Freelance Site Red Flags

two men with red flag in winter

When I first realized there were freelance sites out there like Guru and Elance it seemed like such a great idea. As a new virtual assistant, I was struggling to build a client base and having a site where I could bid on projects and build my reputation seemed ideal. From the other end of things, I’m sure plenty of businesses have been thrilled to find a place where they can have freelancers from all over the world bid on their projects. The concept is good, but the actual execution is flawed.

I never did find any clients on the sites. My rates were too high to compete with other bidders. I know many others who have lowered their rates to try to compete. I refused. I felt, and still feel that my services were worth the higher rate. After all, what do you really get for $4 or $5 an hour?

I revisited these freelance sites recently when my daughter asked me to help find her some work. I was amazed at the Requests for Proposals that business people had posted. If I thought $4 an hour was low, now many were asking for bids in the $1 and $2 hr. range. One hundred original articles at .50 cents an article. All I can say is that you get what you pay for.

I know there are exceptions. I’ve heard of both business people and freelancers who have found ideal situations on these sites. If you’re willing to be patient and wait for the right one, you can still make these sites work for you. There are however a couple of things I’d like to bring to your attention. For me these two items are immediate ‘red flags’ when I see them.

The following is a major red flag : We will agree on hours when you will be working for solely me. This availability must be unconditional. He/she will act as a virtual personal assistant and be available 8:00a.m.

This wording should immediately tell you that the person/business is describing an employee, not a freelancer (independent contractor). This is trouble both for a virtual assistant and/or for the business person, trouble in the form of the IRS. The description of an independent contractor, according to the IRS is as follows: “The general rule is that an individual is an independent contractor if you, the person for whom the services are performed, have the right to control or direct only the result of the work and not the means and methods of accomplishing the result.” The fact that the ad above asks for you to be exclusive, availability unconditional and sets the hours worked makes this position a employee. You can find out more about the difference between independent contractors and employees on the IRS website. There’s even a Worker Classification webcast you can take listed at the bottom of the page.

The second red flag? Will only entertain low bids.

The person posting an ad with this wording or something similar is not looking for quality services. I would stay away from bidding on this for two reasons. One, because I definitely wouldn’t be considered a low bid and two, because I don’t think I would want a client who was looking for the cheapest way to do things. I’ve worked hard to try to make Clerical Advantage synonymous with quality service. And part of that is looking for clients who have the same type of commitment to quality that I do. Virtual Assistance requires a true business relationship and like any relationship requires that those involved share the same values. In this instance, the poster obviously does not care about quality. As a business person you should determine if this is the image you want to project when you post that RFP.

The decision as to whether using a freelance job site is a personal one. As with anything, it’s a matter of personal preference. Hopefully you can avoid pitfalls by recognizing the red flags.


Tina Marie Hilton provides online technology services to forward thinking businesses. She writes on her Tips from T.Marie business blog to share insight and information with other small businesses and entrepreneurs. It also makes her feel like that certificate in creative writing isn't going to waste completely.


  1. […] business may be in , finding clients can be a challenge.  Which is why those freelance sites like Elance, Odesk and Guru can seem  like the perfect answer.  After all, they bring together people looking for clients, […]