I don’t get a lot of emails from readers, but nearly every one I do get is about the same subject:
How do I find freelancing work?
I’d like to share some ways I’ve found work over the years. There are no gimmicks or secrets to my method, but I hope you still learn something.
Where Not to Find Freelancing Work
Many freelancers start out in the same places, and in my opinion you’re setting yourself up for disappointment if you make yourself a commodity.
Freelancer.com, eLance, oDesk, Fiverr and similar sites
When you’re competing against sub-minimum wage labor, you’re going to need to invest a lot of time working at low rates before you can land better projects.
If you have the time and can afford to compete against cut-rate offshoring companies, maybe you can make it here.
But for the long-term freelancer, I can’t recommend these places. I’ve seen too many horror stories. Try elsewhere.
If you live in a high-tech area (California Bay Area, New York, Seattle, etc), your local Craigslist may have some decent jobs. But for the rest of America, you’re likely to find only mom-and-pop businesses (with tiny budgets) or people creating “The Next Facebook” who want you to work for equity.
Family and Friends
When you’re starting out, don’t do paid work for family or good pals. There’s too much to lose, and you don’t want to be betting your finances on your good pal paying her invoice. I made this mistake the hard way, and I still have regrets.
Now, Where Do You Find Freelance Work?
This is not an exhaustive list. This is only where I’ve personally found success. YMMV.
Quality Online Job Boards
“Quality” is a vague term, but one question you can ask of any job board is:
Does it cost money to post a job here?
If it costs money, the quality will be much higher. The more money it costs, the better for you, freelancer. Nobody spends $250 on a job posting for a tiny-budget job.
An up-and-coming job board is CSS-Tricks freshly-launched job board. (Lots of full-time positions at the moment, but keep an eye on it).
There is also this awesome, curated list of remote jobs (scroll down to see jobs). Again, lots of full-time work, but there are freelance jobs sprinkled in.
Talent Recruiting Firms
The talent recruitment industry is booming right now, and there are several places where you can become a “gun for hire” for higher-paying contracts.
One I’ve had experience with is raise my rates and I didn’t take any work from TopTal.
I can’t remember some of the other recruiting firms I’ve come across that seemed promising. If you know of any, add it in the comments or send me an email.
I’m cheating a bit, but referrals can’t be understated. What many freelancers don’t seem to understand is how referrals work.
Step 1 is doing a good job. Step 2 is…well, there doesn’t have to be a step 2. If you do a good job, referrals will come. Repeat work will knock on your door.
That doesn’t mean that you skip following up on old clients – checking in on them, seeing if they need help. But if you just do a good job, I’m certain referrals will come.
There are a handful of “lead gen” services for freelancers, which are essentially just a curated list of the best freelance job postings on various online job boards.
My favorite of the bunch is Workshop. I’m a subscriber. There’s a monthly fee, and you get an email every business day with a list of potential clients that you then can email.
Technically, you could find all of the leads in Workshop on your own, for free. I’d still recommend giving Workshop a try. Here’s what you ask yourself:
- How much do you charge per hour?
- How many hours would it take you each month to scan those job boards?
Multiply those together – if the total is more than the Workshop monthly fee, it’s at least worth a trial. For example, if you charge $40/hour and it takes you 2 hours per month to scan job boards, that’s $80 / month you’re spending looking for jobs. Workshop is cheaper.
Wait…didn’t you say to avoid Craigslist?
Once in a while, there will be a decent gig on Craigslist. I wouldn’t rely on Craigslist, but you can try to pick out the worthwhile jobs quickly.
It takes 30 seconds to scan Craiglist each day. Here’s my technique:
- Open the Craigslist home page in Chrome
- Hold Ctrl (Windows) or Cmd (OS X) on your keyboard (this will open new tabs when you click)
- Under “Jobs”, click “internet engineers“, “software / qa /db“, “systems / network“, “web / info design“
- Under “Gigs”, click “computer“.
- Now go through each of the tabs, scanning just the first few jobs that are posted. If the headline isn’t a really good fit for you, skip it.
I’ve found 2 – 3 good leads this way. Probably not worth the time investment, but I love to connect with local people.
Try Them Out, Send Me Questions
Those are my current methods for finding leads. As I try new things, I’ll write about them here. I’m not withholding anything from y’all, so send me your questions and I’ll offer what I can!
Freelancer? Me too!
I made lots of mistakes growing my business. Maybe I can help you avoid those mistakes?
Join my newsletter and I'll send you my best content about the business of freelancing and software, for free.