Can You Earn a Living as a Freelance Designer Using Online Brokers?

There has been a subtle change in the freelance world in the last few years. Traditionally, you had to find your clients via hard marketing. Then all of a sudden sites like Elance, Odesk, Freelancer, Guru, etc. sprang into life and you could find hundreds of leads for almost nothing. These sites are often described as content mills (or something similar) but that is not accurate; they are brokers. They allow freelancers and clients to meet easily and they take a fee from any resulting work relationships. But can you earn your living at this?

The Bad News

Most clients on these portals suck. They are would-be Internet millionaires who’ve read the advice that if you outsource all your work for pennies on the dollar compared to its market value; you don’t have to work at all other people will make you rich instead! These people pay badly, they are incredibly demanding and if that’s what you base your business on – you’re going to have a tough road ahead.

The Ugly News

Worse, there are dozens of guides on; “How to rip off a freelancer on XYZ site” circulating online. Some of the clients have no intention of paying at all. Spending weeks on a project and then not going paid is a bad idea for any business and it can be fatal to a freelancer.

The Good News

The good news is in fact great news. If you take some time to learn how these sites work; you can run a design business solely via online brokers. Here are some tips to make that happen:

  • Start small. Find tiny projects which even if they pay the site’s minimum rate aren’t very much work. That lets you get positive feedback from clients without investing a month into making $50 to get started.
  • Learn to sift RFPs (Requests for Proposal) carefully. Don’t apply to everything. You are looking for signs that the client runs a real business and that they may be prepared to pay real rates. You can often find this information by reviewing the client’s profile carefully.
  • Learn to value yourself. Instead of applying for everything you see at knock down rates – find RFPs which play to your strengths instead. You don’t have to design 700 logos for $5 ever. You should be looking for projects where you will add value and the client will pay for that value. That means choosing a niche and becoming an expert rather than grabbing stuff at random.
  • Learn to use the site’s built in protection. Most of the brokerage sites have escrow funding or even hourly rate guarantees. Use them. The number of freelancers who get ripped off for their work dramatically decreases when they’ve used the protection available to them. There are arbitration services available to those who have had escrow funded but if your client hasn’t paid the escrow – you’re going to find that no matter how the decision goes; you won’t get paid.

Header Image: Author/Copyright holder: Megan. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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