Creative Marketplaces: How to Find and Hire the Best Freelancers

Emily Esposito
Emily Esposito / June 14, 2016

For five dollars, you could buy a grande mocha Frappuccino at Starbucks, a Big Mac and 10-piece Chicken McNuggets at McDonald's, or a completely new website redesign on Fiverr.

Creative marketplaces make it easy to outsource work and hire designers, writers, coders and more for one-off jobs. Between Fiverr, Freelancer, Upwork and other similar sites, there are at least two million freelancers ready for your project, charging anywhere from $5 to $500.

But how do these sites work, and which one should you choose for your project? We were wondering, too—so we decided to try them out. Here's our first-hand account of using Fiverr, Upwork, and Freelancer, along with the results we got from each marketplace. Plus, we'll cover some other marketplaces you can try and tips on finding the best freelancers.



The Best Creative Marketplaces

We started with one question: How simple would it be to get promotional graphics made to accompany some of our articles? After looking at dozens of creative marketplaces, we settled on three and went through the entire process—from idea to finished product—with each one.

We asked each freelancer to create a promotional image for one of Zapier’s app roundup articles, like an infographic or comparison sheet. Here's how the process went on each site, and what you can expect if you choose one of these marketplaces for your freelance work.

Fiverr

Fiverr

What is it? Fiverr is a global online marketplace where you can buy or sell services, or "Gigs", for a fixed price of $5. With more than three million Gigs posted, you'll be surprised at how far your money can go—you can buy everything from influencer marketing to voice-overs to animation and more.

Who's it for? Small businesses that want a project completed quickly and within budget.

How is it different? Every Gig that's posted on Fiverr starts at a fixed price of $5—no need to negotiate. However, some Gigs can end up costing a lot more if you choose to purchase add-on services (known as “Gig Extras”).

How to Get Started

Fiverr profile
Fiverr profiles include the product offered for $5

For my first Gig, I wanted to commission an infographic for Zapier's “The 10 Best Email Apps for Managing Your Inbox” article.

Searching Fiverr's pool of freelancers for “infographics” returned 382 results. After scanning through a handful of portfolios and customer reviews, I ended up choosing a top-rated seller, who boasted a five-star rating and 3,076 reviews. I simply clicked a big, green “Order Now” button. I also had the option to upgrade my order with one-day delivery, paying for the source file or commercial use rights.

What to Expect

Fiverr requirements
Fiverr orders include requirements that help the freelancer create your item

Once you’ve paid for your Gig, be prepared to provide detailed requirements for your project. For my infographic Gig, I had to provide all the data, copy, and images, including preferences for colors, logos, fonts, and images. Plus, I had to share examples of infographics I liked.

After I filled out the requirements, Fiverr dropped me on a dashboard that showed my order details, my conversation history with the seller, and an estimated delivery date of four days. There was no communication between me and the seller, but the dashboard did change to reflect updated delivery dates.

Results

Fiverr results
Fiverr emails when the order is finished

Two days after paying for the Gig, I received an email alerting me that my infographic was ready. I could download and view the image, and had the option to request unlimited revisions or accept and review the order. If I didn’t take any action, the order would be automatically marked as complete after three days.

The infographic met the requirements I had originally shared, but I needed the final image in a different file format. The seller sent was accommodating and efficient, even though I had requested the file after the three-day window for changes.

Price: All gigs start at a base price of $5 (Fiverr keeps $1 from every $5 transaction).

Upwork (formerly Elance and oDesk)

Upwork

What is it? Two popular creative marketplaces—Elance and oDesk—merged in 2013 and two years later, they were rebranded as Upwork. Upwork has a pool of more than 10 million registered freelancers specializing in finance, marketing, writing, programming, and more.

Who's it for? Organizations that need a wide range of projects completed: big or small, short or ongoing, individual or team-based.

How is it different? Upwork offers an extra layer of security and comfort with the Upwork Team App. The tool takes screenshots every 10 minutes while freelancers are working to ensure they are billing fairly.

How to Get Started

Upwork order listing
On Upwork, you create a job freelancers can apply for

I wanted a freelancer to create a visual “cheat sheet” summarizing all the options in our “Evernote, OneNote, and Beyond: The 12 Best Note-Taking Apps” post.

To get the job out there, I had to complete about a dozen different sections, including job description, rate and availability, time commitment, and desired experience level. Once you’ve posted your job, you are taken to a dashboard where Upwork suggests freelancers who have the skills you’re looking for. You can either invite any freelancer to apply for your job, or wait for them to come to you.

What to Expect

Upwork
Review proposals before choosing a freelancer to do your job

About 24 hours after publishing my job on Upwork, I received an email notifying me that a freelancer had applied to my job. She was professional and friendly, asking about my design preferences and sharing links to her portfolio. I waited a total of five days to see if I would get any other applications, but only received that one. Fortunately, I liked her work and she was familiar with Zapier, so I decided to “Make an Offer,” confirming the hourly rate and the weekly limit of hours worked.

The seller accepted my offer, and we exchanged a couple more messages about required size, colors, and font. Throughout the process, I received emails from Upwork sharing the seller’s Work Diary, showing me the exact times that the freelancer was working on my project.

Results

Upwork feedback
Upwork asks for detailed feedback after a project is completed

One day after making an offer, I received two different designs. I could make any edits or changes I wanted, and decided to message the seller asking her to add links to the article in the cheat sheet. One day later, she sent me an updated image for review.

When I was happy with the final image, I ended our contract and had the option to leave private and public feedback.

Price: Freelancers bill hourly, with the majority of freelancer billing between $5-$30 an hour. Upwork collects 10% of the payment.

Freelancer

Freelancer

What is it? Freelancer, founded in 2009, was one of the web's first creative marketplaces. With almost 20 million registered users and 9 million total jobs posted, you can find freelancers in every technical, professional, and creative field. You can also tailor your search by requirements like skill level, cost, and timeframe.

Who's it for? Organizations that value flexibility and want to see a wide range of ideas before choosing a freelancer.

How is it different? Along with traditional job postings, Freelancer lets you hold contests. These contests let you see hundreds of unique ideas, but you only need to pay for one. You can request changes and revisions, and Freelancer even offers a money back guarantee if you're not satisfied.

How to Get Started

Freelancer job
In Freelancer, you start a contest for the job you want done

Right after signing up, you're immediately taken to a page to submit your job posting. I wanted someone to create a simple SlideShare for “The 10 Best Feed Reader Apps for RSS, News, and More”.

I answered some simple questions about the type of work, skills required and budget. And, while choosing what kind of expertise I was looking for, Freelancer asked me if I wanted to switch to their contest format—I went for it. After providing some info on the requirements, timeline, and budget for my contest, I posted the job.

What to Expect

Freelancer results
You can preview the entire entry before awarding the prize

Less than 12 hours after publishing my contest, I received my first entry. Freelancer gave me the option of either awarding the prize right away, or leaving feedback for the designer. I requested an additional slide, and the designer promptly submitted an updated version.

Also, a day after launching my contest, I received an email from my personal "Contest Concierge"—a Freelancer employee. He offered to help me optimize my contest to achieve the best results; I didn't take him up on it, but I appreciated the top-notch customer support.

Results

Freelancer winner
Once you've chosen a winner, the freelancer can send you the files

I ran the contest for seven days and received two entries. Throughout the contest, I had the option to give feedback to freelancers who had already submitted entries. I did this one time, asking a freelancer to add an extra slide to the SlideShare. One day later, he submitted a new entry with the additional slide.

At the end of the seven days, I was prompted to choose a winner. Of the two entries, one was clearly more in line with Zapier’s brand (using the right colors, font, and style)—the other didn't quite measure up.

Once I chose the winner, the freelancer and I had to sign an IP transfer agreement so I could receive the file. I had 14 days to request any changes to the file and once I officially accepted the project, the prize money was awarded to the winner.

Price: Freelancers either bill hourly or set a fixed, per-project price. The average hourly rates for graphic design are between $19-$50. Freelancer (read: the company) collects 10% of the payment.

Creative Marketplace Options for Advanced Projects

Beyond the basics, there are also some higher-end, invite-only marketplaces. Yes, they're pricier, but they also offer personalized support and hand-picked freelancers with very specific skills.

If you're looking to hire some help for a special project, try one of these four options.

99designs

99designs

99designs is a design-only marketplace, where people specialize in creating things like logos, book covers, and illustrations. It is also entirely run on contests: you can’t choose an individual designer or post a traditional job.

Instead, you build a design brief and launch your contest to the community of more than 1 million designers. You’ll use ratings, comments, and private messages to give feedback on the designs you receive, and choose the winner of your contest after seven days.

99designs Price: Packages vary based on the difficulty of the project. For example, logo design starts at $299 for 30 designs from "good designers" and goes up to $1,299 for 60 designs from "exceptional designers"; app design ranges in price from $599 to $2,499.

Envato Studio

Envato Studio

Envato Studio is a marketplace of designers, developers, producers, and digital creatives. Each freelancer is hand-picked by Envato and passes a rigorous review process. You can either browse services or reach out to a specific freelancer to create a custom project.

Once you pick a freelancer to work with, you provide a job brief and submit payment to Envato Studio, which holds the money until you give the end-product a thumbs-up. If you're not happy, a member of their staff will jump in to resolve disputes.

Envato Studio Price: Prices vary depending on the freelancer. Website content services range from $45 to $425, graphic design ranges from $50 to $200, and WordPress customization averages around $150.

Toptal

Toptal

Toptal is an exclusive network of best-in-class freelance developers and designers. And they're serious about keeping a high-quality pool of talent: Toptal freelancers go through an intensive screening process that includes tests for language, personality, algorithm comprehension, project skills, and more.

Once you submit a job to Toptal, they do the rest of the work for you. Their team finds a developer who matches your needs and if you’re not 100% satisfied, you won’t be liable for any payment.

Toptal Price: Hourly projects from $60 to $95+ per hour, part-time work from $1,000 to $1,600+ per week, and full-time from $2,000 to $3,200+ per week.

Crew

Crew

Crew is an invite-only community of freelance designers and developers. After submitting a project, you’ll be matched with a hand-picked freelancer within 48 hours. And, unlike many other creative marketplaces, every project starts with a contract that covers intellectual property, contract termination, non-disclosure agreements, ownership of assets, and basic dispute resolution. You can also take advantage of 24/7 customer support, with experienced team members who can help you choose a budget, set the right scope, and answer any questions.

Crew Price: Pricing depends on your budget. To get an estimate, submit a project with your desired budget and someone from Crew will review the project and help you refine or change the details as necessary. Once your project is approved, a $100 deposit is required to connect with a freelancer. If you aren’t happy with your match, Crew will refund your deposit.

Tips and Tricks for Using Creative Marketplaces

I thought that finding a freelancer through a creative marketplace would only take a few clicks. I was definitely wrong.

Creative marketplaces are easy to use, but you do need to put some work into your proposal if you have any hope of ending up with a polished product. I started out with a vague notion of what I wanted, and wasn’t expecting the job postings to be so in-depth and specific, so I was caught a little off guard. I found myself working through the details as I was posting a job or responding to an email from a freelancer.

Yes, I'm happy with the results I got. But next time I would definitely sit down and work through the requirements before filling out a job description, instead of defining the details in the moment.

Of the three creative marketplaces I tried, my experience with Upwork was the best. The seller was extremely communicative and efficient, sending me two different designs one day after I made my offer. The experience with Upwork felt the most authentic; it felt more personal and human than the other marketplaces.

While I preferred my personal experience with Upwork, I thought that Fiverr had the most intuitive website. I appreciated how everything was stored and displayed in an easy-to-use dashboard. If I needed to revisit my order details or check the project status, I knew exactly where to go.

On the other hand, Upwork’s layout was a little more confusing. I had a message thread with all our conversations, however the offer and my job posting were on different pages, so it was harder to get a quick summary of the details.

How to Find the Best Freelancer for Your Project

Picking a marketplace isn't the hardest part, though. With hundreds of thousands of freelancers to choose from, how do you know who to pick? It can often feel like a guessing game, but with the right combination of research, questions, and instinct, you can find the perfect match.

Here are our top five tips for finding the best freelancer for you:

  • Develop your own standards: Before starting the hiring process, think about what's most important to you. How much money are you willing to spend? How quickly do you want the work to be completed? Will you only work with freelancers who have a certain amount of experience? Writing a list of your top three must-haves will help you sift through the thousands of available freelancers.
  • Set expectations right away: Whether you’re writing a job description or reaching out to a freelancer, set clear expectations early on. Describe the task in detail and give any background information about the project if appropriate. If you’re looking for design or content work, provide links to articles or graphics that you like.
  • Ask questions: There really is no such thing as a dumb question, especially when you’re communicating online with someone you’ll never meet. It’s better to ask all your questions up-front rather than waiting until the last minute and adding extra work for the freelancer. Don’t be afraid to ask how many other projects are in his or her queue, how they handle revisions, or what kind of file you will receive. Get everything out on the table.
  • Do your research: Don't choose the first freelancer who shows up in your search results. Take the time to read a handful of reviews and evaluate his or her portfolio. Pay attention to any themes (like lack of communication or missed deadlines). Also, make sure their portfolio shows a variety of experience—you don't want a portfolio that highlights the same cookie-cutter work.
  • Trust your instincts: A freelancer can look great on paper, but as soon as you start messaging back and forth, you may have second thoughts. Trust your gut and remember that you're never stuck. Of course, it's easier to end the relationship before the actual work has been completed, but you can always leverage a creative marketplace's refunds and dispute system if things really go sour.

Choosing the Right Creative Marketplace

Creative marketplaces make it super simple to outsource work, letting you hire freelancers with the click of a button. However, it's important not to rush the process. Like any other project, take the time to think through your goals and expectations before you lock in a freelancer. The more defined your project, the more successful your freelancer will be.

And don’t be afraid to mix-and-match creative marketplaces—you might choose Fiverr for tiny design projects, but work with Toptal to redesign your website.

However you use creative marketplaces, you’ll hone your project planning skills, connect with new, talented individuals, and collaborate on exciting projects.

What has your experience been using a creative marketplace? Tell us in the comments below!

Arts market photo by Igor Treoeshchenok via Barn Images.

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