Digital Contractors: Are Job Bidding Portals The Answer?

11 November 2016 By Alastair Cleland

1526 Original

​When searching for work, the fantasy of a ‘golden bullet’ is tantalising. “Could I really just enter my credentials into a website, be matched with an employer and get to work straight away?”

Theoretically, yes indeed you can!

For years now websites like Upwork, People Per Hour, Guru and Fiverr have advertised this kind of instant employer-worker matching service. If you’ve ever searched for work online, you’ll almost certainly have come across them: they advertise 100,000’s of opportunities – everything from the highly specialist (and lucrative) to tiny penny projects – all open for pitches.

Though largely focussed on sub-$100 tasks for jobbing freelancers, many A-grade contractors have discovered meatier work with highly reputable employers through the very same portals.

Many think it’s the future. Job bidding portals take advantage of new possibilities:


    – In the digital sector, it’s now possible to work from anywhere, with anyone, on any project. Locality is no longer an obstacle to hire, creating a ‘perfect market’ for skills, accessible online.


    – Software can tag, rank and sort both jobs and individuals to perfection. This ensures productive matches, minimising fruitless time spent searching for work.


    – Reviews have revolutionised eCommerce (think eBay, Amazon), tourism (TripAdvisor, Air B’n’B) and transport (Uber). Work portals are no different: reviews of work ensure high standards and all-important reliability for employers.

In bringing these factors together, job bidding portals aim to recreate trust, relationships and staffing expertise on an epic scale. How epic? Well, Upwork claims that work in excess of $1bn is done annually.

There’s no doubt that’s an attractive offer – one that contractors would be mad not to at least consider. But does it actually work?

Job Bidding Portals: Do They Work?

Big numbers are one thing. Somebody’s certainly making money – lots of it, in fact. But what you really want to know, as a contractor, is whether any of that work can come your way: that all-important next job.

Unsurprisingly, the lure of instant-access work has attracted hordes of candidates to job bidding portals. It’s not unusual for a single opportunity to receive 100’s, if not 1000’s of bids.

Competition, then, is fierce.

Specialists, proud of their working standards, quickly become dispirited by this competitive environment. Deep, involved hiring processes are rare. Rather, there’s often a race-to-the-bottom mentality where showy tactics, speed of reply and sheer quantity win the contract.

There’s aggressive competition on rates, of course. Job portals certainly aren’t the place to charge your full-whack day rate. There’s money to be made – top specialists pull in sizeable earnings – but there’s no denying that undercutting the competition is often a tactic crucial to success.

It’s tricky, then, to become profitable using job bidding portals, particularly if you’re used to more generous (independently-sourced) contracts.

All that said, job portals can – and do – provide great opportunities for smart contractors:

  • Ease of use is clearly a huge bonus. Creating a contractor profile is usually very straightforward, and there are few barriers to pitching for work immediately.

  • Big clients have been attracted to portals, offering work that’s advertised nowhere else.

  • Between major contracts, job portals are ideal for smaller-scale work to fill gaps in the diary and make ends meet.

  • Building a portfolio and gaining valuable industry exposure – job portals are arguably the most efficient place to pick up real-world experience. (On the flipside, though, this often creates impossibly low-cost competition when you eventually want to earn a living.)

  • The working framework is pre-built, from payment methods to contracts, allowing you to concentrate on the work.

…just don’t put all your eggs in this one basket, though. You may be disappointed!\

Securing Reliable, Valuable Work As A Digital Contractor

To keep your diary as full as it needs to be, there are certain things you should be doing all the time. There is – sadly! – no shortcut to securing work, but these recommendations are time-honored and adhered-to by the best.

1 - Earn clients’ trust, long-term

Trust, reliability and confidence increase your value HUGELY. Once a client feels confident in your service level, they’ll pay good money to keep you close. Trust is earned in numerous, subtle ways. Face-to-face meetings, hitting deadlines, being on the end of the phone, sharing a joke – all this and more contributes to a level of trust that job portals struggle to emulate.

2 - Capture and communicate your value

Skills aren’t your value. Your value is the results you achieve. Capturing and proving that value is essential, regardless of which channel you’re using to convey it. From an ‘elevator pitch’ to full-blown work portfolio, you should always be looking to hone your pitch, ensuring it resonates with prospective employers.

3 - Build relationships with a specialist recruiter

Recruitment consultants spend all day, every day, matching individuals with work that’s suitable for them. They’re an invaluable knowledge-source, helping candidates assess and pitch their value to employers. Recruiters, like employers themselves, love to surround themselves with quality contractors they can trust. Relationships with recruiters (like ourselves!) are key.

4 - Deliver over and above, every time

Goes without saying, perhaps, but seizing every opportunity is essential. There’s no rest for the contractor – every moment is a job interview for further work. If that means doing double-time on the first piece of work, so be it. It’ll be worth it in the long run.

5 - Create your own work

Employers like hiring people who are already busy. Better yet, they’ll value busy contractors higher, and feel inclined to pay more. Keeping active with personal (but high profile) projects is a brilliant way to maintain touch points with employers, without simply nagging for work. Profitable or not in its own right, creating your own work keeps that all-important momentum going.

Your Attitude, Not The Channel, Is Key

Clearly, job bidding portals have made a serious impact on the freelancing scene, but their use for quality contractors is, at the moment, more promise than proof.

When pitching for high-level contract work, the value you deliver is difficult – if not impossible – to distill into a star rating, and a character-limited bio. Add in competition from hordes of lowball offers and it becomes seriously difficult to find the value in mega portals.

Ultimately, whatever channel you chose to focus on, it’s your attitude that will win work. Technology may be disrupting the mode of communicating, but the employer-contractor relationship fundamentally hasn’t changed.

Effective contracting is still about trust, quality and reliability. Always has been, always will be.