How to Make Money on a Freelancing Platform

Newly-minted self-employed workers might not have a deep bench of contacts and clients—yet. So should they turn to a freelancing platform to find work?As freelancing platforms grow in popularity, the competition intensifies. Data isn’t available for every platform, but research shows that the average earnings for skilled tasks on Upwork pay lower than average wages for similar work outside of the platform. That’s because these platforms allow users to publicly post their fees along with their proposals. Skilled workers in the U.S. are often undercut by workers who live in countries with a lower cost of living. And yet, these sites also have their firm supporters, and you’ll find plenty of testimonials from freelancers who insist these sites have transformed their careers. We can’t cover the merits of every platform here, although we will share what we’ve learned about the most common problems users face. Before you sign up for a freelancing platform, see what other people have to say – a quick search on Reddit or TrustPilot should help you get your footing.

The OGs: Fiverr and Upwork

If you’re looking to quickly get new clients under your belt, you’ve probably considered creating a profile on Upwork or Fiverr. Be warned: competition on these massive platforms can be fierce. Many of the negative reviews of these platforms attest that the only clients who respond to bids from new users are the ones who offer rates at far below the U.S. minimum wage. Fiverr and Upwork expect you to keep your conversations with clients limited to their platform.  Both sites charge steep finder’s fees – Upwork takes as much as 20% of earnings, and Fiverr keeps 5% of earnings over $40. From a 2018 report, Good Jobs, Bad Jobs, and The Gig Economy: “Upwork exerts considerable control over the terms of the employment relationship: they can (and have) abruptly changed the terms of reimbursement to workers, and they require workers to sign a non-circumvention clause that prohibits them for twenty-four months from working with any client that identified the worker through the Upwork site.”

The Wild West for Contractors: Craigslist

You can find some diamonds in the rough, especially if you’re in an area with a lot of self-employed talent. To browse contract work, go to the “Gigs” listings and find the link to your area of expertise. You’ll definitely see a huge number of scams, as well as gigs that offer laughably low pay. But unlike Fiverr and Upwork, Craigslist doesn’t require you to build a profile, and it doesn’t take a portion of your fee. Also, you contact the hiring manager directly, simply by hitting “reply” on the post. From there, you’re free to continue your conversation outside of Craigslist. We’ll just add a few common sense disclaimers: If something sounds too good to be true, it is (especially on Craigslist). Good clients will be upfront about what they’re willing to pay. Once you have a number, draw up a contract and make sure they sign before you get started. Getting a deposit wouldn’t hurt, either.

For Higher Rates: Go Niche

Dribbble is a popular site for self-employed designers. With a paid version, you’ll get your own domain and a portfolio with a customizable look. Like any platform, it relies on likes and follows to get you pushed up the algorithm, so users who want to get the most out of the site should plan on posting frequently. These accounts also come with the option to sell your work. The “Pro Business” package costs $15 per month when billed annually. (Remember, you can deduct these kinds of expenses on your taxes.) Unless you sign up for the paid version, you will need to wait for an invite from an existing member before your work is made public. Dribbble refers to its members as “Players,” and members with profiles who have yet to receive an invite as “Prospects.” (Related: How to Find Freelance Graphic Design Work)Toptal and FreeUp both say they only showcase top-tier freelance talent. These sites also have lengthy screening processes. For Toptal, you’re expected to complete a project for free.

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