Why advanced freelancers shouldn’t use 99Designs (and other contest sites)

in Selling  and Working Guides

Speculative work (also known as spec. work, or contests) is a plague in the online creative industry. It damages how people outside the industry value the work we do. If it’s your first introduction to freelance life, then it will stop you earning a good living and growing your freelance business.

What you’ll earn

You’ll get paid for around 5% of the work you do. That is, for every 20 projects you work on you have a good chance to get paid for 1 of them. You should note that the odds can fluctuate, depending on the freelancer. Some report their chances as low as 0.2%.

So you’ve done a minimum of 20 hours work, because you care about the quality of logos you produce right? And you’ve won 1 contest that pays you $300 — the average project price. Thats a measly $15 an hour earned. You’d need to complete 60 to 80 hours of work for $1,000 at this rate.

If your price is more than $15 per project (hint: it fucking should be!), this does not make economic sense.

If this still sounds like a lucrative opportunity, you should also know that contests are routinely abandoned. Also, your competition has a tendency to steal logos or icons, to improve their chances of winning.

Why you use them

Why do we fall for this exploitation? You’re competing for short term, small gains when you could be building decent relationships with your clients. Why do they work? Well, they’re designed to be addictive, just like gambling.

You’ll spend an hour creating a few concepts for the chance to earn $300, that’s great! Okay so it didn’t work for the first time, but what’s another hour? You’re not too busy. Maybe you win one, wow what a feeling that would be! This is very typical of the strategies used to keep gamblers in casinos.

Contests are about pleasing the judges, giving them what they want.
Freelancing is about working out what the clients goals are and helping them get there by making your own decisions. They hire you because you’re supposed to have the answers. It not only cheapens the work we do, it doesn’t build long lasting relationships that will help your freelance business grow.

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