Not so long ago we were talking about the pros and cons of choosing to be a freelance software developer, as opposed to working for one company full time. Freelancing as a career path will always be a controversial choice with a slate of pluses and minuses, but it is still great to have this choice (between having an employer and working independently) as an option, isn’t it?
Which freelance platform is best for software developers?The majority of software developers do try freelancing at some point for various reasons: to better understand the differences between these two work models, to make extra money, to extend their professional experience, and so on. Some eventually choose to freelance full time, deciding that the benefits of this model outweigh its weaknesses. What specific web platforms you are using to find work as a freelance software developer is quite important. Not as important as your actual skills and abilities, but major freelance platforms that are popular today, in 2021, are quite different from each other. Today we are going to take a look at four popular and well-known freelance platforms that are considered among the most obvious choices for a freelance software developer to look for jobs.
1. UpworkToday, Upwork is one of the largest and most popular freelance jobs platforms in the world. You could also say that Upwork is the most mainstream freelance marketplace with a wide range of specializations and jobs beyond software development. Upwork has a very solid platform, which, by the way, is using Java to power most of its backend. One of the biggest advantages of this platform is that it handles the whole process with the client, from posting the job to payment. This model allows freelancers not to worry about not getting paid for their work when it’s done, which is one of the most common concerns about freelance work in general. On the bad side, Upwork takes a considerable portion of your income (well, all freelance platforms do): 20% for the first $500 you bill your client, 10% for total billings between $500 and $10,000, and 5% for total billings over $10,000. It is a generally good platform for a software developer to start the journey into the freelance world, however, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t expect pitfalls when using Upwork. Or any other freelance platform for that matter.
Advantages of Upwork
- Payments protection.
- Large number of jobs and clients.
- Technically sophisticated platform with multiple components (messenger, time tracker, jobs marketplace, etc).
- Good selection of job search filters.
- Active measures against dishonest clients and scammers.
Disadvantages of Upwork
- High fees.
- Not all parts of the Upwork platform are reliable (glitches in web platform and time tracker aren’t infrequent).
- High competition among freelancers.
- The majority of jobs are low-paid.
- Dishonest and problematic clients are common despite all the filtering measures.
- Client-first approach and dispute settlements bias (Upwork sides with clients in most disputes).
Typical Upwork reviewHere’s what a real freelancer with considerable experience of using this platform has to say about Upwork. “Upwork is typically where small to medium businesses go to get something done cheaply. I have done a bit of work on Upwork, but as a Senior Developer living in Silicon Valley I make less than a quarter of what I do when working for independently sourced larger clients. I still find it a worthwhile investment to learn new things though. The Upwork project that I would take would be both limited in scope and have the requirements spelled out enough that I knew exactly what needed to be done. Having both a direction and a finite end goal is always nice when learning a new framework and gives you better experience than simply doing examples or building something by yourself you haven’t really thought through the design goals on,” Chuck Holbrook, an independent web developer, said.
2. ToptalToptal, despite having an even more controversial reputation among freelancers than Upwork, is another very popular platform for software developers. It’s distinctive feature is a rigorous screening process for all freelancers working on the platform. This allows Toptal to claim that it has the top 3% of freelance developers all over the world. The screening puts all freelancers through a four to six-week vetting process, which includes language and personality test, timed algorithm testing, live technical screenings with other developers, and so on. So you sure need to be a very agreeable person to be accepted to Toptal as a freelancer. On the up side, if you’re in, Toptal can offer larger projects and more serious clients than other platforms, with hourly rates for developers much higher as well.
Advantages of Toptal
- High average hourly rates for developers ($40-180/hr against $15-90/hr on average on Upwork).
- More serious clients (an initial $500 client deposit helps to filter scammers and time-wasters).
- Fast project-talent matching process.
Disadvantages of Toptal
- Severe vetting.
- Rates are still not high enough to justify the time spent on the screening process.
- No project-based contracts, only hourly projects.
- No rate transparency (clients and freelancers can’t see or discuss final prices).
Typical Toptal review“We can’t ignore the fact that freelancers on Toptal have the higher rates compared with the “average” prices in the industry. I guess that’s Toptal’s way of “compensating” the freelancers for all the trouble they’ve to go through the rigorous selection process. However, Toptal freelancers have no way of knowing what is the final price a client is paying for their work. Truth to be told, they have no right to complain because Toptal is doing all the work of finding the clients, establishing, and managing the working relationship. But, there’s this question all Toptal freelancers just couldn’t forget about. Is this all the money I could get for my work? Who’s working for whom? I’ve heard it more than once that freelancers have a feeling they’re actually working for Toptal rather than their clients. I think this is a result of Toptal’s decision to be deeply involved in all phases of the working process. In some cases, the freelancers worried more what Toptal staff would think about their behavior and work results than the clients themselves,” Michael Brooks, CEO and founder of goLance, another freelance company, said about Toptal.
3. FiverrFiverr’s distinctive feature is dividing projects into smaller parts. Freelancers have profiles where they introduce themselves and services they offer, typically focusing on specific skills or small jobs they can do for small payment (originally it was $5, hence the name, but you can charge more than that, and more freelancers today do).
Advantages of Fiverr
- A lot of small projects, quick turnaround.
- Good platform to use for additional income or as a hobby.
- You don’t need to bid for jobs, clients find you.
- Large number of clients.
Disadvantages of Fiverr
- High commission (Fiverr takes 20%, same as Upwork, but this fee stays flat all the time).
- Difficult to start.
- High competition.
- Large number of problematic clients.
- Focus on short-term (you could even call it micro-term) projects.
Typical Fiverr review“If you are a new seller on Fiverr, finding your first gig can be next to impossible. I found mine after around two months of being active on the platform. Finding the next gig can be even more difficult. You see, good buyers don’t immediately buy services from sellers who have little or no work experience to show. The system favors buyers over sellers. I have had a buyer who placed an order worth $10 and canceled the order after delivery. After 9-10 orders on the same gig, the Fiverr algorithm automatically starts giving you more impressions, so more people can see your work and eventually order from you,” Kavya Nair, an experienced freelancer, said.
4. People Per HourPeople Per Hour is another widely popular and the oldest of four (founded in 2007) freelance platform that is generally similar to Upwork but has a number of unique features of its own. Specifically, People Per Hour regularly holds contests and competitions for freelancers and allows them to promote their services by posting jobs with hourly rates. Another interesting feature of People Per Hour is that it allows clients to connect with local freelancers, so the platform can serve as a tool to find employers where you live.
Advantages of People Per Hour
- Large number of clients and jobs.
- User-friendly well-designed website.
- Stable and reliable technology platform (glitches are rare).
- Slightly lower service fees compared to the competition (standard commission fee for every transaction starts from 20% for new clients, but can go as low as 3.5%).
- Access to local clients in your region.
Disadvantages of People Per Hour
- High competition drives down the rates.
- Basic screening process for new freelancers (need to spend time on basic tests when starting.
- Not enough deals protection for both freelancers and clients.
- Lots of spam freelancer accounts (clients get overwhelmed by the number of applications).
- Not enough client diversity location-wise (PPR is a British website, so the majority of clients are also from the UK. Which is generally good, but the location diversity is lacking).