One of the biggest headaches that plague freelancers is trying to compete with much (much!) cheaper workers abroad. We live in a global marketplace, and when companies need design, coding, even administrative tasks done, it’s becoming common practice to hire a contractor from another continent. Or maybe even further.


"Where am I based? Um..."

In fact, the freelance economy in India (which some reports state is the largest freelancer market in the world) is currently booming. Over 40% of freelancers there saw their business grow “very fast” in the last year, and they cover everything from photography to content writing to mobile app development. And because they can afford to (or have to) charge less per hour for their work, freelancers in America are finding it hard to compete.

So how can freelancers deal with being undercut by grossly underpriced workers overseas? Here are some tips of what you can do to stay competitive.

1. Provide excellent communication.

While many freelancers overseas are proficient at English, not being fluent and not understanding localized customs and expectations can be a pain for many companies. When good communication isn’t there, it makes the job tougher, longer, and especially more time-consuming on the client’s end. So, what you¬†should bring to the table is clear, efficient, and one-and-done communication.

If the clients you’re pitching to don’t think good communication is important, they probably don’t know that it can cost them real money. A study by Creative Communications & Training showed that:

a company with 100 employees can expect to lose approximately $450,000 a year or more because of email blunders, inefficiencies, and misunderstandings.

Foreign workers without great communication skills are more prone to do the work wrong, take longer to deliver, or simply take up too much client time. By being an excellent communicator, you’ll have a leg-up on overseas competition. Of course, make sure you are actually better! Learn how to improve your communication skills, and know that it’s a hugely valuable differentiator for your services.

2. Deliver quality work.

You can’t compete on price when someone abroad is willing to work for $4/hour. But you can absolutely deliver a better product and customer experience than them. Keep in mind the old adage of what happens when a $5 barber sets up shop right next to an experienced, quality barbershop:

They put up this sign.

Companies quickly come to understand “you get what you pay for” and after being burned by shoddy work from cheap freelancers, they’ll come looking for someone who comes recommended with a history of delivering quality work. These are the businesses who you want to work with, who will gladly pay your hourly rate. The companies that haven’t learned their lesson yet? Don’t bother chasing after them; they’ve got some growing up to do.

Once you do good work, it’s important to become your own marketer. You should have killer examples of your best work in your portfolio that speaks to your level of quality. So, always make sure you do the following after delivering your project to your client:

  • Make sure they are happy with every aspect of the job (ie communication, time frame, etc).
  • Ask for a written recommendation (to use on your website or in emails).
  • Ask for referrals of other businesses who might need your services.
  • Ask for a rating if you’re listed on sites like Google Business, Yelp, UpWork, Facebook, etc

Your freelancer brand should be that of being worth the price. Your customers should, at the end of the project, feel like they got a bargain at your hourly rate. If you can manage this, you’ll always have clients lined up to pay you what you’re worth.

3. Stay local.

Competing with cheaper freelancers on online job boards can get frustrating. The best course of action? Not having to use those job boards at all. Sure, that’s easier said than done. But we’re constantly surprised how little effort many freelancers put into finding local clients.

I'm sure the clients will come to me when they're ready.

Some lazy freelancers think sending out a few cold emails and hitting a job board for fifteen minutes is the maximum effort they can put in to finding new jobs. Meanwhile, the freelancers who always have work are on their feet, talking to local business owners about what their needs are and what services could be offered to help them.

Obviously, overseas workers can’t compete on this level at all. Since you actually live in the country, state, or city that these businesses operate in, it’s a big advantage. First, having in-person meetings is a huge plus. Companies always appreciate if you can make the trek into their offices to have a meet-and-greet or a kick-off meeting. Second, you can be proactive and seek these businesses out even before they start looking for a freelancer. Does that small-business down the street need design work? Stop by and and ask.

And third, as you build up referrals, word-of-mouth will probably net you a good base of local potential clients. These leads are freelancer gold, and they’re practically unmineable by overseas talent. Work these leads and you’ll never have to compete with international workers again.

As the global marketplace matures, and as international workers become more proficient at English and delivering quality for less, now is the time to hustle to get more freelance clients. You have the advantages listed above, so now is the time to act.

And on this note, keep in mind what types of freelancing jobs can be easily outsourced. Light coding? Probably. Content writing? Probably not. Is your freelancing service potentially on the chopping block to be sacrificed to cheaper workers abroad? If so, as tough as it may be, you may want to expand your skillset into areas not so easily replicated.

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