Are There Too Many Freelancers?

Finding freelance work can be tough, especially if you’re just starting out or not too well known in the community. A lot of people try to find some clients for a few weeks and when they can’t, they give up and think that there’s just too much competition for jobs out there today. But is there?

If you’re looking for work locally, then it’s entirely possible that your market is already overly saturated, but I doubt it. There’s always someone looking for a freelancer. As a matter of fact, I started my own business in the middle of our last recession, and was always scheduled.

When it comes to freelancing, we’re not limited to our own towns or markets. So, your town’s economy is a bit slow? Try New York City. Try another country. The awesome thing about being a freelancer is that you don’t have to meet your clients in person. So, even if there are tons of freelancers, there’s always more work.

Of course, when you’re not having any luck getting work and you’re always competing for work, it may feel like there’s too much competition, but perhaps you’re just looking for work in all of the wrong places.


Bidding Sites

One look at those infamous bidding sites and it can feel like everyone in the entire world is bidding on the same project. Those sites have a lot of competition, and what’s worse, that normally means you’re competing against people who charge as low as $1 an hour. Clients who go to these sites are normally in a rush to get something done and have absolutely no budget to pay anyone a fair wage.

I would avoid these bidding sites as much as possible. Yes, you might win a project from them, but what kind of quality is both the project and the client likely to offer? You may get lucky enough to win that mythical wonderful client who brings you lots of work, but is it going to be worth it after spending days and weeks on the site?

I once knew a pair of freelancers who thought they could make a living off of bidding sites. Instead of getting out in the internet world and getting known, they wasted the entire day, each day, skimming through the bidding sites and trying to bid on projects. Needless to say, they ended up moving across the country to get a regular full-time job.

Craigslist

Craigslist is another bad place to find jobs. Even though the jobs will be based locally, the clients are often looking for students or free work. The quality of the relationship and work is often terrible as well. There’s also a ton of competition on these boards, mostly by students of the local colleges and high schools.

Local Work

You can’t always depend on getting all of your jobs in your own city or town. As a matter of fact, of all the clients I’ve held, I’ve only had one client that was even located in my state! Surprisingly, in Nashville there’s an abundance of both freelancers and agencies and a shortage of realistic-rate paying clients. All of my clients are located around the US and many of them are even located in Canada and The UK.

If you’re having difficulty finding work around where you live, start getting out on regular job boards, Twitter, and LinkedIn to find work in other places. Your city may be experiencing a slump or crowdedness, but I bet the rest of the world isn’t!

Don’t Compete

The best way to avoid overcrowded freelance markets and massive competition is to simply not compete. Yes, I said don’t compete. Look for clients and submit your letters to job boards, but pretend like you’re the only freelancer around. Be the best at what you do and clients will naturally come to you. You don’t have to compete with anyone if your portfolio speaks for itself, and if a client tries to get you in a bidding war with other clients, simply walk away.

Where to Find Work

There are tons of places to find great paying clients and what works for one freelancer won’t necessarily work for another. However, there are some great places to start looking, that could really help you find those clients, or even just to help get your name out into the internet universe.

  • TwitterTwitter has been an awesome resource that has helped me to gain clients, freelance partners, help on projects and great resources. There are so many benefits you can get out of Twitter if you use it right.
  • LinkedIn–I personally don’t use LinkedIn for finding client work, but I’ve had tons of fellow freelancers tell me they have. Having a full profile, recommendations and answering questions has been the best ways they’ve found for work.
  • Job Boards–Job boards that don’t offer bidding wars (just a list of available jobs) has been a great way I’ve found work. There are tons of awesome job boards around the web, and I’ve found work through almost all of them.

You can also venture into cold emailing, which worked really well for me when I was first starting out. You just have to make sure you write a semi-personal message so you don’t sound like a spammer and have a great portfolio to reward them for interrupting their time. You can also try cold-calling, even though personally I’m too shy for that.

Other places like Barcamps, Podcamps, Chamber meetups and Tech mixers are another great place to network and meet other great professionals. You’ll never know when that freelancer you meet is going to be sick or swamped with work and will need your help. Just don’t bug them for work unless they ask you for your help.

Your Thoughts

Do you think the freelance world is over-crowded? How have you avoided so much competition?

image by James Cridland

Comments

  1. says

    Amber,

    At times, yes, it can feel like the competition for freelance work is vast.

    However the way I look at it is that if I am not getting work, there is clearly something not working well. This could be my marketing strategy, my website content or just bad customer targeting.

    There is always a new way to look at the obvious problems. The sooner we realise that, the easier it becomes to find the solutions to that problem.

  2. says

    I’ve glanced at job boards and craigslist before. When I did I found myself discouraged so I promised never to look there again. I don’t think there is a surplus of freelancers, I do however think there are a lot of people who are willing to do freelance work for next to nothing. After beating myself up over those people I decided to ignore the type of clients they attract since they aren’t the types of clients I want.

    So far, the best luck I’ve had has been from Twitter, networking, and cold emails. It doesn’t pay off overnight, but it does eventually pay off.

    Thanks for the tips!

  3. says

    I agree with not competing. I used to work in warehouses and factories because it was mindless work I could do that allowed me time to think about writing all day. I saw those jobs go away because they tried competing with other warehouses and factories that could make the same, boring thing for a cheaper price.

    After leaping to corporate jobs, I saw the same thing: groups overseas could do what we did for next to nothing, because what we were often doing wasn’t all that special. After the layoffs that followed so many of those jobs, though, I’ve found former coworkers and clients still contacting me for freelance work because they know I genuinely cared about the work I did for them, and they quickly learned that going the cheapest route may have sounded great, but the work coming back was usually mediocre at best.

    The freelance work I’m currently doing has come through LinkedIn and through recommendations from people I know–definitely not from bidding wars and trying to compete with the person willing to write 25, 500-1000 word articles for $25.

  4. Kevin Tomasic says

    Finally someone said it!

    I completely agree that bidding sites are drenched with low-ballers. I’ve had the same mindset as you about how to find work for some time now and I have to say its been working okay for me so far. I tend to avoid craigslist like the plague and find no value in competing on bidding sites no matter how good my portfolio is.

    As far as the over-abundance of freelancers, I think freelancers are a dime a dozen. However, the good ones are far and few between. It’s just a matter of marketing yourself the right way and separating yourself from the herd of sheep. If you can do that, finding work shouldn’t be too difficult no matter where you look. Your portfolio, in my opinion, is just for closing the deal; it’s your personal branding that gets you noticed.

  5. says

    Yes and amen! I remember when I started taking on freelance jobs, I would visit job bidding boards, primarily because I was clueless about them. It took about two weeks for me to realize it was a dead end. All of my best clients have been people with whom I’ve formed some kind of real-life business relationship with.

  6. says

    Quite the opposite, I find that I have plenty of work, and landing high-quality jobs has not been difficult. In fact, two of my best (and best paying) clients were found via Craigslist ads. Only one of my clients is a real-life connection.

    As for bidding sites, I don’t rely on them for income but I do keep an eye on the jobs posted. On high-budget jobs, it’s the low-ballers that can’t compete with me. Not everyone has the budget for my writing, and I’m okay with that.

    I know that not all of my colleagues across all niches have had the same experience, though. I think freelancing experiences are as unique as the writers.

  7. says

    I’m still not a fan of cold e-mailing, as I’ve experienced mostly bad luck in that area. I’m glad more and more people are speaking out against bidding sites, though. Nothing is more depressing than seeing someone ask for a Twitter clone for $50 with a deadline of five days. Actually, I take that back. Seeing the people bidding on the job and offering themselves for dirt cheap is more depressing.

  8. says

    I don’t think we can say that there are many freelancers.I believe there are enough projects out there.In my opinion the point is to search for our next project in the right places,promote ourselves and do the best we can to deliver quality works

  9. says

    I appreciate this article very much. I haven’t had much luck in my town since moving here this past year. I was fortunate to work for an online web design company for the last 3 years until they laid off all outsource designers. I am now basically trying to market myself in town by writing letters and ranking with SEO. I believe with steady marketing I’m bound to get something soon. I also have tried craigslist but it is way too competitive and don’t want to compete. I looked at bidding sites but found it discouraging not just with that but the quotes to design are disrespectful to an experienced designer.

    Fortunately I do have accounts with linkedin twitter and facebook to help out. If anyone has any advice on how to use these networks for work I’d like to know.

  10. says

    I tried crowd sourcing b4 even though I noticed the low quality work. After some failed attempts, I stopped.

    I decided that a better alternative is Envato’s Marketplace. There you can decide on what you want to do. Plus the quality of work there is very high thanks to the quality control of their review teams. Personally, I am guilty that because of procrastination and low confidence, I haven’t created anything for sale there… but I think there is the place for me.

    Also, I found that creating Tumblr themes can get you some work. I guess WordPress ones will get you even more tho it harder. I believe in Twitter and other social media works too.

  11. says

    I started on some of those bidding websites and realized quickly that they were not worth it. My profile is still on some of those sites, but I never bid on anything any more.

    One of my most valuable connections, I made through networking. I had attended a conference and started following many of the speakers on Twitter. One of them tweeted that she was looking for freelance writers. I immediately DM’ed her and we began to email each other. I did some smaller jobs for her and now she forwards leads that she can’t handle to me. I have also started networking locally and made some strong connections.

    Yes, networking takes some time, but the payoffs are worth it in the long run.

  12. says

    Bidding sites make my stomach hurt. When I first started freelancing I was advised by an acquaintance to use a couple of them, and I wasted an entire morning signing up and taking stupid tests – and the few times I actually put in a bid, it was always way too high.

    That morning I wasted would’ve been better spent creating my own ad to draw clients to me – and in the last several years that I’ve been freelancing, I’ve learned that one little ad (which takes a half-hour to create) almost always pays of exponentially.

  13. says

    Yep, bidding boards area huge waste of time. Thanks for finally saying that out loud :) I don’t use LinkedIn for business either, but I have found that having plenty of reviews on LI and on sites like Yelp as well help people make a decision about calling you when they do find you on those sites. So, altho I’m not actively using them to find work, I think they have helped convince people to use me.

  14. KiYoung says

    fully agree!! We are not going to participate in bidding if possible. :) however We are studying about modern webdesign constantly. At this issue, We all have to try win-win. Regardless of intent, Bidding system(not all) sometimes kill our efforts and values.

  15. says

    Prior to freelancing I was a business development executive and the number one thing that I learned that contributed to my freelance success is diversity. I agree to a large extent that most if not all job bidding sites provide low quality projects with people who try there best to get top notch service for pennies; but regardless of this well known fact freelancers should not eliminate the use of job boards out of there sales strategy.

    Freelancers should consider a more aggressive approach to selling there service (cold calling, networking events, cold emailing) and I guarantee you will see a spike in your sales.

  16. says

    I’m with everyone one that’s already commented. I stay away from the bidding sites, but I do peruse Craiglist just to see what’s up and on occasion have contacted people that have posted there and I have also on occasion landed work from Craigslist.

    I have also created Google Alerts for keywords in my target marketing to see when someone tweets, blogs or makes mention of something I might be able to assist with. i certainly don’t think there’s an over abundance of freelancers, quite the contrary I believe that this is the way of the future and how many large businesses and other solo professionals will do business. Not everyone has a talent for everything so you need someone to take care of what you can’t do and that’s where a freelancer steps in.

  17. says

    As Kevin said “Your portfolio, in my opinion, is just for closing the deal” that works no matter whether you are finding @ Craiglist, or anywhere else.

    I really liked the punch of idea.

  18. Fajr Muhammad says

    For a freelancer just starting out, the crowded market can be overwhelming and a bit discouraging. But if you can secure one job then you can secure another and another. I think newbies, like myself, need to remain diligent and determined and jobs will come.

  19. says

    Through Craigslist I was contacted by some very good clients and I am close to get a 7k project, from one of my Craigslist clients. Bidding on their job boards is bad indeed, posting your portfolio there, is definitely good.

    Never managed to get work through Twitter though, even if I use it often. I have LinkedIn, but never have time to use it.

    Portfolio quality speaks always, so it better be good. If you are a developer, trade services with a great designer and the other way.

  20. says

    Your absolutely correct. But sites like craigslist and some other reputable job portals/freelance sites have been feeding local freelancers and so for.

  21. says

    “I would avoid these bidding sites as much as possible.”

    Yes! This woman is gold.

    I tried bidding on those sites…I had a horrible experience. I also agree with not focusing on competing, but on “networking” and “developing your area of expertise.”

    Develop your skills, write for yourself and for an audience, acquire exposure, seek out local businesses….

    If you develop your expertise, people will want to hire you, no matter where you live. It does take time, but that time you put in gives you output eventually.

    What has worked for me:

    1) Join and communicate in forums, help people and get to know people.

    2) Discuss topics on blogs of interest with like-minded people, network with people who have complimentary skill-sets.

    Once you figure out what works for you, you’ll start to get the hang of it. Took me a few years to figure out my route to making money via part-time freelance web design/development.

  22. says

    The part about online bidding sites not being worth it is not entirely true. I use Odesk to find content writing and web design jobs. There are some days when I just can’t find work and some days I’m being contacted by all sorts of clients with some pretty great offers ($10-$30 an hour).

  23. says

    Great article Amber…

    Interestingly enough, a lot of my freelance comes from previous employers. If you’ve left prior jobs in good standing, get in contact with them occasionally to see if they have any extra work.

    They already know what it’s like working with you, so the relationship is already established.

  24. LessLessMoreMore says

    1) There are a surplus of freelancers. No doubts there. Anyone who disagrees is just optimistic.

    2) I kinda agree with what you said. Just pretend you’re alone and go for it. Don’t worry about everyone else.

    3) Still be competitive. Actually learn some hard-to-learn skills and be able to do awesome things. Don’t just do simple things and act like you’re awesomer than the next bloke at doing them just because you’re you and you’ve caught a few breaks on account of being pushy (kinda looking in your direction, Amb). Charge high enough to avoid frugal, indecisive clients, but don’t charge like you’re the Don Corleone of developers just because you can write a little html and swing a couple WordPress functions (again, kinda have to point a finger at you).

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