Platforms for connecting potential workers with clients are not a new idea. Between TaskRabbit, Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, and even the now-ubiquitous Uber, technology has facilitated an explosion of so-called “service networking”—though not without controversy. While some see the platforms as increasing choice and easing payment for both client and worker, many claim they drive down market prices and skirt regulations meant to protect laborers.
[Editor’s note: Contently is a platform that connects freelancers with clients, but is not an open marketplace. Freelancers are hand-selected for jobs.]
In mid-October, LinkedIn decided to get in on the action. The famous online networking tool launched a pilot version of ProFinder, its new platform for connecting freelancers with clients that leverages LinkedIn’s already massive network of worker profiles.
“We are exploring how we can help connect freelance professionals with consumers looking for design, writing and editing, or accounting services on LinkedIn,” a LinkedIn spokesperson told me. For the moment, the test has been limited to the Bay Area.
I was skeptical. In my experience, online job marketplaces come down to survival of the cheapest. Visit Fiverr, UpWork, Craiglist, Guru, and you’ll find plenty of freelancers willing to write articles, design logos, and edit your work for less than the price of a Starbucks frappuccino.
However, I’d never know unless I tried.
Step 1: Applying
Since LinkedIn already has all my information from my existing account, applying was easy. All I had to do was log in with my LinkedIn email and indicate the category of services I’d like to provide: “Writing and editing.”
A message popped up to say that my application was being reviewed. Less than 24 hours later, I got an email from a ProFinder representative, who wanted to call and discuss the next steps.
“You’ve been accepted!” she said cheerily, when I picked up the phone. “You can start applying for jobs immediately.”
The woman told me they manually vet everyone who wants to sign up.
“What were you looking for in my application?” I asked.
“There are five key things,” she explained. “You need a photo and background photo, a complete summary, LinkedIn Pulse posts, two to three recommendations, and of course, relevant experience for the services you want to provide.”
“And, uh, how much competition do I have?”.
“Right now there are between 150 to 200 professionals offering writing and editing services in the San Francisco area,” she said.
That didn’t sound too bad. I hung up, feeling reasonably confident I’d be able to score a job quickly.
Step 2: Setting up a profile
The good: You don’t have to go through the tedious process of filling out a new profile since it’s a more streamlined version of your LinkedIn profile.
The bad: Since it’s a more streamlined version of your LinkedIn profile, you can’t edit it.
I don’t know about you, but my LinkedIn profile is more aimed at attracting the interest of potential connections and employers than clients. Not being able to tailor my ProFinder account for its specific purpose seems like an oversight.
But I did like that my recommendations from LinkedIn were clearly displayed on my ProFinder profile. Trust is a huge part of freelancing, and I anticipated that having that instant credibility would help me get clients.
Step 3: Sending out proposals
ProFinder’s “Client Requests” dashboard has some problems. It’s a giant list of all the projects that require one or more of your skills.
However, the active projects are buried among the expired ones. There’s no way to filter the projects, so if I just wanted to look at editing projects, I’d have to do that manually. These were slight issues, not insurmountable obstacles. However, I did have a more pressing problem: Where were all the jobs?
After going through the entire list of projects, I only found four active ones. And of those, two were so out of my areas of expertise that I knew applying for them would be a waste of time. (Editing a 140,000 word “romantic thriller” isn’t in my purview, not even for the sake of this experiment.)
I applied for the two jobs that sort of, kind of fit my skill-set.
Here’s how it works. The client gives an overview of the project, including scope, deadline, estimated completion time, and a pay range. If you’re interested, you send a proposal to the client with an hourly or total estimate and a short message explaining why you’re a good fit. You can also check a box indicating that your fee estimate includes a brief phone consultation.
And then… you wait.
I never heard back from my first two.
ProFinder projects expire in 24 hours—or after getting five freelancer proposals, whichever comes first—so at least you’re not waiting around for a long time to see if your bid was successful.
The next day, I logged on again, hoping to find some fresh projects.
There were three. None of them were projects I’d normally accept; they were either too small or too unrelated to my specialities (think assets for an environmental law site). But I wanted to document the entire process for this article, including getting and completing a project, so I placed my bids.
It wasn’t until bid number seven, on day five, that I finally got through.
Step 4: Completing a project
Here’s the email I received:
We arranged a Skype call to discuss the project.
“Why did you choose me?” I asked.
“You were the only one who tailored your message to my outline,” he responded. “Everyone else just said, ‘I’d be a great fit.'”
Well, it was good to know that all that time crafting different notes for each project paid off.
“And you were the cheapest.”
I knew it would come down to cost! I’d purposefully cut my rates by 50 percent to see if someone would bite.
But it would be pretty uncool of me to tell the guy, “Sorry, this was an experiment, please find someone else,” so I acted like this was a normal job.
LinkedIn only facilitates the initial connection, so I sent him his edited articles via Google Docs and he sent me my payment through PayPal.
I’m not sure what would’ve happened if either of us had broken our end of the agreement. ProFinder doesn’t offer a rating or feedback mechanism.
So, will I keep logging on to ProFinder?
I’m not sure yet. As of right now, there aren’t enough projects—I ended up applying to jobs that didn’t match up well with my strengths, because there weren’t any other options.
However, a LinkedIn spokesperson told me the network will be expanding geographically in 2016, as well as adding new verticals. (In fact, the homepage already lists accounting, IT services, legal, real estate, software development, and more.)
Broadening the available regions and services should drive new clients to the platform, which will mean more jobs. But for me, the core issue—and one that’s never going away—is that, ultimately, ProFinder is just a bigger-name version of UpWork or Freelancer. And when you’re required to directly compete with other freelancers, price-gauging is inevitable.
Personally, I’ll probably treat ProFinder as a temporary solution during dry spells. The rest of the time, I’ll rely on referrals, cold pitches, and job requests from people who’ve read my work. For LinkedIn, it’s obvious there’s a lot of work to be done before ProFinder becomes a viable platform for regular use—assuming it ever does.