Thanks to the internet, people everywhere are living and working in new and exciting ways.
The days of being bound to a single career, working 9-to-5 for one company year after year are over. For better and for worse, traditional full-time jobs are being replaced by project-based, single-task, and hourly work done by independent contractors, remote workers, and freelancers.
I took my first foray into the world of freelance five years ago. I had just moved abroad and I was determined to find work that didn’t involve teaching English as a second language. One day my job search brought me to GetAFreelancer.com, (since acquired by Freelancer.com). Without any experience or guidance, I quickly got my first freelance job—writing short articles about the benefits of massage for around $2 an hour. It was painful. But it was a start.
Five years later, I am the Managing Editor of a popular online publication about tech startups, internet entrepreneurship, and website management. I love what I do and I never would have gotten here without those first freelance jobs.
Find out more about how the internet has changed the way we work below. I’ve also included a list of the best places to find freelance work and some excellent online tools for freelancers.
The changing face of freelance
A recent study by the Freelancers Union and Elance-oDesk found that 34% of American workers (53 million people) are currently doing some type of freelance work. Research suggests that the number of freelancers will continue to increase worldwide. By 2020, more than 40% of the US workforce will be freelancers and contract workers.
The most common reasons people freelance are “to earn extra money” (68%) and for the schedule “flexibility” (42%), according to the Freelancing in America study. Other benefits of freelancing include being able to work from anywhere, (including from home and while traveling), and being able to chose work based on personal interests.
How freelancers find work
Many freelancers never meet their clients in person. Hiring, project management, delivery of work, and payments are all possible online. In addition to the large, well-known freelance marketplaces like oDesk, Freelancer, Guru, Writer.ly, and Elance, there are hundreds of other places you can find freelance work. Here are a few of my personal favorites that you may not have heard of:
If you are an MBA student or recent grad, start your search for consulting work here. Project types include business planning, marketing, pricing analysis, social media advising, accounting, and more. Consultants make anywhere from $10-$25 an hour for basic work to $75-$100 an hour for more complex projects.
PPH recently announced cheaper international payment options and a new SuperTasker tool for “Digital tasks, super fast!” PPH users must apply separately to become “taskers” for SuperTasker, which is still in beta testing as of the writing of this article. The main PeoplePerHour site is a great place to find freelance work in design, website and app development, writing, editing, translation, marketing, social media, photo, video, and audio as well as research, accounting, and administrative jobs.
If you’re a graphic designer who’s not scared of a little healthy competition, this may be the perfect place for you. Rather than submitting bids for open projects or offering an hourly rate, designers submit their designs for specific contests and are paid if they win. They also have some non-contest projects.
More than just a freelance marketplace, Envato includes an entire ecosystem of sites where you can sell digital products and services including photos, music, video, website themes, templates, and more. Envato sites include ThemeForest, GraphicRiver, CodeCanyon, VideoHive, PhotoDune, 3DOcean, AudioJungle, ActiveDen, and Envato Studio (formerly Microlancer.com).
Still pretty new and a bit rough around the edges, Sevendays aims to connect startups and nonprofits with freelancers. They currently don’t charge a commission or any other fees, so they’re worth checking out for design, marketing, writing, editing, and other startup-centric freelance work.
Online tools for freelancers
As freelancers, we frequently need to handle our own accounting, legal issues, project management, marketing, and other tasks related to our business. The following list of apps and online tools for freelancers can help you stay on top of your work whether you’re a location-independent entrepreneur traveling the world or an e-commerce website owner working from home.
Keep track of your billable hours, import and manage expenses, and send invoices in any currency with FreshBooks. You can even set it up to send your clients automatic payment reminders if they’re late. Best of all, you can use FreshBooks while on the go with their free iOS and Android apps. FreshBooks also integrates with many of the other apps and services you are probably already using for your business including PayPal, Envato, and Fundbox.
Late payments from clients are unfortunately a common problem for freelancers. In the past, there wasn’t much you could do about it other than switch to ramen noodles for dinner while you waited for payments. But now you can get paid for any outstanding invoices instantly with an advance from Fundbox. Of course, there is a fee involved but if you’re in a jam and you need money fast, this is a huge help.
Newsletters are a great way to grow your network. They help you keep in touch with previous clients, share updates about new services you offer and more. With Goodbits extensions for Chrome, Firefox, and Safari, it’s never been easier to curate, create, and send newsletters. It works well with MailChimp and even helps you improve your marketing efforts with in-depth analytics.
Expand your repertoire by learning new technical and creative skills with Tuts+ training courses, ebooks, and free tutorials. Training topics include business, computer skills, game development, web design, coding, and design. Access to paid training costs $15-$30 per month but you can try it out for free for 14 days.
If you sell digital products like ebooks, music, videos, or software, you need Gumroad. Just upload your digital products and they’ll take care of the rest, with secure payment processing and low fees. They also have a great widget so you can put the Gumroad tools right on your existing website.
In addition to newsletters, social media should be a huge part of your marketing strategy. Buffer helps you manage multiple social media pages all in one dashboard. You can schedule posts and even track your analytics. They also just released a new iOS app.
Figure It Out (FIO)
No more time zone confusion! Enter the locations you’d like to keep track of and FIO gives you the current time in all of them, every time you open a new tab in Chrome. This super simple Chrome extension helps make sure I never miss a deadline or meeting, no matter where in the world I’m working from. I’m currently in Thailand and I regularly work with people in the Philippines, Argentina, Guatemala, Ohio, and California.
Freelancing is worth the risk
I started freelancing out of necessity. Without any other viable employment options or income at the time, I turned to freelance work just to get by. Throughout the past five years, freelancing has brought me many unexpected and wonderful opportunities. I’ve learned new skills and met people I never would have encountered otherwise.
If you’re still struggling to make it as a freelancer, don’t give up. It may not be as stable as a traditional 9-to-5 job but the independence and freedom of doing the work you want, whenever and wherever you want, is worth the risk.
If you have found any other tools—online or otherwise—that have helped you as a freelancer, I’d love to hear about them. Please feel free to share them in the comment section below.