Ask A Contractor

Ask A Contractor: Getting Started

You’ve got a marketable skill, bills to pay, and a little free time. You could be a contractor.

Welcome to a new semi-regular advice column, where you can ask me anything you’d like about the art and science of freelancing. I’ve been freelancing since around 2006. I’ve used contract work to supplement full-time work and as my sole means of support. I’ve worked through contracting services, like oDesk, eLance, and People Per Hour, and I’ve worked directly for clients without a middleman. I do a mix of writing/editing work and tech work. I do my own accounting, but I am neither an accountant nor a lawyer. If you need legal/tax advice, you should consult someone other than a lady on the Internet, unless you can check her credentials.

If you have a question you’d like answered, use our handy Ask Us feature.

Dear Selena,

I want to make some extra money doing freelance writing. How do I get started?


More Sense Than Dollars

Dear Dollars,

Person reading a book in front of a bookstore with William Shakespeare's image on it.First, good for you! Freelancing is an adventure, and I promise you’ll soon have a collection of fantastic stories to tell your friends.

We’re going to break this answer into two parts, Before the First Job Hunt, and The First Job Hunt, which will come next week. There’s a lot of ground to cover, and I don’t want to overwhelm anyone on our first day.

Step One: Decide what you want to write.

There are many types of writing jobs available to freelancers, from simple blog posts to ad copy to complex technical writing. It’s easier to find jobs you can rock if you go into your search with an idea of what type of writing you’d like to specialize in. Additionally, it helps to have a niche. I write about web development/IT and education, since those are the areas I know the most about. ┬áThis means I can tune out all the jobs I know I don’t want, saving me tons of wasted time and aggravation.

Step Two: Assemble a portfolio.

Now that you know your niche, start pulling together writing samples that show off your particular set of skills. If you’re planning on using a service like oDesk or eLance, they allow you to upload work examples to an online portfolio. If you’re going it alone, you’ll want to have samples available to share with potential clients.

[box type=”info”] Bonus tip: There are shady people in the world. I’ve had pieces copypasta’d from my portfolio and uploaded to another contractor’s profile on oDesk. I fixxored that right up by taking screenshots of my documents and uploading .jpgs instead of .docs. If someone is going to be lazy enough to steal your portfolio pieces, they’re going to be too damn lazy to transcribe a screenshot. [/box]

Step Three: Decide what you’re worth.

This is the tricky one. When I first started, I searched through the job sites for other contractors with similar qualifications/experience to mine and set my rate based on theirs. (Thanks, writers I don’t know!) I’ve managed to raise it a couple of times at strategic points, like after a long-term job where I got great feedback, and I try to push it up a few dollars per hour every couple of years.

Once you set your rate, you may not always be able to hit it. We’ll talk more about when and why to accept less than your stated rate next week.

Step Four: Jump in!

Now that you know what you want to write, you have examples of your very best work, and you know how much you’d like to charge, you’re ready to hop in the freelancing pool.

Note: This is obviously not the only place on the Internet for freelancing advice. I encourage you to read all you can, from all the advice-givers you can, to help you make the best decision for you. I’d especially like to recommend The Daily Dot’s “Ask a Freelancer” column, by Melissa Chadburn

photo credit: dhammza via photopin cc

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.

3 replies on “Ask A Contractor: Getting Started”

I’ve been poking around oDesk and PPH and there are just so many listings and so many competitors that it’s overwhelming. But since “real” jobs are pretty scarce around here and I don’t want a ridic commute, I’m going to try to dig into it a bit more once Lexie starts school in a few weeks if nothing else pans out. The tests on oDesk are fun! I apparently know a hell of a lot less about SEO than I thought, but I managed to guess enough right on the Word 2007 test to get in the top 10% even though I had NO idea what the hell they were talking about on most of the questions!

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