I freelance on Upwork and visit the community forum every once in a while. Today was one of those times. That’s how I noticed a post in the forum, made by a fellow freelancer:

Basically some of the Veteran freelance are kept on Farming hourly work although they already have so much in list, this is a nice strategy in securing income but too selfish for those freelance with no work and newbies. Hourly job count should be limit into a small number.

(Emphasis theirs.)

Naturally, this led to a rather “spirited” debate in the forum, with a lot of critics talking about free market economics and basically shutting the OP down with the equivalent of “It’s called Capitalism, stoopid.” (Also: grammar snobbery, which I don’t truck with anyway.)

What’s a social democrat to do?

My comment on the situation:

First of all, why assume each one of those hourly contracts is active? I’ve got some 7 hourly contracts and all but two of them basically function as a retainer of sorts. Weekly hours worked are on a sliding scale, going up and down as the clients need. So why do I still have them? Because the clients like what I do, they trust me to do it, and we’ve both invested in a working relationship that stretches back years now.

I’m a bleeding heart liberal but this isn’t just the free market working–this is individual autonomy and freedom to choose and to consent, to enter only into the relationships we want. Newsflash: clients who want to work with other people work with other people! Why should those who don’t be forced to find someone else just because one project ended? Why should the freelancers they prefer to stick with be made to feel guilty for not “cutting them loose”? What, would you also suggest that because it’s so hard to find love in this world, all romantic relationships should have a built-in expiry date and it’s selfish to be in a long-term relationship (don’t even get me started about polyamory) when there are so many single people in the world?

Clients are not text on screen and a nice wad of cash in your bank account. As freelancers, we don’t deal with “money”/”jobs”/tasks. We deal directly with real, live, human beings. People are not currency to be passed around and redistributed in the interest of “fairness”. Relationships matter. They might in fact be the most important determinant of job success. You can learn to code, write, draw, manage–whatever hard skills you have, they can be standardized, measured, and improved through a clearly defined learning program. But your job is not to push pixels around. Your job is to help someone. You might be able to become a better PHP programmer after reading a technical book, but you can’t just become a better communicator overnight because you read a book about communication. And personality? Forget about it–nobody can pick up a book and just “learn” to have a different personality. That match is precious and I can understand why freelancers and clients would both be reluctant to give it up.

But hey, for all this, I still don’t get paid for hours I don’t log–if a client won’t need anything from me till October, does that mean I don’t have any bills to pay till October? I don’t only exist when somebody messages me either. I have to eat, too. So yes, if I see a project I like that sounds like something I want to commit myself to, I go for it. If the feeling is mutual, I get the job.

Quit shaming people for being honest and autonomous in who they work with and how. There are real problems with the freelance economy, but these things aren’t those problems. The one contract “arrangement” I find objectionable is when (often veteran) contractors bid and win a project because of course they’re overqualified for it, but then they secretly subcontract it to newbies/less ‘visible’ freelancers. I feel this exploits both the client (who paid to have YOU work on it) and the subcontractor (who doesn’t get a smidgeon of credit, and only a fraction of the budget the original client allocated for the job, despite all their hard work). That’s about it.

Transparent, mutually consensual and respectful long-term working relationships are neither exploitation nor unethical. They are something to aspire to as a personal and professional goal. Redirect that energy to finding people who are looking to work with someone like you. And once you find each other, you might also discover you’d rather not work with random other people either.

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One thought on ““Holding so much hourly work is selfish”.

  1. That ranks high in #TenThingsNotToSayToAWriter, then. If you have a client, you have a client. Newbies can’t be served clients on a sliver platter. And yes, I am a newbie too, the second time around since I shifted from Elance to Upwork.
    Changing tracks: Updesklance (as one person on the community forums called it) is so buggy that I can only imagine what established freelancers actually working on it are going through. Me? My past work experience and ratings have NOT carried over to Upwork. I’m going to address the issue after I’m done traveling this weekend.

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