I created an account as a freelancer on the upwork.com website a year ago, hoping I could make some extra money while doing GIS as a hobby. Since then, after having spend hours to apply to hundreds of proposals, I could only manage to get … 1 mission.
For information, upwork.com is a website where independent professionnals meet. The ones having challenges to be solved and the others having the skills. The numbers are telling: 12 million registered freelancers, 5 million registrered clients, 3 million jobs posted annually, $1 billion as a total.
Not too bad! But a general question that comes to me about all my failures: When I apply, am I doing something wrong?
When I apply to a job proposal, I make sure to provide the customer with at least a small prototyp of what is asked. An example? A French customer asked to digitize as precise as possible a set of 20 buildings spotted on a pdf document. The documents to provide to the customer were the data digitized in shapefile and in KML. This was just the “test” as the whole mission was about a thousand of buildings. They asked all the applicants to show their skills and they would grant the best proposal. So I did digitize their 20 buildings that took me one hour. The input document was bad: No spatial reference was given so I had to search for their buildings first. What about the resolution of the final document? What about the bad “map” on the pdf (it stretches in all directions)?
Guess what ? No answer.
Another example that comes up to my mind is a scientist who studies birds’ journeys. The birds are equipped with a GPS and data are collected. The question was, how to get these data into KML and making it possible to make an animation in Google Earth. So I grabbed his sample file, converted it into KML and made it possible to play with the timeline. It also took me an hour as I had to choose the right KML tags and knowing how the X, Y, Z, and time are formatted. Notepad++ was my best friend. So I sent him the sample in KML format but for one bird. Note: later on, I published a similar article about this.
Guess what ? No answer.
A bigger mission was about the set up of an infrascture involving geoserver, PostGIS and Openlayers on top of that. As I already did some work about it in this blog, I feel at ease in the mission proposed. So I joined to my cover letter a lot of example, screenshots and even a small video showing what I was capable of. It also took me some time to prepare all of this…
Guess what ? No answer.
Ohhw! I got a successful story to tell anyway! … but I had to decline! A freelancer on Upwork contacted me as he was interested for me to write articles for his website. Its bid was a 100$. I said, well, this is not so much for an article as I personnally take from 20 to 30h per technical article! Writing a technical article for themagiscian.com This includes getting the data, processing, wrapping the result, do it again when I am not satisfied by the results or if I learn doing better, and finally write the article. He said “Could you write 2 articles for me for that price?”. And this was the end of the story.
The only succesful mission I got was more a confidence relationship than truly a “tender” where freelancers are applying and bidding. I worked 14h for a swiss customer doing calculations and maps about energy consumptions (fuel, solar, geothermy, etc.) – VERY CHALLENGING and I enjoyed the fun!
Analyses of my failures
I got 6 years of experience in the GIS field and I am in my 11th year doing GIS, master degree included. I worked for big companies (Erdas, Hexagon, Esri, and for two growing startups: Oscars and Quadratic). Beside that, I hold the blog themagiscian.com I created two years ago. I am at ease with GIS technologies and I guess I have a broad vision of spatial software architecture.
So what is going wrong?
First, as looking at the profiles of the other GIS freelancers, one could see that there is a lot of competition. A very BIG competition and you have to stand out of the crowds when applying. I attach to my applications a targeted cover letter with screenshots, gif animations, sample results, and sometimes videos. But this is apparently not enough. Are these other freelancers who got the missions doing the same? How are THEY standing out of the crowds?
Second, the rates of the freelancers! My rate is at $38.75 per hour, which is far above the average rates asked by most of the other GIS freenlancers. This is my very lowest bound as I consider myself as an expert, and I try to apply to the job proposals that ask for skilled experts.
Third, I guess people on Upwork are focused only on the final price. I am well above average with my rates and this is not in my favour. I once saw a Nowergian customer stating clearly in the bottom of his proposal: “We’re searching for someone from India preferably.” This is understandable in the way that, if you are looking for a professional for long-term professional relations, you probably wouldn’t search for an expert on Upwork but you would seek for a service provider in your geographic area, and meet him in person.
Back to the initial question: Is upwork.com actually working for GIS professionals?
My experience on Upwork
After a year on this freelancer exchange platform, I have to say that I am not convinced at all. I spent a lot of time trying to get a mission and I think I am more wasting my time than anything else. I keep however optimistic in the way I am keeping my account and sometimes apply to challenging missions!
Who knows? Maybe one day fishes will bite!