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Wanna quit your job and become upwork freelancer? Do not do that (codeinpython.blogspot.com)
125 points by tagfolder on Oct 17, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 119 comments

This is all wrong.

Click-bait title. Some thoughts by a discouraged person in a globalised world and a general conclusion that doesn't make any sense if you read the article.

Maybe the OP shouldn't look for projects in oDesk-type websites. I don't do that and I'm really happy working as a freelancer.

For anyone wondering how to find freelance projects. You should go and look for local clients, networking, contact companies that look for developers and try to persuade them that they can count on you too, etc.

It's a really, really, really big sea of possibilities nowadays for developers.

The page's actual title is "...become Upwork freelancer", which is fairly specific and not click-baity IMO. (It looks like the HN title is the same now, changed from just "become a freelancer.")

yes, just updated title, because my post about upwork experience, not freelance in general, as many people pointed in comments.

> You should go and look for local clients, networking, contact companies that look for developers and try to persuade them that they can count on you too, etc.

Every time in these discussions people ignore the fact that there're thousands of developers outside of US/EU who can't just "look for local clients". Not so many companies want to hire a remote employee without some kind of protection.

I'm working via Upwork and I personally know over 20 developers from Eastern Europe who work there too. We all would be incredibly happy to work directly, without the app that takes screenshots every 10 minutes, and for US rates instead of $20-35/h on Upwork. But it's not that easy until you're a known developer with a good reputation.

I'm coming from Bulgaria. This is my second year in Berlin. You are right. On that topic the money that I earned in my country of origin represent half the rate I'm earning right now.

As I also stated the world is globalised. It takes me 2 movies time to visit my family.

You can see what's on your radar and if you can't find clients locally, go for business trips around your country ( VISA I guess would not be a problem for a couple of weeks trip ). Nobody will stop you from working wherever you want if you prove yourself.

>Maybe the OP shouldn't look for projects in oDesk-type websites.

Yeah, definitely not. Bottom feeders all the way.

Not true at all. High-profile startups do post jobs there. You can find good clients--it just takes some digging, negotiation, and patience.

>It's a really, really, really big sea of possibilities nowadays for developers.

If you are in the silicon valley or at least in some 1st world country - sure, you have a lot of possibilities and ridiculously high pay. The sad truth is that exactly same skillset can be valued 10x less or 10x more depending on your location.

I think you are not comparing apple-to-apple. Sure, SV pays good money, but the rent is also much higher. In Texas the pay may be lower, so is the rent.

I have a friend who works as full-time freelancer in a small town in Malaysia (Taiping, if you are really curious) and she helps local businesses to do IT projects. For example, she built a custom room management system for a small hotel. She used to work in Motorola Penang, and the freelancer job gives her much more freedom and time, and interestingly, her income is way better than what she got in Mot, even she just serves such a small town with population of around 245K (2010 data)

How do you contact them? Email, cold calling?

Have you tried doing rfps?

When you answer an RFP, most likely you are engaging into a race to the bottom (competing on price). Often an RFP means some PHB made a poor diagnostic, devised the wrong solution and just want someone to build it.

That is why I don't like to answer RFPs. Working on someones else's diagnostic is root of all evil for freelancers, it makes very hard to deliver maximum value. How would a brain surgeon answer if a patient enters the office saying "Yes, doctor, just open my skull right now and pull out the tumor!"?

I've been working as a freelancer for a bit more than a year now and let me offer a counter perspective.

This article is a report from the absolute bottom. Part of the problem is the clientele: data scraping jobs are the shadiest, worst-paid jobs you can take on as a programmer. Also, offering the client to pay what they think is fair is a monumentally bad idea.

The bigger problem is the perception of value. I regularly get requests for doing insane amounts of work (usually it involves cloning a multi-million dollar site or app) for less than I charge for a single day. There are "idea people" out there, who think the goal to success is paying someone 300 bucks to implement a clone of the Android app store. It's a real example by the way. I mainly get my work through the Who Is Hiring thread on HN, and although the overall client quality has been high, it's unavoidable that over half of all requests are absolute bogus.

I suspect I'm not the only one having this experience. Now, these inquiries can be effortlessly ignored (I usually do answer them back with or without a short statement why I'm not taking the job) - however, if you're just scraping by, these "gigs" can totally demoralize you.

To an average person, programming is not a valuable thing, and they do not view it as skilled labour. This has been the case for as long as I can remember. After high school, twenty years ago, a friend and I got into freelancing. A lot of inquiries were pretty much the same as they are now. My friend used to say we should rebrand ourselves as the Web Sherpas, named after the local people who often get hired for grating or dangerous work on behalf of tourists yet receive little compensation for it.

To the freelancer just starting out I say: don't get suckered into these kinds of debates, be friendly but firm in rejecting malicious "job offers". Holding out until the right client comes along can be tough, and you're going to need a financial buffer to do this. But it's definitely the only way to go. People taking $15/hour data scraping jobs are part of the problem because they help distort the value perception of our profession (plus they help making the internet a worse place). Don't be that person.

>To an average person, programming is not a valuable thing


And any changes you are asked to make are not "easy" nor "quick" nor could they "do it in an hour if I knew how"

I like to give the example that if you were having a house built, when they were putting the final touches to it, painting the walls, screwing lightbulbs etc. It may delay the house being ready, it may cost a bit more if you decide you want to move the house by 1 metre to the left, change the load bearing walls.

Yet they think similar changes to a project should take no time nor cost a thing.

And the best of all "just build something so I can see it then I will know what I want" but I won't pay you for that.

>To the freelancer just starting out I say: don't get suckered into these kinds of debates, be friendly but firm in rejecting malicious "job offers". Holding out until the right client comes along can be tough

Can also be impossible if you have bills to pay, a family to support, are just starting out. I've been there (move to the tropics with a young family during the economic down turn, the few contacts I had who had promised work before I left were unable to deliver when I arrived (took the best part of two years wandering around the world to get to the destination).

But good clients are out there. I still do the odd bit of work for a couple of clients I got in the early days (<$15 ph data scraping jobs lol). Financially these days isn't worth doing, but they paid on time, offered to pay for time to discuss changes, offered pay for changes, so like to help them out with the odd bits of work they have as they have had many problems with freelance devs (just like I had with other clients)

I've been a freelancer for almost 4 years and I have yet to make money via any sort of website. The clientele's expectations are borderline delusional for the price they want to pay.

I get all of my contracts through recommendations from past clients and colleagues and can charge from $60 to $90 per hour (the most I charged was $250 per hour for a job I didn't want to do and didn't expect the client to accept).

I don't know where you're located, but $60/hr seems insanely low. Annualized as a full time job that's $125k/yr. not terrible, but quite a bit less than what a good developer can make as base salary at a tech company. But that tech company job comes with benefits, paid vacation, stability, and possibly equity and bonuses. Plus the freelance gigs are rarely actually full time (even if you have enough clients on a steady basis, you need some time to manage the business itself). I can't imagine going freelance if $60/hr was what I was able to bill...

Location makes a big difference. I live in the Midwest and there aren't many $125K positions out here. But a 3 BR house in good shape in a decent neighborhood can be less than 100K.

Freelancing at $~60/hour * ~30 hours/week can work fine here. You can raise a family on it no problem. You're not going to retire early this way, but different strokes for different folks.

Exactly - my goal has been self improvement / preservation over the last few years, not wealth, and I've been achieving this goal:

1. brought my suicidal depression back down to regular occasional depression

2. brought stress levels down to manageable

3. learned / learning 3 new programming languages, 2 platforms and 2 game engines and developed skills in pixel art.

achieved this by making money a secondary priority and living a life of near seclusion in my apartment (do have a daughter here 2 weeks per month and live with my gf so i'm not completely secluded).

edit: i've only worked 6 months this year and spent the rest improving my game dev skills. I usually take on 3 month contracts and then break for 1 to 3 months before my next.

> I don't know where you're located, but $60/hr seems insanely low

Where are you located?

What's the median (not mean) cost of a detached family home, where you live?

In your situation, do you have to work 5 days a week, or do you work fewer?

Could you just decide on any given day that you don't feel like doing any work, and do something else, instead?

All relevant questions. SF and NY are not the only cities in the world with excellent software developers.

Country-specific. $60/hr for me well be great!.

^ which is probably also why i can't charge more than $60. How can you compete with poland / india / etc when they are able to charge less?

Based in the midwest. I agree that $60 per hour is low. If you know of anyone who will pay more, please send them my way :)

If you ever charged $250 an hour (even if that was the "I hate you go away" rate), then congrats, that's your new hourly rate. Everyone paying less is getting a screaming deal on the friends and family plan.

Try charging more for new clients, and walking your rate up each year for existing clients. In my experience this results in one awkward phone call/email exchange a year and approximately zero negative side effects.

This is how I brought my rate from $30 an hour to $90, also in the Midwest.

> that's your new hourly rate

I don't think this is the case. The client was volatile (random screaming and swearing at people in the office and me in my first and only meeting with him, plus a vague personal threat made against me if I were to "fuck him on the contract").

I knew what I was walking into and boosted my price accordingly. The only reason he went for it is due to having (or at least thinking he had) no other options. I worked fast and was extremely careful with my time. Everything went well, he paid me and I never heard from that company again.

> walking your rate up each year for existing clients

How do you get repeat business? It seems that my clients are happy with me after each project (no complaints and I typically get recommendations) however I haven't had any repeat business. I suspect this is due to working with very small startups with low budgets.

Try periodic emails to past clients - I hire quite a few contractors and I like it when they check in and am more likely to go for someone who has done something good and kept in touch periodically.

I absolutely agree. For freelance/contract work the price should be about double expected base salary.

First of all because agencies get away with charging that much so you're just undercutting yourself needlessly unless you join in.

But secondly because there are big costs; liability insurance and software licensing being some of them.

The problem is that I typically work for small startups that don't have a big budget to work with.

I'm also not sure what sort of data the people in this thread are working with. I can't make $125k per year in the midwest as a fulltime developer (unless I'm freelancing - and even then keeping steady contracts has been near impossible). In fact I'm not seeing those numbers anywhere outside of the west coast - I applied for a fulltime job in CO recently and they balked at $90k... said they couldn't go over $60k.

Edit: recently quoted a local client at $75 per hour... he looked visibly perturbed and never got back to me.

A few contracts back I quoted $80 per hour and was told max budget was $60/hour (which I had to accept out of desperation).

I hear a lot of talk on the internet (especially HN) about people making massive amounts of money as contractors, but I have yet to see this in action. On the other hand $10k per month isn't that bad.

"First of all because agencies get away with charging that much"

Perhaps they deliver a different sort of value than an individual freelancer? Having a larger staff, having multiple people with different expertise, separate billing/financial folks, admin folks, etc. They provide a different set of services and customer experience - some people want/need that, some don't, but just because agency ABC is charing $200/hr doesn't mean every else can "get away with that" as well. Just being able to have 4 people work simultaneously on a project may be worth the increased pricing for some clients.

Liability insurance isn't that big a cost, and unless you're focused on some really niche industry, "software licensing" probably isn't that big a deal for an individual freelancer. I'd be surprised if even with multiple systems, those combined costs are more than a couple thousand per year (much less for most people I know).

Health insurance is going to be a far bigger expense than almost everything else put together for most folks.

Fair points, you're thinking on a different scale for me. The agencies I'm thinking of were little more than chop shops who hire and then resell. The only positive they could give you is if someone is sick they can back fill; but having seen it in action that's really just someone unfamiliar with the processes warming a seat for a few days and not doing much.

MSDN $2kpa. Liability $1kpa. I guess it's not "a lot" but if you're only doing a little work (as I was) it was a substantial portion of the profit gone; I spent more on hardware though.

It's all perspective. My hourly rate is in three figures, which, for a lot of people looking at me as an individual freelancer, seems high. But the local mid-sized agencies all charge in that range for someone with my skillset anyway. But... that's not how I justify my rate, which is what my original reply was about. And... there are some things I simply can't offer - I can't parallelize my efforts like a larger agency can, which may definitely be worth it for people trying to hit specific market deadlines.

I don't even do MSDN costs. :) But there are definitely some overheads - insurance, I have office space (coworking), services (bookkeeping, etc), transportation - conferences, etc. I may have, say, $12k in overhead each year - including health insurance. That cost is pretty much the same whether I bring in $15k or $150k, and certainly if you're bringing in $15k, those expenses are far higher % of income.

...in a handful of markets.

It looks like most of the jobs on HN are full time gigs. Are you pinging them to ask about freelance work?

I mistyped, too late to edit it now: I meant to say the "Freelancer" thread. I don't have to contact anyone myself. In fact, I never had much success getting business from people who didn't contact me first.

I was going to ask the same thing. It seems kind of spammy to me.

freelance can be a full time job. I am guessing all the "remote" tagged jobs posted here can be considered.

If you can write a scraper which performs against any real world data, your new rate is $100 per hour [+]. Your first month you spend 140 hours of pounding the virtual pavement looking for clients outside of the markets for lemons that are the freelancing sites. You spend 20 hours on delivery. Now you have the same $2k that you'd have if you killed yourself working on PayPeanutsGetMonkeys.com and you have the nascent beginnings of an actual freelancing business -- a pipeline, people who are interested in working with you but might not have a project at the moment, a happy client who you can do additional work for and solicit for introductions to peers, etc. Three months later you're at 70% utilization and you start working up your rates.

And yes, this works from the Philippines almost exactly as well as it works from Gifu. There a mere one hour off each other and there is no social advantage that the Japanese engineering community gives you that you cannot trivially duplicate from any cafe in southeast Asia with reliable Internet.

[ + ] Journeyman rates for programming work, trivially paid by a variety of businesses across the first world capable of hiring professionals. This is far under the going rate for people whose primary skill is writing concisely threatening letters, for example.

Your first month you spend 140 hours of pounding the virtual pavement looking for clients outside of the markets for lemons that are the freelancing sites.

This is the part many people have problems with, myself included. Any tips?

Firstly, don't take advice that impacts your ability to feed your kids from random guys on the Internet.

Having said that, sell yourself as a niche provider, and act surprised when asked to do generic stuff.

The simplest niche to start with is "lives in the same town as me". not London or NY that does not count - think town of 100k.

Now choose three business needs (sales funnel management, tickets on smartphones, GPS tracking of goods or RFID in a warehouse.). They must be clear things. Things you could plan your architecture for just from hearing the sentence.

Write a blog post on each of them and how they can be solved or improved by software - and software is what you have experience in writing (even if not in this niche.)

PS you are probably thinking this is dodgy now - well spend a day or two making a ticket scanning app on an iPhone. Make sure the essence is there. You will even be able to write another new knowledgable article about how the focal point of smartphone cameras makes ticket scanning difficult / easy / costly whatever

Now find your local business meetups - chambers of commerce, networking meetings. Go to them, and at each of them say "I am looking for businesses that are looking for software developed to solve their problems in sales funnels / tickets on smartphones. Some networking meetups actually expect this of everyone at the meet, some you have to do this on every handshake.

(Pro tip: set up a mailchimp list called "software in middle of nowhere-vile". At the met up say "hey can I get your mail address onto my list ... ". Just push an article onto the list every so often - try monthly.

The key here is to inject a specific need into the existing network of businesses. They will take this around with them and somewhere in the next six weeks will meet someone who is trying to sell tickets and ... They will remember you. Mostly they will have forgotten your contact details but Google for your blog / search your email list will solve that.

It's painful. And it works a lot lot better if you are also calling the likely businesses yourself, contacting their CTOs. (Ps as an ex CTO I always took cold calls, but I always asked "what are you selling". The good ones could tell me.)

But sell a particular niche, and be prepared for the "I know this is not what you usually do but what if ..." That way you are really selling your "generic I can do coding me" but in not a lame and totally forgettable way.

So, have a niche, have an online presence, and sell the niche so that eventually you will be asked to step outside the niche.

Also find local government - hard to get into, pay is regular though.

>Firstly, don't take advice that impacts your ability to feed your kids from random guys on the Internet

I'd normally agree but anyone on HN worth their salt knows who Patrick McKenzie is.

I meant me :-)

If you can write a scraper which performs against any real world data, chances are you're not in the business of selling yourself by the hour.

The type of scraping projects you see on the freelancing sites typically require minimal skill and can be completed with off-the-shelf tools, many of which are open source. Folks doing these kinds of projects are not realistically going to build a book of business filled with clients paying $100/hour. You can find decent freelancers in the United States charging less who are capable of doing more sophisticated work.

UpWork has really worked out great for me. Sure there are people who want you to either work for free (require some code up front or as a test), or want you to work for low wages (usually it is around a tenth of what I'd normally charge) but these aren't problems: just politely inform them that you cannot do the work. No big deal!

I've gotten good connections on UpWork that have brought in real value for us.

The trick is to avoid looking for work on platforms like oDesk (now Upwork) where the world is underbidding you. It’s a positioning and deal flow issue. Ideally you want clients to refer you on to other clients. And maybe you should call yourself a contractor, agency, solo developer—something like that—instead of a “freelancer.”

So it’s possible to do well if you quit your job and work as a freelancer, but you need to spend time handling the business side of things: marketing (e.g. social media presence, open source contributions, writing articles, attending events) and sales (getting referrals, closing leads, etc.)

Are you speaking from experience? I've found plenty of great gigs on these freelancing sites. You just have to dig a bit and know what the "crap" jobs are, so you can avoid them altogether. The world is not underbidding you. Most times, you negotiate directly with the client and the bids are just a formality.

Fair point; although I’ve done a fair amount of work as an external developer I haven’t actually tried to get work on those sites.

You're right.

The next part is to set the price for the job. Usually I would say: Ok, data scrape will cost you $75.

That's still ridiculously low by any measure. I wouldn't take you seriously at that price point. Because, here is why: I was charging that much 5 or 6 years ago.

How about $7,500 for manual data scraping?

On a related note. A friend of mine asked the other day if I can develop for him a GPS/Google maps solution that would take 6 months to develop for a serious Full-Stack developer.

He works on a multi-billion dollar company but he wants the solution for himself to show off his productivity to his bosses. He wants it on a "$50" budget.

I'm guessing you have fallen at the same scenario where the lady is paying it from her pocket instead of big corp bank account.

He lives in the Phillipines, which obviously changes the scale of cost.

I had done this a few times in the past and would routinely charge just $100 for scrapes because I had written a robust enough application that the actual work involved (creating a manifest file) took about 5 minutes. I was attempting to work at scale.

Eventually I just got sick of oDesk. I had a regular job and was just looking for beer money anyway and the vast majority of jobs were essentially content stealing for some half-assed SEO purpose. I'd ask people if they'd read the TOS of the site in question and that's when communication would stop. Or they'd come and say "how about $15" and then I would quit communicating.

The lesson is good here - this site (and others like it) are filled with cheap, low-skilled programmers and clients with iffy intentions.

I'll also say that "5 star" doesn't mean much on this site. Reputation is established not by merely having a good aggregate score.

yes, I have similar experience, I just developed own python scraping solution to automate the process. But many of clients want script plus data and willing to pay only $15.

People want stuff for free. The web is free. They expect next to free for skills that take at least 10 years to actually master. Skill level similar to a doctor.

Because developers keep telling everyone who will listen "anyone can learn to code!" and "software should be free!".

Even if it were true, no doctor or lawyer would be stupid enough to openly say it.

>They expect next to free for skills that take at least 10 years to actually master.

You compare it to a doctor, but really it is more like that of a driver. Most of the people are only concerned about getting from point A to point B. They don't really care about proper cornering techniques or following the best line..

99% of what a doctor does is repetitive. Every year the next batch of new parents come in with the same problems with their kids and get the same prescriptions, people break arms and legs, get flu, have headaches, etc etc. Most people just want to be told what pill to take, they don't care about neuropharmacology or myocardial infractions.

Unpopular opinion here... Anyone can be a doctor!

I've had multiple health problems over the years that I've cured by doing the proper research online. Most doctors wouldn't even consider the solutions that helped me because they're always just looking to prescribe a pill. They fix the symptoms and not the cause. You're better off acting as your own doctor, unless you have some traumatic injury that requires surgery.

Disclaimer: This comment is not medical advice. The information presented above is not presented with the intention of diagnosing or treating any disease or condition. This information is for educational purposes only. No responsibility is assumed by the author nor anyone connected with this website for the use of this information and no guarantees of any kind are made for the performance or effectiveness of the recommendations provided.

... and people have to leave a disclaimers like that when they say something like I did. Why don't non-programmers have to leave disclaimers? Our profession is more legit than modern medical practice. I can't wait until expert systems and robots replace doctors!

You're partway right. A real world example I had back in college - heartburn. Doc's solution is take a pill when needed (the part thats left over - for the rest of your life). The solution I found online is - change your diet. After a few years of experimenting, I fixed the root cause of my issue, and don't have to be reliant on pills as much as I was before. Obviously this is not applicable to all cases, but the point to take from this is that you need to manage your own health.

What health problems did you cure by doing online research, without medication?

A driver? Well, I think a better comparison would be to watchmaking or other crafts that require deep understanding and great attention to details.

Deep understanding? Really? I don't think so. For example, You can do a lot of web application development with out actually knowing the first thing about the request/response cycle..

Damn you, giving me an additional boost to my already large ego. I'm one of those programmers who considers my skills to be more developed than most of my co-workers - I've met 4 people throughout my career whom I consider to be as good as or better than me. I never thought to compare my experience against that which a doctor goes through.

Ironic considering my language of choice is laughed at by "true developers". It's true that I consider my skill set to be above the people I've worked with, but I know there are millions of developers out there who outshine me in what one might call real development. I am both proud and jealous, but I like the comparison of a seasoned developer being similar to a doctor. It's true that it takes 10-20 years to have a solid understanding of what one is doing. Interesting analogy.

> I've met 4 people throughout my career whom I consider to be as good as or better than me.

You need to start hanging out with smarter people.

I clicked through the the article, verified that the title was the same as HN, read the early line "Couple days ago some R.D. from United States contacted me. She wanted to do website scrape.". I stopped reading. Clickbait, ignorant of real freelance work, thinks being contacted about a pathetic scraping job means freelance is worthless? Give me a break. Become a real developer who can find real clients worth the effort, and freelance is 100% viable. How the hell is this getting any traction? Puh-please.

Hi real developer. Please give me advice how to become real python developer. I just started to learn python from scratch, I've developed my first django website ( http://review.food-singapore.com/ ). I have developed many scripts/scrapers (but seems that's just pathetic) And now when I'm trying to apply any full time python job, almost all require link to github/some project which I don't have. How to get any real python position?

I'm not developer1, but I'm happy to give you some pointers. My email address is in my profile.

Why not put your scripts and scrapers on github?

thanks! About scripts I think they won't be useful for anyone, because most of them are like: "scrape all apps from app store", "scape 30 million business profiles from website A.", etc. But anyway will try to put some :)

It would be great if they would be useful for somebody, but here you are just trying to impress would-be employers.

Zed Shaw's course of course is an option

"I studied CS.."

You asked someone who obviously has no clue what it takes to actually DO the work to value your work. Hence the response you got was someone thinking... "damn.. how hard is it to write a crawler, I can think that through in my head, step by step, easy as pie."

You learned a great lesson - value must be shown and substantiated, clearly and succinctly. People outside of your head have no idea the effort it took you to understand and do what you do. You're putting the onus on them to recognize the effort when it's YOUR responsibility to convey and stand by exactly that.

As you deal with more senior and exec management, you'll come to find that playing dumb is quite often a finely honed skill that preys upon situations exactly like this... which left unchecked, is setting yourself up for a sudden realization down the road you're killing yourself to deliver on a silly deadline at well below your normal rate.

Step back and breathe this lesson in, it's so much more to your benefit than simply defaulting to indignance.

Upwork is basically where businesses and entrepreneurs go to outsource work to people living in countries with a lower cost of living. It's a place that's excellent for startups who know how to extract maximum value from foreign workers (I've seen people making upwards of 10,000+% profit from doing this which is honestly crazy) but terrible for the workers themselves. Well ... at least in some instances.

As far as I can tell: most of the jobs on offer at Upwork can be done by complete amateurs but that isn't necessarily the quality you can expect. They have some pretty amazing virtual assistants and not everyone there does mediocre work. Just don't expect to earn a Western wage there without substantial effort (there are US companies who hire in staff as needed but these jobs are like drops of water in the desert.)

Can you tell us more about these startups?

Freelancing in IT is kind of a fantastic global phenomenon really. It allows foreigners like this guy to work "in" another country without being blocked by the artificial market distortion of immigration restrictions. Perhaps there are plenty of freelancers willing to make a web scraper for $15. In that case, this guy's got to find what advantages he has over them so he can compete. Just because American employees get paid more doesn't mean everybody else doing the same type of work also deserves to be paid more if the market decides not to. American employees have a special value of being on site in person which is a service Russians and Filipinos can't provide.

This is just one of those examples where experienced freelancer will see flag "avoid!" for such kind of clients.

The truth is that places like odesk/up work/anything is just big market. There are clients willing to hire low-rate developers and micro-manage them, but at the same time there are clients who want to hire top talents from the marketplace to deal with complex tasks and get really top solutions.

Somehow I could find really interesting work in high-load startups with 4M visits/m, OpenSource or even Y-combinator startups with good culture.

To be clear, during ~10 years of experience I was at both sides of barricades: hiring developers/designers/marketeers and being software developer/freelancer myself.

So it's just experience grew into skill when you had all that shit like non-paying/rude/time wasting clients and feel how to avoid that.

I am Indian and taken back by your comment about Indians/Filipinos. I worked as a freelancer on oDesk; fulltime; around five years ago for more than a year. It was great. I was charging far higher than $15/hr

Probably you should bid for better jobs than scraping websites. I assure you, you be undercutting many Indians/Filipinos by your rate..

It takes some effort to find jobs where clients are willing to pay a premium for quality.

I've used Upwork before - if you are experienced enough, you can easily filter the client by a combination of amount spent, average hourly rate paid, prior feedback by contractors, feedback given to contractors and their estimate price (or expertise) for the project. Apply/respond only if the client matches your filter.

But as others have mentioned here, it is cut-throat competition - you have to be patient and very choosy.

I've worked remotely for some time(I'm from Brazil) and gave it up, it's not worth it. I burned out on one of the jobs. The sad truth is that the "remote worker dream"(for ppl not in the 1st World) is a lie, most good companies won't risk putting relevant work for remote workers to do and if they do it'll be because they're clueless or because they need REALLY CHEAP work. It's a suckers game, even if you win, you're losing. I'm now working locally and I started making more than I did with the precious dollars at the first post-remote job and I also made friends, got more challenged, learned and growed more and basically my life became much more satisfying and with much more positive possibilities. My life improved immensely in everything, sane hours, respectful relations, less anxiety.. The effects really are innumerable.

In lame remote working there is a very clear power assymmetry going on, you're there because dollars are worth more than your currency and you'll accept subpar work and subpar pay because maybe it will pay off in the currency arbitrage, the employer knows that, trusts in your naive belief that there's gonna be quality work to do as you saw at the blogs, HN and 37signals-like stuff and he has and endless supply of willing(but maybe not capable) people, the hour-pay will always be at the lowest possible. Both sides of it have multiple reasons to not trust each other and will try to take the most value out of the transaction, and even when there's good faith on both ends there are still way too many pitfalls(e.g.: cultural stuff, deep prejudices) and the chance of success will remain low, then the good ones leave and the crap stays, it's toxic. If you're a good developer I think it's a waste of your life to be in this game, I'd only take it for "youre-gonna-retire-early/take-6-month-vacations" money(plus sane hours, weekends, holydays, relevant work, no micromanaging and other basic dignity stuff), absent that, I recommend exploring your local possibilities, even if it means learning to live with your country standards(or, middle class standard, since you're an IT worker), give up the illusion.

I used to get contracts through oDesk/UpWork as well ( https://www.upwork.com/freelancers/~015eaccf9967b4f9f4 ) However the quality of the jobs I can apply for are a continuously going backwards, even if the quality I am able to deliver is really high compared to many other freelancer on the platform. This is why I almost do not use UpWork to do my freelancing anymore.

Quit my job 2 years ago and went freelance. I earn just a bit more than before but I have way less stress and quality of life improved. All my clients are contacts I gathered over the years, never had to look for a client online. My advice is, before you quit make sure you are networked enough to pull it off on your own. Maybe it's a good idea to plan spending the last couple of months at your regular job arranging your first freelance gig before quitting.

It's awesome to hear that you're doing well doing freelance work. Do you have any tips for how to find clients, especially the first ones when you can't get them through existing ones?

Is there much of a difference between freelancing and software contracting? I've met a handful people who are part of a company (read: agency) of 1-5 and making really good money ($60/hr+). But they're also in the Bay Area.

$60/hr is not particularly good money in the Bay Area.

Source? What is ideal for Bay Area? Most startups I see have salaries around ~$80k (~$32/hr for 48hr week or ~$40/hr for 40hr week)

You realize that the $80,000 includes completely free health care (otherwise $300 a month minimum, if not more if they offer a good plan) with no employee contribution, free dental ($20 a month?), $300 towards vision a year, minimal life insurance maybe, free meals at the office, etc.

Not to mention that you get sick pay, holiday pay, retirement account contributions, etc.

Including the benefits it easily adds up to $100,000 a year of benefits or more depending on how good the benefits are

Besides, if it's not a start-up you're easily making $130,000+ if you have a lot of experience

Not to mention the extra ~12% payroll tax that all freelancers are hit with (twice what employees pay).

Or the fact that a very large portion of your time as a freelancer has to spend with non-income earning activities (accounting, marketing, etc) if you want to have any chance of surviving as a freelancer.

60$/hr for a freelancer is equivalent to about 60,000-80,000/year. It's a decent income for some parts of the country, but not SF.

Are there any payroll taxes on top of that salary number? Where I live (Belgium) there's a 33% (probably being lowered to 25% soon) social security tax paid by the employer.

In the US your employer pays around 15% of your salary as tax. If you're not working for someone else that's an extra 15.3% you have to pay - it's called "self employment tax".

It's not an extra 15%. The total amount of Social Security and Medicare taxes is 15.4%, with the employer paying half and the employee paying the other half. When you're self-employed, you pay both halves. And the employer half is always deductible on your federal income tax, which reduces the sting a little.

Good actual data, though the total figure is 15.3%

NB: it drops to 2.9% (just the employer/employee portion of Medicare) after the cap, which is currently $118,500 for both 2015 and 2016. And then the employee portion of Medicare rises by 0.9% above $200K, but that's not specific to self-employment as it's the employee portion only.

You aren't going to get your hourly rate for 40 hours a week if you put in a 40 hour work week.

You need to do marketing to bring in new clients and you probably should be doing this daily. This also includes things like building your web presence and any other promotional things you might do.

You will have time between projects. Most likely you wont have one project line up perfectly with the next through the year.

You don't get paid sick or vacation pay. Between this and downtime between projects, imagine how easy it is to blow through 40, 80, 120 hours of opportunity costs.

You have to pay for all of your own work related expenses.

Occasionally you will have a project blow up or a client won't pay and creates more opportunity costs.

The list goes on.

One way to help all of this is to not bill hourly.

You also need to get a hefty premium for taking on the risk of doing freelance work. Otherwise it's silly to do freelancing over taking a job. All those dreams of being your own boss and choosing your own hours is B.S. All that matters is that you are able to get more earnings than you would if you were working a job. All of the above is stuff that you don't have to deal with in a real job.

Also, you are making life easy for your employer if you are able to deliver high quality work at no risk and headache of doing an actual hire. That's worth a good premium by itself.

But all that is the wrong mind-set. You need to make sure that you are putting yourself not in a position of being a commodity. You need to be delivering on problems that can't necessarily be solved by throwing money at them. And there needs to be real resources behind those problems.

People on Upwork aren't evil because they are looking to hire people for nothing. Upwork is a market. People negotiate. They can get whatever they are looking for. You aren't what they are looking for, yet you still find yourself in the same market. That's fine, just pretend they don't exist. You don't negotiate because you aren't a commodity. You are providing solutions that can't be bought. In other words, everyone needs to do the proper dance steps to pull this off and the lowest bidder won't get the job done. Even the highest bidder may not be able to hit the deadline if the buyer first goes for the lowest and has to scrap the project and start again.

If margins are so low that there is a big difference between a $30 / hr developer and a $40 / hr developer then you need to say no. This is largely arbitrary anyways. Nobody knows how many hours the project really requires and the more expensive programmer may get the project done in half the time. Or that developer may save that much time through maintenance in the long term. Software scales, hours don't, the difference shouldn't come into play. Pay the developer a sufficient professional rate.

Boot-strappers with little money shouldn't be hiring people. They need to roll their sleeves and do some coding themselves. And how much is that time worth? It's probably worth about the same as the hourly freelancer they would be looking to hire (or more) and they are losing that money in opportunity costs. But that's what you need to do when you have more time than money.

Without bennies it's actually kind of bad.

The author gives one bad example and extrapolates that to all of freelance. I've found plenty of well-paying gigs on these sites. As with most things in life, it takes hard work and lots of failure to get there. It's really that simple. The author shouldn't have pursued that job from the beginning. Recognize a loser and move on.

I understand your frustration, but you dug that hole for your self. If you want $15/h, tell the client that. Or give a quote. When you just leave it to them, of course they will low ball you.

(Context: I'm a top rated freelancer on UpWork that's been using the platform for a year)

Ivan, one of the main reasons you're encountering those types of clients is that your hourly rate is competitive with other freelancers in other parts of the world that will do the same job for $3/hr.

Here's my advise for you:

1) Increase your rate to around $50/hr. Trust me there are plenty of clients that are willing to pay higher rates. 2) Don't bid on every project that comes along. Only focus on projects that you really want to be a part of. 3) If you don't have a portfolio then build some demo sites where you can showcase your work. Given that you like building scrapers you should be a simple web service that does exactly that. 4) Only take hourly jobs OR fixed rate jobs where the client provides a clear, documented scope document that you both can agree to. 5) Don't be afraid to say no. The biggest issue with freelancers in other parts of the world is that they say yes to every single thing....don't be that guy. Clients will respect you more for it. 6) Don't hand the source code over until you have been paid. 7) Stand your ground anytime a client challenges your rate. You're a professional and not a cheap commodity.

What was that "Indian/Fillipino guy/girl" part about. Do you thing we don't code? Or is incompetence a function of race in your mind? :(

I have solidarity with your point of view. However, I'm French and I once lived in Australia for 3 years. And I can tell you that their programmers know what they're doing, better, on a massive scale, than the French IT sector. They know when to align behind the boss (which is surprising for a French guy) but still know how to stir internal debate, they have understandings of marketing and economics, they master several languages each, they output software faster with better quality. We get paid twice more in Australia than France, and the job requirement was twice higher. It's not even personal skills, it's sometimes how we act in teams.

We need to be humble, fellow Indian/Fillipino guy/girl. Yet they hired me, because as Agile as they are, they don't know anything about CMMi-based corporations ;)

SandGorgon's Law of Outsourcing Analogies [1] - "As an online discussion about PROGRAMMING grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving outsourcing or Indians approaches 1, if Godwin’s law has not already been satisfied"


you missed part "without any programming skills". I know there are good coders from those countries, I was talking about those who underbidding and work for $1 per hour doing manual/low quality work

I rather you paste the entire phrase. On a first glance, it captures right away my attention. But yeah dude he said "for some" so I just skip that and continue reading.

That person was doing manual copy and paste. So yes, they didn't code.

People are going to try their luck in negotiations. That's what they do.

"Would $15 be fair to you for this category?"

Counter-offer with something that you think reflects the value you're going to provide. Will she take it? Maybe yes, maybe no - you get idiots in every line of work. If she doesn't take it, and you're dealing honestly, it's her loss.

At the end of the day though, you did let her open. That's kinda on you.

I'm a bit confused on that part though, the offer says $15/hour, why did the author write as if the the offer was $3/hour? Isn't that the pay for manual data entry?

The price that she quoted him was $15. It's not clear that that was $15 an hour, or whether it was $15 for the entire job (regardless of how long it might take.) Considering that the writer questioned whether she thought it would only take him one hour to complete the task, that would be the way that I would be inclined to interpret the way it was taken (if not necessarily the way it was meant): Five hours work at three dollars an hour.

I'm glad that Upwork is allowing first world folks to pay second and third world folks to earn great income (for them) at doing remote IT work, but I don't see Upwork as a way for unfairly-economically-isolated first-worlders to earn a living.

I'm not familiar with upwork but I've been surprised looking at other freelancing sites and seeing the range of salaries.

It went from $15/hr - $40/hr - $100/hr. But what surprised me was the mix of people in each range; including Microsoft MVPs in the middle and idiots at both other ends.

For reference; $40/hr is about a low-end full-time salary and $120-$150 is what would get you someone hopefully decent from an agency. So pretty much everyone was undercutting what I think was a reasonable amount to request for contract work.

I have similar experience. I tried to bid to some projects there, but it's just seems to impossible. Every project got 50-100 bids and my bid is just lost. And, as I'm not going to work for free ($20/hr currently), probably my price and lack of reputation makes it impossible to win any project.

I like the idea of this site, but everyone undercuts so much. I live in a poor country, but even there I can make more on a full-time job.

It seems for me that freelancing is really hard. Much harder than work on local site.

I used to do jobs at elance.com and peopleperhour.com but I have not accepted a single invitation in almost 3 years. I keep receiving them, sometimes 10 times in a single week. Prospective clients from these sites nowadays get 10 seconds to convince me that they are not wallowing in bullshit, and up till now they have all failed the test. So, there's nothing wrong with these sites, but you will indeed be better off if you save your time for more interesting people.

So people should not become freelancers, based on your single bad experience, make sense. I was expecting some data backing up your statement or at least proper story.

tl;dr - This guy is freelancer and few days ago he was contacted by stupid client who thought he will work almost for free.

I was just telling about my experience working on odesk (read biggest freelance website). This is not first case of stupid client and I'm not first day there.

What kind of backup? Link to my profile? Ok will update post now.

Sergey, one advice - please do NOT work for $15/hr. All it takes to charge $XXX/hr (or $8X-$9X/hr ) is just to ask for it. Seriously. And keep away from odesk/upwork/etc.. race to the bottom sites. Search and contact prospective clients yourself - as if you'd looking for standard job. No middle-man is needed here.

Thanks for the advice. Actually I already started to search full time job. Enough odesk freelancing for me. :)

I've been working as a freelancer for about 10 years, getting clients from word-of-mouth, making about 2-4 times what people make here working 4-6 hours/day.

It all depends if you can sell yourself.

He's not opposing freelance work, he's opposing using odesk/upwork to get contracts.

I tried my hand on vworker.com I got a great reputation (top 100) but when I added up I had made about $2 an hour overall, competing head to head with third worlders is not easy.

Some guy doesn't have marketing/coding skills and complains about it instead of thinking constructively.

What all the fuss is about?

Well, like one of my friends is saying "friendly speaking" I think he took the right decision :)

The client side of the equation may be bad but the profile building side is excellent.

back in the day when I was doing scraping competing with mailhouse rates, I would guess how much the mailhouse would cost and quote half. Worked well for all concerned.

Who is upvoting this garbage. Come on hacker news!

this is a post about Upwork, change the title back...

> Even my profile states $15 per hour

Don't do that. I started with $40/h, raised it to $50/h and still consider it low. I also avoid fixed price projects and I'd rather wait for good jobs rather than work for peanuts. There's enough open source work to keep me active when the freelancing market is in a lull.

The hell, the title of the blog does not even relates to the story he had. And that story, is just part of many stories of freelancing as ups and downs.

Why would you ask your Client about the rate if your not ready to hear low ballers deal. Its a competition of doing the job, but that doesn't mean you have to low your price to get the deal. You may do the task for about an hour only but they have to know that you spend hundred of hours to get that done right away.

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