I have a Time Machine.
Yeah, I have a Time Machine like millions of other Mac OS users. Totally got you there, didn’t I? ;) But this series is not about Time Machine or Mac OS. It’s about freelancers. More specifically, it’s about how things have changed for freelancers in the past few years. A lot more platforms are available for them, as well as some great tools to use. It’s a long list. Anyway, in this series of articles, I will be sharing some things that I have learned in all my years as a freelancer.
Chapter 1: “Where to start?”
To be honest, the starting is always the same for everyone — frustrating. But now we have some great apps that were not there 4–5 year ago. I’m going to talk about one of them and give you a few tips. I was in college when I first started freelancing. When I made my mind up about pursuing freelancing, the first thing I did was Googling “How to earn money?” Thanks to Google Ads, I was redirected to Elance.com. I finished setting up my profile and bang! This was me after few months.
Okay, so no “bang!” This will most probably happen to you too on Elance. The reason is simple: ONE JUST CANNOT WIN A BID THERE. If you bid on a project, there will be five others who are willing to do it at half your price, and possibly even lesser. There are so many bidders out there who are ready to do that work at the lowest prices possible! Everyone is bidding to win; they don’t care even if they’re hopelessly underpaid. I have seen the average bid of a Facebook clone project going as low as 100$. And this was average, meaning people were willing to do it for even lower prices! Every time a project owner posts a job, this is how the hordes of bidders react.
Even if you’re one of the lucky ones and manage to get the attention of a project owner by agreeing to do that work for — oh, I don’t know, $1? — you will face one question that will make you cry. “Can you show me your previous work? Oh, you don’t have any? That’s a pity. Never mind, I’ll find someone else lol.”
And you’re left to fill an existential void, wondering what the hell just happened. Who, in their right minds, would take such underpaid projects when they already have a good portfolio? I never got any work at Elance, and in all probability, you won’t either. So how will you get your first work?
Well, first you need to do some research first. You see, sites like Freelancer.com and Odesk.com are for big players. It doesn’t mean that there are no small projects on these sites, but users without a portfolio will have to struggle a lot before they get their first project.
Thankfully, now we have websites like Fiverr. Fiverr gained popularity after 2012, and I’m huge fan of Fiverr. The best thing about it is that you can simply offer you skills there, and instead of finding projects yourself, the project owner will find you. It’s kind of like selling goods on eBay. There are many alternatives to Fiverr which you can check out here, but honestly, I prefer Fiverr over all others.
Fiverr and sites like it will solve your problem of getting your first job, but it goes without saying that you’ll have to do your research before you start. After that, you can also try Job portals. Many blogs and sites have their own Job Portals. Some of them also offer remote jobs.
Below are some tips by me and other freelancers that I found in the past 4 years.
- Save some money first. You have to keep this in mind that you are not going to get work on the very first day, so better save some money or have an alternative source of income when you’re just starting out. Growth is slow for a freelancer usually. What matters the most when you’re new is that you get some work done; once you have a good portfolio, you start getting more and more work, and hence, more money.
- Keep learning new skills that are becoming more useful in the market. That will also reduce your competition. Say, if there is new technology in the market, try to learn that and then post a gig on these sites. Doing these gigs will not only help you financially, it will also help you establish a solid base in that particular skill. It’s one of the best things for your future prospects if you’re a student.
- Start writing a blog. This worked for me and many others out there. When you write a blog, it establishes you as an expert (or, at least a credible authority) in that field. You can also write as a guest author for others. This will also help you in SEO. When a project owner will Google about you, he will find all that articles written by you, and believe me, that’s going to help you score gigs more often than you think.
- Make your gig look awesome. Do some research and see what sort of information the buyers are looking for in gigs. It’s pretty much like creating a resume. You should provide all the information possible and then some. Spend a day or 2 doing that, and if you can make a video explaining your gig, that will be just perfect. Think of it like a product you have to sell on eBay. If you wanna buy something on eBay and you have many options, what will you buy? You will scroll down and read descriptions for a number of products, right? You will want to know whether the product has all the things you want, and that it delivers what it promises (or you can just simply check sellers rating 😉).
- Always try to offer more than your competitors. Like if you are a person who does proof reading of documents, and your competitors are offering like 1000 words per gig, you can offer 2000 words. Or if you are a web developer, when offering to convert PSDs to HTML, add that you will make the webpage responsive too. Keep in mind that you can always change the description of your gigs, so you’re not locked down in a gig you find too hard to deliver.
- Managing your time wisely. I know it sounds like the sort of generic advise every “guru” hands out, but that’s because it is the most important thing! You need to manage time because if you don’t, very soon, all your projects will pile up and you’ll have very little time to do them. It will affect the quality of your work, and that quality is everything for a newbie freelancer. That’s how you establish your credibility. Time management will also be in upcoming chapters.
- If even after diligent research and offering the best gig amongst the competition, you still don’t get your first job, try to do something for free just to build your portfolio. If you’re a web developer, make a free site for your uncle’s local business or make your own website that has all the information about you. These are baby steps, but the baby steps count.
In the next chapter in the series, I want to talk about a common problem and answer a question I frequently get from other freelancers just starting out. “How much should I charge for my services?”
If you’ve got some of your own stories, advice or tips for freelancers, do share them in the comments section.