How hiring freelancers on web marketplaces can hurt your business

On the surface, freelance marketplaces are fantastic. With the promise of getting any job done by a qualified professional at a reasonable rate, quickly. They do work reasonably well for the occasional odd job. Need some one-off marketing copy written? Jump in and do it. What if there’s a quick software project or you need a website built. Yes, they work extremely well for that sort of thing too.

Here’s where they don’t work. When you need someone consistently. Say you want someone to answer your phones, to engage with your customers by email or to work with you on a full time or permanent part time basis. Here’s why:

In all the same ways that freelancers work well for businesses. The transient nature of freelancing is often the reason that the freelancer is offering their services on a platform like this in the first place. Want to hear some horror stories from someone who has been in the trenches? Sure, let’s take me for instance.

Here’s the background (names changed to protect the guilty)

I was looking to employ a full time assistant to help me out with data mining, social marketing and handling email. Just all that basic admin stuff that I really don’t get time to do while I’m on the road. With the number of social media platforms that I have to regularly publish to in order to support my marketing efforts and generate leads for my offline businesses.

I’d seen all the promotional stuff for the major freelancing platforms and, I figured that if they did what it said on the box that they’d be a perfect fit for my needs.

So I went ahead and signed up with one. Gave them my credit card details and started advertising for candidates. I got a response too. An overwhelming response, hundreds of applicants. The problem was, even though the response was overwhelming, most of the candidates were pretty underwhelming.

2 days after running the ad I logged into my dashboard to start shortlisting. It took me a full Saturday to work through all the CVs until, out of nearly 250 applicants, I had arrived at a shortlist of… 4.

It’s tough to find signal in the noise sometimes

Freelancers treat these platforms from the perspective that if they apply for 10 jobs and get 1 then it’s good. The problem is that because they’re in such a hurry to scatter-bomb their applications that they tend not to properly read the ads in the first place. That means that the vast majority of your applicants are not going to properly fit your requirements. The downside, you’ve got to weed through the rubbish to get to the gold.

In any case, I finally found the right candidate, or shall I say who I thought was the right candidate, for the role. I hired him. Off we went. Me spending Sunday at a BBQ with friends secure in the knowledge that he was starting on Monday, I’d give him a quick run through then we’d be away laughing.

Regrettably I was mistaken. Monday morning came, I’m in Perth and he was in the Philippines – both in the same timezone – we’d agreed on an 8am kick-off for the training and I figured I’d be done by 12 and back out on the road.

He finally logged in at 11.

Being as I’m a pretty optimistic bloke, I gave him the benefit of the doubt and (unwisely in hindsight) accepted his excuse. Of course I was only paying him while he was signed in so that wasn’t an issue. The point is that I’d hired him to fill a specific need in my business and was fully prepared to pay him full time.

Work, lies and freelancers

To cut a long story short, it came to pass that, in spite of the fact he’d sworn he didn’t during the interview process, he had other clients and was planning on managing his time investment in both my and their businesses in the hopes that no one would notice.

I certainly noticed, and I’m sure they did. Over the course of the next three weeks, after investing 5 straight hours that Monday training him and many more hours while he got rolling, I terminated the contract.

I then decided to try again. The same pattern repeated itself through three more assistants. When it got to the end of it all I was tired, out of pocket several hundred dollars and was wondering if those freelancing platforms did indeed do what they said on the box.

A few months passed and, in the interim, I took on a fellow Aussie based in the Philippines as my marketing manager. He offered to give it another go.

So here we went again, at least this time it wasn’t me weeding through all the rubbish, it was him. The first person he brought on board was great for about 2 weeks. Then he went off the radar for three days. When questioned he said he was dropping his kids off at school. For three days? I would’ve appreciated it if he could have been just a little more inventive than that. I know the traffic in Manila is nuts but… well, you get the picture.


My man in Manila sacked the guy on the spot, then the process began again. Our next contender was awesome on paper. Had all the required qualifications and was available during the prescribed hours.

Went great for a week until she sent both myself and my marketing manager an email threatening to screw with all our data and social sites unless we gave her a pay rise. We got the passwords changed very quickly (yes I now use a password manager that doesn’t give anyone access to the passwords, lesson learned) and ended her contract.

In this case it really was third time lucky. We found a fantastic girl in Manila who has now been working with us for nearly two years. How much did I spend going through those first few candidates that didn’t work out? Including my own time and the time of my marketing manager? Close to $10,000.

These days we manage our staff directly in the Philippines. Of course we’re in the lucky position to have someone based there that can take care of it. The majority of Australian small businesses don’t have that footprint which can make it tough.

In the end I teamed up with my marketing manager and we launched Quotenamic. To save other Aussie businesses going through the same pain.

Get in touch if you’re ready to get smart about your outsourcing and save yourself the pain of going through what I did. Also both Damon and myself would love to connect on Linkedin.


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Leave a Reply 2 comments

David - last year Reply

Ouch – thanks for sharing your experience

Sasha Hickson - last year Reply

Sad to hear you had such a bad experience with freelancers. I’ve tried to use those sites in the past as a freelancer but I really missed the personal connections that comes with traditional client work so it didn’t work out for me. Now I always make sure I establish real, positive relationships with my clients, and it works better for both of us. I’m glad you’re working to help other businesses avoid the pain!

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