Are online freelancing platforms creating ‘digital sweatshops’?

12 04 2016
2697297072_a493322631_o

Image: marisaorton, via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

In an effort to tear myself away from my time-sucking, one-woman mission to save humanity from the perils and pitfalls of online freelancing platforms, I haven’t blogged here for a long time, so hello!

However, today, while flicking through Asia Research 2016 magazine for an entirely different reason, I came across an article that I found very interesting, so I wanted to share it with my followers (crikey, there are 622 of you now!).

The article, “Exploring the global flow of digital labour,” (see page 10 of digi-mag) describes a project by Professor Mark Graham (Oxford Internet Institute at the University of Oxford) and collaborators to investigate the structure of virtual production networks in Africa and Southeast Asia.

In the article, Professor Graham questions whether virtual workplaces, such as Upwork and Freelancer.com, really are addressing unemployment gaps through globalisation of the labour market, or whether they are exploiting people in low-income countries in what he terms “digital sweatshops”. Indeed, data from oDesk highlighted in the article suggests that the demand for virtual employees comes from wealthy western countries, while the labour itself comes from low-income countries, with “labour sellers” acting as middle-men in emerging economies.

Here on my own blog I have expressed my concerns about the exploitation of cheap foreign labour through online platforms, particularly when it involves unethical practices such as plagiarism, copyright theft and black hat marketing. It seems I’m not the only one who is worried about these things, and whether governments and freelancing platform companies are doing enough to safeguard workers who receive minimal pay and next to no social protection.

Partnering with the University of Pretoria, South Africa, and funded by the International Development Research Centre of Canada, a goal of Professor Graham’s research is to identify areas where policies might be implemented or improved to help young and other vulnerable people benefit from the online workplace, and to protect them from digital exploitation.

I look forward to reading more about this work!





Fake Freelancer Profile uses Photograph of Missing Woman

5 02 2014

AsaffronUpdate 12 Feb 2014: This user profile has now been deleted. Success!

Update 17 Nov 2015: Information about the genuine freelancer affected by this story has been removed on their request.

My quest to get the many fake profiles on Freelancer.com shut down ramped up a gear today, as I made a very disturbing discovery indeed. I’ll explain…

The Freelancer profile ‘Asaffron‘ has been on my Watch List for a few days now – I was initially suspicious because some of the user’s feedback was negative and criticised ‘her’ professionalism, but when I dug a little deeper I found that the content of Asaffron’s profile was plagiarised from the Elance profile of a genuine freelance writer from the US.

I managed to find this writer on Twitter and gave her a heads-up on the plagiarised Freelancer profile. She wasn’t happy, as you can imagine! In fact, she posted a cease and desist project, specially for Asaffron!

But it doesn’t end there.

Madison ScottThough the text of Asaffron’s profile matched the Elance bio, the photos didn’t match. So who was the pretty, smiling young woman with flowers in her hair?

Luckily, Google Images has a nifty reverse image search function that is just perfect for this sort of detective work, so I uploaded Asaffron’s photo to the search engine and hit Search. I wasn’t quite prepared for what I discovered!

Turns out, the girl in the photo is Madison Scott, a young Canadian woman who has been missing since May 2011. Maddy, who was 20 when she vanished, disappeared after camping out at a party by Hogsback Lake, near her hometown of Vanderhoof, BC. She hasn’t been seen since. You can watch a documentary about Maddy’s disappearance here (53 mins): http://vimeo.com/82034871.

Of course, it is entirely possible that the person behind Asaffron’s fake profile didn’t know that the photo they’d chosen to hide behind was a missing person, but whether they did or didn’t, it highlights just how serious this problem of Freelancer identity theft is becoming. This isn’t some harmless little scam, ‘borrowing’ an identity to make out that you are more qualified than you really are, or that you are from a native English-speaking country when you are not.  At best, this is copyright and identity theft. At worst, as we have seen, this has far more serious ramefications.

Find out more about Maddy Scott at http://madisonscott.ca/.





5 ways to check if your Freelancer is fake

16 12 2013

When you sign up for a Freelancer.com account, you are required to agree to the site’s terms and conditions and a code of conduct, which includes:

  • I will not falsify my own or any other identity and I will provide true and correct information
  • I will not create multiple accounts
  • I will not use the Site to generate false feedback

But some people are abusing these terms of trust and falsify information to try and improve their chances of being awarded projects.

It’s not always easy to spot these scammers, but here are a few tips to help sort the wheat from the chaff.

If you’re thinking of using Freelancer to find a worker, please bear these tips in mind when selecting your provider!

1) Check feedback

A handy feature of the Freelancer profile page is that you can sort a user’s feedback ratings from low to high. Do this to quickly check if a person a) *has* negative feedback, and if so b) what the negative feedback says. Genuine misunderstandings do happen, but if I had the choice of hiring someone with a clean sheet versus someone with negative feedback, I’d pick clean sheets every time!

But negative feedback isn’t the whole story – you also need to check a user’s *positive* feedback! Why? Because scammers sometimes try to hide or dilute negative feedback by having multiple user accounts and using one account to leave positive feedback for the others.

Does a user’s positive feedback come from lots of different people, or do the same usernames crop up again and again? Do those usernames appear on my Watch List of fake profiles? Does this feedback relate to what seems like genuine projects, or are they ‘custom’ projects with very little visible information? Be suspicious!

2) Check a person’s nationality/hometown

To improve the chances of being picked for a particular project, users will sometimes falsify the country flag on their profile. I see this a lot on writing projects where the buyer will only hire people from the UK, US, Canada or Australia.

There are some tell-tale signs. One (surprisingly!) common error is that the user’s profile will give their correct city but the wrong country. Recently I have seen users claiming that Marbella and Lahore are in the UK (Marbella = Spain, Lahore = Pakistan), and Craiova, Brasilia and Mirpur are in the United States (Craiova = Romania, Brasilia = Brazil and Mirpur = Bangladesh).

Another word of warning: buyers can require users to pass an English test before they can bid on a project. In theory, this is supposed to ensure that only users with a certain level of English can bid on projects for which good spelling and grammar is important, and ‘certifies’ a user’s skills with a profile badge. In practice however, the answers to these tests are all over the internet!

3) Google the profile text

Go to a user’s profile page, highlight the first few lines of the description on their overview page, and copy it. Now paste into Google. Any hits?

Of course, you’ll find the various regional versions of that same Freelancer profile page, but check to see if the same text comes up anywhere else; on a LinkedIn profile, or another freelancing website perhaps? If so, do the profile pictures match? Is it the same person, or has the Freelancer user just stolen text from a real person? You can read about a particularly good expose of this scam here: https://lisaamartin.wordpress.com/2013/10/30/beware-the-fake-freelancers/.

4) Check the profile picture

It almost goes without saying that fake profiles often have fake profile pictures. Sometimes these will be generic logos, celebrities (I have recently found Miley Cyrus and Kristen Stewart loitering as awful writers on Freelancer!), and sometimes they will be stolen from other websites or online profiles.

One thing you can try is to copy the profile picture image URL and run it through a reverse image search such as TinEye or Google Images. Unfortunately, TinEye can’t check Facebook profiles, which is where I suspect a lot of images are stolen from, but it did help me prove that the account Rachel902 was fake and I successfully got it shut down (see here: https://lisaamartin.wordpress.com/2013/07/16/where-did-you-say-you-were-from/).

Another observation… I know there is a lot of global movement these days, but I didn’t realise how many young, pretty, blonde-haired white girls live in Bangladesh and Pakistan….! 😉

5) Check the English

Of course, even people genuinely living in English-speaking countries may not be able to write or speak English well, but if you are looking for an English writer or a proofreader, why on earth would you pick someone with poor skills?

Take this user as an example: writemedown. ‘She’ (is it really the girl in the picture??) claims to be a professional content writer and has all sorts of strings to her provierbial bow. In her resume, she proudly declares: “I won the contest of writing which were held under B.A.C. and holds the certification of excellence in writing.”

This makes absolutely no sense! I certainly wouldn’t trust this so-called award-winning writer to do any work for me! (Or I would seriously question the validity of the award!)

Sometimes the English looks good on the overview page (often because it is stolen from elsewhere), but don’t forget to check other areas of a user’s profile. Good places to look are: any samples uploaded to the user’s resume, any responses they may have given to feedback (especially negative), and the resume section.

Any other handy tips from my fellow Freelancers?





Where did you say you were from?

16 07 2013

My name is Rachel. I’m a reeeeally good writer from India. Honest!

Although I haven’t actually used the site for a long time, I am still signed up to receive Freelancer.com’s project notification emails, which contain a summary of all jobs recently posted in my categories (writing and editing). I don’t often get time to sift through these project alerts (99% of the projects are a load of crap and I have better things to do with my time, quite frankly!) but sometimes, particularly when I am in need of a good laugh to cheer me up, I will have a look at who is posting what, and in particular, who is actually bidding on these ridiculous projects.

In checking out the profiles of my ‘rival’ freelancers, I started to notice a few patterns forming. I should have known really…on a site where pretty much every writing project listed is badly written, under paid, an outright scam or a  complete joke, it appears that some of Freelancer’s 8 million members are not what they seem either…Here are some examples:

Writingpool

‘Writingpool’ is allegedly from London, UK. She has been a member of Freelancer.com for over a year and in that time, to date, has amassed 59 reviews and an impressive reputation score of 4.8. She is a ‘verified’ member in that she has deposited money in her Freelancer account, her email address and phone number are all valid. However…

…I checked out Writingpool’s feedback – most of it is very good, but there are a few less than satisfied customers who seem to share my concerns that this profile is fake:

Writer is incapable of handling the project and have cancelled the project.

Seller claims to be from the UK but is blatantly not. Provided low quality work which I would assume was written with article spinning software, content scraped from wikipedia. Hire at your peril!

Really disappointing. The first batch were clearly just outsourced to other freelancers as the content style was very mixed, the content was terrible, full of very basic grammatical errors and completely unusable. This freelancer provided revised versions, but again the style of content was very varied so clearly these were not produced by the freelancer, but outsourced elsewhere. The content is still of a poor quality, full of poor grammar and not something I can readily use. Not sure who this freelancer actually is, but the quality of work definitely does not match the profile!! Would never use this freelancer again.

Furthermore, the language that Writingpool uses is not consistent with what I would expect from a 20-something Londonite with an MBA – her profile is riddled with grammatical errors that, to me, seem highly indicative of an Asian nationality, for example:

I am writing articles for last 16 years in local UK company and my goal is to provide excellent work to my clients.

Hang on a minute…did you say you’ve been working for 16 years?! Either Writingpool has found the secret to eternal youth (her profile picture suggests she is a young, blonde, white girl who can’t be more than 20-21 years old) or that is not a picture of her! Of course, it may be that Writingpool is based in London, but I have my doubts that she is not who she says she is!

elizabethouse

‘elizabethouse’ has provided Writingpool (above) with no less than 7 glowing reviews, all celebrating her as an excellent writer who delivers high quality articles on deadline (contrary to what some of the more negative reviews have said!). Yet despite Elizabeth Ouse’s very English-sounding name, and her (again) young, pretty, blonde, white girl profile picture, I’m pretty sure that she too is an imposter.

Those tell-tales are here again:

  • a handful of negative reviews expressing displeasure with the quality of Elizabeth’s work, and multiple very positive reviews from a few individuals (fake projects to bump up her ratings?)
  • she addresses herself as ‘Professor Dr Elizabeth’, something that a British person would never say
  • Her spelling and grammar are awful and again, littered with the kind of mistakes that an Asian English-speaker would make

Elizabeth is ‘honest’ about the fact that she is from Pakistan, but that’s probably the only true thing on her profile.

hotline69

Apparently based in London, hotline69 is yet another pretty young white girl (brunette this time, for a change!) who seems to have picked up a decidedly Asian accent in her writing…She has amassed hundreds of reviews and somehow has a rating of 4.7 which isn’t too bad, but if you sort her feedback reviews from low to high rating, you will find that the first 3 pages of reviews are all incomplete project disputes, and the next few pages seem to confirm my suspicion that she’s not British at all. Hotline69 has provided several glowing reviews for elizabethouse (above).

So what’s going on here? I strongly suspect that:

  • The profiles are deliberately written and designed to mislead genuine employers into thinking that these are native English speakers when in fact they all seem to be from Pakistan – the pretty young women in the photos, the Anglicised names,  the boasts of British university educations, etc.
  • The profiles are probably all operated by the same person or small group of people. To give the impression of a good feedback history, these fake profiles are all awarding each other projects – no work or money is changing hands, but they have instead left positive feedback for each other to bump up their ratings.
  • A combination of fake profile information and good feedback scores serves to dupe buyers into thinking that they are safe working with that person. However, when jobs are awarded, they are outsourced to other workers – accounting for the variability in quality that many of the feedback reviews mention. Because of the good feedback, the profile owner(s) can probably get away with selling articles for a few more dollars apiece than they paid for them, thus, given the volume of projects they are being awarded, this seems to be quite a profitable scam!

If I am right, this person or people is/are in direct contravention of at least 3 points in Freelancer’s code of conduct:

  • I will not falsify my own or any other identity and I will provide true and correct information
  • I will not create multiple accounts
  • I will not use the Site to generate false feedback

I’d hazard a guess to say that some of these fake profiles have probably earned a significant income through fake affiliate programme referrals too! I’m stunned that they have been members for so long – I’ve definitely reported these three profiles in the past and yet Freelancer doesn’t seem to have done anything about them.

This practice really bothers me because I pride myself on being honest, open and transparent. When a client asks me to work for them, they expect to pay ME to do the work – they don’t expect me to sub-let and claim that the work was mine. I’m the one with the skills, I’m the one with the reputation, and I’m the one that they want to do the work. If I need to outsource, for example if the client requires a service that I cannot offer myself, I ALWAYS tell the client and check that they are happy before proceeding – it’s just good manners!

Here are a few more profiles I found of freelancers whom I suspect are not quite what they seem. I’ve no doubt there are others!

  • Consultingfirm – Another pretty blonde from ‘London, Pakistan’, according to her profile picture, yet the photo on her Portfolio page is a completely different person…
  • sarasmith – Yet another pretty blonde from ‘London, Pakistan’!
  • Writingspirit – feedback suggests this user is not from the UK as profile says
  • Silverhope – feedback suggests this user is not from the UK as profile says
  • Universalwriter8 – feedback suggests this user is not from the UK as profile says
  • Rachel902 – “i am doing my best for all project..” says brunette “Rachel”. I ran her profile picture through Tin Eye and it turned up 4 results – this picture is apparently of an American college student named Nyla Patterson who entered a beauty contest in 2005. Wonder if she knows she is also a really bad writer living in Mumbai?
  • Contentwriting87 – quick! Someone get Hello! Magazine on the phone! Kristin Stewart is moonlighting as a really bad writer on Freelancer.com!

Please comment below if you have come across any other ‘fake’ freelancers! A member of staff at Freelancer.com now follows this blog and has been looking into some of your complaints – hopefully he will investigate these profiles too!





Academic writing: what I will and won’t do

11 05 2013

Plagiarism is not just copying someone else's work - it also includes getting someone to do the work for you!I have written about this before, but you know what’s been annoying me recently? Dodgy ‘academic writing’ projects.

Just this week I was contacted by someone who asked me to help them with a college assignment. Before accepting the project, I messaged the buyer to ask for more details about the project, since they were pretty vague about they really wanted; I was also suspicious that they probably wanted me to write the thing from scratch. Funnily enough, the buyer didn’t message me back and the project offer expired, so it seems my suspicions may have had some grounding.

Just to make things absolutely clear, here’s what I WILL do for students and academics, and here’s what I WON’T do.

What I will do

  • Copy-edit draft versions of a paper that the author has written themselves
  • Proofread final drafts of a paper that the author has written themselves
  • Take an author’s notes or early draft and advise on paper structure, formatting, referencing (etc.) in accordance with the house style of the submission journal or academic institution
  • Write an abstract based on the author’s manuscript
  • Co-write a manuscript article for a peer-reviewed journal submission provided I am either named as a co-author or credited in the acknowledgements.

What I won’t do

  • Write an assignment for a student from scratch (this includes anything that is going to be graded or count towards a qualification)
  • Rewrite an article or manuscript that someone else has written

Why won’t I write or rewrite academic assignments?

The answer is very simple: it is CHEATING.

Contrary to seemingly popular belief, plagiarism is NOT JUST about copying paragraphs from books, or recycling the work of a friend taking the same course in another class – there’s more to it than that. I checked the plagiarism policy of my alma mater, the University of Warwick, and here is what it said:

…‘cheating’ means an attempt to benefit oneself or another, by deceit or fraud. This shall include reproducing one’s own work or the work of another person or persons without proper acknowledgement.

If an assignment or article passes Copyscape or similar ‘anti-plagiarism’ software tests, it doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been plagiarised – it just means that it probably hasn’t been copied verbatim from published work. However, if YOU did not produce the work yourself, you cannot say it is yours. It’s like someone pretending to be you in an exam, or stealing someone’s bank details so you can pilfer their account. Let’s get this clear – asking someone else to write something that you intend to submit as your own, original work IS plagiarism. And plagiarism is WRONG.

What REALLY worries me, is the number of people who think that this practice is OK.

Students

I have lost count of the number of times that a student has asked me to write an essay for them. It truly baffles me. I worked bloody hard for my degree. I EARNED the right to be called a Bachelor of Science by doing all my own research, writing all my own essays, studying REALLY hard, and sitting my own exams. Cheating never even crossed my mind because, actually – you know what? – I wanted to be GOOD at my subject! I wanted to KNOW about biology, to UNDERSTAND science, to PROGRESS my future career with my intelligence and skill! Why would you even BOTHER going to university or college if you don’t want/can’t be bothered/don’t have time to do the work?! I do understand that some people have difficulties structuring an essay, or with spelling and grammar and that is why I do offer a second pair of eyes to check work for errors. Editors serve a genuine purpose; so-called academic writers merely fuel dishonesty.

Academics

I had a quick flick through the scores of profiles of providers on Freelancer.com who claim to be ‘professional’ academic writers and boast about how they can improve student grades with their ‘well-researched, plagiarism-free content’. First off, that ‘professional’ tag really makes me feel sick. Professional? It’s anything but! Many of these people also claim to have bachelor degrees, Masters’ or PhDs. They could be lying, of course (and I suspect many are), but – vis a vis my comment above – I just don’t understand why anyone who has studied for and passed a qualification of any sort would want to be accomplice to a student cheat. It’s not even well paid (see below)! Unless of course the only way these so-called academics got their degree was through cheating themselves…

Essay writing agencies

A quick Google search for essay writing companies came up with LOADS of companies offering this service. The sheer number seriously blew my mind – and, my god, they’re so cheap! From as little as $15 USD, students can receive a ‘standard quality’ assignment within a few days!

How do they get away with it?! Some proffer a disclaimer stating that the essays provided are not to be submitted as students’ own work, but to be used for ‘research purposes only’ or to ‘help students with essay structure’. Pah, come off it! EssayTyper.com, a website that automatically creates an essay on your chosen subject using Wikipedia says, “EssayTyper uses a patented combination of magic and wikipedia to help you write your essay – fast! That said, please don’t ever try to use this legitimately. The magic part is not real… and that’s plagiarism.” Still, I wonder how many kids have turned in homework using this ‘handy’ tool?!

Cheating dialogueSome companies openly convince students that it is not cheating to submit an essay that they have not written themselves. I posed as a student needing ‘help’ and logged into the Live Chat function at essayforme.com to ask if I could buy a biology essay.  “We would be glad to do it” said ‘James’. But isn’t it cheating? “No it is not. The paper is 100% custom written and never again used or sold”, I am reassured.

Elsewhere on the same site, a banner tells me, “Don’t waste your time! Order top paper [sic]!”, and “rest assured that you will get non-plagiarized paper [sic] written from scratch according to your instructions.” Essaysprofy.com says “our main aim to help students in getting good grades [sic].” (Incidentally, the grammatical errors in the companies’ own websites don’t inspire much confidence!)

In response to the FAQ “Is this plagiarism?”, Write-my-essay-for-me.com even asserts that “Plagiarism involves the theft of somebody else’s work. You hire us to write original work for you, and that is exactly what we do. There is nothing plagiaristic about our service.” What?! Yes, plagiarism involves theft of someone else’s work, but that’s not all! Even using someone else’s work WITH their consent, and passing it off as your own IS plagiarism and WILL get you in trouble if you are caught!

Are you a student who has used, or considered using an essay writing service? Why did you do it? What results did you get? Did you feel bad about it?

Are you a writer for an essay writing company? How do you justify your role?

Do you work for a university or college and help to tackle plagiarism issues? What are your thoughts on essay writing services?

I’d love to receive comments on this matter – am I the only one who understands the real definition of plagiarism?





I DO NOT WORK FOR FREELANCER.COM!

12 06 2012

Recently, I have started to receive a barrage of comments on my posts about Freelancer.com from people accusing me of working for them or being in cahoots with them, so (at some risk of being further accused of protesting too much!) I thought it was time to address this issue in a dedicated post.

Let it be known, categorically, unequivocally, undoubtably that I DO NOT WORK FOR FREELANCER.COM!

To be honest and upfront, I will tell you what I have done for Freelancer.com in the past:

1) I was once paid by Freelancer staff to write a Wikipedia page. This page is still online, but has had the hell edited out of it by Wiki-geeks such that it is barely recognisable from the article I originally wrote. I also now know that it’s very much frowned upon to be paid to write Wikipedia articles so I haven’t done any similar work for a very long time!

2) I was once paid by Freelancer to copyedit an eBook entitled, ‘How to Boost Your Business with Online Freelancers’.

3) I once wrote two SEO articles about online freelancing – neither of these directly referenced Freelancer.com, although I suppose they were used in some way to promote the site.

Apart from the Wiki page, which I do feel a bit guilty about from the point of view that I hadn’t realised it was improper to be paid to complete such articles, I have no qualms about the other pieces and hope that my readers will agree that this was all legitimate work. I write and edit all day long, and have written many, many SEO articles for other companies, so don’t see why these should be any different. This work was completed on a freelance basis – I did the work, was paid, and that was that. The last thing I was paid for by Freelancer was in October 2010 and I have not done anything for them since.

Moving on….

When I started this blog a few years ago, I was completely new to the world of freelancing. I’d given up my well-paid job to go travelling for a year – by the time I returned to the UK, the credit crunch had hit and, even as a well qualified, experienced university graduate, it took me much longer than I had expected to find a new job, and when I eventually did, it wasn’t particularly well paid. To help pay off my credit card debts and cover the rent, I stumbled across Freelancer.com and decided to give freelancing a go. As many people have found, it seemed to me to be an excellent way to connect with people who required the services that I could provide, that is, writing and editing.

I enjoyed reasonable success via Freelancer, as you can see from the links to the many examples of my work that you will find in the portfolio sections of this blog. After a while however, I began to see some cracks in Freelancer’s shiny veneer. For one thing, the site was awash with people trying to rip others off by posting scams and illegal activities, and many of the genuine buyers seemed to be unwilling to pay more than a few paltry dollars for lengthy or complex projects. I had a few disappointing experiences. For example, one buyer, who paid me very handsomely, asked me to write a report on different types of medical device. I duly completed this, and it was only when he offered me further work that I realised I had unwittingly been writing his university assignments for him! Another guy asked me to edit some articles that had been translated into English from German, and I soon realised that he was simply stealing these articles from a German website, putting them through Google Translate and getting me to polish them so that he could republish them on Articlebase under his own name. Smart plagiarism, but plagiarism none the less!! I put a stop to these projects and made sure I was very careful about who I worked with in future. I also discovered the hard way that Freelancer offers no protection to providers who accept a project and then never hear from the buyer again – your ‘finder fee’ is taken by Freelancer and deemed, somewhat unfairly I feel, to be unrefundable. Above all – and I know there are many who will empathise with me – I had endless battles with Freelancer’s completely useless so-called customer support team!

Despite all this, I still hold to the idea that many of the problems on Freelancer – at least in my experience – are user-generated. Whichever website you use, whether it is ebaY, Facebook, Twitter or whatever, there are always unsavoury types who will try to exploit innocent people. You get people selling fakes on ebaY, spammers on Twitter, and viruses spread through Facebook. Although people complain that more should be done to stop this behaviour, it happens nevertheless, and with scammers becoming evermore devious and creative, it can be difficult to police. Of course, this doesn’t mean that Freelancer shouldn’t try to prevent scammers from posting on the site, but there is a lot that the user can do to protect themselves from falling into common traps (for examples, see my post ‘How to Spot Spam, Scams and Shams’).

The other major thing that Freelancer users can do to protect themselves, if indeed they choose to use the site (other freelancing sites are available!) is to absolutely 100% make sure that they understand the Terms and Conditions of use of the site, the rights and responsibilities that come with having and using a Freelancer account, how to avoid account suspension, and what fees are payable when. Many people are quick to cry ‘SCAM!’ because their account has been suspended, when in actual fact this has been a consequence of them knowingly or unknowingly breaking one or more of the rules.

Now to the crux of the matter; my allegiance. Please be aware that some of the posts I have written on this blog, particularly ‘The Trouble With Freelancer’, which remains my most popular and most-commented-on post, are more than two years old, and clearly there have been some changes to Freelancer in that time. From the increasing number of complaint comments I receive, it appears that not all of the changes to Freelancer have been popular or for the better. However, I cannot currently comment or pass judgment on Freelancer simply because I have not used it in over a year. I will give credit where credit is due and say that, thanks to Freelancer and sites like it, I was able to build up enough of a portfolio and contacts database to go it alone. I no longer needed to connect with people through Freelancer, because word of mouth recommendations came flooding in, and people found me through my blog, my business cards, and my self-marketing efforts instead. In fact, I am actually now employed full time by a company for which I originally did some freelance work after connecting with the MD on People Per Hour! I no longer have the time, inclination or financial need to trawl through the hundreds of Freelancer projects sent to my inbox every day to find the very few that are worth me bidding on.

And that’s it. I’m not sticking up for Freelancer, I am not receiving any money or incentives from them, I’m not pretending to be someone I’m not, and I hope by now that I have established once and for all that I am not employed by them. I simply have no recent experience of having used the site and that is why, at present, I am choosing not to agree or disagree with claims that I have no experience of myself. If I had the time, I would happily investigate some of your claims further, but for now, I am quite happy to allow others to use my Freelancer posts as a sounding board and debate forum.





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…





I, Freelancer

27 03 2012
Image source: http://www.broadband-expert.co.uk/blog/broadband-news/internet-allows-people-to-work-in-their-pyjamas/7710678

Incidently, I rarely work in my pyjamas, and if she's not careful, she's gonna get backache...

I quite often receive emails from people asking me how I got into freelancing, so for my first blog post in almost 10 months (um, yeah…sorry about that but all will become clear!) I’ve decided to blog about my freelancing experience for all to read…

Freelancing for me started when I returned from a year of travelling the world in 2008. Though a qualified secondary school Biology teacher, I fancied trying my hand at something new and so packed my knapsack, Dick Whittington-styles, and set off for London to find those streets paved with gold. Unbeknownst to me, the dreaded ‘credit crunch’ had landed whilst I was busy sunning myself on a beach in Vietnam, so although I did eventually find an editorial job at a science publishing company, albeit a poorly paid one, I spent several months on Jobseeker’s allowance struggling to pay off the credit card debt from my gap year and the steep rent of my new London digs. Searching online for part time jobs to supplement my income, I stumbled across an advert for PeoplePerHour.com and I decided to try it…

I was fortunate in that I was awarded a really interesting project in my area of interest almost straight away, and once you start, get a little bit of feedback and develop your portfolio, it gets easier and easier to win new projects on sites like this. I didn’t make a fortune, but working around my day job, and a long-ish distance relationship, I made a few extra quid to help me make ends meet.

Eventually, I decided that I wanted to move away from London and set up home with my boyfriend, who’s from the Midlands. Fortunately, my employer allowed me to continue in my publishing job, but working from home on a freelance contract. This was a godsend. During my time in London, I had developed a real love of science communication, and there is no way that I would have been able to find another position in the same industry in the middle of rural Warwickshire. It also meant that I had a steady and semi-secure income, and working from home gave me that extra time and flexibility to seek out other freelance projects. I started blogging about my experiences, which led to more work, and eventually I built up a fairly large client base. Success!

Sadly, the publishing house eventually made redundancies and let me go. I was fully prepared to take the plunge and try to make it on my own, without that safety net, but actually life had a different plan for me…One of my other freelance clients, a medical communications agency, heard that I was being made redundant and offered me a permanent, full time job! I was made redundant on a Friday and started the new job the next Monday – I have been very lucky!

My new job is pretty hectic and doesn’t give me much time to freelance (or blog!) any more, plus it’s much better paid so I don’t have the money worries I used to have. Nevertheless, I still can’t quite give up freelancing completely; there’s something really exciting about being your own boss, working on projects that you enjoy and that feeling that you have been chosen to work on a project because you are really good at what you do.

Would I recommend freelancing as a career move? Yes, but not for everyone. I will blog again soon about the benefits and drawbacks of being self-employed and working from home, but in short, freelancing will only work for you as a lucrative venture if you are prepared to put in plenty of hard work.





FAQ: Why can’t I withdraw my full £ GBP balance from Freelancer.com?

11 03 2011

Until recently, Freelancer.com only operated in US dollars, but with the company’s acquisition of various smaller freelancing sites around the world, it’s now possible to do business in other currencies including British pounds, Australian dollars and euros. This is great news for users of the site who don’t use US dollars in their home country, as it reduces the effect of fluctuating exchange rates and minimises conversion fees when withdrawing to PayPal or Moneybookers.

I recently completed my first project in British pounds, but hit a stumbling block when I tried to withdraw the funds from my Freelancer account to PayPal. I had £45 in my account, but when I requested to withdraw £45, an error message flashed up on screen saying, “ERRORS OCCURED – Withdrawal amount cannot be more than overall balance”. Huh?

Although Freelancer takes a £1 fee for PayPal withdrawals, this is usually deducted after you have requested the balance, i.e. you request to withdraw £45 and you receive £44 in your PayPal account. If I entered an amount of £44, this was accepted, but after the £1 fee, this would leave me with an amount of £1 in my account.That’s my pound! I want it!

I queried this situation with Freelancer Support and for once I received a straight answer! Helpful Shane said, “It appears that there is a bug in our system caused by the rounding of fees.” To remedy this situation, Helpful Shane deposited 1p into my account, making my balance £45.01, which has now allowed me to withdraw the full £45 that I earned. Hurrah!

I’m not sure if this happens if you try to request a withdrawal in other currencies, or if the same thing happens if you use Moneybookers or another withdrawal method, but if you’ve experienced the same thing, please leave a comment here to help and advise others. If this happens to you, contact Freelancer Support (customer-support@freelancer.com) and they will be able to help you. An engineering team are allegedly working to fix this problem so hopefully it won’t be an issue for too much longer.





FAQ: Public and private messages on Freelancer.com – what are they for?

9 02 2011

OK, so I’m not *loving* Freelancer.com right now, and I won’t be fully au fait with them until they have implemented the compulsory milestone payment feature they promised me in response to my last post so that freelancers don’t have to take a gamble every time they bid on and accept a project. But I am OK with them again, so it’s time for another FAQ session. This week, I’m talking about the public and private message boards on Freelancer.com, and what they are for. And what they definitely are NOT for.

First of all, the public message boards. Each project description page, say for instance, this one, has a link to a “project clarification board” – that’s the proper name for the public message board, and it’s an important name. This message board is where you’re supposed to ask questions to clarify details about the project before you place a bid. In theory, the buyer is supposed to read the comments on this message board and answer any questions that potential bidders might have so that they can make an informed decision about whether or not they want to bid, and if so, how much to bid. That’s it. That’s all this board is for.

Here’s what the clarification board (public message board) is NOT for:

  • Placing a bid. Bids MUST be placed via the proper bid form (the blue button on the other side of the page, where it says “Bid on this project”). If you place a bid on this message board, you’re breaking terms and conditions and could be suspended. Regular freelancer members have a finite number of bids that they can make per month, so this rule is to stop people who have spent their bids from trying to get an extra chance or ten (TIP: if you find yourself running out of bids each month, upgrade to Gold membership – you’ll get unlimited bids for a monthly fee). Also please note that there is a minimum bid amount of $30. You cannot bid lower than that, so bidding on the public message board is not a good way to get around this!
  • Uploading your samples. I actually don’t really know why there is the facility to upload files to the public message board – I don’t see any need for it and it can actually be damaging for freelancers to do so. People who post samples here should realise that because the board is public, ANYONE can access and download those files. ANYONE. Even people who are not registered Freelancer users. Even people who might collect samples and republish them elsewhere without your permission. Even (*gasp!*) buyers who might take your work without asking and not pay for it!
  • Uploading your CV (résumé). As above, remember that ANYONE can view files that are posted to the public message boards, so if your résumé contains your email address, your date or birth, your home address, etc etc, these all have the potential to be collected and abused by less scrupulous folk. This also breaks the next rule about…
  • Posting your contact details. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – it is against Freelancer’s rules to post your contact information ANYWHERE on the site, other than when you first register for an account. Contact information includes your email address, phone number, home address, instant messenger ID or any other way that someone might be able to contact you other than through the Freelancer site. It even includes not-so-cunningly disguised email addresses such as “name at domain dot com”. The reason? Freelancer have been clever enough and kind enough to provide the infrastructure for you to find work by hooking you up with employers. If you contact them outside of Freelancer, you dodge having to pay Freelancer’s commission fees if you win a project. Like it or not, Freelancer, as a business, are entitled to make money, just like you, so pay the darn commission fees and bid/accept bids properly! If you don’t, well then don’t be surprised if your account is suspended, much like the idiot featured in this Freelancer blog post.
  • Posting a project or advertising another website. I’ve seen this quite a lot lately. Buyers who don’t want to play by the rules or pay Freelancer’s fees, instead try advertising a project on the public message board. This not is not only a deliberate attempt to dodge fees, but these users usually have to leave a contact email address or IM ID to get people to respond, so that’s two counts of Freelancer felony! I’ve also seen people advertising their companies, their affiliate schemes or other freelance websites here. It’s not allowed!

Each project also has an associated private message board. This is ONLY available to people who have placed a bid using the designated bid form – you cannot send a private message to a buyer until you have placed a bid. On the bid form, right at the bottom, you will find a little check box that says “Also send a private message to the project seller”. Check this, and a message box will appear and you can tap out your message to the buyer. The message will only be sent when you confirm your bid. If you chose not to send a private message at the time of bidding, you can still do so later by accessing the project from your project table (Projects > My Projects). Thereafter, you can message the buyer in private to your heart’s content.

As with the public clarification board, you are NOT allowed to post your contact details on the private message board! The private message board is “private” in the sense that the message cannot be viewed by Freelancer users other than yourself and the buyer, but it does not mean that Freelancer staff cannot see it! If you post your contact details here, or try to bypass any other rules and regulations, Freelancer have access to all this information – they can and will use it as evidence to suspend your account, just like the guy in the Freelancer blog post I mentioned earlier.

By all means, if you trust the buyer, feel free to post your samples and your résumés on the private message board (but be careful to remove any contact information first) and continue to discuss the project. Remember that even if a buyer replies to your private message, even if they show interest in hiring you, hell even if they SAY they want to hire you – the project is not yours until you have received that all-important congratulations email from Freelancer.com asking you to accept or reject the project AND until you have actually accepted it!

As the saying goes, “to be forewarned is to be forearmed”. I’ve told you everything you need to know about the Freelancer message boards – now make sure you get it right!

 








%d bloggers like this: