New stats reveal creative freelancers are struggling: Are platforms such as 99designs and to blame?

Independent consultants hoping to earn a full-time livelihood from their creative talents are facing steep challenges sourcing demand and staying financially viable, according to new research.


Commissioned by The Loop, an online networking platform for professional creatives, and conducted by the Lonergan Research group, 1127 creative sector freelancers in Australia were interviewed earlier this year about their work challenges.


Almost all freelancers (97%) had worked more hours on a project than they costed for, and more than half (56%) have taken on more junior freelancing work in order to stay afloat.


Almost half (47%) have not been paid in full for their freelance work at one time, and for the average freelancer interviewed, incomplete payments occurred 11.5% of the time.


The co-founder of The Loop, Pip Jamieson, told StartupSmart they launched the research project after spotting a growing divide between businesses and freelancers.


“We noticed that there was a mismatch between what clients wanted and the freelancers they were getting. Price is always a significant point in any deal, but clients increasingly want someone they can rely on,” Jamieson says. “We also were hearing more and more stories from freelancers who were having a really tough time.”


Jamieson says the rise of outsourcing and crowdsourcing platforms has transformed the environment for creative freelancers, not necessarily for the better.


“Businesses really love platforms like 99designs and, but a lot of our freelancers find them very hard to make a living from,” Jamieson says, adding the fact so much creative work gets discarded debases the design industry.


With outsourcing and crowdsourcing platforms continuing to grow rapidly as customer demand increases and these new models strengthen and consolidate their offerings, it will ultimately come down to creative freelancers to create the careers they desire.


“For creatives, there needs to be a bit of a movement where they value themselves better, and ask for what they’re worth. They need to set a benchmark within the community about what they’re worth, and people don’t know how much to charge as a designer and producer,” Jamieson says.


99designs spokeswoman Emma Maidment told StartupSmart they pay out over $US2 million a month to designers and the platform processes were designed to address many of the issues that emerged in the research.


“The scope of every project is defined up front. It is managed through a group discovery process, followed by a clearly defined project completion workflow,” Maidment says.


“Our 1-to-1 project tool allows a designer to engage in project work with a customer, agree to the scope upfront and have 99designs take the prepayment, which is then released to the designer once the customer indicates that the agreed project deliverable has been received.”’s regional director of North America and Oceania, Nikki Parker, told StartupSmart Freelancer firmly believes they are opening up new opportunities for freelancers and notes the way people work is evolving rapidly.


“Creative freelancers need to think differently in today’s world and turn everything on its head. Our power users on Freelancer are actually western world graphic designers and web designers. They are using our site to move up the value chain,” Parker says.


She adds creative skills are highly valued in the start-up and tech industries, and that the location of creative talent still matters.


“The difference between Airbnb and a website that makes no money is design, plain and simple: it’s all about user experience, interface design, usability, behavioural psychology, and so on,” Parker says.


The research also found that, on average, creative freelancers work on 2.2 projects at any one time, 69% of freelancers feel they’re a valued part of their client’s team and 60% said they were happier freelancing than in full-time employment.


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