According to a 2017 study commissioned by UpWork and the Freelancers Union, more than 50% of the U.S. workforce will work on a freelance or contingent basis by 2027.
In other words, freelancing is in vogue, thanks in part to a rapidly growing cohort of startups leveraging on-demand freelance labor like never before. An entire cottage industry has emerged to provide guidance for these workers in the U.S. and abroad.
Though freelancing has plenty of drawbacks, including less job security and fewer traditional benefits, it also offers plenty of perks for workers who can motivate themselves to adhere to a regular schedule without supervision. Veterans cite benefits such as the ability to make their own hours, having more time for child-rearing and family activities, and the opportunity to pursue creative or challenging projects that might not be available in a more regimented environment.
Where Can Freelancers Find Work?
To stave off financial pressures that might leave them longing for cubicle life, freelancers must constantly be on the lookout for new projects and opportunities. These resources help thousands of freelancers find work online and in their local areas, keeping their skills sharp – and their bank accounts full.
With total annual member earnings north of $1 billion, UpWork is one of the United States’ most popular freelance platforms. It’s the successor to two earlier platforms that were quite popular in their own right: Elance and oDesk. Elance and oDesk merged to form Elance-oDesk, and later rebranded as UpWork.
If you started out with either predecessor platform, you’ve no doubt seen plenty of changes along the way. If not, all you need to know is that UpWork is open for business – and favored by a who’s who of innovative American companies and organizations, from UCLA and Accenture to ZenDesk and DropBox.
Core UpWork verticals include writing, web development, design and creative work, sales and marketing, customer service, virtual assistance, accounting, and business consulting.
Simply having an UpWork account doesn’t guarantee work. Job postings that require fewer specialized skills, such as website content writing and logo design, tend to have more applicants. More complicated jobs, especially OS-specific development work, may be less competitive. As you gain traction on UpWork, you’ll find it easier to compete for sought-after projects, as clients prefer workers with higher lifetime earnings, lots of positive client feedback, and portfolios rich with solid deliverables.
A stellar profile helps too. Take UpWork’s profile-building guidance seriously – it’s set out in good faith, as UpWork can’t survive without successful freelancers.
That guidance reads, in part: “Think of [your profile] as an introduction, resume, and marketing brochure rolled into one, highlighting your: professional skills, experience, and portfolio; education and accomplishments; and online skills test results. The best profiles are complete, well-written, error-free, and feature a professional, friendly-looking picture.”
When you come across an appealing job posting, you must put together a proposal that includes your qualifications, your estimated completion time (including a detailed timeline for each deliverable), and your required compensation – either an hourly rate or a flat fee, depending on the client’s specifications.
Clients generally follow up on proposals that offer the optimal combination of experience, skills, and reasonable compensation requirements. Bear in mind that most jobs involve at least one phone or Skype interview before hiring, unless they’re one-off affairs that require just a few hours of work.
All UpWork transactions occur through the platform’s internal payments system, which carries a payment guarantee: if the client stiffs you for completed work, you have recourse. UpWork takes a cut of every client payment on a sliding scale:
- 20% of payments up to the first $500 in lifetime billings with the same client
- 10% of payments between $500.01 and $10,000 in lifetime billings with the same client
- 5% of payments above $10,000.01 in lifetime billings with the same client
Payment options include PayPal, direct deposit, and wire transfer.
Textbroker caters exclusively to freelance writers. Like Elance and oDesk, it brokers relationships between clients and writers, handling payment and dispute resolution on their behalf. It’s free to sign up, but you need to take a writing test and receive manual approval to begin accepting work.
You’re assigned a rating at the outset – ranging from two to five stars – which determines your earning power for publicly posted jobs. Two-star writers earn less than one cent per word after Textbroker’s 35% cut of client payments. Five-star writers earn five cents per word after the cut. These figures haven’t budged for years and are relatively low by industry standards, but high work volumes and a streamlined, standardized workflow work in Textbroker’s favor. If you’re fluent in a language other than English, you can earn even more writing for one of Textbroker’s international verticals: Spanish, Portuguese, German, French, Italian, and others.
Textbroker evaluates writing quality several times per year and may move you up or down in the ranks based on your latest evaluation. The more assignments you complete, the faster you’re evaluated. Higher ranks generally have more available work and less competition.
Once you’ve established relationships with clients, you can set your own price for work and receive it directly from them. Additionally, clients may create teams of hand-selected writers at fixed per-word rates. Textbroker also manages content-generation accounts for larger clients, many of which pay significantly more than the regular five-star rate.
Clients – or Textbroker itself – can request revisions to submitted orders as many times as necessary, with payment coming only when the order receives final approval. Earnings for client-approved orders are deposited in writer-specific escrow accounts, which pay out weekly. Once the client (or Textbroker, if the client is unresponsive) approves an assignment, payment is guaranteed.
Run by Robert Half Company, a major staffing firm, Accountemps is a freelancing and temporary employment platform for accounting and administrative professionals. It contracts with mid- and large-size companies for special accounting or data entry projects, general back office support, loan origination, auditing work, tax-related projects, and collections. Accountemps earns a cut of each employee’s total compensation, negotiable on an individual basis with its clients (and generally not disclosed).
For employment candidates, the sign-up process resembles hiring for a traditional position: Submit your resume or LinkedIn profile online or at one of the company’s office locations (there are more than 300 worldwide). If approved for an interview, you visit in-person or confer with an human resources staff member via Skype. Interviewees test for competency in Excel, QuickBooks, data entry, and general accounting principles.
Accountemps approves workers on the basis of experience, qualifications, and test performance, so entry-level employees may not be approved. If assigned to a project, you immediately earn access to a generous benefits package that includes a 401k, healthcare plan, online training classes, and tuition reimbursements. If you work a certain number of hours, you may receive performance bonuses and vacation time as well.
Accountemps-brokered relationships are generally project-based, but they tend to be more stable than those reached through self-service platforms like UpWork. Project lengths range from a couple of weeks to a year or more, and solid work may be rewarded with a full-time job offer or priority consideration for future positions.
Guru connects individual clients and companies to designers, developers, accountants, administrative professionals, writers, translators, marketers, and legal specialists. Unlike UpWork and Textbroker, where clients must post individual jobs and accept applications from freelancers, Guru’s freelancers (known as Gurus) actively advertise themselves to clients. Those clients can select Gurus before communicating the details of their projects.
Clients can also post jobs, for which Gurus may search and apply. Projects are paid on an hourly or flat-fee basis, with no bidding required. Total earnings and positive evaluations from clients increase freelancers’ likelihood of being selected for competitive projects.
It’s free to join Guru as a freelancer, but the platform offers paid membership tiers with added perks, such as increased annual bid allowances, premium customer service, and free skills tests for profile-enhancing credentials. (Basic and Basic+ members have to pay up to $4.95 per skills test.)
- Basic: Free
- Basic+: $8.95 per month, billed annually
- Professional: $15.95 per month, billed annually
- Business: $24.95 per month, billed annually
- Executive: $39.95 per month, billed annually
When you sign up for Guru, you create a profile that highlights your skills, experience, and minimum compensation requirements. Once a client hires you, Guru holds funds in escrow until all of the project’s deliverables are approved – or, if you mutually agree to break the project into milestones, upon successful completion of each milestone.
Guru takes 4.95% to 8.95% of the total payment on every project, depending on your membership level – higher-tier members keep more of their earnings. Guru claims its freelancers have earned more than $250 million since inception – not bad for a platform that caters to a broad, not particularly specialized labor pool.
The 99designs platform caters to freelance designers, who submit drafts in response to client-generated briefs. Posted work includes everything from corporate logos and book covers, to digital advertising materials and screen prints. Each job is structured as a contest, with an unlimited number of designers submitting mockups over a seven-day period. After that period, clients select their favorite design and compensate the freelancer. It’s free to join and maintain a membership.
Clients can choose from four membership levels, ranging from a bronze package that costs $299 to post a contest, to a platinum package that costs $1,299 to post. The dollar amount represents the winning designer’s prize. 99designs generally takes a 40% commission before passing prize money to each winner, although this cut is lower for bulk projects (designers can request payment after winning just a single contest). Contests can attract dozens or hundreds of submissions, so competition can be steep. And keep in mind that clients don’t necessarily have to guarantee payment, meaning it’s theoretically possible for them to back out even after selecting your design.
PeoplePerHour matches clients with a wide range of specialized freelancers. Its scope is pretty broad, similar to UpWork. Verticals include administrative assistant work, customer support and client service, marketing and social media, software and web development, design, writing and translation, and multimedia production.
Upon opening a free PeoplePerHour account, you create a profile highlighting your experience, competencies, and minimum compensation requirements. Then, you can find work in three ways:
- Post “Hourlies.“ These are publicly visible offers to complete short jobs, such as writing a single blog post or developing a mobile app. You set the parameters of the job, including your hourly rate, delivery timetable, and what the finished product includes. Any PeoplePerHour client can hire you to complete this service, and satisfactory performance may lead to more work from that client.
- Respond to Job Postings. You can send up to 15 proposals per month for client-posted jobs that are publicly available to all PeoplePerHour freelancers.
- Client Solicitations. You can receive an unlimited number of solicitations from clients who view your profile and send you work directly.
In all cases, you specify your desired compensation. Be aware that you’re competing on price with other freelancers, many of whom are based in lower-cost overseas markets, when you send a proposal for client-posted jobs. Total earnings, endorsements from past clients, and the number of successfully completed jobs all increase your attractiveness to prospective clients. You can manage your active jobs, proposals, postings, and more in your WorkStream – basically, a supercharged account dashboard.
PeoplePerHour is a U.K.-chartered company, but you can receive payment in U.S. dollars if you wish. Projects are compensated on a per-hour or flat-fee basis – when you successfully complete a project and send an invoice to your client, your compensation is deposited in an escrow account. PeoplePerHour deducts a 15% commission on the first 175 pounds that you earn in a given month, plus 3.5% on any additional earnings. It also costs one pound to send an invoice.
iFreelance links third-party clients to freelance designers, photographers, multimedia producers, writers, and, administrative professionals – plus more highly specialized professionals working on contract, including IT workers, architects, engineers, and accountants.
There are two ways to find work on iFreelance. You can browse and bid for job listings posted by clients, or you can create your own postings for general services such as blog writing, logo design, and website builds. In either case, you need to flesh out a profile that highlights your skills, experience, and minimum compensation requirements.
Anyone can join iFreelance, but unlike UpWork and PeoplePerHour, the platform has an unavoidable upfront cost. Basic memberships cost $6.25 per month, silver memberships cost $9, and gold memberships cost $12. Discounts are available for prepaid 6-, 12-, and 24-month packages.
Project bids are prioritized according to membership level, with gold members getting top placement. Gold members can also post their services in an unlimited number of subcategories, such as translation and mobile app development, whereas basic members are limited to just three. If you do a decent amount of work on iFreelance, it’s definitely worth your while to upgrade.
The upshot of iFreelance’s paid membership model is a total lack of commissions. You get to keep all of your earnings on every project you complete, so your only cost to use the platform is your monthly membership fee. This does come with a potential headache: iFreelance doesn’t hold funds in escrow while a project is in progress, meaning you’re responsible for collecting payment from your clients. iFreelance may intervene on your behalf in disputes with slow- or non-paying clients, but its protections aren’t nearly as robust on this front as most other freelance platforms.
With more than millions of users and projects posted, Freelancer.com bills itself as “the world’s largest freelancing, outsourcing, and crowdsourcing marketplace by number of users and projects.” It caters to freelance software and mobile developers, writers, designers, accountants, marketers, data entry specialists, and even legal professionals and virtual personal assistants.
There are two ways to find work on:
- Bid on a Posted Project. As on UpWork, clients can post projects and solicit bids from freelancers. Free accounts get eight bids per month. To bid for a project, specify the deliverables that you’ll provide, your required compensation, and the project’s timetable. If the client approves your bid, you’ll begin work on the project and may begin communicating with the client directly. When the client accepts your finished work, you’ll be paid either through escrow transfer service, or via an outside payment method. For security, it’s best to opt for the former route.
- Enter a Contest. You can also enter a contest in any of work categories, although they’re more common for creative specialties such as marketing and design. Just select a contest that appeals to your skill set and submit your original entry. If your entry is selected, you’ll be paid the listed contest prize, less cut, via the platform’s escrow system.
It’s free to set up aaccount and build a profile that includes 20 of your most relevant skills, but both clients and freelancers pay fees for listing and accepting work. If you have a free account, takes 10% of your earnings for hourly projects, the greater of 10% of your earnings or $5 for fixed-price projects, and 20% for work completed through Service postings. To withdraw your funds, request a bank transfer or a prepaid debit card when your account reaches $30.
For freelancers, there are several paid membership plans that entitle you to more bids and other perks:
- Intro: For 99 cents per month, you get 15 bids per month and a total of 30 skills in your profile.
- Basic: For $4.95 per month, you get 50 bids per month and 50 profile skills.
- Plus: For $9.95 per month, you get 100 bids per month and 80 skills.
- Professional: For $29.95 per month, you get 300 bids per month and 100 skills. Professional is useful for project managers and entrepreneurs who manage teams of freelancers.
- Premier: For $59.95 per month, you get 1,500 bids and 400 skills.
Like 99Designs, DesignCrowd is a crowdsourcing, contest-based platform that connects freelance logo, t-shirt, print, and web designers (as well as other graphic artists) with clients.
Unlike 99designs, clients can pay whatever they want for the winning design, as long as it exceeds DesignCrowd’s $30-per-contest minimum. On average, each contest attracts more than 100 entries, so competition is steep. Higher-paying competitions draw more plentiful, better quality entries. There’s no cost to enter a contest.
You can browse for relevant contests by category, such as WordPress design and T-shirt design. When you find a contest you like, enter it and submit your work. If clients like your design but aren’t quite ready to accept it, they can request changes to it before giving final approval. If your design doesn’t meet their standards, they’ll simply discard it, and you’ll move on to the next opportunity. DesignCrowd holds the client’s funds in escrow for the duration of the contest, releasing the money to the winning design (minus the flat 15% fee for all contests).
You don’t retain the copyright to your designs, although you can ask the client to let you display them in your work portfolio. Once you’ve won a few contests, clients may begin to invite you to their contests, potentially increasing the chances that your submissions are accepted. DesignCrowd mediates disputes over payment and acceptance.
Crowdspring is a contest platform that caters to graphic designers, creative copywriters, web designers and developers, and packaging designers.
Registration and contest entry are free, with no limit on the number of entries you can submit, but Crowdspring takes up to 40% of the winning submission’s award in all cases. Clients can set their own prize amounts for contests, with a minimum cost to the client of $299 (netting a $200 prize for the winner) and deadline windows of between 3 and 10 days. On the designer side, prizes range as high as $725. Some contest packages have multiple prize tiers – for instance, the Elite contest tier pays three prizes: one at $300 and two at $150. For the duration of a contest, client funds are held in escrow, then disbursed to the winner at its close.
Clients who prefer to work with certain designers, usually after selecting at least one of their designs through the contest process, can opt for one-on-one projects (direct, private orders) starting at $149. No matter how you submit, you must forfeit the copyright for any client-accepted design.
LivePerson is a online marketing and analytics firm that offers a conversion-centric chat platform for website administrators and marketers. A big slice of its business comes from chatbots and other automated marketing and customer-care applications, but it has a freelancer-friendly human component too: a massive remote workforce that operates on a contingency or temporary basis.
It’s free to apply to work for LivePerson, but you must document your qualifications and experience before receiving approval. Payment varies based on your job duties, experience level, and other factors. If your home office setup isn’t equipped to handle intensive customer-contact functions, you may need to invest in better equipment.
Many established freelancers shun Craigslist, which does have a reputation for accepting dubious listings. While it’s possible to report potentially illegal postings and scams (after the fact), there’s no onsite framework for evaluating integrity. For freelancers confident enough to wade through some scammy, spammy solicitations, Craigslist is a useful resource.
Unlike some other platforms, listings are sorted by geographical region, which facilitates face-to-face contact between independent workers and their clients. With low listing costs, it’s also a favored fulfillment tool for smaller or one-off employers, such as individuals needing an editor or ghostwriter, or boutique marketing firms that need a logo designed or white paper researched.
Clients bear Craigslist’s job-posting costs – which are $75 each in the San Francisco market, $45 in the Boston area, and anywhere from $0 to $50 in most other markets. It is completely free for freelancers to use, but they use it at their own risk. Craigslist doesn’t hold funds in escrow or offer dispute resolution services.
As you’re no doubt aware, Craigslist is a popular place to sell stuff online too. If you’re looking to declutter and downsize your house and don’t feel like running a yard or garage sale, check out our head-to-head-to-head comparison of the relative merits of selling stuff on Craigslist, Amazon, and eBay.
As an aggregator of media-related content and educational resources, MediaBistro offers two main employment platforms for writers, editors, developers, and other professionals in the industry: a traditional job posting board (billed as “the number one job posting board for the media industry”) and a freelance marketplace. The former includes temporary, part-time, and full-time jobs. The employer pays for listings, with no cost for applicants. However, many of these traditional jobs are location-specific, with the bulk clustered in media centers such as New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C.
Once you’re hired for a job, MediaBistro does not take a cut of your earnings or help resolve disputes. All further negotiations take place directly between you and the client. Since this platform’s pool of freelancers includes many seasoned media professionals, you might have trouble finding work if you don’t have verifiable past experience.
14. LinkedIn ProFinder
LinkedIn ProFinder is a freelance talent marketplace operated by LinkedIn, the social media giant. It’s free for freelancers, known as Pros, to get started, though there is an application process that requires you to make a convincing case for your expertise and experience in one of ProFinder’s core verticals: software development, IT services, design, writing and editing, marketing, business consulting, legal, financial services, accounting, coaching, real estate, photography, insurance, home improvement, administrative, events, and wellness.
ProFinder reviews prospective Pros’ applications within two business days, returning an up-or-down decision. If you’re denied, you’ll receive feedback on how to make your application more compelling next time. If you’re approved, you’ll be invited to flesh out your ProFinder profile, which is distinct from your main LinkedIn profile.
You can apply directly for publicly posted jobs, or respond to client messages with full project proposals. Once you reach 10 proposals, you’ll need to upgrade to a LinkedIn Premium Business subscription to continue. LinkedIn Premium Business subscriptions cost $59.99 per month, with a 20% discount for subscriptions paid annually. All pricing negotiations and payments occur between clients and Pros outside the ProFinder platform.
If you’ve grown disillusioned with your office job, freelancing might sound like a great gig. It offers the freedom to make your own schedule, tackle creative or challenging projects, and spend more time at home. However, it does offer plenty of challenges, including the uncertainty of a project-based pay scale and a complete lack of employee benefits.
As a freelancer, you must also pay the full amount of your Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) obligations, which fund Medicare and Social Security. These amount to 15.3% of gross income for freelancers, as opposed to 7.65% of gross income for traditional employees. And, instead of waiting for an assignment, you must also seek out new work and forge new relationships with clients.