Comparing Popular Freelance Marketplaces

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Freelance marketplaces are websites which step in to help manage business logistics for freelancers who work through their marketplace. These websites are different to job listing websites. Although freelance marketplaces allow the listing of work like job listing sites, freelance marketplaces are like having an assistant who manages your business for you. These marketplaces help you to market yourself, advertise to potential clients that you are available, prove that you can fulfill work, set prices and get paid. Like hiring an assistant, these websites take a fee for managing your business.

Although all marketplaces assist you in some way, finding the right marketplace assistant is a time consuming process. So, which freelance marketplaces are popular? I took to Google and looked at various top results and blog posts, and found:

To find which marketplaces can assist freelancers, I compared freelancer discoverability, how one’s portfolio can be shared to clients, who owns the contracted work, and membership and fees. After a bit of research and comparison, I thought to share the results here.

The Comparison

Marketplace Popularity

The popularity of these websites for your type of work is an important factor to consider. By using the website menu categories, or searching for your type of work, it is possible to see how many other freelancers are providing your kind of work. If a marketplace is used more in your profession than another, then that marketplace is probably helpful to your success to find work. It may be possible to estimate the amount of work freelancers receive from the number of reviews a freelancer has received. However, inactive freelancers may also appear in search results. This is research you may need to do yourself.

For example, these are the numbers for freelance Japanese-English translators (2017-05-15):

  • Fiverr: 203 translators, filtered by Japanese-English from the Translation category. Over 3,500 jobs received, of which two have received 3,000, and half have not received work.
  • Upwork: 4,220 translators, filtered by Japanese in the General Translation category.
  • Freelancer: 128 translators, filtered by Japanese-English from the Translation category.
  • PeoplePerHour: 131 translators, filtered by Japanese-English from the Translation category. Over 50 have received work.

Freelancer Discoverability

Discoverability encompasses how clients can find you, which is primarily through the website search. There are two ways search results are displayed: list-based, or grid-based. List results are long, and requires more time to scroll through to view, which makes it possible to monopolize if the website search promotes certain people at the top. Grid results display more at a glance, which seem to have better chances for potential clients to find you.

  • Fiverr uses grid results, and although there are a few promoted freelancers at the top of the results, the results are largely randomized. As of late 2017, it is possible to limit the search results to only currently active freelancers. However, because results display services offered by freelancers rather than freelancer profiles, a freelancer is able to post multiple services (up to a certain limit) and partly monopolize the search system, which is against Fiverr’s ToS.

  • Upwork uses a list result, however at the time of writing, results are displayed inconsistently for similar search terms (but not randomized). New freelancers seem to be displayed at the top and easy to find, but may not be relevant to the search.

  • Freelancer uses a list result design, and it is not possible to find new freelancers easily. However, Freelancer has a unique notifications system which displays new jobs that are available to bid on in real-time.

  • PeoplePerHour uses a list result design, and the website design is generally confusing, that together is not easy to use.

This is almost a situation of “take it or leave it”.

Winner: Fiverr.

Portfolio and Sharing Information

Personal information is often needs to be shared with clients to show portfolios from other sources, to maintain contact, or to be found in the future in the case the marketplace fails. However, sharing your website or contact information for contact outside of the marketplace may not be possible. Because each marketplace relies on your business, have policies to restrict information sharing. So, can information be shared?

  • Fiverr: Maybe. Fiverr is a restrictive marketplace that requires contacting Customer Support to verify whether you are allowed to share information. Generally, information cannot be shared unless the information you share is required to provide a service (eg. Skype for consultation services), or unless information is from a pre-approved website. According to the Terms of Service, providing contact information is not allowed.

  • Upwork: No. According to the Freelancer Violations and Account Holds policy, no contact information including personal websites or profiles such as LinkedIn can be shared.

  • Freelancer: No. According to the Code of Conduct, “I will not seek to communicate or receive payments off-site”.

  • PeoplePerHour: Maybe. It seems that information can only be shared in private message with clients, called the “WorkStream”. According to the Trust and Safety policy, “Avoid exchanging personal contact details as much as possible”. Additionally, there is an approved list of websites for portfolios.

Overall, it seems it is not possible to share your personal website or contact information. However, there are loopholes. For example, when you delivery work, you could attach a branded PDF invoice which contains your website. Or, you could display your business name on your profile, and clients may find your website if they search your name.

Winner: Nobody.

Ownership of Contracted Work

Copyright and licensing agreements are normally created between the seller and client. However, marketplaces have their own terms as well. You may need to consult a lawyer to understand whether this is a problem for your work.

According to the Terms of Service of each marketplace, the client owns the work you deliver. However, Fiverr and PeoplePerHour allows for the freelancer to negotiate terms with the client. Freelancer, on the other hand, owns a “royalty-free sublicensable right” to the work.

Winner: Fiverr and PeoplePerHour.

Memberships and Fees

Fees are collected for every order of work you complete, and there may be membership plans that enable additional account options, including how many bids can be made to receive jobs from clients.

  • Fiverr:

    • Membership: Free.
    • Fees: 20% fee.
  • Upwork:

    • Membership: Upwork has free membership, and a $10 membership. Upwork uses a virtual currency system called Connects, which are used to bid on jobs (and thus receive clients). Job bids cost 1-5 Connects. Free members receive 60 connects/month, and paid members receive an additional 10 Connects and can buy more Connects for $1 each. Paid members also receive a few more SEO and analytics options.
    • Fees: There is a tiered fee system, for every client who works with you. First $500 USD with every client has a 20% fee. This fee decreases to 10% for $500-1000, and then to 5% after $10,000.
  • Freelancer:

    • Membership: Free membership option, and five paid membership options, starting at $1/month. Freelancer has a virtual currency system called Bids, which are used to bid on jobs. Free memberships receive 8 bids every month.
    • Fees: 10% fee or £3.50 ($8.50 USD), whichever is greater. No fees for clients who are invited to sign up and use Freelancer.
  • PeoplePerHour:

    • Membership: Free.
    • Fees: 5% fee below the first £500 in a month. After this, there is a 20% fee.

Less is better. Upwork and Freelancer are big offenders of bloating their services with paid memberships and virtual currencies. Virtual currencies are similar to gambling. For example, $10 might buy 100 virtual coins, and two items cost 90 coins and 30 coins. In order to buy both, $20 needs to be paid, with an additional 80 coins to spend. This creates a sunk cost fallacy. This seems to be mainly a problem for Upwork, where bidding for jobs costs 1-5 virtual coins. Freelancer seems more upfront, where one coin is one bid.

Because virtual currency is needed for Upwork and Freelancer, and more may need to be bought for work you may not receive, this increases the fees of service use and is uncertain. Primarily in terms of fees, PeoplePerHour is the cheapest and may suit hobbyists perfectly. Next is Freelancer, although the fee could be expensive for low paying orders which do not meet the 10% fee. Upwork’s fee decreases when working with the same client, and although this is unpredictable, is better than Fiverr. Fiverr has the highest fee in the end, but is free of trickery. PeoplePerhour also has the highest fee with Fiverr after the freelancer has made more money beyond the monthly 5% fee rate.

Winner: PeoplePerHour and Fiverr.

The Score

Scoreboard: Fiverr: 3 | Upwork: 0 | Freelancer: 0 | PeoplePerHour: 2

The results show that these platforms are for two types of people: those who prefer to bid for work opportunities, and those who prefer structured stability. Upwork and Freelancer offers themselves to the former, creating a competitive environment for those whom seek work to bid for opportunities like an auction. Although there are low fees, the cost of entering a bid or being outbidded may be a problem. On the other hand, PeoplePerHour and Fiverr create a structured environment from easy to understand policies, a search system may make it easier to be found from, and a fairer chance to request work without paying for the opportunity. Despite the higher fees, there’s nothing to lose upfront.

But, why not give them all a try? After all, the best strategy is to diversify.