Freelancing is in vogue. Established firms remain slow to hire full-time staffers, preferring instead to work with temporary or contract workers they don’t have to entice with benefits – and with whom it’s easier to cut ties when projects are completed. As a result, a rapidly growing cohort of startups is leveraging on-demand freelance labor like never before. An entire cottage industry has emerged to provide guidance for these workers in the U.S. and abroad.
In 2013, a much-touted Intuit study found that at least 25% of U.S. workers currently freelance or work as temps or independent contractors. The study also projected that by decade’s end, that number would be 40%. For workers who can motivate themselves to adhere to a regular schedule without supervision, freelancing offers plenty of perks. Veterans cite benefits such as the ability to make their own hours, having more time for child-rearing and family activities, and the opportunity to pursue creative or challenging projects that might not be available in a more regimented environment.
Where Can Freelancers Find Work?
To stave off financial pressures that might leave them longing for cubicle life, freelancers must constantly be on the lookout for new projects and opportunities. These resources help thousands of freelancers find work online and in their local areas, keeping their skills sharp – and their bank accounts full.
Boasting total member earnings of about $1.1 billion as of mid-2014, Elance brokers freelancer-client relationships in several broad categories: programming, mobile app development, design, writing, and marketing. The platform, whose clients include notable firms such as Mozilla, CareerBuilder, and Disney, sees more than 100,000 job postings per month. Anyone can sign up for an account and search easily for postings.
However, having an Elance account doesn’t guarantee work. Job postings that require fewer specialized skills, such as website content and marketing copy generation, tend to have more applicants. More complicated jobs, especially OS-specific development work, may be less competitive. Positive client feedback and higher lifetime earnings are what can set your proposals apart from those of less experienced workers.
When you come across an appealing job, you must put together a proposal that includes your qualifications, your estimated completion time (including a detailed timeline for each deliverable), and your required compensation – either an hourly rate or a flat fee, depending on the client’s specifications. Clients generally select proposals that offer the optimal combination of experience, skills, and reasonable compensation requirements.
Depending on its size and complexity, each proposal costs one or more “Connects” – Elance’s virtual currency. Individuals receive 40 Connects per month as part of a free membership plan, with paid plans offering higher monthly Connect quotas and other perks.
There are three paid plans:
- Individual Membership: For $10 per month, you get 20 additional monthly Connects and up to 15 profile keywords that can increase your visibility to clients.
- Small Company Membership: For $20 per month, you get 40 additional monthly Connects and 20 profile keywords. If you’re managing a team, you can also add up to five individual profiles on your account.
- Large Company Membership: For $60 per month, you get 60 additional monthly Connects, 25 profile keywords, and an unlimited number of team member profiles.
Additional Connects are available to all membership types at $1 per unit. Elance deducts 8.75% from your total earnings for each project.
oDesk offers opportunities for developers, designers, systems and data analysts, writers, translators, marketers, and business and administrative professionals. Like Elance, it touts some notable clients, such as OpenTable, NBC, and Panasonic, and features more than 100,000 monthly postings.
After signing up for an account, you’re asked to flesh out a profile that highlights your skill sets and experience. Next, you can search for job postings. When you find an appealing job, submit a solid cover letter that describes your qualifications and links to your profile. Using this information, the client selects a pool of applicants to interview via email, phone, or Skype. If hired, you’re required to provide regular status updates to the client and send along deliverables as they’re completed.
Unlike Elance, oDesk clients – not freelancers – set hourly rates or flat fees per project. However, you can negotiate those rates during the interview process. Membership is free and lacks Elance’s multi-tiered structure. The platform deducts a 10% fee from the client’s payment. Post-project client ratings and total earnings signify experience and competence on the site, increasing the likelihood of selection for future projects.
Textbroker caters exclusively to freelance writers. Like Elance and oDesk, it brokers relationships between clients and writers, handling payment and dispute resolution on their behalf. It’s free to sign up, but you need to take a writing test and receive manual approval to begin accepting work.
You’re assigned a rating at the outset – ranging from two to five stars – which determines your earning power for publicly posted jobs. Two-star writers earn less than one cent per word after Textbroker’s 35% cut of client payments. Five-star writers earn five cents per word after the cut. You’re evaluated several times per year, with the opportunity to move up or down in the ranks – higher ranks generally have more available work.
Once you’ve established relationships with clients, you can set your own price for work and receive it directly from them. Additionally, clients may create teams of hand-selected writers at fixed per-word rates. Textbroker also manages content-generation accounts for larger clients, many of which pay significantly more than the five-star rate. Clients – or Textbroker itself – can request revisions to submitted orders as many times as necessary, with payment coming only when the order receives final approval. Earnings for client-approved orders are deposited in writer-specific escrow accounts, which pay out weekly.
Run by Robert Half Company, a major staffing firm, Accountemps is a freelancing and temporary employment platform for accounting and administrative professionals. It contracts with mid- and large-size companies for special accounting or data entry projects, general back office support, loan origination, auditing work, tax-related projects, and collections. Accountemps earns a cut of each employee’s total compensation, negotiable on an individual basis with its clients (and generally not disclosed).
For employment candidates, the sign-up process resembles hiring for a traditional position: Submit your resume or LinkedIn profile online or at one of the company’s office locations (there are approximately 350). If approved for an interview, you visit in-person or confer with an human resources staff member via Skype. Interviewees test for competency in Excel, QuickBooks, data entry, and general accounting principles.
Accountemps approves workers on the basis of experience, qualifications, and test performance, so entry-level employees may not be approved. If assigned to a project, you immediately earn access to a generous benefits package that includes a 401k, healthcare plan, online training classes, and tuition reimbursements. If you work a certain number of hours, you may receive performance bonuses and vacation time as well.
Accountemps-brokered relationships are generally project-based, but they tend to be more stable than those reached through Elance or oDesk. Project lengths range from a couple of weeks to a year or more, and solid work may be rewarded with a full-time job offer.
Guru connects individual clients and companies to designers, developers, accountants, administrative professionals, writers, translators, marketers, and legal specialists. Unlike Elance and oDesk, where clients must post individual jobs and accept applications from freelancers, Guru’s freelancers actively advertise themselves to clients. Those clients can select workers before communicating the details of their projects.
Clients can also post jobs, for which freelancers may search and apply. Projects are paid on an hourly or flat-fee basis, with no bidding required. Total earnings and positive evaluations from clients increase freelancers’ likelihood of being selected for competitive projects.
When you sign up for Guru, you create a profile that highlights your skills, experience, and minimum compensation requirements. Once a client hires you, Guru holds funds in escrow until all of the project’s deliverables are approved. The platform takes 4.5% of the total payment on every project.
The 99designs platform caters to freelance designers, who submit drafts in response to client-generated briefs. Posted work includes everything from corporate logos and book covers, to digital advertising materials and screen prints. Each job is structured as a contest, with an unlimited number of designers submitting mockups over a seven-day period. After that period, clients select their favorite design and compensate the freelancer. It’s free to join and maintain a membership.
Clients can choose from four membership levels, ranging from a bronze package that costs $299 to post a contest, to a platinum package that costs $1,199 to post. The dollar amount represents the winning designer’s prize. 99designs generally takes a 40% commission before passing prize money to each winner, although this cut is lower for bulk projects (designers can request payment after winning just a single contest). Contests attract anywhere from 30 to 120 submissions, so competition can be steep.
PeoplePerHour matches clients with a wide range of specialized freelancers. Upon opening a free account, you create a profile highlighting your experience, competencies, and minimum compensation requirements. Then, you can find work in three ways:
- Post “Hourlies.“ These are publicly visible offers to complete short jobs, such as writing a single blog post or developing a mobile app. You set the parameters of the job, including your hourly rate, delivery timetable, and what the finished product includes. Any PeoplePerHour client can hire you to complete this service, and satisfactory performance may lead to more work from that client.
- Individual Job Proposals. You can send up to 15 proposals per month for client-posted jobs that are publicly available to all PeoplePerHour freelancers.
- Client Solicitations. You can receive an unlimited number of solicitations from clients who view your profile and send you work directly.
In all cases, you specify your desired compensation. However, it is important to note that you’re competing on price with other freelancers when you send a proposal for client-posted jobs. Total earnings, endorsements from past clients, and the number of successfully completed jobs all increase your attractiveness to prospective clients.
PeoplePerHour is a U.K.-chartered company, but you can receive payment in U.S. dollars if you wish. Projects are compensated on a per-hour or flat-fee basis – when you successfully complete a project and send an invoice to your client, your compensation is deposited in an escrow account. PeoplePerHour deducts a 15% commission on the first 175 pounds that you earn in a given month, plus 3.5% on any additional earnings. It also costs one pound to send an invoice.
iFreelance links third-party clients to freelance designers, photographers, multimedia producers, writers, consultants, administrative professionals, IT workers, architects, engineers, and accountants. There are two ways to find work on iFreelance: You can browse and bid for job listings posted by clients, or you can create your own postings for general services such as blog writing, logo design, and website builds. In either case, you need to flesh out a profile that highlights your skills, experience, and minimum compensation requirements.
Anyone can join iFreelance, but unlike Elance, oDesk, and PeoplePerHour, the platform has an upfront cost. Basic memberships cost $6.25 per month, silver memberships cost $9, and gold memberships cost $12. Discounts are available for prepaid 6-, 12-, and 24-month packages.
Project bids are prioritized according to membership level, with gold members getting top placement. Gold members can also post their services in an unlimited number of subcategories, such as translation and mobile app development, whereas basic members are limited to just three.
While iFreelance doesn’t deduct commissions from client payments – a big perk for freelancers, who get to keep all of their earnings after paying monthly membership dues - it also doesn’t hold funds in escrow while a project is in progress. As a member, you’re responsible for collecting payment from your clients.
With more than 11 million users and 6 million projects posted, Freelancer.com bills itself as “the world’s largest freelancing, outsourcing, and crowdsourcing marketplace by number of users and projects.” It caters to freelance software and mobile developers, writers, designers, accountants, marketers, data entry specialists, and even legal professionals and virtual personal assistants.
There are three ways to find work on Freelancer.com:
- Bid on a Posted Project. As on oDesk and Elance, clients can post projects and solicit bids from freelancers. Free accounts get eight bids per month. To bid for a project, specify the deliverables that you’ll provide, your required compensation, and the project’s timetable. If the client approves your bid, you’ll begin work on the project and may begin communicating with the client directly. When the client accepts your finished work, you’ll be paid either through Freelancer.com’s escrow transfer service, or via an outside payment method. For security, it’s best to opt for the former route.
- Enter a Contest. You can also enter a contest in any of Freelancer.com’s work categories, although they’re more common for creative specialties such as marketing and design. Just select a contest that appeals to your skill set and submit your original entry. If your entry is selected, you’ll be paid the listed contest prize, less Freelancer.com’s cut, via the platform’s escrow system.
- Add a Service. Similar to PeoplePerHour’s “Hourlies,” a Freelancer.com “Service” is an announcement that you’re available to complete a specific type of project, such as writing a blog post or designing a logo. Clients can hire you directly to perform these services.
It’s free to set up a freelancer account and build a profile that includes 20 of your most relevant skills, but both clients and freelancers pay fees for listing and accepting work. If you have a free account, Freelancer.com takes 10% of your earnings for hourly projects, the greater of 10% of your earnings or $5 for fixed-price projects, and 20% for work completed through Service postings. To withdraw your funds, request a bank transfer or a prepaid debit card when your account reaches $30.
For freelancers, there are several paid membership plans that entitle you to more bids and other perks:
- Intro: For 99 cents per month, this entitles you to 15 bids per month and a total of 30 skills in your profile.
- Basic: For $4.95 per month, you get 50 bids per month and 50 profile skills.
- Plus: For $9.95 per month, you get 100 bids per month and 80 skills.
- Standard: For $49.95 per month, you get 300 bids per month and 100 skills. Freelancer.com’s fee also drops to 5% of your total project-based and hourly earnings.
- Premium: For $199.95 per month, you get 1,500 bids, 400 skills, and Freelancer.com’s fee drops to 3% of your hourly and project-based earnings. This level is useful for project managers and entrepreneurs who manage teams of freelancers.
Like 99Designs, DesignCrowd is a crowdsourcing, contest-based platform that connects freelance logo, t-shirt, print, and web designers (as well as other graphic artists) with clients. Unlike 99designs, clients can pay whatever they want for the winning design, as long as it exceeds DesignCrowd’s $30-per-contest minimum. On average, each contest attracts more than 100 entries, so competition is steep. Higher-paying competitions draw more plentiful, better quality entries. There’s no cost to enter a contest.
You can browse for relevant contests by category, such as WordPress design and T-shirt design. When you find a contest you like, enter it and submit your work. If clients like your design but aren’t quite ready to accept it, they can request changes to it before giving final approval. DesignCrowd holds the client’s funds in escrow for the duration of the contest, releasing the money to you once your design is accepted (minus the flat 15% fee for all contests).
You don’t retain the copyright to your designs, although you can ask the client to let you display them in your work portfolio. Once you’ve won a few contests, clients may begin to invite you to their contests, potentially increasing the chances that your submissions are accepted. DesignCrowd mediates disputes over payment and acceptance.
crowdSPRING is a contest platform that caters to graphic designers, creative copywriters, web designers and developers, and packaging designers. Registration and entering contests are free, with no limit on the number of entries you can submit, but crowdSPRING takes 40% of the winning submission’s award. Clients can set their own prize amounts for contests, with a minimum cost to the client of $299 and deadline windows of between 3 and 10 days.
crowdSPRING also automatically cancels contests that don’t receive 100 bids within the deadline window, and canceled contests do not pay out awards. For the duration of a contest, client funds are held in escrow, then disbursed to the winner at its close. crowdSPRING either pays by PayPal (free for designers) or via wire transfer ($28 per transfer). If a client accepts your design, you must forfeit the copyright.
LivePerson is a online marketing and analytics firm that offers a conversion-centric chat platform for website administrators and marketers. It also maintains the LivePerson Expert network, a collection of about 30,000 experts in 600 categories, from technical support and computer programming, to financial advice and romantic counseling. It’s free to apply to be an Expert, but you must document your qualifications and experience before receiving approval. Once you’re approved, you receive your own listing in the relevant category and can begin accepting solicitations from the site’s clients.
As an expert, you set your own rates, usually expressed as a per-minute charge for phone conversations and online chats, and as a per-email fee for email consultations. When you’re starting out, you may need to compensate for your lack of onsite experience by posting a lower rate. Over time, your reputation may improve, more clients may seek you out, and you might find it feasible to charge more. You are paid either by mailed check or PayPal when you’ve earned at least $50 through the platform.
For religious and spiritual advisors, LivePerson deducts 55% from the client’s fee before passing on your earnings. For all other categories, its cut is 38%.
Many established freelancers shun Craigslist, which does have a reputation for accepting dubious listings. While it’s possible to report potentially illegal postings and scams (after the fact), there’s no onsite framework for evaluating integrity. For freelancers confident enough to wade through some scammy, spammy solicitations, Craigslist is a useful resource.
Unlike some other platforms, listings are sorted by geographical region, which facilitates face-to-face contact between independent workers and their clients. With low listing costs, it’s also a favored fulfillment tool for smaller or one-off employers, such as individuals needing an editor or ghostwriter, or boutique marketing firms that need a logo designed or white paper researched.
Clients bear Craigslist’s job-posting costs – which are $75 each in the San Francisco market and $25 each in about 50 other major U.S. markets (postings are free for clients in smaller markets). It is completely free for freelancers to use, but they use it at their own risk. Craigslist doesn’t hold funds in escrow or offer dispute resolution services.
As an aggregator of media-related content and educational resources, MediaBistro offers two main employment platforms for writers, editors, developers, and other professionals in the industry: a traditional job posting board (billed as “the number one job posting board for the media industry”) and a freelance marketplace. The former includes temporary, part-time, and full-time jobs. The employer pays $279 per 30-day listing, with no cost for applicants. However, many of these traditional jobs are location-specific, with the bulk clustered in media centers such as New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C.
MediaBistro claims that its database includes about 100,000 editors and hiring managers. Its freelance marketplace lets you create an online profile with a CV, work samples, and a personal statement. It costs $21 per month or $145 per year to post your profile, with the first month free. You get a $6-per-month discount if you join MediaBistro’s AvantGuild, which costs $55 per year and provides discounts on invoicing software, rental cars, and MediaBistro’s in-house courses.
Once you’re hired for a job, MediaBistro does not take a cut of your earnings or help resolve disputes. All further negotiations take place directly between you and the client. Since this platform’s pool of freelancers includes many seasoned media professionals, you might have trouble finding work if you don’t have verifiable past experience.
If you’ve grown disillusioned with your office job, freelancing might sound like a great gig. It offers the freedom to make your own schedule, tackle creative or challenging projects, and spend more time at home. However, it does offer plenty of challenges, including the uncertainty of a project-based pay scale and a complete lack of employee benefits.
As a freelancer, you must also pay the full amount of your Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) obligations, which fund Medicare and Social Security. These amount to 15.3% of gross income for freelancers, as opposed to 7.65% of gross income for traditional employees. And, instead of waiting for an assignment, you must also seek out new work and forge new relationships with clients.
Fortunately, all freelancers – regardless of skill set – have plenty of valuable resources at their disposal. It’s just a matter of knowing where to look.
What resources do you use to find freelance work and side gigs?