Huffpost Business

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Heather Hummel Headshot

If Everyone Is Working for Free, How Is Anyone Supposed to Earn a Living?

Posted: Updated:

Have you or your company ever hired someone from a website such as Freelancer, oDesk, Fiverr, eLance, or another popular site for outsourcing gigs? Alternatively, have you or your company offered services on one or more of these sites? If so, you are a part of the Global Online Employment trend that has been booming for quite a while now.

I personally have used a few of these sites as a resource to clients seeking a ghostwriter for their books and bios. Yet, I found that the competition was too willing to bid low dollar amounts for their work or they lived in areas where the cost of living was significantly less than mine, thereby being able to bid lower and still earn a significant living. As such, my bids were frequently four and five times higher than most (except on Fiverr, which is a fixed amount). Sometimes I landed the gig anyway, sometimes I didn't.

I also recently posted a photo captured in a chain restaurant and Tweeted it via Instagram. Within moments, I heard from the restaurant, which wanted full rights to my image to use for their social media campaigns. The catch was, they didn't want to open their wallets to pay me for it. My thought was, "I go into their establishment and open my wallet for their product. They come to my establishment and request full rights to my product, but don't want to pay me for it?" As a professional photographer, this aggravated me. So, I began to question, If everyone is giving away their work, how is anyone supposed to earn a living?

To find the answer, I reached out to Freelancer's Nikki Parker, Regional Director, North America & Oceania.

Photo Courtesy of Freelancer

Q: Let's start with some statistics. How many people actively use Freelancer?

Freelancer currently has 10.7 million members. The term "active" varies for each user, as we have people who spend their entire work day bidding on projects or we have employers that need to use at specific times of the year, e.g. tax time, end of financial year, annual reports, etc.

Q: There are many websites like Freelancer that create a marketplace for creative entrepreneurs. How have they impacted the way entrepreneurs earn a living?

Thanks to the internet the way that we connect, collaborate and work has changed quite dramatically and it is opening up a world of new opportunities.

When working online in a global marketplace like there is the opportunity for employers and freelancers to barter and enter into an agreement to work on specific projects that suit both parties. An employer will choose to work with a freelancer after they have weighed up the freelancers skill, past experience, online reputation, length of time required to complete the project and the overall price and a freelancer can decide what projects they work on.

Q: How do creative entrepreneurs compete in such a competitive environment?

On there are freelancers who are charging an hourly rate significantly higher than those they could command in their countries and for freelancers from the developing world they are able to earn their weeks wage in just one hour. Freelancers working on certainly do not give away their work for free, in fact, it is quite the opposite and they are able to sell their services and work with global clients they would not previously had access to. Freelancers working on the site are not only able to make a living for themselves, but they are also able to lift their families out of poverty. A freelancer can choose what work they bid for and work on and if they deem a price range too low for that service they can focus on other projects.

Q: Isn't this highly competitive environment more difficult for those who live where the cost of living is higher?

We are seeing a lot of savvy entrepreneurs and business owners who have typically sold services, e.g. web design or development, and have now realized that there are others around the world who are offering more competitive rates. Rather than see this as a challenge they are seeing this as a huge opportunity. They are now outsourcing pieces of work to global freelancers and refocusing their efforts elsewhere, e.g. building up a client base, sales or marketing for their business.

Businesses who recognize that the way we do work is changing and who adapt to these changes will be able to take advantage of the world of opportunities and a global workforce that they have at their fingertips.

Q: Is there a place in for entrepreneurs who are accustomed to billing higher dollars for their work?

Yes I definitely see high quality freelancers charging well above the "average" bid price and landing the job! Ultimately if I need to get work done as an employer I have to pick someone who can do the work, irrespective of price. I genuinely believe marketplaces like are opening up incredible opportunities for both freelancers and employers to get great work done, earn a good income and collaborate with clients from around the world.

I admit that Nikki opened my eyes to a different angle. However, I still won't give my photographs away for free to an establishment that will profit from them, and yet where I pay (make that "paid") for their products.