I've been involved in web development for over 15 years now, and have been doing it professionally for the last six years, but how did I get to this point? This is the tale of how I made setting out in business on my own work (and still am)!
Six years ago I quit my successful central London job where I was an imaging engineer in one of the top three post production facilities in the UK, working on film and and TV projects from the biggest names in the business. The company employed hundreds of both technical and creative staff, and it was a place where I was gradually rising through the engineering ranks and approaching senior level.
I really enjoyed the work I did there, but occasionally times just change. I was to be getting married and London just didn't work for me or my wife to be any more, so a massive decision - and consequently change in circumstance was needed. We moved from the big city to a small village in South Wales where I discovered there wasn't really much of a post production industry (which is mainly because it's really all in central London!). After moving I looked extensively for work in the local area and found very little, but....
Freelance to the rescue!!!
Easy right? I'll just become a freelancer, draw on and develop my web skills and make a living that way. Unfortunately it seems at least one other person had the same idea. Actually make that a LOT of people. Freelance web development was a whole new ball game, no longer restricted by physical location, I was now competing with anyone else in any part of the world who had the same idea. In order to survive in this world, you either need to just be ridiculously lucky (which will never realistically last), or pursue a better option - 'rise to the top' in your chosen area of work.
You may not be aware, but the online world gives freelancers an amazingly huge market place you can quickly leverage to look for work - there are countless freelance foccussed sites such as upwork, freelancer and peopleperhour where buyers can very easily post jobs, and sellers like me can very easily submit proposals for those jobs. Simple, easy work, but almost seems to good to be true.
Well you know how that saying goes...
These freelance sites are in a way a victim of their own success - everything is just too easy, and too accessible, for anyone and everyone. The result? The market gets completely flooded and overwhelmed by the sheer number of freelancers offering their services. There are people with all levels of skill and professionalism, and while there are both buyers with money to spend and good reputable sellers who charge a decent hourly rate, there are so many on there that fall well below this that they drown out the voices of good buyers and good sellers so that it comes down to pure luck when a genuinely good buyer who is willing to pay well for their work finds a genuinely good seller with skills and experience to justify the hourly rate they demand.
The end result is good buyers with great projects don't even use the sites because they know they will get flooded with at the very least 50+ very average to poor proposals and not end up finding anyone who can do the job to the level of professionalism they need. Equally good sellers who rightly ask a decent hourly rate give up on the sites because the good buyers are no longer there. So in the end all you get are what I call 'moon on a stick' jobs where the buyer wants everything for virtually nothing, and the sellers that are left take part in a ridiculous low bidding war for the work where no-one really wins.
My conclusion - these kind of freelance sites have their place, but not if you are looking for a great project which pays honestly and which needs to be completed by a competent, experienced professional who demands an hourly rate their skill and knowledge justifies.
Surely there must be a better way? (I knew you were beginning to wonder when the point was coming!). Well while attempting to find out if there is indeed a better way, I came across this article on the top 15 freelance sites to find work. While I don't agree with the number one slot being upwork, the number two slot definitely caught my attention. Toptal sounded interesting as soon as I read the description:
"Toptal is for seasoned, talented freelancers. Passing Toptal's screening process gives you unparalleled access to meaningful projects with great clients (JPMorgan, Zendesk, Airbnb, etc.) and fair compensation (no low-bid contests)."Going to the Toptal site it claims to allow buyers to:
"Hire the top 3% of freelance talent."That's where the good buyers must have gone then? And while hoping not to sound too self important, I do consider myself an expert in my field and believe I could certainly be in that top 3%.
While I am not part of Toptal just yet, I am genuinely looking forward to joining their Web Engineering Community and certainly have high hopes for the opportunities that might bring with it. The great part about the joining process is that this one isn't 'too easy' or 'too accessible' - which is such a good thing because it addresses everything which doesn't work about other freelance sites. A definite thumbs up from me.
So if you are an experienced freelancer who has the skills to complete work at the level expected by the best companies and businesses out there, I suggest you head over to Toptal like I did and start the joining process yourself. Good luck and see you in the community!