system will automate the following process:

1. The employer picks a winning applicant.
2. The employer then gets asked a few questions for setting up the time sheet, invoice and legal documents process.
3. An email is automated to the freelancer with a link to go to and fill in a form with their details and a number to call and confirm it is the employer on the website.
4. The employer receives an email with the freelancers details and a telephone number to confirm via a web page.
5. This will flag the system to request the employer the total funds the job will pay to the system so that the freelancer can see the money is there.
6. Email will be sent to both parties confirming funds have been deposited and work can commence.
7. Employee fills in time sheets and depending on how the employer set up the job system (point no 2) the invoice system automatically processes invoices and payment details requesting confirmation from both parties their work has been carried out to x date and all is fine before proceeding.
8. Once both parties confirm they are happy, the system will pay the freelancer for that invoice with funds available.

I know that is a lot to take in and process.

A lot of bits inbetween you will agree, but it seems logical so far. I will try and keep things as simple and as automated as possible.

Other things I will work on once the main system is built are features such as extended project timings etc.

4 04 2012
Darcey

I’m also wanting to place a timeline display in the timesheet system which will show the employee and employer dates and markers for invoice dates, project start, completion etc.

4 04 2012
Tony

Yes, a graphical timeline would be ideal, especially for larger projects. Also allowing cost/price structuring along this timeline. Clearly stating fee structure when doing your timeline and also Paypal fees and charges.

If you have different currencies then outline the exchange rate beforehand rather than later.

The thing I hated about Freelancer (though not with elancer) is the quality of the freelancers, freelancers not following instructions, freelancers asking for extra charges after the bidding process. I also hated the search option for freelancers was pretty weak. what I really hated was Freelancer.com continued to draw funds from Paypal for apparent no reason.

As an employer I only want to put funds into my account when i have a project.

What I like about elancer is the quality of freelancer is alot higher, searching for freelancers is quite intuitive and can be focused. I don’t have to pay for a project upfront. Also if I don’t get the right freelancer for a project I can cancel the project and not be charged. This may be an issue for some as there are not so many honest employers out there. But I don’t mind the verification charge of $5 to the paypal account (to the credit card) for a the first project or ongoing now and then.

What I don’t like is there are alot of freelancers with little information that comes up in searches. They should not be displayed if they don’t reach a certain level.

As a business you will need to know where yours fits within the online freelancer world. You need to have your niche that makes buyers and sellers come and interact.

I have been interested in these types of online business models for about 6-7 years and find what you are doing is fascinating. Hope it goes well.

4 04 2012
Darcey

The irony is the main part of the web application is pretty basic to build. One thing I hate about agencies/head hunters calling me and emailing me all day long is how wrong they get my skill set and to what job they assume I am suitable for. A lot of this is human error but I understand exactly what you mean. I will look into various sets of search options maybe even advanced and basic modes like google. I will tie it in with if the freelancers profile has a low confidence rating then they wont be listed on searches (this is a good point as I will store their rating in the database rather than calculate on the fly thus speeding up the website).

With regards to the timeline, yes I think I think this is essential, I find myself creating and referencing this information frequently for each and every contract I undertake. I was thinking something similar to this (something I built back in 2002 – http://www.allforthecode.co.uk/aftc/forum/user/modules/forum/article.php?index=2&subindex=2&aid=56 but a tad simpler).

Regarding extra costs, with the job end date set at the start it will fix the price, until the end at which point I will build something in to allow extension and will require additional funds to be deposited and approval of extension from both parties.

I am also looking into the possibility of the website only taking funds as and when each invoice is required to be paid, this simplifies the online transactions and 3rd party fees considerably, but on the employee front if they agreed to get paid monthly or weekly there is a 1 week wait time for funds to clear and if not cleared the employee is advised to stop work till the employer completes transaction. And if the employer is not happy with progress they can close the job then and there. Process flow goes like so:

1. Invoice date reached.
2. Employer emailed to clear funds and approve work
3. Employee emailed to approve get work to date approved
4. Employee and employee communications take place
5. Employer logs in and approves work and pays invoice
6. System pays employee/freelancer
7. System updates and updates confidence ratings on both parties (if over a week late on invoice payment, emails will be sent to both parties stating work should be stopped).

Short term jobs will automatically be invoiced in weekly intervals and scale to monthly.

4 04 2012
lisaamartin

I’m impressed by the response this post has had already! Thanks guys and glad I could help provide a place to thrash these issues out. Hope you come up with a solution!
It seems that Freelancer are on your toes already though as they announced today on their Facebook page that they are soon to be instigating (or, um, “instituting”??) quality controls on user profiles…Interesting that this should happen just hours after your comments here…!
“Attention freelancers! We are about to institute new quality guidelines. Please ensure that your profile has been filed out properly, including use of a good profile photo and description. We still start restricting access to some features such as our directory for accounts that have poor quality profiles.”

19 05 2012
Laszlo

Hi,
I wonder what (or when) the improvement will be. I signed up 2hrs ago. Here is what I have learned.
Yes now you have to add a picture. I think it can be a bunny, as long as it is a picture, should be ok.
I was looking for a project and it didn’t take me long to realy that there is a problem when you have 100s of project postings that are the same(same text,title) posted by different people. just do search for “PDF to MS WORD TYPING” and there are others. This became even more confusing when I posted a project (just to see what is that like) and after the finish it said something like “please wait until one of our people checks/approves the posting”. Yeah right! Earlier I flagged postings because they were not jobs but someone selling something. 🙂
So I don’t know what will happen to my project posting or the few bids that I put in, but I am done with this site!
I have the suspicion they make money on membership and fees. Change your skills, $5, they put fake postings up you want to bid on and quickly run out of free bids, buy a membership! or something like that.
thanks for your blog.

4 04 2012
Tony

Interesting. I don’t have access to Freelancer now after my quick entry and exit.

Personally it’s great that someone like Darcey is taking a keen interest and developing something better, reinventing the wheel so to speak.

The world is so connected now and getting faster everyday. Daily hundreds of new businesses arriving in the world which break down the barriers, just like what Darcey is doing. Love it and looking forward to it continuing and the outcome.

4 04 2012
Darcey

That one way to get your jobs removed for free 😉 I will have to see if mine still works. I tried removing that job i created at xmass time but was all of a sudden asked to pay for removal! I burst out laughing and slapped them on my spam list.

I’ve been sifting through some of the others today.. I’m not fussed on the elancer and guru sites but they do have a few things right 🙂

I think I will stop looking at freelancer.com for reference material (I was referencing its categorisation of jobs and skills lists), I think I’ve got an idea on something a bit better and more relational in regards to sector, sectors associated skills and employee skills.

Done a bit more research into escrow too, very expensive. Seems it’s $25 dollars for the smallest of jobs! So a job for $10 would require a +$25 fee to use escrow and then there are more charges with 3rd party ecommerce transaction costs! Could probably call them up and get something arranged but the more parties in the equation just over complicate things, so I think I will build my own for this.

4 04 2012
Tony

Yeah I was totally unimpressed by Freelancer.com I actually sort out comments which lead to this great blog.

If it’s going to be expensive to get an escrow then in business always start small and scale up later once the business has proven itself, employers and employees are coming in and you have something viable.

I just checked elancer and looks like no minimum for jobs but looking further the average budget is $1173 for the US with over a million jobs posted (not sure of the award rate though).

Anyway worksheet the costs comparison for the best e-commerce fulfillment, the pros and cons and go with what you feel is right.

31 12 2012
Inkthirsty

1. Better customer service until things get better for honest bidders and workers who act responsibly. Most people aren’t scammers, but it takes just one bad experience, one glitch or error for a loss of profit when it comes to big projects. The impossible customer service just discourages anyone with a real claim.
2. If commission is charged, it should be charged after the bidder receives the work and the worker receives pay. Otherwise, the project is no better than a scam waiting to happen. Everyone is just waiting to lose money, since bidders have been conditioned to be fearful of giving out initial milestones to potential scam workers, and workers can’t count on always getting the milestones they ask for. That’s just how the people in the system have become- fearful and paranoid. The system of taking commissions AFTER a finished project will also encourage Freelancer to hold both parties accountable for the success of the project. Freelancer will have a stake in the success of every project if and only if they are paid after they can host a project successfully. This is the best way for Freelancer to show that that it actually cares about its true success rate, instead of merely focusing on quantity of projects posted per day.
3. Change the dispute system. An irresponsible system has allowed many a bidder to run off with my finished work without paying me, cutting off all communication. I try to pick honest projects that value my skills, but I’m sick of them falling through. I would not be willing to pay a dispute system when I have submitted my work honestly, and have not been paid for it (multiple times)! If the bidder had an issue with my work, they could have informed me and we could have worked it out. Instead, I received no messages after the work was finished. I’d start a dispute, but I know that it will cost a fee each time. This only discourages disputes, even when they are absolutely necessary. The worker should not lose money when attempting to gain money that was rightfully earned.
4. Take down the “PDF to Word” projects immediately. They are scams, and their users should be banned. They are really projects for Captcha typing. That would be fine, except that they are completely irresponsible with payments. They will allow someone to work, and then when the worker messages the bidder asking for payment this message is ignored.
5. Stop taking money from inactive accounts. There is no reason why money should be extracted from these accounts when these account holders are not even paying for any services or working on any projects. This is just a way to take money away from people who do honest work.

10 06 2013
Doc

Hi Lisa,

Well, it’s been a long time since I’ve dropped by your site, although I follow the comments on your older posts about Freelancer.com. Congratulations on a great idea with this post. I see you’ve generated some genuine interest and it’s good to see some comments that make sense, as opposed to more whining about how someone was ripped off by or because of freelancer.com.

I hope you won’t mind my chiming in with comments about the problems with the Freelancer business model. I was a member of GAF when it was purchased by Freelancer and I’ve watched it evolve while selling my writing and programming services there since it began. As someone who did, in fact, work as a contractor for their staff on several occasions and almost constantly for 3 years, I can also offer something of an insider’s perspective.

I’m not going to offer any details about the staff, the infrastructure or their politics. I have my opinions, but no basis for them other than my own experiences and I’m not here to slander anyone. In fact, I’m only going to verify something that your other readers are saying in one way or another on a regular basis: Freelancer’s business model is all about profits for Freelancer.

Now, in my opinion, there’s nothing wrong with making a profit. The problem is in the way they’ve allowed the focus on profit to undermine the integrity of the site, which, by the way, had real potential when it was young.

I won’t rehash all the problems with the fee and commission system, customer support, etc. Instead, I want to point out a couple of simple, specific things that should be raising red flags for freelancers and employers. I apologize if these have been mentioned before; as I said, it’s been a while since I’ve been here.

Let’s look at some fun stuff about the bidding process. When you place a bid, you have the option to “highlight” your bid for a buck. I admit, I’ve used this option on several occasions when there were a great number of bids on a project. It doesn’t change the odds of winning, it simply draws the employer’s eye to your bid. That option has been available for a long time.

More recently, the option was added to “sponsor” your bid. Basically, this option lets bidders battle their way to the top of the bid list by paying an extra fee. With each “sponsored” bid, the fee increases. The bottom line is, any bidder, regardless of his or her qualifications, can buy that top slot. This sponsored bid is placed above even the most qualified bidder, who’s going to be second on the list if someone pays for the sponsorship. Whether it has any bearing on which freelancer is selected is a moot point; this gimmick has freelancers competing to put more money in Freelancer’s pocket for a “service” that is, IMHO, deceptive.

I’ve just noticed that they’ve added another, similar option. A freelancer can now buy a week at the top of the directory list for a particular skill for $50.00. The blurb suggests that you’ll receive more “Hire Me” offers if you’re in that top spot and it’s probably, unfortunately, true. So, if you want to rack up a few more PHP programming jobs, don’t worry about improving your skills, just get out your wallet. I see this one as a disaster waiting to happen for unwary employers, but it’s certainly going to bring in some revenue for the site.

These are only a few examples of pitches, gimmicks and stunts designed to put more money in the accounts of some already very wealthy individuals. There’s little or no added value in most of them and as I’ve pointed out above, they degrade the site, IMHO.

Personally, after working through this site successfully for a very long time, I’ve now downgraded by account to the free level and I’m paying the extra fees to continue to work with a few clients that still hire me through that site. I’ve gone back to working mostly through Guru.com, where I’ve been a member for over 10 years and I have to say that their structure has improved although their fees are still high.

What’s more, after telling myself for years that this needed doing, I’ve finally determined that it’s time to give freelancers an alternative that’s based on a genuinely different business model. I know I’m not the first to state that here, and I know there are other sites under construction, but there’s room enough for all of us, with the exception of a few that have outgrown their usefulness. More on the new site when the time is right.

Finally, my apologies for the long comment. It really has been a while. 🙂

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