Jobs for skilled freelancers are booming. And it doesn’t matter whether your skill is in marketing, tech, law, logistics or accounting. Companies are turning to gig platforms to find skilled freelancers to fill a wide array of openings.
The pandemic is partly responsible for the change. With Covid forcing near universal telecommuting, acceptance of untraditional working arrangements has gone from rare to de rigueur. That’s broken down barriers that discouraged companies from hiring off-site experts, says Joseph Fuller, professor of management practice at Harvard Business School.
At the same time, the uncertain economy makes companies reluctant to hire full-time employees. Instead, they’re enlisting part-time and temporary consultants, bringing in expertise on an as-needed basis.
“When companies are under duress, they innovate,” says Fuller, who recently co-authored research on the market for skilled freelancers. “They often take that learning and make it part of their permanent approach.”
Job platforms for skilled freelancers
Online platforms such as Upwork, Toptal, Braintrust and Catalant are a key to the trend, Fuller says. These gig platforms prescreen freelancers, sussing out specialties and publishing ratings from their former employers. That’s a big benefit to companies in need of experts since they now have access to the equivalent of an online talent supermarket, he says.
Using freelancers rather than hiring new employees also saves companies time and money, he notes. It allows them to experiment with new people and processes without making costly long-term commitments.
Mixed bag for freelancers
However, these job platforms for skilled freelancers are a mixed bag for the freelancers themselves. Some provide invaluable matchmaking services. But others charge far too much for questionable benefits.
Reviewing more than a dozen online job platforms for skilled freelancers, SideHusl.com found that more than a third of these platforms provided substandard to barely average options. In many cases, the only outstanding thing about the fair-to-middling bunch was the wide array of fees they imposed on their freelance workforce.
Still, many of skilled job platforms provided better-than-average opportunities, allowing freelancers to set their own rates and collect 100% of what they charge. The better platforms generally charge clients a fee for the introduction, instead of digging a commission out of the freelancer’s wages and they have a stable of high-quality clients that expect to pay premium prices for skilled work.
As is true in many areas of the freelance economy, some of the best places to find skilled work specialize in a limited range of positions.
For instance, WorkingNotWorking connects “creatives” — writers, editors, producers, photographers, illustrators — who work both online and in person, with big companies that need talent. The site’s fees are paid by hiring companies, not the creatives listed there. And the site’s client list is a who’s who of innovative Fortune 500 firms.
With technology advancing at the speed of light, one of the most hotly-competitive markets for freelance talent is in the tech sector, where experts in everything from software development to user experience command six-figure wages. Not suprisingly, some talent networks specialize in connecting these tech experts with clients. Braintrust and Toptal, for example, list only technology specialists.
Tech specialists are also highly sought-after at dozens of other sites that have a broader mandate, however. For instance, many freelancers on Upwork complain that much of the site’s work is poorly paid. But those with specialized technology skills say they can find plenty of well-paid assignments there. That said, Upwork nicks freelancers — rather than clients — for the site’s fees.
WAHVE enlists pre-retirees in the insurance, human resources and accounting fields to work with small businesses that need temporary or part-time help. Workers here give up benefits and, sometimes, higher salaries in order to gain the freedom of working a flexible schedule. But worker reviews of the site are overwhelmingly positive.
However, far more sites have a broad mandate, allowing a wide array of skilled professionals to list their availability and rates. Among the better sites in this category: Catalant, Gerson Lehrman, Maven, Zintro, FlexProfessionals and FreeUp.
What makes these platforms better than their competitors? Two things. Fee structures that charge clients, rather than freelancers, for the connection. Additionally, these freelance marketplaces have rules that prevent bidding wars between freelancers, which can drive freelance rates into the basement. Instead, they usually allow freelancers to set their own rates and focus narrowly on niches where they can command premium prices. The better sites play matchmaker, allowing only people with pertinent skills to vie for plum positions.
SideHusl is less enthusiastic about Upwork, Freelancer, PeoplePerHour and Guru. These sites either exact high fees from workers, create environments that encourage clients to post low-wage jobs, pit freelancers against each other encouraging underbidding for work or all of the above. While the right freelancer might bump into decent projects on these sites, the odds are not in the freelancer’s favor.