Who doesn’t dream about quitting their job, staying at home, and turning their bedroom into an office by working as a freelancer? Just imagine the possibilities: you can spend a lot more quality time with your family, get rid of your arrogant boss and, above all, get up and go to sleep whenever you wish.
We hate to be the devil’s advocate, but being a home office worker is tougher than you think. In fact, it is full of hidden pitfalls that could cut short your blooming freelancing career right at the very beginning. Our experts know the ins and outs of the freelance universe, so we can provide you some help with the early steps, launching your freelance business and, most importantly, landing your first gig. Take our advice and we guarantee that you will become a successful and productive freelancer.
Should I Become a Freelancer?
This is a question most people with a creative mindset ask after a long haul at their workplace. With each passing year, more and more people choose home office work: current records estimate around 53 million people benefit from the freelancer market, contributing $715 billion per year to the U.S. GDP. And the numbers are expected to grow, as more and more companies realize the potential of outsourcing a specific assignment to skilled individuals.
However, being a freelancer doesn’t mean easy/instant money. In fact, working from your home or that nice sandy beach we associate to the freelance lifestyle demands strong devotion to your craft, since you must compete with millions of other freelancers in order to earn a paycheck. Furthermore, you need to be resourceful, assertive, unwavering and, most of all, patient.
As you can see, the freelancer world holds many pitfalls, especially for beginners. But as you read through our guide and learn the basics, you are surely giving your new career a strong start.
Best Freelance Websites of 2020
No. 1: Pick an Expertise
Nowadays almost every kind of job can be completed online. But this doesn’t mean you can just dive headfirst into the freelancer world and figure out your specialty later on. In fact, the proverb “jack of all trades, master of nothing” is truer than ever in this case.
Most freelance sites offer three main categories: design, programing and writing/translation. These are often divided into smaller subcategories, such as logo design, illustration, character animation, website building, promotional material, and so on. Due to the vastness of categories offered by freelancer sites you shouldn’t specialize in everything. For instance, you definitely won’t live up to the expectations at a t-shirt design contest just because you know how to handle a graphical tool. The only thing that pays out on the longer run is if you pick one kind of expertise you are already familiar with, build up a strong portfolio and expand your field of interest only after you established a steady income. If you are precarious about your strong points, do some research first and come up with a preview work for different kinds of projects to see which one is the closest to your skills.
No. 2: Choosing the Right Freelancer Site
After deciding whether you want to make a name for yourself as a copywriter, translator, software designer or mascot artist, you need to pick a freelance site that will serve as the base of your operations. We used the singular of the word ‘site’ on purpose: a rookie mistake most freelancers make is that they create profiles on multiple freelancer websites, ending up fracturing their time and energy. To maintain a professional looking presence you must pay attention to your profile/portfolio, constantly updating it with important details, references, testaments and your latest work, managing comments and ratings etc. in order to keep up with the competition. However, if you have multiple accounts at the same time, and you fraction your attention, it is guaranteed that you will only be one of the many mediocre freelancers.
You should also be aware of the different work models of freelancer sites: some of them offer free services for all kinds of clients and employees alike, while others prefer the competition model, where only the winning freelancer takes the gig. Therefore, we highly recommend reading the site’s FAQ and description before signing up. Better yet, you should go through reviews like ours to see what experts have to say about the service, and to get a sense of what other freelancers and employers experienced on a particular freelance platform.
No. 3: Marketing Yourself
In the freelancer world, you and your brand are one and the same. In other words, think about yourself as an entrepreneur, who needs an image and a style to successfully sell your services. Therefore, you need something that catches the attention of everyone who visits your portfolio.
In the case of freelancer sites, your brand starts with the profile creation: for instance, you can come up with a clever name for yourself to show a creative vibe. You also need to clearly and efficiently describe what kind of service you are offering, and what your strengths and achievements are. A strong personal brand and profile presentation help you in engaging with your client and making a lasting impression. Emphasizing the portfolio is just as important as creating a convincing profile, therefore make sure to showcase a teaser of your best work. However, try to avoid cramming the page with a cluster of information: employers don’t need novels or complete exhibitions to be convinced of your talents.
Your brand doesn’t stop at the freelancer site, because a good entrepreneur has a well-managed Facebook or Twitter page as well. In case your chosen freelancer site features an in-depth rating system with a feedback and comment section, attend those as well and maintain always a positive image about your brand.
No. 4: Getting Your First Gigs
Landing your first project is a crucial step in your freelancer career. Many freelancers make the mistake of throwing themselves on the marketplace and submitting proposals for just about every project that they think to perform well on. Right from the start it’s better to be selective and choose those projects that you see yourself giving the best service in. Even when you are selective you may end up putting in your best efforts into a handful of projects without landing any of them. Remember that all beginnings are difficult, especially in an environment where the number of positive customer reviews and ratings are an important deciding factor for many employers.
You should also understand that there is no such thing as a failed first assignment. Whether you are a designer, a programmer or a writer, applying to a gig is a great way of gaining experience. Even if you aren’t the lucky one, you might produce an extraordinary sample for your portfolio that convinces future clients to choose you. You can also learn a lot by analyzing the competition’s strategy regarding their pricing, their profile and overall approach. The point is that you must remain persistent and never give up. Who knows, maybe the client found you sympathetic and agrees to leave a positive comment on your portfolio. Basically, this is the summary of a freelancer’s life: even the unsuccessful attempt increases the chance of landing the next gig.
No. 5: Growing Your Freelance Business
Running a successful freelancer business doesn’t differ much from an actual job. In fact, the no. 1 rule is basically the same: you cannot lay back and expect the clients to come to your virtual doorstep. You need to look after your brand and update your profile on a regular basis.
Be sure to always respond positively to criticism, because this way you can show that you are eager to learn from your mistakes. Be prepared that most employers like to nitpick, especially the work of newcomers, but once they see the potential in you and/or if they are satisfied, they’ll become your ambassador and spread the word.
Establishing a professional approach also pays off: for example, when your client contacts you, explain them the different aspects of your work, and help them better visualize the end result. Presenting them an in-depth rundown of the expenses and the possible work time is also a good way to emphasize your professionalism and devotion to work. To aid you in this, some freelance sites offer downloadable software that features communication, sharing and project snapshot tools. Minor hint for success: a true freelancing veteran is a master of such online tools and software as well.
Should I Quit My Job?
Even though this is a tricky question if you are asking whether you should leave your full-time job right away, then the answer is a strict no. We cannot emphasize enough that freelancers’ life is not only extremely risky but also requires lots of time and energy to establish a steady living. It’s much safer to start freelancing as a hobby, spending your free time building up your brand and portfolio. Even if your daytime job feels boring or unsatisfying, it allows you to build up a stable financial background for when the day comes that you decide to go freelancing fulltime. Once you’ve put yourself on the map of the freelancing world and the gigs are rolling in nicely you can quit your regular day job.
Recommended Freelancer Sites for Beginners
After putting so much emphasis on the importance of choosing the right freelancer website, let us recommend you a few sites that are highly suitable for freelancers that are just starting out.
Fiverr is a freelance site with a ‘free for all’ mentality, meaning that both clients and workers are allowed to register for free and enjoy all the site has to offer. The site has a marketplace sort of vibe, since freelancers can present their own prepackaged services while employers are also able to post job requests. For example, writers can proclaim to translate 5 pages from English to French for $5. There are 11 different categories: digital marketing, graphical design, writing and translation, animation, research, and gift crafting. There is even a section called ‘Fun & Bizarre’ where people can apply to partake in prank videos. The site supports freelancers with a leveling system and the ability to set the price of their gigs.
Freelancer.com is the pinnacle of the freelancing world, boasting millions of users. The site operates as follows: employers launch a project, describing the requirements, and freelancers can apply by bidding with their wages. Freelancer.com functions like a giant work expo, thus you’ll definitely find a category that fits your field of expertise. To further help you in finding the ideal job, profiles contain a skill system that determines the recommended job list. Live chat is enabled between clients and freelancers, even before the project is awarded, and both parties can rate the other based on their individual experiences. To secure complete trust between parties, all payments are managed through its platform, even putting the payment in escrow, so clients can’t bail out of the agreement after the gig is finished.
DesignCrowd is a design contest site, meaning that clients create competitions, add their prize money, and they choose a winner from the submitted artwork. Even though graphical designers are the only target audience, there are several subcategories, such as logos, business cards, YouTube emblems, banners, app designs, 3D models, t-shirts, photo editing with Photoshop and so on. DesignContest aims to help the artist community by allowing clients to allocate a second or third prize and by compensating talented people even if they don’t win the competition they partook in.