How Should Freelancers Find Work?


We live in the age of the freelancer, with some sources saying that as many as 1/3 of all U.S. workers are freelancing.

The number of freelancers is likely to increase in the future, so finding good freelance work is an important one. The fact is, not all freelancing gigs are created equal.

There is a lot of freelancing work out there, but there are also a lot of bad clients that most freelancers will want to avoid.

In this post, I’ll list some common places where freelancers look for work and share my thoughts and experiences on each one. I’ll identify the benefits and drawbacks for each type of work.

If you like this post, you will probably also enjoy Where on Earth Am I Going to Find My First Clients?.

7 Ways to Find Freelancing Work–Examined

If you’re just starting out it may not seem like it, but there are many freelancing gigs out there. Looking for projects can be overwhelming. And even experienced freelancers have trouble telling the good from the bad.

Here are seven places where freelancers find work (in alphabetical order) and my thoughts on each:

  1. Cold calling. Just the thought of cold calling strikes fear into the heart of many freelancers. In cold calling, you contact a company that you think is likely to need your services and introduce yourself in the hopes of finding business opportunities. You may follow up your initial contact by sending an information folder or, if the client is really interested, by scheduling a meeting. Drawbacks: Fear of rejection is the biggest drawback to cold calling. The key to successful cold calling is doing your homework. Make sure that the prospect you contact is in your field and that you are speaking to the right person. Targeted cold calling has a much higher rate of success.
  2. Help wanted listings. Help wanted listings differ from some other types of listings in that the competition for jobs is not usually based on bidding. A help-wanted listing may appear on a company website, LinkedIn, in the job bank of a professional society, and many other places. Some popular professional sites also include a place where jobs can be listed. Freelancing help wanted listings may even appear in a trade magazine or local newspaper. Drawbacks: As with any published job, competition will be fierce. Most companies that publish jobs receive dozens, if not hundreds, of applicants. If you apply to a help wanted listing, make sure to put your best foot forward.
  3. Job boards. There are many online sites that match freelancers with clients. These sites differ from micro jobs sites in that they typically offer full projects. To use a job board, freelancers typically build a profile and bid against other freelancers. The profile may also include feedback from clients who have previously hired the freelancer through the site. Some sites offer premium memberships for a fee, where the freelancer has earlier access to projects. Drawbacks: There is a lot of competition on the job boards, which sometimes drives freelancing pay for jobs to ridiculous lows. Freelancers can spend a lot of time building portfolios and bidding on jobs without being awarded any work. Some job boards take a percentage of the freelancer’s fee, making their freelancing pay even lower.
  4. Let the client find you. If you’ve done a good job of networking and branding your freelancing business, after a while clients will begin to find you. This is especially true if you have an active social presence and a blog to promote your freelancing business. The clients that find you tend to be a mixed bag. If your branding is strong they will be of higher quality and pay a little more. However, if your branding is weak, they may simply be looking for a bargain. Drawbacks: If a client you have never heard of contacts you because you have a strong online presence, you need to spend some time doing your homework to learn all that you can about the client.
  5. Micro job sites. Micro jobs are tiny projects that usually pay a small amount of money. Some micro jobs may pay in points that can be redeemed for services. In the past few years, many sites have sprung up offering micro jobs. You can find one listing of micro jobs in the post, 35 Places to Find Micro Jobs, from Laureen Miles Brunelli on Drawbacks: You may wind up spending so much time on a micro job that you end up earning a very low hourly rate. Some sites require that you earn a certain amount before you can cash out. The biggest drawback that I see is that it could literally take thousands of micro jobs to earn a decent living. If you’re a full-time freelancer who depends on your freelancing income to make ends meet, this may not be for you.
  6. Networking. Many freelancers rely on a network of friends, colleagues, and clients to find work. Networking can be the source of some of the most lucrative freelancing positions. If you have a strong network, you will likely find out about an opportunity before most other freelancers. In some instances, you may be offered a gig directly without having to compete with other freelancers. Drawbacks: Networking is not a short-term strategy. It can take months, or even years, to build a network of contacts in your field.
  7. Third party placement and agencies. Another place where freelancers often find work is as subcontractors or through placement agencies. These jobs are sometimes advertised, but often they are not. You may join a group that keeps a listing of professionals to be considered for one of these jobs. One positive thing about working through an intermediary is that the potential for repeat business is high. Also, you don’t have to do the marketing–so this type of work appeals to freelancers who don’t like marketing. Drawbacks: There can be communication issues if the intermediary does not convey the project requirements accurately. Also, the intermediary typically takes a cut of the project fee, so pay can be slightly less.

Your Turn

How do you find your clients? What drawbacks to your method of finding clients have you noticed?