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Ask HN: Can Freelance be free?
13 points by dan_bez 7 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 13 comments
I think pretty much everyone here is aware of the nasty things Upwork does. High fees, totalitarian policies, sudden suspensions and just marvellous support.

Essentially, it's highly regulated labor exchange, with centralised authority. They CAN instantly ruin your career, or at least incapacitate it for a long time by just banning you and forbid to create another account. May be they will explain this, may they'll just ignore you. Of course, this is not necessary because they are "evil", but because they are just an instance of totalitarian hypocrisy in the internet. They create bunch of regulations, that make it very easy for scummer-type clients to blackmail you and ruin your profile. Why is it okay for so many people?

Can freelance be unregulated? With clients and freelancers dealing with each other without oversight?I was on both sides: as a freelancer and as a client on upwork. I was kicked off by upwork years ago, when i was just a beginner JS developer, i was dependant on them and it was really hard to keep going on. Since then I worked with many clients and even started my own development shop, which, i think, characterises me as capable and responsible person. Upwork's regulations never helped me. I've proven to support that client explicitly blackmailing me with negative review - they unsuspended my account but didn't delete the review, because it's against their regulations. Well, you know what is happening with profile, once it got 1 star review from the beginning. Since then i dealt with clients without any regulations. It was reasonably easy to spot scammers and avoid dealing with them: you can just do small part of the job, get paid and grow amounts of client-to-freelancer debt gradually along with trust. That was years ago, but still, when i hear again and again what is going on there, i feel sorry for all of the good freelancers who have been damaged by Upwork.

What do you think? Can freelance exist on scale without regulations?

Yes, it absolutely can be. If you hire a designer, a lawyer, a builder, you probably don't do so via middlemen like Upwork.

That hiring freelancers, freelance developers in particular, often works differently is an outlier, not the norm.

There are various reasons for this but it has something to do with development work being organised and its value being measured as if it were manual assembly line labour, i.e. it's often measured in terms of time spent instead of value created. It also has something to do with freelancers often saying something along the lines of "I'm just a developer. I just want to code.", thereby both shifting responsibility for their work to somebody else and not recognising the true value of their work.

This needs to change. Freelancers need to take responsibility for their work (as in: "I'm not just two hands. I design and create solutions."). Clients on the other hand need to get out of the hourly mindset as well if they want to get real value instead of an anonymous commodity with the constant need for oversight.

As a freelancer, the problem with sites like Upwork is that you are relying on a third party to source your work, which is how you make a living. Not only that, but they make it extremely hard / difficult / against the rules to work with the client outside the site. It's such a ridiculous cash grab, I really don't see how so many people think it's worth it.

If you (in general) find yourself over-reliant on Upwork, you should ask yourself why you are relying so much on it, especially when it could be pulled out from under you at any time. Is there a reason you need to source your work on Upwork? Have you tried to find work on your own but failed? Or is the momentum of your years on Upwork causing you to continue? Spend some time identifying your weaknesses that caused you to rely on upwork, and try to remedy them.

It's quite interesting that there are countless massive, free job sites and job listing platforms, and yet somehow Upwork is plundering contract workers by taking a cut of the action. They seem like a regressive antique. It'd be equivalent to Monster.com or Dice.com taking a sizable part of my salary if I find a job through them - few would consider such a thing to be reasonable or fair.

I think a more open platform needs to exist to counter Upwork's abusive, greed-oriented approach. It should be job and task listing supported (businesses placing wanted ads for all types of traditional jobs and contract work). Zero fees should be taken out of the pockets of the workers. There are plenty of well-demonstrated examples for how to build successful reputation communities that would enable a superior, anti-Upwork approach.

Whoever does this successfully will easily overtake the Upwork platform, for exactly the same reason Stackoverflow rapidly overtook Experts Exchange. It's kind of strange that Stackoverflow / Stack Exchange hasn't already extended their platform in a way that would put an end to the value proposition of Upwork; it seems like an obvious target for them.

Accountability is the reason I use platforms. I know that I could get thrown under the bus, but when everything works as it should, it's not a problem. I am not satisfied with sometimes the high commissions and cut throat competition, but there is at least the safety that I will get my payments. They are in charge in managing the legitimacy of the other user and myself. It seems that the problem arises from the "reputation" points and I think that the best way to solve that is coming up with a new system than an arbitrary 5 star review system

Would a person with a significant project hire through middleman websites? Maybe, but it wouldn't be a very smart move on his part, and would also denote some inexperience dealing with professionals and consultants. Finding good clients is not easy, but removing places where there is a higher chance to find bad clients helps.

> Can freelance be unregulated? With clients and freelancers dealing with each other without oversight?

IMO that is the only definition of “freelance”. If there is a middleman in the relationship, you’re a contractor for an agency, in the case of Upwork one that gives zero fucks about the work being done.

Depends on culture. I've been developing technology for customers for some time as a freelancer, without many contracts/regulations etc. Worked fine.

I don’t use any of those sites and I do freelancing via brokers mainly.

can you tell more about this? What exactly do you mean by "brokers"?

There are middlemen not unlike recruiters but for freelancers. They serve the same purpose as sites like Upwork but at a smaller scale.

How can i find such people?

Usually, they find you ;-) I’m only slightly kidding here.

This is a very crowded market and if you can avoid working with them it’s probably best to do so (for pretty much the same reasons as is avoiding working with Upwork).

There are a few really good ones but most of them just try to sell developer hours as a commodity.

Where you can find the good ones depends a lot on where you’re located. There are freelancer forums (on LinkedIn, for example) where recruiters usually advertise new projects.

I found a good one who has contacts with some big companies. Usually the contracts are between 3 months and 1 year. I worked with them on and off since 2006.

But I agree. It’s a crowded market. I stopped answering people who contact me on LinkedIn - usually they can’t help me.

I would say this is the most effective way for me to get jobs since I don’t have a sales department to sell my services to big companies. I kind of out sourced the sales part, you could say.

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