Okay, you've done it. You've decided to quit your job. Or, you're about to. Clients are just going to come rushing at you‚ right? If you've decided to jump into freelance, or are considering it, one of your first questions will be: how do I find work? Finding work when you are just starting out isn't always easy. The good news is that there are many popular sites where you can create a profile and start to regularly find freelance work. Most freelance job sites are what you would call a marketplace. In them, you'll find both buyers and sellers of services. The services can include anything from finance consulting to graphic design to transcription to web development to data analysis. Some of sites specialise in certain areas, but the best are wide-ranging and you can find work doing literally anything, often with jobs from around the world. Freelance work that you find online can include one-off contracts, part-time gigs, or even temporary full-time engagements that you can fulfil as someone running your own business. Most often they are project-based so you should likely expect a variety of clients over time. I did a systematic review of the top 6 freelance job sites by analysing four factors:
- Communication, and how easy it is to use the platform
- Buyers, and what it costs people who hire freelancers
- Freelancers, and how much they can earn
Monthly traffic i.e. how many people visit the site every month in the UK I have summarised the top 6 freelance job sites below. Ultimately, you'll likely want to make your mark and create a really strong profile on one or two of these sites, rather than going after all of them. That way you can build a good reputation and set of reviews and have all or the majority of your clients in one place. Let's dive in so you can get started.
There used to be two big, really well-known freelancing websites: ODesk and Elance. But in 2013 they combined forces to start =the world's largest freelancing website, Upwork. Upwork has over 5 million clients and 12 million freelancers and you can find pretty much everything on it, whether it be short-term or long-term projects, entry-level work, or even expert consulting work.
- Communication: Upwork makes in-app communication easy by including video and text feedback. Upwork also works well in that you can view an unlimited number of freelancer profiles, and it sends you a shortlist of freelancers that are relevant for the job the buyers are hiring for.
- Buyers: Upwork doesn't charge a signup fee. They charge a 3% processing fee for payments. And once you've hired and worked with someone, they have payment protection so that you only pay for what you have authorised.
- Freelancers: Upwork takes a 20% cut until you build a regular relationship with a client. Specifically, 20% for the first $500 billed with the client, 10% for lifetime billings with the client between $500.01 and $10,000 and 5% for lifetime billings with the client that exceed $10,000.
- Monthly traffic: 149k+ organic (UK, 2019)
The bottom line
Upwork is a great place to invest in, regardless of where you are in your journey. You can find other services that charge less of a cut but I would only recommend this after you get some experience under your belt. Note: if you're a highly talented or experienced freelancer, you may want to check out one of the more curated talent platforms, like Toptal.
If you want to wager your skills against others then Freelancer allows you to compete in contests with other freelancers to demonstrate your skills, unlike most platforms
One of the advantages of Freelancer is that you may be able to win lucrative, meaningful projects based on your marketing ability. It may allow you to punch above your weight early on if you're willing to be competitive and confident in your expertise. And note, even if you don't win an individual contest, it may allow you to showcase your skills in a way that is highlighted in the future, giving you a free opportunity to market yourself.
- Communication: Freelancer uses a milestone-based payments system that protects both buyers and sellers. Progress is easily monitored whether by time, data, or project milestones, and live chat functionality also exists.
- Buyers: Buyers pay a 3% transaction fee. Companies can easily hire by browsing profiles and also can bid on the best best freelancer easily.
- Freelancers: Freelancers pay 10% of the contract value to the site. The site allows you to easily upload your skills profile to share your skills.
- Monthly traffic: 24k+ organic (UK, 2019)
Freelancer.com is good because it allows for a transparent system of communication between companies and freelancers. It also has low fees for buyers and freelancers.
Despite the plus sides, given that you may have to compete against others, if you don't have a solid portfolio or skills, you may not want to compete. Or if you need a solid stream of predictable projects, you may want to consider pursuing regular clients through other job sites.
Toptal's name is quite indicative of what it promises: a marketplace for the top talent in the marketplace. They emphasise to employers that they allow them to hire the "top 3% of talent".
So this site is for you if you have a lot of experience and consider yourself in the top streams of your industry. If you pass Toptal's screening process, you'll be given access to excellent projects with great clients (including JPMorgan, Zendesk, Airbnb, etc.) as well as commensurate compensation (no contests for the lowest bidder). They emphasise projects for developers, designers, product managers, and project managers. Freelancers typically earn a minimum of $60/hour.
- Communication: Toptal allows companies to submit a hiring request. Their team then matches a freelancer with the company. One of the benefits is that TopTal will often relocate a worker to a company, or allow them to work remotely. And rather than have to use Toptal's platform, companies typically onboard the employee onto their own project management tools or platforms.
- Buyers: Toptal requires an initial deposit of $500 once companies hire a freelancer. If you decide not to move forward with the hiring process, the platform refunds the deposit amount in full. They also offer a no-risk two week trial process. Note that on Toptal, you'll need to submit a quote to join the platform.
- Freelancers: I couldn't find information online about Toptal's specific fees for freelancers but I think that it may be a free startup cost given that their screening process requires significant time investment from the freelancer. Further, I would expect that they have a payment processing fee, e.g. 3%, similar to other sites.
- Monthly traffic: 57k+ organic (UK, 2019)
The bottom line
Toptal is for pros. If you are one, this is probably a great spot for you. If you don't already have solid experience, then it would be best to start elsewhere.
And Toptal is also typically about businesses hiring temporary employees, rather than on a one off basis, a task, or a short-term project. If that's what you are looking to provide, then you will want to look at other platforms.
One other benefit of Toptal is that you'll be given access to their community for frequent meetups and tech events, which could include great talent and potential clients.
If you're a freelance designer, 99designs could be a great spot for you. 99designs is also competition-based. You to compete for clients and receive feedback as clients will choose the best designs from yours and others' submissions. It's a great way for talented designers to demonstrate their talents and even simply to build their skills over time. It will also give you exposure to a large variety of clients.
- Communication: the website includes comprehensive resource centers that can enable both designers and entrepreneurs to get what they need, including uplevelling skills for designers or for starting design contests as a business.
- Buyers: 30-40% of the amount needed to hold a contest.
- Freelancers: 10% for private projects where you don't participate in a contest.
- Monthly traffic: 69k+ organic (UK, 2019)
The bottom line
If you're not into the contest game, this might not be the one for you. But ultimately, if you're a designer, this might be the perfect to cut your teeth, uplevel your skills, and showcase them to clients.
People Per Hour
People Per Hour (PPH) is exactly what it says it is. It is particularly good for marketers, SEO folks, as well as software engineers.
PPH is great because it takes care of a ton of the manual work for you through its artificial intelligence matching engine. One helpful aspect is that it allows companies to search for freelancers based on their region, which could allow for more fruitful work for both parties.
- Communication: One of the benefits of PPH is that buyers are required to make downpayments before the start of the project, so freelancers can ensure that they will be paid on time. At the same time, it also protects the buyer if the job specifications are not met.
- Buyers: 3.5% transaction fee (but 15% for the first $280)
- Freelancers: PH only allows for 15 proposals per month before charging you. It is free for you to find projects though so you may as well send out a few and see what the response is. The fee for proposals after that is 5%.
- Monthly traffic: 68k+ organic (UK, 2019)
The bottom line
PPH has an interesting model. It has lower transactions fees for buyers working on at least medium sized projects, and also free search and proposals for freelancers. The low fees, AI-backed engine as well as regional matching system make it attractive. Not to mention the buyer and freelancer protection system.
It's hard to find down sides to this one, other than that buyers may be less likely to hire you for quite small jobs, e.g. quick graphics or translation. For that kind of work as a freelancer or as a buyer, you're better to look at your next option, Fiverr.
Fiverr is one of the world's largest freelance services marketplace. The real takeaway from Fiverr is that it's great for 'gigs' - short term services, with either hourly rates or contracts. It's focused on "lean entrepreneurs" and specialises in lower cost services, including for:
- Graphics and design
- Digital marketing
- Writing and translation
- Video and animation
- Music and audio
- Programming and tech
- Communications: secure private communication channels let users message and exchange files easily and securely, and Fiverr has strong anti-fraud protections in place.
- Buyers: Fiverr doesn't charge a signup fee and there's no gatekeeping. Anyone can buy on Fiverr. But, if you are buying freelance services on Fiverr, you will pay a processing fee of US$1 for purchases less than $20 and 5% of the total for US$20+.
- Freelancers: or sellers, its claims of being lean might be overrated. It charges the same 20% fee of the total contract value as Upwork does. The good news is that there is no signup fee for sellers either.
- Monthly traffic: 96k+ organic (UK 2019)
The bottom line
You don't require extensive technical skills to be on Fiverr. You can be a professional from a variety of different areas, which is great.
My personal advice is to check out this platform if you aren't highly technical or experienced, but you are better left to other platforms as a consultant or professional that offers premium services. And also, if you're looking for longer term and recurring client engagements, I'd recommend a site like Upwork instead.
There are numerous sites for you to consider as a freelancer or as someone looking to hire freelance talent. What's clear is that you should spend a bit of time to research the right one or two, as you likely won't want to be spread across multiple. Determine what skill level you are at and try your hand at the ones that seem like the best fit. That way, as a freelancer, you can ensure that you are well placed to find the most like minded and appropriate clients.
Now that you know where to find jobs, how can you make the most of the platforms? Look no further than our deep dive into How To Build a Freelance Profile and Portfolio.
And if you're looking for even more information and more specific job sites, you'll want to check out this monster 72 site post by Ryan Robinson.
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