According to a 2017 study commissioned by Upwork and Freelancers Union, more than 50% of the U.S. workforce will work on a freelance or contingent basis by 2027.
In other words, freelancing is in vogue, thanks in part to a rapidly growing cohort of startups leveraging on-demand freelance labor like never before.
Though freelancing has plenty of drawbacks, including less job security and fewer traditional benefits, it also offers plenty of perks for workers who can motivate themselves to adhere to a regular schedule without supervision. 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 Freelancers Can Find Work
To stave off financial pressures that might leave them longing for cubicle life, freelancers must continuously 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.
With total annual member earnings north of $1 billion, Upwork is one of the United States’ most popular freelance platforms. It’s favored by a “who’s who” of innovative American companies and organizations, from UCLA and Accenture to Airbnb and Microsoft.
Core Upwork verticals include writing, web development, design and creative work, sales and marketing, customer service, virtual assistance, accounting, and business consulting.
Job postings that require fewer specialized skills, such as website content writing and logo design, tend to have more applicants. More complicated jobs, especially OS-specific development work, may be less competitive. As you gain traction on Upwork, you’ll find it easier to compete for sought-after projects, as clients prefer workers with higher lifetime earnings, lots of positive client feedback, and portfolios rich with solid deliverables.
A stellar profile helps too. Upwork advises new users to create complete, error-free profiles with professional photos and comprehensive accountings of relevant skills, experience, and educational credentials.
Landing work on Upwork takes some effort. When you come across an appealing job posting, you must put together a proposal that includes your qualifications, estimated completion time (including a detailed timeline for each deliverable), and required compensation – either an hourly rate or a flat fee, depending on the client’s specifications.
Clients generally follow up on proposals that offer the optimal combination of experience, skills, and reasonable compensation requirements. Most jobs involve at least one phone or Skype interview before hiring unless they’re one-off affairs that require just a few hours of work.
All Upwork transactions occur through the platform’s internal payments system, which carries a payment guarantee – in other words, if a client stiffs you for completed work, you have recourse. Upwork takes a cut of every client payment on a sliding scale:
- 20% of payments up to the first $500 in lifetime billings with the same client
- 10% of payments between $500.01 and $10,000 in lifetime billings with the same client
- 5% of payments above $10,000.01 in lifetime billings with the same client
Payment options include PayPal, Payoneer, direct deposit, local funds transfer, and wire transfer.
Textbroker caters exclusively to freelance writers. Like Upwork, 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 2- to 5-star rating at the outset, which determines your earning power for publicly posted jobs. Two-star writers earn less than $0.01 per word after Textbroker’s 35% cut of client payments. Five-star writers earn $0.05 per word after the cut. These figures haven’t budged for years and are relatively low by industry standards, but high work volumes and a streamlined, standardized workflow work in Textbroker’s favor. Textbroker offers volume bonuses for prolific authors, ranging from $150 for authors who earn $3,000 or more in a quarter to $500 for authors who earn $10,000 or more in a quarter.
If you’re fluent in a language other than English, you can earn even more writing for one of Textbroker’s international verticals, including Spanish, Portuguese, German, French, and Italian.
Textbroker evaluates your writing quality several times per year and may move you up or down in the ranks based on your latest evaluation. The more assignments you complete, the faster you’re evaluated. Higher ranks generally have more available work and less competition.
Once you’ve established relationships with clients, you can set your own writing rates 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 whom pay significantly more than the regular 5-star rate.
Clients – or Textbroker itself – can request revisions to submitted orders as many times as necessary, with payment coming when the order receives final approval. Earnings for client-approved orders are deposited in writer-specific escrow accounts, which pay out weekly. Once the client (or Textbroker, if the client is unresponsive) approves an assignment, payment is guaranteed.
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, which is negotiable on an individual basis with its clients.
For employment candidates, the sign-up process resembles hiring for a traditional position. You submit your resume or LinkedIn profile online or at one of the company’s over 300 office locations worldwide. If approved for an interview, you visit in person or confer with a human resources staff member via Skype. Interviewees test for competency in Excel, QuickBooks, data entry, and general accounting principles.
Accountemps approves workers based on 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 401(k), health care 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 arranged through self-service platforms like Upwork. Project lengths range from a couple of weeks to a year or more, and quality work may be rewarded with a full-time job offer or priority consideration for future positions.
Guru connects individual clients and companies to designers, developers, accountants, administrative professionals, writers, translators, marketers, and legal specialists. Unlike Upwork and Textbroker, where clients must post individual jobs and accept applications from freelancers, Guru’s freelancers (known as Gurus) actively advertise themselves to clients. Those clients can select Gurus before communicating the details of their projects.
Clients can also post jobs, for which Gurus may search and apply. Gurus 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.
It’s free to join Guru as a freelancer. The platform also offers paid membership tiers from $11.95 per month to $49.95 per monthly, billed annually. These come with added perks, such as increased annual bid allowances, premium customer service, and free skills tests for profile-enhancing credentials. (Basic and Basic+ members have to pay up to $4.95 per skills test.)
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 – or, if you mutually agree to break the project into milestones, upon the successful completion of each milestone.
Guru takes 4.95% to 8.95% of the total payment on every project, depending on your membership level. Higher-tier members keep more of their earnings. Guru claims its freelancers have earned more than $250 million since inception, which isn’t bad for a platform that caters to a broad, not particularly specialized labor pool.
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 seven days. 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 $1,299 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.
Contests can attract dozens or hundreds of submissions, so competition can be steep. And keep in mind that clients don’t necessarily have to guarantee payment, meaning it’s theoretically possible for them to back out even after selecting your design.
PeoplePerHour is a U.K.-based site that matches clients with a wide range of specialized freelancers. Its scope is pretty broad. Verticals include administrative assistant work, customer support and client service, marketing and social media, software and web development, design, writing and translation, and multimedia production.
To get started, you’ll need to create a free PeoplePerHour account and formally apply for a place on the platform. If accepted, you’ll then create a profile highlighting your experience, competencies, and minimum compensation requirements. You can then respond to up to 15 client-posted jobs per month at no charge and receive unlimited direct solicitations from clients who’ve viewed your profile and think you’d be a good fit for their project.
As on Upwork, responding to client-posted projects takes some work. You need to submit a detailed proposal outlining the scope of work, timeframe, payment, and other details, and acceptance isn’t guaranteed. You’re more likely to land a job when a client solicits you directly.
On the compensation front, be aware that you’re competing on price with other freelancers, many of whom are based in lower-cost overseas markets. Your earnings could be lower than you’d like at first. However, your total earnings, endorsements from past clients, and the number of successfully completed jobs all increase your attractiveness to prospective clients. You can manage your active jobs, proposals, postings, and more in your WorkStream dashboard.
PeoplePerHour is a U.K.-chartered company, but you can receive payment in U.S. dollars if you wish. Freelancers 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 (about $202) you earn in a given month, plus 3.5% on any additional earnings. Other fees may apply as well.
With millions of users and projects posted, Freelancer.com is a massive outsourcing website that rivals Upwork in size, if not sophistication. 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 two ways to find work on Freelancer.com:
- Bid on a Posted Project. As on Upwork, clients can post projects and solicit bids from freelancers. Free accounts get eight bids per month. To bid for a project, specify the deliverables 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 start 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 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 skillset and submit your original entry. If your entry is selected, you’ll be paid the listed contest prize, minus Freelancer.com’s cut, via the platform’s escrow system.
It’s free to set up a Freelancer.com 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 and the greater of 10% of your earnings or $5 for fixed-price projects. To withdraw your funds, request a bank transfer or a prepaid debit card.
Freelancer.com offers paid membership plans to freelancers who’d like to bid on more projects each month and qualify for members-only profile features, such as listing additional skills. Membership pricing is vague and subject to change, but paying annually as opposed to monthly shaves 20% off the total cost.
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 per-contest minimum ($30, but subject to change). The typical contest attracts dozens of 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 or 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. If your design doesn’t meet their standards, they’ll simply discard it, and you can move on to the next opportunity.
DesignCrowd holds the client’s funds in escrow for the duration of the contest, releasing most of the money to the winning design, minus the flat 15% fee for all contests. Some contests offer smaller “place,” “participation,” or “bonus” payments to quality designs that don’t win. These payments are subject to the same 15% commission.
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 contest entry are free, with no limit on the number of entries you can submit, but Crowdspring takes up to 40% of the winning submission’s award in all cases. Clients can set their own prize amounts for contests, with a minimum cost to the client of $299 and deadline windows of between three and 10 days.
On the designer side, prizes can exceed $500. Some contest packages have multiple prize tiers. For instance, the Elite contest tier pays three prizes, with half the total prize going to the winner and 25% each going to two runners-up. For the duration of a contest, client funds are held in escrow, then disbursed to the winner at its close.
Clients who prefer to work with particular designers can opt for one-on-one projects (direct, private orders) starting at $149 after Crowdspring’s cut. No matter how you submit, you must forfeit the copyright for any client-accepted design.
Many established freelancers shun Craigslist, which has a reputation for accepting dubious listings. While you can report potentially illegal postings and scams after the fact, there’s no on-site framework for evaluating integrity. But for freelancers confident enough to wade through some 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 someone to design a logo or research a white paper.
Clients bear Craigslist’s job-posting costs, which range from $10 in smaller markets to $75 in larger, higher-demand markets like San Francisco and Boston. 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 employment platforms for writers, editors, developers, and other professionals in the industry: a traditional job posting board and a freelance marketplace. The former includes temporary, part-time, and full-time jobs. The employer pays for listings, 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 City, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C.
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 experience.
12. LinkedIn ProFinder
LinkedIn ProFinder is a freelance talent marketplace operated by social media giant LinkedIn. It’s free for freelancers, known as Pros, to get started, though there is an application process that requires you to make a convincing case for your expertise and experience in one of ProFinder’s core verticals: software development, IT services, design, writing and editing, marketing, business consulting, legal, financial services, accounting, coaching, real estate, photography, insurance, home improvement, administrative, events, and wellness.
ProFinder reviews prospective Pros’ applications within two business days. If you’re denied, you’ll receive feedback on how to make your application more compelling next time. If you’re approved, you’ll be invited to flesh out your ProFinder profile, which is distinct from your main LinkedIn profile.
You can apply directly for publicly posted jobs or respond to client messages with full project proposals. Once you reach 10 proposals, you’ll need to upgrade to a LinkedIn Premium Business subscription to continue. LinkedIn Premium Business subscriptions cost $59.99 per month, with a 20% discount for subscriptions paid annually. All pricing negotiations and payments occur between clients and Pros outside the ProFinder platform.
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 seek out new work and forge new relationships with clients.
Fortunately, all freelancers – regardless of skillset – 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?