Freelancing can be a tough gig. And I should know – I’ve been a freelance writer for the last seven years.
Nevertheless, according to IPSE (the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed), it’s a growing sector within the self-employment market. In fact, in 2020, there were more than two million freelancers in the UK contributing a whopping £162 billion to the economy.
A further 293,000 people freelanced as a side hustle alongside their day job – and that’s how I started. But with a boost from a freelancer website, I was lucky enough to turn it into a full-time job. Here’s what I learned.
How do freelancer websites work?
As a freelancer, you’ll usually be able to sign up to a platform for free and search a huge range of jobs and projects.
You’ll then have the opportunity to quote or ‘pitch’ for jobs you like the look of. Alternatively, you can advertise your skills and qualifications and wait for clients to come to you. Payment is made when you finish the job.
What are the pros of using freelancer websites?
When I started out, I used People Per Hour (PPH). This was simply because back in 2014 when I made the decision to side hustle as a writer, this was an already well-established platform (it was founded in 2007).
While I imagine many other sites will give you a similar experience, I found that pros included:
- Lots of jobs in a wide range of industries worldwide – this gave me the opportunity to try my hand at pitching for work in various sectors.
- Great for starting your portfolio – writing is a little bit chicken and egg. It’s hard to get a break unless you have a portfolio, and you can’t get a portfolio unless someone gives you a break in the first place. Start-ups and new businesses often advertise on freelancer sites and are more willing to give a newbie a go.
- You can build a repeat client base – I was lucky enough to get repeat work. So if you want, you can build an entire client base using a freelancer platform.
And what are the cons?
- Commission – freelancer sites typically make money by taking a percentage of your earnings. The amount varies and it’s often a sliding scale. For example, they’ll take X% on anything up to £Y. Bear in mind that it can be as much as 20% in some cases.
- Low paid work – a high percentage of jobs will be poorly paid. With PPH in particular, I found myself pitching against international freelancers whose cost of living meant they could afford to work for very little.
- You might not get paid at all – thankfully, this never happened to me, but some clients will basically ghost you once you’ve handed over the work. However, with PPH, you can ask for a deposit that is held in escrow. If your client defaults, you will at least get something for your efforts.
So, how did I (eventually) turn my side hustle into a full-time job?
Freelancing whilst I was still employed gave me a safety net if things didn’t work out. But, as I was in a contract role, it gave me a deadline and the push I needed to make a real go of it.
Obviously, because I was still employed, it meant pitching and working in the evenings and at weekends, which was pretty exhausting.
To start with, I was ridiculously unsuccessful. And in hindsight, my pitches were pretty rubbish – basically because I’m not very good at the whole selling yourself bit. I also just took ‘no’ for an answer.
So, after several long conversations with myself as well as tears and tantrums, here’s what I did.
1. Focused on my skills and qualifications
My degree is in English linguistics, and I’m a native British English speaker. So, I made sure that in all of my pitches, clients knew they were getting someone with a high level of English language proficiency.
2. Highlighted my experience
Sure, I had no experience as a writer, but my previous career as a retail buyer gave me insight into business practices, working under pressure and working to tight deadlines. If you’re considering a career change, emphasise why your existing experience makes you a strong candidate.
3. Stopped taking no for an answer
This was the big one for me. When pitches were declined, I started sending follow-up emails setting out the previous two points. Eventually, it paid off and I ended up doing a series of articles about property. I won’t lie, it was badly paid, but it gave me the break and experience I needed.
4. Didn’t give up!
All in all, I used PPH for about 18 (long, tiring) months.
And while I don’t use freelancer sites anymore, PPH gave me the confidence and stepping stone I needed to build a strong enough portfolio to really go it alone.
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