With your profile and portfolio in place and signed up with an online service, you’re ready to start seriously hunting down work. Sites like oDesk, Elance and the others have fairly good ways to search for jobs. Among the writing jobs that I typically search, there are all kinds of subcategories or tags that help me target the right jobs. Some of these are:
- Content writing
- Creative writing
- Academic writing
- Press release
- Technical writing
- Proofreading, and many more.
Take some time to carefully study the categories on the service you select with two things in mind: what are you good at and what do you enjoy. As you develop your freelance career, you want to get excellent ratings – so you want to bid on jobs that play to your strengths – and you want to enjoy what you’re doing. Please don’t go the freelance route if you’re the kind of person who needs structure created from above. When you’re bidding, aim for jobs that you think you’ll enjoy; that will help motivate you to jump in, do a good job and complete the tasks on schedule.
Niche searching and marketing: Taking it to the next level
Do you have a niche where you feel especially qualified to work? You can also search by key words and phrases and taking full advantage of this feature can really help you target the perfect jobs and jobs that where you are more likely to win contracts.
For example, I have done a lot of writing on real estate related topics. If I’m out searching for jobs, I will search for jobs that contain the words “real estate.” This tactic is great because it allows you to match jobs to your experience and more importantly to your portfolio.
If you have assembled a portfolio with some good pieces about food and cooking, search for words and phrases related to those topics. You will have a better chance to land the contact, plus you’ll have the background necessary to deliver top quality work. This principle holds true even if you aren’t a writer. Graphic artists, designers, accountants, programmers should all be looking for work within the niches where they are strongest.
There is a compounding effect with niche work. First, you’ll find it easier to land jobs by matching the work you bid on to your personal strengths. That means that it will be easier for you to assemble a lot of ratings and published work more quickly. That increases the power you wield as you bid on more jobs in your niche. Also, with every job you take within your niche, you deepen your command of the topic. Finally, when you add all of these up, it means that you’ll be able to raise your rates because you’ll be come one of the “go-to” writers in your niche.
Let me ask you a simple question: In major league baseball, who gets paid more, the utility infielder or the closer? In every profession, the specialists are able to demand the most money and this will prove to be true as you develop your freelance career. If you’re always writing on general topics and accepting a wide variety of jobs, you’ll always be competing against the greatest number of people.
Narrow down your competition and excel at what you do.
Automate your searches
There are ways to save and automate searches. Elance sends me emails every morning with the results of some predefined searches. oDesk has a feed that will populate a webpage with the results of your preferred search criteria.
It’s really important that you do everything you can to minimize the time you spend searching for and bidding on contracts. No one is paying you for completing these tasks. One of the classic questions in economics is, “Does a cargo ship earn money when it’s not at sea?” The answer is no. Cargo ships are only earning money for their owners when they are moving cargo. It’s the same in the freelance business, so you want to figure out routines and ways to automate the parts of your workday that don’t bring a return.
Some freelancers find it worthwhile to hire a virtual assistant to do some of the annoying side jobs that are required for a person in business. If a person can stay busy earning $50 per hour doing freelance work, it may be worthwhile to hire someone at $20 per hour for an hour a day to take care of various tasks.
Big jobs, little jobs, hourly or fixed price jobs: Which are best?
As you’re surveying jobs that might be good for you to bid on, you’ll see that some are very small, while others look like major projects. First, the bigger, higher priced contracts usually cost you more “connections” so you can’t bid on as many of these per month, unless you want to pay extra. Also, some jobs simply pay by the hour and want you to state an hourly rate. (By the way, the client will often ask how long you expect to take to finish the job.) With other jobs, the client asks for a flat bid. Let me give my advice on these options.
When you are beginning, I recommend that you go for a “quantity” of jobs rather than a handful of bigger jobs. I say this because:
- Your chance of winning these contractor will be higher,
- You will be adjusting to working as a freelancer,
- You will be getting feedback on your work more quickly, and
- You will be able to compile a lot of high ratings fast.
Imagine that you landed two huge jobs and they took you a month to complete, but one of them was with a lousy client who gives you a terrible review. At the end of the month your rating would tank and it would be hard to land more clients. By taking many smaller jobs from a wide range of clients, you spread that risk out. A rating is a rating, whether you get it from a job that takes you an hour to finish or from a job that takes you three weeks to complete.
Amassing a solid foundation of great reviews from smaller jobs is especially important when you’re beginning to compile your ratings. As your experience grows, you will want to start moving away from the smallest jobs, except when you have some holes to plug in your schedule.
Finding the right clients
Rating the ratings
So far I’ve discussed finding the right kind of job to fit your skills and desires. However, finding the right clients to work for is just as important. Landing a job in your niche with a terrible client can be a nightmare and truly set your career back, especially if you’re new to freelancing.
To properly frame what I’m about to say here, you need to know that the vast majority of clients want the relationship to work and give you a high rating. Frankly, in my experience, almost every client is an “easy grader.” Most don’t take grading “seriously” and I use that word carefully. They don’t sweat over every detail and attribute when they give a rating. If you do the work properly, finish it on time, and treat your clients with respect, you should always receive top ratings.
However, there are some clients that, for a lack of a better way to put it, take rating too seriously. Elance uses a five-star rating system. Occasionally some clients will use some unknown, unexplained, internal scale to differentiate between handing out four and five stars, even when they are totally satisfied with the work and the freelancer. I don’t think these are necessarily bad clients, it’s just that they take their ratings so seriously that they feel they must find ways to give out lower ratings – at least in some categories.
In the beginning I would avoid these “tough graders” and just bid on jobs being posted by “easy graders.” You can review the ratings handed out by a prospective client. If they have too many ratings lower than the maximum, which is usually five stars, pass on putting in a bid.
Also, if you find clients who seem to have had a streak of working with “bad” freelancers, avoid them. It’s true that they may have run into some poor providers, but it’s even more likely that they are tough to deal with.
Stick with the guys who hand out “easy A’s.”
Weeding out the undesirables
In addition to the tough graders there are other clients you don’t even want to consider. I never bother with someone who has posted many jobs, but awarded few. Even as a new freelancer, you shouldn’t submit bids to these people. Putting together a decent proposal takes time and it costs you a connection. Don’t waste them on people who seem unlikely to award you the job anyway.
At this point in my career, I don’t bid on jobs posted by someone who is making his or her first effort at hiring an online freelancer. I did in the beginning, but I found that the majority of newbies end up not hiring a freelancer. They either decide to do the work themselves or they find someone off line. I got to a point where I didn’t want to waste the time or the connection.
Even if you’re new to online freelancing, don’t bid on jobs posted by people with zero history. The most important thing for all of us is to be able to count on winning jobs. If a person has a solid history of hiring online freelancers, you can be certain that the job will be awarded, and awarded in a timely manner. You won’t be left hanging, wondering if you’ll win the job, and if so, when. If you don’t get it you can move on.
Which is right for you, hourly or fixed-price jobs?
I’ll tell you right now that I have both hourly and fixed-price jobs. Why? Because I work with clients who want it that way. Generally, I prefer a fixed price job. Here’s the unvarnished truth: If you’re working hourly jobs, your earning potential is limited. How many hours can you be productive during the day? Take that number and multiply it by your rate. There’s what you’re worth. Maximum.
However, with fixed priced jobs, I am motivated to be productive. I’ll work fast. I’ll find methods to complete work more quickly. I might even farm out some easy work to another freelancer at a discount from what I’m charging and therefore be making money when I’m not toiling on the job.
Over the years my hourly rate has increased significantly and it goes up depending on what kind of work I’m doing. Simple editing is one thing, but coming up with concepts for content marketing pieces and then writing the articles commands a higher rate.
With all of this said, when you’re beginning your freelance career, don’t worry too much about hours and fixed-price jobs. Take the work that best suits your talents, knowledge and interests. You can begin targeting your bids to fixed prices jobs later on, if that’s the way you want to go.
By the way, I often find that clients post hourly jobs, when in fact they want a fixed-price job. Sometimes it’s a mistake, sometimes it’s because they are unfamiliar with setting up a request for bids, sometimes it’s because they are unsure of the scope of the work. I make this observation because, as I said above, potential clients often ask me how long a job is going to take. When that happens, I give an estimate, but I sometimes also say something like, “If you want to make this a fixed-price job, I would charge $150.”
The client funnel
In business there is something called the sales funnel. You bring in many prospects at the top of the funnel. As the sales cycle continues, the poor prospects fall out and in the end you’re left with the few who actually buy the product.
When you’re bidding on freelance jobs, you’re pulling prospective clients into the top of the funnel. Some will be eliminated. Some will hire you. However, don’t see that as the end of your funnel. The end is when you find those clients who give you steady repeat business. That’s what the freelance client funnel is all about and it officially starts when you identify the jobs that you will bid on.