If you’ve got your sensible hat on, you will be using the quieter Summer months to find new freelance projects, hone your online profiles and portfolios, and be looking for interesting freelancing opportunities that you can bid for.
But where do you start? There are now hundreds of freelance job sites and platforms, and you don’t want to be lost in the noise. On the one hand, freelance jobs sites have opened up lots of opportunity, effectively democratising the way we find work. On the other, the bidding process on most of these sites means that the competition for even the smallest of projects is intense, with rates that are plummeting. They can be soulless busy places that make the process of getting work feel mechanical like a production line.
Here at KindredHQ, we want freelancing and independent work to be a career that people aspire to. It can be lucrative if you get the balance right, but it’s always been the case that jobs come along randomly, and that it is a constant effort to get the new business pipeline full.
In my experience, both as freelancer and as a client, it is important not to leap in with both feet until you’ve organised your plan of attack. In many ways, you should approach online project hunting in the same way that you would approach clients offline.
Here’s our short guide to making freelance sites work for you:
1. Find your niche
There’s a phrase ‘fish where the fish are’ that applies here. There are plenty of dedicated sites that cater for your specialism, such as Writer.ly for writers and book illustrators or MBA and Company for strategy consultants. These sites will attract the very kind of clients that you are looking for.
Some of the larger, more general sites are better suited to those kinds of jobs that can be charged hourly or for more technical, like web development or project management. They seem not to work as well for the higher end consultancy type jobs, and this perhaps reflects the fact that the client base for these kinds of jobs hasn’t quite woken up to the potential of direct freelance recruitment yet.
2. Spend time on your profile
‘You never get another chance to make a good first impression’ is what they say, and that’s as true of your online profile. Try and tailor your profile for each site, just as you would have done with your resume or CV. Use a good, professionally taken photo, not the holiday snap. Be clear about what you achieved for past clients and secure recommendations based on your work. Be visual too, if you can. Videos and photos of your work might give you the edge, as it’s obvious that you have made the effort.
3. Stick to your rate
You know what you are worth, but it’s tempting to reduce your rates in the face of so much competition. Clients aren’t stupid, and have complex reasons for the choice of freelancer that they take on. Cheap isn’t always right, in fact it rarely is. Don’t get dragged into the downward bidding spiral that the larger freelance job platforms like Elance, Odesk and Peopleperhour.com encourage through the bidding process. That won’t work for you and it almost certainly won’t work for your client because you will resent every minute you spend on it.
4. Choose projects wisely
It can be tempting to go for every semi-suitable job that comes up, slapping in a generic proposal. Don’t be tempted to do this! Remember why you are freelancing in the first place. There’s little point in working on projects that don’t feed your soul or where you won’t learn new things. Besides, if you really like the look of that job, you’ll put in more effort to secure it.
5. Don’t rely on them
Although freelance job sites are now ubiquitous, they should still form only part of your project hunting. Nothing beats the kind of repeat work that a happy client gives you or work that you find through your network. Working alongside other freelancers is satisfying but also keeps you sane. So don’t rely completely on these job sites. If they aren’t working for you then look elsewhere.
Many of the large freelance platforms are concentrating on building volume, because this is how they will become profitable. Their strategy is to aggressively expand into corporates offering a low cost way to outsource. That’s at odds with the kind of movement towards independent working that we refer to a lot here at KindredHQ.
So our best advice is to try and make these platforms work for you, and if you find yourself uneasy with the process or spending a disproportionate amount of time bidding for work at a lower rate than you deserve, then pull back and rethink. There will always be a great client out there for you.