According to a recent report released by the Freelancer’s Union, in 2015 there are approximately 53 million people in the United States who count freelancing as a part (or the core) of their working resume. Thanks to the power of the Internet, the task of telecommuting has almost become second nature to our economy, and allows those who want to forge their own path to either do what they love for a living, or at least pull in a little spare cash on the side of their ordinary 9-5.
But, while the dream of making your own hours and contributing from the comfort of a couch can certainly be an alluring one, many people are still left wondering: where’s the best place to get your start?
If you’re looking to get your feet wet in the world of freelancing, Elance is the perfect platform to jumpstart a career in doing what you love for a living. The site has been online for over 15 years, and to date has given millions of freelancers the opportunity to earn a solid, reliable income through the thousands of projects that are posted daily.
Elance’s system works like this: an employer needs a job done, and creates a post explaining the details of the job, their budget, and when they expect to have it completed by. Freelancers (or “Elancers” as the site likes to call them) then “bid” on the project, competing against one another for the chance to get hired by the owner of the original post. The criteria on which freelancers are chosen can vary wildly depending on the type of job, the amount of work required, and the employer themselves.
Setting up an account with Elance is free, and although it is possible to win projects with an unpaid account, there are a few bonuses to signing up for a monthly subscription.
First, the number of “connects” you’re allotted each month, which translate to the number of jobs you’ll be able to bid on every 30 days. The free account automatically comes with 40 connects (refreshed every month), and bidding on a job can cost anywhere from one to five connects, depending on the employer’s budget.
From here, there are different “tiers” of membership. The first (and only one you should worry about unless you’re starting up your own company) is the Individual plan. The subscription costs $10 per month and will up your available connects to 60, as well as give you the ability to see what the high, low, and average bids are for any given project. This is invaluable information when attempting to woo an employer into picking you out from the crowd, as it will allow you to gauge what the rest of the competition is offering, and then undercut them all with Price is Right-like precision.
Once a poster awards you with a job, Elance can handle everything from sending emails back and forth to setting up billing milestones which ensure neither you or your employer can back out of a deal once a rate has been agreed upon. As you work more jobs on the site and garner good ratings from previous employers your notoriety will increase, which results in the ability to start bidding higher with each concurrent job thereafter.
In 2015, Elance merged with oDesk and Upwork to create the largest network of freelancers and potential employers available on the web today.
Like Elance, Freelancer gives anyone with a computer and an Internet connection the opportunity to start a brand new career from scratch, whether it’s in the field of IT, programming, or graphic design.
But unlike its competitor, Freelancer employs a unique system of “contests”, wherein lesser-known Freelancers can showcase their skills by submitting their work into a pool of entries for the chance to win the prize of getting paid at a much higher rate than they might regularly ask for. Accumulating these trophies will give you more clout on the site, beef up your profile, and give you the opportunity to form long-term working relationships with the employers who chose your project over the rest.
If the idea of doing work with the potential of no payoff doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, though, the rest of the frills you’d expect from a freelancing portal are still here. You can bid for jobs, create your own projects, invoice employers, and use your own career rating to show off what you’ve accomplished to anyone who might be interested hiring someone with your unique skillset.
Like Elance, you’ll find there are several different membership options which will tack on features like increasing the number of bids you can make per month, searching through a broader range of skills for work, and reducing the percentage the site takes off each paid transaction.
And when all else fails: there’s always Craigslist.
An oldie but a goodie, Craigslist is a great place for younger freelancers to get their start with clients who aren’t so concerned with the specifics of how many jobs you’ve completed, your portfolio, or the number of arbitrary stars on your profile.
The best place to start looking is in the “Gigs” section for you preferred field. Here you can find projects like writing gigs, graphic design gigs, and programming gigs all from the same hub, and many won’t even require you to have any previous experience to get started.
Keep in mind while you’re browsing that of the three options this is easily the least predictable, as many companies will spam the site with copy/pasted opportunities which usually only link back to their own job portal/writing site. The upside though is that in general, a lot of larger clients prefer to use Craigslist to post positions.
Because the site is so ubiquitously known by the general public, the number of responses that a Craigslist ad might get in comparison to say one from Freelancer or Elance will be significantly higher. With a larger pool of applicants comes the option to find exactly the kind of worker they’re looking for, and if you fit that criteria, you can expect a longer term project with more follow up assignments, (unlike the project-by-project basis that most other freelancing sites support on their networks).
Craigslist is 100 percent free for anyone and everyone to use, and you can find the job that suits you best by browsing the gigs section on a daily basis.
Make no mistake: even with the help of these websites, freelancing full time can be a grueling, frustrating process. But, if you stick with it and make all the right moves, the payoff has the potential to be huge, and can enable you to turn whatever it is that you’re passionate about into the career you’ve always dreamed of.