Why Fiverr (Still) Sucks

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Fiverr, to freelancers: Bend over. Photo by NeuPaddy.

Fuck Fiverr.

In a huff, I disabled my Fiverr account. I’ve been wanting to do that for a while. Now, I have had a few great clients on Fiverr, and I fear that I will probably not be able to work with them again since it’s forbidden to give them my actual contact information, but I had to do it.

Today, for some reason, Fiverr took me off of out-of-office mode. I found out because I woke up to THREE orders from a client I have been trying to brush off, all to be finished in a day and a half. You can’t choose who you work with on Fiverr, but you can keep tweaking your gigs so eventually it’s not worth it to keep taking advantage of you.

The day after I finally got all of my money from Fiverr’s escrow, I ended up with three new orders I did not intend to get because I thought I was on vacation until August. Three new orders that meant dropping studying for the bar exam, going to bed at a decent hour, so I can create someone else’s content, and all for about $60, minus Fiverr’s 25% fee, so $48, I could drop EVERYTHING today and write articles for this client who knew I was studying for the bar exam and wasn’t taking any orders until at least August.

But why am I angry? I should be used to this. The trouble is that I’ve been off Fiverr for a month and got un-used to this sort of thing. I was like a normal student or a normal freelancer again. I wasn’t stuck in the Fiverr cycle of having my work dictated by everyone else but me.

But this is literally what Fiverr is for, and even though it’s supposed to be improved, it hasn’t really improved over the years because it’s a fundamentally flawed model.

So I just disabled my account. Good-bye, Fiverr.

Fiverr is a barrel you bend over, because the customer is always right, even when they’re fucking you in the ass.

The first problem with Fiverr is that the freelancer is not in control. It’s the equivalent of putting up a shingle and people just walking in and out of your business 24 hours a day, seven days a week, demanding all sorts of things from you, and there’s nothing you can do about. Someone knocks on your storefront door demanding you sell them a hammer, even if you don’t sell hammers? It’s against the law for you to 1) not let them in, and 2) not sell them a hammer.  That’s Fiverr in a nutshell. No matter how carefully you control Fiverr, this is NOT a side gig. This is a full-time job, and most of it is managing the people who come to you.

I have spent hours telling kids in China and India that I will not do their homework. I have had to explain to people that there is no fucking way I am writing  2,500 article for $5, so you should have ordered the 2,500 article. I have had to explain to people that you don’t order a 2,500 article with a two-day turn around and expect an extensive bibliography or citations. I have had to explain to people that no, I am not going to write anything for free.

Even though you can tailor your gigs to make more money, someone is always going to find a way to ask for too much in exchange for too little. For example, I may be in class all day and come home to find out that someone has ordered an article that by the description, shouldn’t take me very long, except that they’ve added umpteen specifications that would require me to drop everything in the next few days and do a bunch of research that is out of the scope of the gig. Or, I argue with this person, who could be anywhere in the world, and it’s entirely up to them to revise the gig, or give you more time, etc. Otherwise, you’re just fucked because then they’ll give you a bad review, and there’s precious little you can do about that.

You realize that the key is to make huge, detailed gig descriptions explaining what you will and will not do for the gig. However, even when you do that, you may find a very persistent asshole who just keeps ordering gigs over and over again, ignoring your parameters. Then, you have to waste time negotiating with them to get them to cancel or agree to something else, or whatnot, and they don’t have to do it.

And you can’t block them. You have no ability to choose who you work with. It’s like being pimped out, and Fiverr is the pimp.

There are probably a few types of gigs where making $5 – the 25% fee is okay. If you live in a Third World country where $4USD is a lot of money, it’s probably a good deal. If you have a gig where it’s completely unambiguous, no one can argue or demand endless revisions, and you literally can do the work in a matter of minutes AND you have no other job, this probably works for you. People do this all the time. Tangible goods and digital products seem to not have this issue, since it’s pretty clear what someone is buying. However, Fiverr is primarily for services.

Fiverr is not a part-time gig. It’s your life.

Unless you remember to pause your profile multiple times a day, you’re not going to get orders on your time. It’s going to be on someone’s time, and the clock starts running as soon as they order. A two-day turn around time is 48 hours, not two-days. They timer is down to the second. If you’re late, your rating drops. If you’re swamped, you can put yourself on away mode or pause your gigs, but this lowers your rating.

Oh, and you have to respond to EVERYONE within an hour or your response rating drops. No problem – you can just download the Fiverr app and get notifications all night long and not get any sleep. You can a lot of time on Fiverr just managing people, making zero dollars, because the overwhelming majority of clients on Fiverr are not serious.

If you really do freelance for a living, Fiverr just gets in the way of your real work, making it more difficult to finish your other work or maintain any semblance of a work life balance.

You may not have a choice. There are people happy to do three times the amount of work for the same price on the other side of the globe. There are people who are willing to pay $5 for an article in broken English than they are for a $50 article that native speakers can understand.

You have no control when your orders come in unless you shut Fiverr on and off multiple times during the day.

Fiverr is a round-the-clock market, where you’re penalized if you’re not open for business 24-7 because your click-throughs drop. The more you’re available, the more prevalent your gigs in any search, no matter how relevant they are. For example, if someone’s looking for a very specific gig that only I offer, but I haven’t been around much or don’t respond to everyone within an hour, a potential client may not even see my very relevant gig but be presented with gigs from freelancers who aren’t offering something as relevant but spend more time on Fiverr.

Fiverr has the worst fees and the worst escrow times.

Like I said, 25% is Fiverr’s cut, and it takes THREE weeks to get your money. This is how they keep freelancers around. It’s the carrot the dangle. Otherwise, you’d bounce once you realized how stupid this is.

Also, if you disabled your account while your money is in escrow, you lose it forever. If your account is suspended while your money is in escrow, you lose it forever. If you have hundreds of dollars in the pipeline, you really have no choice but to play nice.

There is a way to get a lower Fiverr fee and less escrow: you have to sell at least $10,000 on Fiverr. Most of your gigs will be the cheapest possible because people are on Fiverr to spend $5. For people who don’t do this full time, making $10,000 will take you YEARS, because it’s $10,000 minus the Fiverr fee, meaning that you actually have to gross $12,500 and maintain a 90% customer rating the whole time. This is what you have to do to be a top seller, to get a commission and escrow time that is pretty much on par with every other freelance platform from day one.

Fiverr customers are either the best or the worst.

I have worked with some of the best people I’ve ever worked with, and I’m sorry to see them go. I don’t know if they’ll be able to find me on the Internet. However, I have also worked with the cheapest, lousiest motherfuckers I have ever met, and there’s very little middle ground. You either have people that realize you’re trying to make a buck and upsell them, or you have people who realize they can pretty much make you dance for $4.

You can’t refuse to work with certain clients, as I mentioned earlier. You can only try to brush them off once you got your five-star rating, or tweak your gigs and your prices to make them want to go somewhere else. You can raise your rates, you can change your gigs, but you can’t enter into a contract.

Fiverr is not independent contracting because there are no contracts. 

Freelancing and working as an independent contractor relies on the contract. A contract is a private, legal agreement parties make to exchange something for another. Every contract has the four elements of offer, consideration, mutuality, and acceptance.

Contrary to popular belief, a contract need not actually be a written instrument. In America, a written contract is needed for certain things, like the sale of goods worth $500 or more, real estate, and some other stuff that I forgot (but will be reminded of when I get to the contracts part of the bar exam study course), but you can make an oral contract or an implied contract for work, and it’s still valid. We have contracts and courts that enforce rightful contracts because we want to encourage people to tend their own matters and to enter into agreements freely. We also want to encourage people to be honest, which is why courts of general jurisdiction enforce contracts. We also have contracts because we don’t legislate work or want the government to intervene in agreements between knowing, capable parties who should be free to make agreements.

However, we do legislate some types of agreements when the parties are inherently unequal, such as with employer/employee contracts. We have at-will employment, but unemployment benefits and laws against employment discrimination.

Fiverr is not true independent contractor work, but rather a hybrid between commercial sales and contracting where there is actually no mutuality, but a quasi-contracts issued and imposed on the freelancer by Fiverr itself. It could be argued that there is implied mutuality since putting up a gig means you’re taking what comes, but your client can accept your terms and yet change the offer, and you can’t do anything about it without taking some sort of loss. With a real contract, a new offer negates the first and makes it null in void, leaving their parties in their original position.

For example, in real life, if I contracted with someone to ghostwrite an ebook on say, the characteristics of the 12 astrological signs, and they paid me, then told me that instead, I am to write an ebook making predictions for the 12 signs for the next twelve months, the contract is void. I give them the money and we go back to the negotiation table or they go elsewhere.

This is not so on Fiverr, as the ability to truly create a contract is taken away, you’re stuck trying to negotiate out of having to write a much bigger, more complicated ebook than you actually agreed to do when you first made your offer in the form of a gig, or suffering a blow to your rating by demanding the client cancel the order, or not giving the client what they demand and suffering a low rating or endless demands for revision before you’ll see any money.

What else can you do?

This depends on what you do, and there are many different platforms for many different types of freelancers. As a freelancer, 99% of my work is legal writing, either formal legal writing or writing articles about the law for legal marketing purposes, and I find that there’s a lot of good legal clients on Upwork. I work with lawyers and those who work in law firms, and they understand contract work, because they do that kind of work, too.

Some people, however, hate Upwork, especially programmers and designers it seems. There are other platforms for them.

While it’s true that just about everywhere that you may have to prove your worth, you’re more likely to get more bang for your buck anywhere else but Fiverr.

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