Ask A Contractor

Ask A Contractor: Getting Started pt. II

Last week, we talked about the the steps to take before you look for your first freelancing job. Today we’re going to apply that knowledge to scoring your first gig.

We’re going to limit the discussion to using a freelancing site, like oDesk or eLance. While these sites aren’t the only way to find paying work, they’re the easiest.

Freelancing sites all operate under the same basic principle. They connect people who want to hire (clients) with people who want to work (contractors). After you’ve been working for a while, your experience and history on the site you’re working with will open up more job opportunities for you. When you’re trying to get the first job, however, you’ve only got your portfolio and your wits to help you.

The site you choose will have a jobs feed, where all the available work is listed. No matter which site you choose to work with, most of these jobs will be terrible. That’s just the nature of online work. For every client with a legitimate budget, an understanding of their market, and clear goals, there will be ten jobs that want you to write a novel’s worth of words for a dollar, or a Facebook clone for $50. Searching through available jobs can be frustrating, but your patience and critical reading skills will pay off.  Remember last week when I told you to choose a niche? This is where that starts to pay off. You can limit your job to work that actually applies to what you want to do, which can save you a lot of time and energy.

Most freelancing sites use two types of job payment, hourly and fixed price. Hourly jobs usually require you to track your time using software provided by the site, and fixed bid jobs either pay at the end (risky) or pay in installments when milestones are reached (less risky).

It’s all on you to vet the clients you consider working with. There are plenty of con artists out there who wouldn’t think twice about trying to scam work for free. Working with a freelancing site can take away some of the uncertainty, because you can usually check to make sure they’ve hired from the site before, check their feedback from other contractors, and see if they have a payment method on file. If any of these elements is missing, it’s a red flag. The client might be completely legitimate, but you’re more likely to have a good experience if these three things are all present.

Once you find a job you’re interested in applying for, you’ll need to submit a cover letter, and a map of how you can complete the project for the client with general time/cost estimates. With your first job, the cover letter is your best chance to get your foot in the door. What should go into a great cover letter?

  • [icon name=”icon-asterisk”] A friendly, professional introduction outlining your skills, experience, and abilities.
  • [icon name=”icon-asterisk”] An overview of what tools you have to communicate with clients (Skype, GoToMeeting, email, etc.)
  • [icon name=”icon-asterisk”] Your plan for completing the job.
  • [icon name=”icon-asterisk”] Any questions you have about the job. This may feel counter-intuitive, but clients usually love when you ask them questions. It shows you’re interested enough in doing to work to get more information. Also, much like dates, clients love to talk about themselves and their projects.

Once you submit your cover letter and your bid for that first job, go look for another one. Freelancing is a numbers game, and you’re more likely to get a job, any job, if you apply in batches. If any of the clients are interested in working with you, they’ll get in touch to either offer you the job or ask to interview you further.

Okay, but I’ve applied to all sorts of jobs and no one will interview me without experience. What do I do now, Auntie Selena? 

This happens. This happened to me. This happened to most of the contractors I know. It’s time to take a deep breath, swallow your pride, and go look at the terrible jobs I told you to ignore earlier. Many freelance advice columns will tell you to never work below your stated rate. That’s great advice, if we all lived in Lollipopville. We don’t. As long as you only do a couple laughably low paying jobs, keeping in mind you’re only doing it for the experience, it can jump start your opportunities.  Use the same criteria for picking a client as you would for a high paying job. Do they have a verified payment method? Do they have feedback from other contractors? What’s the client’s feedback like?

OMG, I finally got a job. What now?

Get to work!  Knock it out of the park, wow your client with your awesome skills and diligence, and enjoy your new career as a freelancer, poodle.

If you have a pressing question about freelancing, drop me a line in our Ask Us tab.

By [E] Selena MacIntosh*

Selena MacIntosh is the owner and editor of Persephone Magazine. She also fixes it when it breaks. She is fueled by Diet Coke, coffee with a lot of cream in it, and cat hair.

2 replies on “Ask A Contractor: Getting Started pt. II”

I got my first oDesk job! I told the client how he was taking the wrong approach to the article he wanted written and he liked my ideas! It’s flat-rate, but there were no red flags and since it’s a single article, I won’t be out much time if he does flake on me. Yay!

It was funny; I was freaking out about not having a professional picture but I realized I could crop Trebek out of my official Jeopardy pic and use that. It worked!

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