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Online Freelancer Guide – How to Find Gigs & Earn More Money

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It’s Monday morning, you’ve just arrived at your office after a long commute, and the boss is already breathing down your neck. You’ve had the thought a thousand times before: Is it time to take the leap and go into business for yourself?

Although many people would jump at the chance to work in the comfort of their own home, shedding business attire for pajamas and trading in an hour’s drive for extra sleep, it’s not always easy. Quitting your day job to become a successful freelancer requires serious discipline and motivation, and even experienced individuals have been deterred from becoming independent contractors simply because they did not know where to start. Thankfully, the Internet has leveled the playing field.

In recent years, the popularity of online work platforms, also known as outsourcing platforms, have provided freelancers the opportunity to find clients and build a reputation. Many sites allow freelancers to bid on jobs posted by paying clients, and facilitate a secure way to transfer payment and files. As long as you’ve got an Internet connection and a marketable skill, you could be closer to the freelance life than you think.

Online Freelancing Skills in Demand

If you’re considering joining an outsourcing platform, first determine exactly what you will offer potential clients. This is the time to be brutally honest – what strengths does your resume reflect? Why should a potential client choose you over someone else?

Differentiating yourself from competitors may seem difficult. If you’ve been out of work for a while or feel that you don’t have the necessary skills, “selling yourself” can seem downright scary.

The good news is that everyone has some type of skill or knowledge that stands out. The object is to establish your personal brand and make it known that you are an authority in your field. Look at the type of jobs or contracts you would like to secure, and ask yourself what you’ve learned in past jobs that would make you an asset.

You don’t have to be an expert – you just need to demonstrate more knowledge and expertise than the people you’re competing with. Since many freelancers bid on jobs that are on the fringes of their area of expertise, you have a real opportunity to stand out from the herd.

Here are some of the more common duties for which clients need independent contractors:

  • Web Design. Web design is one of the most popular online outsourcing opportunities available. If you can design functional and elegant corporate websites, this could be a lucrative business to get into.
  • Sales and Marketing. If you have an understanding of email marketing, social media marketing, telesales, ad campaigns, web banner ads, or print ads, online marketing could be your sweet spot.
  • Translation. Are you fluent in more than one language? Foreign companies are often in need of native speakers to help translate marketing documents, web copy, or incorporation paperwork as they set up shop overseas.
  • Data Entry. If you have quick and accurate typing skills, this might be the job for you. Data entry has never been a very high-paying job, but there is plenty of steady work.
  • Project Management. Organizational proficiency is something all companies want. With many organizations cutting labor costs, the need for temporary project managers is on the rise. If you have experience guiding a team in the sales, engineering, or marketing fields, this could be lucrative.
  • Software Programming and Testing. There are many clients who cannot afford to hire full-time IT personnel. While experienced professionals are needed, you might be surprised at the number of jobs available for moderately tech-savvy individuals. Work ranging from programming formulas into a spreadsheet to setting up a simple database with Microsoft Access can be found online.
  • Writing. The need for content today is unprecedented. Whether you’re skilled at copywriting, blogging, proposals, technical writing, website content, or ghostwriting, there’s probably a site seeking your expertise.
  • Administrative Support. Are you a good researcher? Do you have word processing and office management skills? Working as a virtual assistant is something you might enjoy.
  • Editing and Proofreading. If you have good grammar and punctuation skills, there may be a future for you in editing. Modifying documents to improve readability is a talent many organizations value and need.
  • Multimedia. Today almost every company – and person – is on social media, posting photography, graphics, videos, or animation. If you have basic multimedia editing skills, one of these jobs could be yours.

If your niche is not on this list, don’t panic. Take a look online, as you may be more valuable than you think. The more specialized your skill, the higher clients could be willing to pay.

working outside on a laptop computer

What to Expect as an Online Freelancer

There are many ways to make the transition from regular employment to freelance work. While some professionals already have access to clients from previous employment, others have found online outsourcing platforms such as Guru, Freelancer.com, and Upwork good places to start. Sites like these provide a virtual marketplace for the novice freelancer, and offer plenty of jobs posted by clients in need of temporary help.

Membership on one of these sites gives you the right to make formal proposals by bidding on and competing for the jobs in your area of expertise. The client who posts the job description goes through the bids to evaluate which contractor is right for the job. Many of these outsourcing platforms are free to join, but a minimal fee is charged per job. Fees are usually charged directly to the client, and average 10% of the total job price.

Many outsourcing platforms also provide valuable resources in the form of educational videos and other materials that explain the job bidding process and how to secure your first client. Even if you’re just looking to pick up some extra cash by working on part-time projects, these online outsourcing platforms may offer the means to get you started.

Understanding Online Outsourcing Platforms

Learning how to use a work platform can be difficult and time-consuming. When setting up your account, there is a lot of personal and work-related information to fill out, and many preferences to optimize for your specific goals. When you sign up, take your time and make sure your account’s personal information and skills sections are as complete as possible. Take advantage of all the videos, articles, and resources available when setting up your account.

1. Compare Paid and Free Profile Options

Even though most outsourcing sites are free to join for the freelancer, take a look at the paid membership plans offered. Some of the advantages and perks that come with a paid membership are well worth the money.

In many cases, when you pay a monthly fee you are allowed to bid on more jobs. For example, Upwork uses a system of tokens – or “connects” – to bid on jobs. A free membership gives you 60 connects per month, but a paid membership allows unlimited bidding. Ask yourself how aggressively you plan on going after contracts.

Also, with a paid membership, you have added advantages, such as being able to see the highest, lowest, and average bid the other freelancers make on any given job. Knowing what your competitors are bidding before you put in your own price is a good edge to have. It might also influence your decision not to bid if the price falls outside your acceptable profit range.

Paid memberships can start as low as $10 per month, and can go as high as $50 per month. Freelancer.com has a premium membership for $200 per month. Before you jump into any payment option, understand what it offers. The advantages vary from site to site, and you may decide the free plan provides everything you need to be successful.

2. Specialize Without Being an Expert

A big mistake a lot of contractors make is casting too wide a net. If you’re a freelance writer, it’s not a good idea to bid on a creative writing job, and then bid on a technical white paper the next day. Clients want specialists working on their projects, not people who spread themselves too thin and lack a true field of expertise.

However, if you’re having difficulty marketing yourself as a specialist, try to couple two or three different skills together. This can be a powerful way to brand your services, and can make you very attractive to clients. For example, if you can write well and also have experience as a paralegal, you can marry those skills and market yourself as a legal content specialist. From writing blog posts on law firm websites, to proofreading legal documents and contracts, this can indeed be the start of a lucrative freelancing career.

lady working from home

3. Analyze the Competition

You cannot see your competitors’ detailed proposals. Even with a paid membership, you are only able to see general details. However, with a paid or free membership, you can see who has already bid on the job you are considering.

Take a good look at these other freelancers by reading their profiles and evaluating their skills and experience, and ask yourself how you would stand out when the client is doing a comparison of candidates. If you do not have a moderate to substantial edge in skill, experience, or pricing, move on to the next job.

4. Keep Bidding

Bidding on these online outsourcing platforms can be extremely time-consuming. Proposals must be well-crafted so as to display your skills in the best possible light – and unfortunately, there is no shortcut in this process, nor should you be looking for one if you want your bid to be accepted.

Once you have put in your first bid, don’t sit back and wait. Many of the jobs you have bid on are likely to be awarded to others. Also, a great many may expire without the client making a choice. Continue to selectively bid until you finally land a contract. Just do not bid on everything you are remotely qualified to take on. Make sure you are well suited for a particular job before putting in a proposal.

Even when you start working on your first job, continue to scan the site and put in more bids. Your goal should be to secure enough work so that once you finish the first job, you can go straight into the next one. Minimizing idle time is the best way to successfully meet your goals – when you feel you are stretching yourself too thin, then you can ease up on the bidding.

How to Maximize Your Chances of Success

Securing your first contract on an outsourcing platform can be a difficult task. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to maximize your chances and succeed not just with a first client, but throughout your online freelancing career. Outlined below are key steps that must not be neglected for your quick and smooth entry into the world of online freelancing.

1. Create a Winning Profile

Your profile on an outsourcing platform is your personal promotional area where you highlight your skills, credentials, past jobs, and more. It’s the most effective tool you have for getting clients, so craft it in a way that makes you stand out.

  • Complete Your Profile. Aim for 100% profile completeness, as want to learn as much about you as possible. Some even state that they won’t consider anyone without a complete profile.
  • Upload a Good Photo of Yourself. When choosing a photo, opt for a head shot with no one else in the picture. Go for a professional look, rather than a stylish one. Make sure you’re well-dressed, have a pleasant smile, and are in front of a neutral background.
  • Focus on Your Goal. Think of the job you would most like to have, and mention it in your profile. While you might think language like this could narrow your options, clients want to hire specialists, not generalists. Showing that you are a professional with strong interests and expertise is always the best course of action.
  • Include Samples. The majority of these sites allow you to include samples of your work in an online portfolio attached to your account. Put only your best work in. If you include everything you have ever worked on, your really good items are likely to get lost among everything else. Remember, the client has to see why you would be the best candidate for the posted job. What better way to judge this than by viewing samples of your work?

2. Submit a Powerful Job Proposal

Your bid on a specific job is the first contact you have with the client. This is comparable to a job interview, and first impressions can make a great deal of difference. The proposal you submit must be as professional as you can make it. It should be free of grammar and punctuation errors, focused and to the point, and must highlight qualities you bring to the job.

Don’t be long-winded. Keep your proposal short by outlining your relevant skills, and invite the client to visit your profile and portfolio for in-depth information. Make sure to point out exactly why they need you for this project without sounding arrogant or pushy. Catch their interest by recounting a similar job you’ve worked on in the past, and if you have any relevant samples, add them as an attachment to the proposal.

While form bids can lack a personal touch and turn off prospective clients, crafting a new custom proposal for each job can take a lot of time and effort. The best option is to have a general proposal ready to go, and modify it for the specific job. This way you can still add details for each job while drastically cutting back on the time spent bidding.

freelancing man at computer

3. Set Your Fee

The fee you charge should always be fair when compared to the quality of work you deliver. Also, be sure to ask yourself how much you think your freelancing time is worth – it’s a question only you can answer. When you quote a price or hourly rate to a client, be firm and ask for no less than what you think you’re worth.

If you are not sure what you want to charge, take a look at your competitors’ rates. See where you fit in, and price yourself accordingly. While it may seem as though there is always someone willing to do the same job for less, do not let this discourage you, as many clients understand that you get what you pay for.

4. Understand the Importance of Client Feedback

When clients look at your profile, they can see information you have entered yourself (your skills, education, certifications, and previous jobs) and the information that the platform generates about you, such as the number and types of jobs you have worked on, and how many of the jobs have been for repeat clients. However, perhaps the most important bit of information is your rating.

It’s important that all freelancers build a solid rating over time, and the best way to do this is to ask your satisfied clients to take the time to leave feedback. When you complete a job, the client has the option to rate your work in several different categories – everything from your performance to your professionalism is rated, and clients can leave comments as well.

You may notice that many satisfied clients ignore or forget to fill in the feedback section, perhaps requiring a nudge from you. Reminding the client is fine within a few days of job completion – but don’t pester them either.

Expected Compensation

There are all kinds of clients on outsourcing platforms. For every client looking for a bargain, there is another willing to pay top dollar for excellent work. Some freelancers make a better than average living, pulling in a six-figure income.

Don’t be surprised when you discover that the corporation you are dealing with is a Fortune 500 company – but do not get discouraged when you see a posted job asking for a writer to compose 20 articles for $10. The key is to identify the clients willing to pay good money for good services, and fortunately, many outsourcing platforms allow freelancers to research clients, just as clients can research freelancers.

Previous job postings on clients can be found, and it is always wise to evaluate this information before making a bid. If you identify a client that has posted well-paying jobs in the past, most if not all platforms allow you to put them on your watch list, letting you have first crack at what they post next.

elderly man working as a freelance photographer

Final Word

Working as an independent contractor can be difficult, and at times you may wonder why you ever decided to go into business for yourself in the first place. On the other hand, it can also be filled with rewards and work that is enriching, comfortable, and lucrative. If you have the talent and discipline to become an online freelancer, you may discover that this is the perfect way to work.

Have you ever considered going into business for yourself as a freelancer?

Arto Baltayan
Arto Baltayan has the unique ability to make complex topics understandable to all. His love of personal finance, business, investing, and technology is what has brought him to Money Crashers. Arto has extensive experience as an IT professional. Today, he makes his living as a technology writer and technical documentation specialist.

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