Freelance Competitions – A Designer’s Nightmare?

| 5 min read

If you’re thinking of freelancing or if you are freelancing; you’ll probably have come across sites like 99Designs and The former’s business model works on running design competitions and while the latter does have some paying freelance work; it also runs design competitions. Is this a good thing for designers or a bad one?

A Non-Freelance Example

Wouldn’t it be awesome if you could walk into your favourite restaurant and order everything on the menu and then offer to pay for only the dish that you liked best? You could try each and every dish and still spend the same money as in another restaurant where you’re limited to once choice.

Author/Copyright holder: Alpha. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY-SA 2.0

Yes, it would be awesome for customers but for the restaurant it would be a terrible idea; unless they charged a few hundred dollars for every dish on the menu – they’d soon be broke.

The Freelance Designer’s Nightmare

This is the nightmare of the competition portal. Not only are you competing against a ton of other designers but you are competing for low rewards. In the case of it would be charitable to say those rewards are often pitiful.

So given that, why do so many designers compete and if you were to use competitions as part of your business strategy – how can you improve your earnings dramatically?

Why People Compete

Author/Copyright holder: Vassilis. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY-SA 2.0

People enter these competitions, in the main, because they’re afraid to do the leg work to sell their products. There’s a lot of reasons that 90% of businesses fail in the first 3 years; one of the biggest for freelancers is failing to run their business as a business. Cold calling, door knocking, marketing, etc. often leave people scared and so they look for alternatives. This is a bad move and if you want to freelance successfully – you need to learn to sell, instead of entering competitions; you would be better off taking a course in telemarketing or face-to-face selling. Real jobs pay more than competitions.

How You Might Use Competitions to Improve Your Business

Author/Copyright holder: Frits Ahlefeldt. Copyright terms and licence: All rights reserved Img source

There is a strategy which is employed successfully by some designers to make competitions a small but substantial part of their business. This is the essence of what they do:

  • They only choose competitions which play to their strengths; there’s no point in trying to win a competition unless you have real skill in the subject
  • The only choose competitions with very few entrants; if you’re going to roll the die looking for the highest number – you’ll have more chance with 6 competitors than with 600
  • They only choose competitions where the pay-outs are at or above market rates – why spend a whole day (or more) trying to win $20? A freelancer’s time is too valuable to waste on minimal returns.


By and large design competitions suck; they are completely loaded against the designer and in favour of the broker and the client. However, if you’re smart you can use competitions as part of your business strategy but they should never be the sole focus of your work.

Header Image: Authot/Copyright holder: Lars Plougmann. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY-SA 2.0

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