Managing your online reputation has become critical in just about every industry. Even that assertion could be an understatement – it might be more accurate to state that it is vital in literally every industry.
This also applies to the ever-growing ranks of professionals who market their services on the Internet. Freelancing is becoming ever more popular, and when one considers the attraction of working from home and being your own boss, is that really surprising?
Indeed, projections already suggest that 43% of the US workforce will be freelancing in some capacity by the end of the decade. It doesn’t take a huge stretch of imagination to conclude therefore that most people will be working as a freelancer sooner or later.
This represents a seismic shift in our working culture and labor market. And it also poses challenges as well as opportunities. While the notion of a global marketplace for talent unquestionably provides a fertile seam of potential work to mine, the life of a freelancer isn’t some unimpeded saunter to success and independence.
Whichever freelancing field one chooses to work in, there will be absolutely massive competition. That is baked into the freelancing cake, rest assured. You will not only be competing against all of the most talented people from your own country, you will be up against the crème de la crème from all four corners of the globe.
Being the Best
In order to thrive in this environment, you have to be the best. It’s as simple as that. Perhaps that is true to some extent of any field, at any point in history. But it is more true about freelancing! You might get a conventional job by being good enough, and you might keep that job by doing competent work, and you might climb the corporate ladder by hanging around long enough and not screwing up too much! That doesn’t apply to freelancing.
To succeed in freelancing you need an excellent portfolio of work, you need to constantly challenge yourself, you need to adapt diligently to a shifting work climate…and above all else you need to establish an outstanding online presence, and manage this as an absolute priority.
Good enough isn’t good enough in freelancing. Good enough will get you nowhere. You have to stand out from the crowd, and you have to be able to demonstrate to potential clients that you do indeed deliver something that other candidates do not and cannot.
Emphatically the best way to do this is with online profiles and an overall online presence. This has become a staple aspect of modern Internet commerce, but it is one that is particularly critical in freelancing as you will be judged almost entirely on this. While some potential clients will be willing to look at work completed, few invest a vast amount of time in assiduously reading through jobs that you have completed before. Who has the time do to this?
There are various ways to build an online presence as a freelancer. Social media is certainly a viable platform, while a personal website is definitely beneficial. But the best way to advertise your services, and establish yourself as an outstanding freelancer, is via platforms specifically designed for this.
Two of the most obvious, although both take a slightly different tack, are Upwork and LinkedIn. Upwork has recently floated on the stock exchange – with its share price rocketing upward on the first day of trading – and has established itself as the largest online platform for freelancers. While LinkedIn has attracted over 500 million members, and promises users the opportunity to “build and engage with your professional network, access[ing] knowledge, insights and opportunities.”
As with any large website, both Upwork and LinkedIn have attracted their fair share of criticism. This is almost inevitable for any established business in the social media age. And some of it has been justified. Many market observers believe that the $35 billion which Microsoft shelled out for the site was vastly inflated, particularly for a company that some believe fails to deliver value to its core customer base.
There has also been criticism of LinkedIn for bombarding members with meaningless and worthless spam, while there have even been question marks regarding its ethical practices. But we’ll come back to that in a second.
Upwork has also been criticized, particularly for the amount of money that the website takes from each freelancer transaction. There have also been accusations that the site delivers poor customer service in relation to disputes, and treats those posting jobs with far more regard than those applying for them.
It is also important when using Upwork to separate the wheat from the chaff. There are a significant amount of high quality clients using Upwork, and you can make a significant amount of money if you use the platform diligently. Many freelancers on this platform have been able to carve out successful careers via Upwork.
However, Upwork is undoubtedly inundated with jobs that aren’t particularly inspiring, for clients that don’t want to pay a decent rate, and which are far better suited to workers residing in developing economies and the third world. In short, if you want to succeed on Upwork as a Westerner then you need to identify the best opportunities, and ignore the jobs that aren’t a worthwhile usage of your time.
Standing Out From the Crowd
Nonetheless, Upwork has one massive advantage over LinkedIn. It actually enables you to stand out from the crowd. As freelancers gain positive feedback from clients, they steadily build up profile presences on the Upwork platform, and this then helps them attract better clients. Upwork profiles can even be found via Google searches, while the Upwork profile effectively represents an active résumé which can be distributed among potential clients.
While Upwork forbids clients from making agreements outside of its platform, realistically this is also a distinct possibility for many of the top freelancers. The number of jobs that are never filled on Upwork suggests that many people make agreements outside of the platform, and while Upwork would love to clamp down on this, in reality the company probably recognizes that this is an operational hazard, and something that they have to accept to a certain degree.
With LinkedIn, freelancers are presented with an almost diametrically opposed set of problems. While more credible employers are far more likely to frequent LinkedIn, these sort of employers are far more likely to require you to commute, turn up, and clock in. Doesn’t sound like much fun to me…
Additionally, selling yourself on LinkedIn is much more difficult. While you can rack up a highly impressive collection of connections on this platform, so can absolutely anyone! The connections that you make don’t really mean anything, and anyone can write anything on their LinkedIn profile.
Elevating yourself above other candidates becomes difficult, if not impossible, as anyone can make his or herself look good on LinkedIn. You write your own biography, fill in your work history, and away you go. How are you going to stand out from the crowd on LinkedIn? The answer is that it’s not easy.
LinkedIn itself has almost acknowledged this eventuality by selling premium memberships for $29.99 per month. As mentioned previously, many users have suggested that this is fundamentally unethical, as it allows anyone that buys them to elevate themselves to the top of the search rankings. Without actually doing anything to earn it. While Upwork has been subjected to justified criticism, to get to the top on its platform then you actually have to earn it. There are no shortcuts.
The Reputation Platform
While both LinkedIn and Upwork provide tools for freelancers to get noticed, Upwork is far more useful as a platform to build a reputation. There are many anecdotes emanating from people who used LinkedIn, and gained absolutely nothing from it whatsoever. And these are often very established professional people.
LinkedIn is increasingly viewed as pointless by many professionals and freelancers, and there can hardly be a less glowing endorsement than this! For all its faults and foibles, Upwork at least has tangible rewards for those freelancers operating at the top of their professions.
But remember…you have to be the best in this game.