This article can surely be useful to kick-start your freelancing career on any freelancing site, my fave’ so far is still Elance, so let’s say I targeted the article for the readers who’d want to set their business there.
My experience with the freelancing sites was like this: a short stint on the ex-RentACoder (then ex-vWorker, now freelancer.com) then some good experience with Elance. I tried Guru and oDesk, but they didn’t work for me. And now, let’s see the steps needed to create the account and start working on the site.
1. Get your English straight
Not all freelancers are native speakers (self included). If it’s the case, try to be able to properly communicate with your clients. Most of them don’t expect flawless style, but not being able to get their point across or understand you will annoy them. So, if you still need some work with your English Skills, do yourself (and the clients) a favor and work a little more.
2. Open a PayPal account
While we do dislike their constantly rising fees, PayPal is still one of the most widely used payment processors and Elance (plus other freelancing sites) use it. Not that difficult to set up and it has the advantage that you can manage your earnings/payments and not show your credit card (which for me is the biggest advantage).
3. Let’s create that Elance account and see what we can find
We can’t work via the site, if we don’t have an account. Here is the type of jobs you can choose to provide: IT & Programming, Design & Multimedia, Writing & Translation, Sales & Marketing, Admin Support, Engineering & Manufacturing, Fiance & Management, Legal. No matter what specialty you have, I am sure you can find at least one category of jobs that match your skill set. For me the main 2 are Design & Multimedia and IT & Programming.
Take a very close look at the job listings. Try to see which you could safely do, study the prices, view some top accounts. It will all help you make up your mind and be prepared for working on the platform.
4. The account
Once you clearly feel this is a good place to do business, it’s time to work on that account. Don’t use crazy names, you’re not in a sex-chat. It’s a workplace and usernames such as Sexy69 might not give the clients the right idea about your skills. Place a good picture (business like, more than from a crazy party). Just like with a regular CV, this account needs to showcase your professionalism, skills and willingness to provide a top service.
Provide a short description and an extended presentation of your service, regular fees, ways to get paid etc. Anything and everything that will help your clients understand how you work and what’s expected from them.
Take the tests. Focus on your specialty tests and also take few others that you feel will give your clients a better view of your skills. Last time I checked the tests on Elance were free, so there’s no reason for you not to take the ones that will help you convince your clients that you’re indeed the ‘real deal’.
Place good relevant work in your portfolio. If you don’t have yet clients, create few ‘dummy’ projects and showcase them (designers – 2-3 templates made for ‘imaginary’ companies, content writers – few articles you wrote on topics you’re passionate about). What matters is for the potential client to get an idea of what you can do, so don’t leave the portfolio empty.
5. What jobs should you look for?
Now that’s something I can’t help you with anymore, since you’re the only ones to know what you’re skilled in and what you’d like to do. If you’ve just started learning web design for instance, I wouldn’t recommend jumping into such jobs, since you’ll probably ‘show’ you are a beginner. Sure, if you do have good skills with writing for instance, go for these jobs and you can always take on new specialties, as soon as you feel like the quality of work you can provide is very good.
It’s a good idea to go for smaller jobs at first and you might have to compete at price. It’s not nice to be paid ‘peanuts’, but most clients won’t really jump to work with someone who has no history on the site and also pay a lot of money. It’s also more likely to get paid for a small job, than to get a $3,000 job from your first client. What you need now is to get something to work, showcase your professionalism and qualities and get the money, plus a 5 star review (or as close as possible to 5). You’ll notice that the next clients are easier to convince to work with you and you can increase your rates pretty fast afterwards.
6. Client management
The most difficult aspect of freelancing is dealing with the clients. In your career you’ll meet enough idiots to last you a lifetime and also great people who make your days and work so pleasant. There’s the occasional abusive client, who feels like you owe him your first born, but you’ll also meet some amazing ones, who appreciate a job well done and are willing to keep their end of the deal.
In my 4 years since working full time as a freelance web designer, I had the privilege of working with terrific people. My work was always being paid for in time, they were nice and professional, knew what they wanted from me, never treated me disrespectfully or wasted my time.
When bidding for jobs, take a look at the client’s history. If the client constantly gives bad ratings, there might be something wrong there. Freelancers also provide feedback for their clients, so this will help you even more seeing if you might find someone who won’t work well with you.
Always be one step ahead of your clients: provide tips and support (some are beginners there and don’t even know how to fund the escrow or start the job), have a plan for your work together, go the extra-mile if needed (but don’t provide samples or do spec work). The clients will appreciate someone who knows their job well and also can make the entire process faster and easier for them.
7. Be polite and know when to shut up
You don’t need to ‘sir’ and ‘madam’ the client every time you open a new paragraph, but do make it a habit to say hello and thank you. Be respectful to your clients NO MATTER WHAT. I had a client turn abusive on me and still kept my cool. I said thank you and good buy, even if there were many other things I would have said between these two. Do not get snippy with your client, even if you are right. Let the client be the unprofessional one. Say ‘sorry’ and ask if you can solve the problem, if not thank the client for the opportunity and move on.
There are many conflicts that appear online with people who don’t know how to keep their cool and this affects their image. At the end of the day, even if you weren’t wrong, being mean and disrespectful would make a potential client get scared of the prospect of getting abuse from you.
Be sincere with your client. I always tell them for instance that my main job is to design their site. If they need programming, they know from the get go that it’s not one of my skills, so they’ll probably need to hire someone. It’s better for my clients to know exactly what I do, then to try get a job and have them think I can do more than my advertised skills set. Yes, you do sometimes need to keep your clients ‘by the hand’, not all are online savvy, but it doesn’t make them bad clients or not worthy of a great service.
8. Will you have a future in freelancing?
I don’t know. There are freelancers who can barely get coffee from their earnings, while others can support a family. It’s all up to you. It’s not easy (and you’ll never hear any decent freelancer tell you it’s a breeze and surely won’t read here that it’s anything else but a difficult and yet amazing journey).
I’m one of the lucky freelancers who earn a living like this. I have my clients who appreciate my services and recommend me to others, I can pay my bills, pay for the travels, even get ready for our child with all the expenses this implies. My work schedule is flexible, my earnings are not the same, but enough to support our family and save, I have met some terrific clients and very few who didn’t end up to be the best in the bunch.
Whether you will work on Elance or other freelancing sites, most of these ideas should help you. Get ready for a tough journey, get ready for a lot of work, get ready to learn many new things and experience a true change in the way you work.