**Update: Either before or after reading this, I strongly suggest you check out my post, Know When to Move On Up, as well. It will give you a better idea of whether a freelancing site is a beneficial step for you to take and help you recognize when you should cut ties with sites like these.
Freelancing is a go-to option for writers. It is very hard to find a traditional go-to-work-come-home-from-work job just writing or editing unless you live in one of the major cities where publishing houses are everywhere. Many of the typical office-based writing jobs consist of other duties in areas like insurance, sales, etc., and aren’t always what a creative writer is looking for. Freelancing is the solution.
However, when you say, “I want to be a freelancer,” you get that momentary excitement of, “I know what I want!” and then you get hit with that paralyzing fear of, “How the heck do I go about actually doing it?”
One valid option? Get yourself a profile on a freelancing website. The Freelance Effect has an extensive list of the possible sites out there. When I started out, I used number 1 on that list: Upwork.com.
Why Use a Freelance Site?
Upwork and sites like it allow you to create a profile that lists your skills (i.e. are you a writer or editor? Do you work in fiction or nonfiction?) and your resume. The best part, though, is that clients use the site to posts jobs specifically for freelancers. The site is your greatest networking tool, essentially. The sites usually give you a secure, guaranteed payment method as well, so you don’t get stiffed on the bill.
Not all freelancing sites are like this. Some sites, like Freelance Writing Jobs, are just hubs for you to find jobs listed for freelances. These are still nice because they let you cut through the non-freelance jobs that pop up in any other search, and they have helpful articles about freelancing. However, when you click the links, you usually get sent to a company website or a job listing on a rinky-dink classifieds site, and you have to figure out the procedure to apply. So, when you are first starting out, a site where you can create a profile is preferred because it’s a one-stop shop.
How Do They Work?
Upwork is the only profile-creating site I have used so far, and it has its own pros and cons. You can read my in-depth review of Upwork. Upwork, like many other sites, charges a percentage they call an “introduction fee” in exchange for connecting you to clients. They take 10% of each job. Some clients are aware of this and bump up the amount they pay you accordingly. If you find a client that does this, impress them and hold on to them.
One of the sites listed on The Freelance Effect, Freelancer.com, claims it is a free site, but that just means it’s free to sign up. They charge 10% or $5, whichever is greater. You can read my review of it as well.
Most of these sites use competitive bidding. Sometimes a client posts a fixed price that they are willing to spend. You can set your asking price below that budget to possibly have a better chance at getting the job. Also, every freelancer picks their hourly rate independently, so if you set yours too high, you may not be chosen for hourly jobs.
However, when you are first starting out with little-to-no experience, you’re probably only going to be qualified for the lower-paying jobs (roughly anything below $1,000 for a single assignment, or listed as “entry level” or “beginner”). When applying to these, I would not recommend bidding lower than the budget. When clients set low rates, that means they are looking for beginners to get the job done cheap. The rate is probably lower than they could have afforded, so compete by outshining other freelancers in your cover letter message, not your price. The bidding competition is really only important in higher-paying jobs. If you are applying to hourly jobs, keep your fee around $20 per hour, which is about average for beginners (at least based on what I have been able to find out).
Hang in There
In the beginning, you probably won’t make much money. You have to establish a track record. One of the great things about a freelance site with a profile is that it keeps track of your work for you. Clients can even post reviews of your work on your profile (at least that’s how it works on Upwork). Once you have a few jobs under your belt, you can start moving away from sites like these, creating your own website and using cold pitching strategies to land higher-paying jobs.
Don’t quit your day job just yet, but understand that someday you just might be able to. Just remember, you will be making money doing what you love, even if it is just a few hundred dollars a month at the very beginning. Stick with it, learn the ropes, keep landing jobs in a higher pay grade, hold on tight to good clients, and you’ll be well on your way to writing (or editing) full-time for a living.
And hey, if your dream is to work steadily for a single company some day, freelancing will get you one hefty list of references and job experience.
If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.