Choosing a gig platform on which to launch your freelance career isn’t a career breaker or anything, but the right choice can position you to quickly grow your skillset and your client base.
For beginning freelancers, the freelancing site I recommend is Upwork. Upwork employers post an average of about 2,700 new projects a day. AND as a freelancer, you’re just as likely to find gigs from employers who are okay hiring beginners as you are finding employers who want more advanced freelancers.
That’s important because when you’re first launching a freelance career, it’s not always easy to pull together a strategy for landing consistent work.
Upwork employers publish more than one million gigs a year across 70 different categories of work, and the platform allows freelancers to identify 5,000 different skills.
As I mentioned above, I personally like most about Upwork is that you’re just as likely to find a job posting from an employer who will accept bids from new providers as you are to find job postings from employers who are looking for more advanced freelancers. So, there’s a good chance that even if you don’t have previous experience in the category you choose, you will still be able to find a work-at-home job you can do on your laptop that works for you and for the employer.
Over the summer, my teenage daughter (who worked at a local state park pre-COVID) was able to land her first gig on Upwork within a day.
Now, it’s important to note that jobs for beginners usually pay significantly less than jobs for more advanced providers. But that’s a good thing if you’re coming in with no experience. It means if you’re a quick study, you have a real chance to learn new skills… and do it on someone else’s dime. At least that how I always looked at it when I was starting out.
Everything I learned about writing for the web, I basically learned on projects that came through Upwork (back then, it was actually called Elance). So, the order goes Willie Gibson (middle school English teacher), Dana Payne (high school English teacher), and Elance (adulthood English teacher).
Is it a legitimate platform? Yes. There are reputable companies of all sizes hiring on Upwork and Upwork has a system for telling you if they are reputable (verified). how many jobs they have posted, how many they filled, and how much they have spent to date on freelancers. So, you don’t have to worry about doing a bunch of work and having some fly-by-night startup stiff you. (Just a tip: Always make sure the client funds the escrow account before you start any client work)
No, you don’t really NEED to upload a resume on Upwork. Clients will be able to check out your skillset and performance history on the platform right from your profile, and that’s usually what they’re most interested in seeing, along with your portfolio.
For Upwork freelancers, the biggest challenge will be getting a feel for exactly how to sell yourself. I’ve done just as much hiring through Upwork as I’ve done working through Upwork, and as an employer, I can tell you freelancers get seconds to convince me to shortlist them. If I’m not convinced in three or four seconds, I archive them immediately to keep the hiring process simple.
I actually think I’ll write a post about this later on, but for now, just make sure you follow the directions in a job posting.
One more challenge that you’ll experience on Upwork (and on most platforms) is that it’s kind of expensive, especially if you’re just starting out. For every new client you acquire, you’ll pay 20% of your earnings to Upwork until you cross the $500 mark. When I started, the platform wasn’t so expensive, so I know I’m biased. But… 20% is not insignificant.
Last thing: it typically takes about two weeks from the time your client releases your payment for Upwork to actually make it available in your account. So, keep that in mind. EVEN STILL… for new freelancers, Upwork is a great starting point to learn how to manage projects and get paid to pick up new skills.
Just for good measure, let’s talk about two other gig platforms that are great for freelancers just starting out.
Another Option: PeoplePerHour
PeoplePerHour is another good freelancing site for new freelancers. It takes a few days to get approved for the account initially, but once you do, you’ll find some interesting job opportunities. And trust me, after you’re doing this for a while, you’ll be begging for interesting opportunities.
Each gig platform allows you to create a profile and catalog your skillset, so you will have that opportunity with People Per Hour. One thing to consider with this platform is that the core user base is in Europe. So, many of the jobs are with global clients. You’ll see in some instances that employers are looking for providers in certain countries, and even in certain cities.
One of the cool things about PeoplePerHour is that in addition to searching for existing job opportunities, freelancers can create Offers – pre-packaged services offered at a set rate.
For instance, when I did a lot of freelance work, my most popular Offer was to convert a 30-minute conversation into a 50-page ebook in 5 days for $500. I got several jobs from UK-based clients with that Offer.
Remember how I said you have to apply to join PeoplePerHour? That’s kind of important. PeoplePerHour requires its freelancers to keep their accounts active. That means you have to bid on projects, but you also must complete and receive good feedback on two jobs over the course of your first three months. If you don’t, the platform switches you to a paid subscription model (at $13.95/mo) for another three months to give you time to successfully complete those two projects and earn back your free plan. If you don’t, you lose the ability to bid on projects or post Offers.
In addition, PeoplePerHour charges a 20% fee on the first $350 you earn with every new client. Once your earnings with that client tops $350, the fee drops to 7.5% of your earnings.
If this sounds like your jam, we published a guide to succeeding on PeoplePerHour published by a top-rated freelancer on the platform.
I Would Add Fiverr, Too
Fiverr is a great platform for selling pre-packed services. Whereas other platforms allow freelancers to search projects posted to the gig platform, it’s the other way around on Fiverr. On Fiverr clients search through the services freelancers post to the platform to find a provider they think will be the best choice to serve them.
I’ve never actually posted a gig to Fiverr, but I’ve hired more than a dozen Fiverr providers for everything from removing image backgrounds to creating marketing collateral. Despite never having used Fiverr to get work, I included it because it’s basically a skills marketplace that allows you to niche-down your skillset. I’ve seen graphic designers who ONLY create stuff for churches.
Fiverr is a great platform for all sorts of professionals. When it first started, every freelance job on their was small stuff that could be done for $5 (aren’t you glad that’s not the case anymore?)
Now, Fiverr gigs can easily creep into the thousands of dollars for more sophisticated work or more established professionals. THAT’S A GOOD THING. Unlike other platforms where you’re stuck with a set hourly rate that shows up in your profile and follows you all over the web, on Fiverr, you can offer simpler services for lower prices and raise your prices as the scope of the work grows.
For employers, this is a go-to platform to get people who can do one-off jobs, and to find new providers whom you can hire over and over again.
Here’s something important for Fiverr that’s not as important on the other two platforms I mentioned. You need to put together the best portfolio you can because the combination of your rate, your reviews, and your portfolio is what will get clients to shortlist you. After that, it’s all about the extra little deliverables you promise in your gig descriptions.
The more you can comfortably deliver, the better. By that, I mean things like unlimited revisions, or delivering logos in multiple formats, or being able to test-drive your services at a trial rate (like a social media manager who’ll manage your account for one whole day for $15 as opposed to a client having to shell out $100 only to find out that you’re not great at using the best hashtags). On Fiverr, those little optional features WILL make the difference between someone hiring you and someone hiring another provider who does something similar.
Fiverr charges a fee to freelancers of 20% of each of the jobs you finish. We published a Fiverr guide that was penned by a Fiverr freelancer with a 4.8 out of 5-star rating and who has more than 150 completed Fiverr gigs under her belt. You can read her guide to successfully navigating Fiverr here.
Those first careful steps into a career as a freelance service provider are important, even if you’re only planning to freelance for a short time. The best freelancing site for beginners will depend on the freelancer and the kinds of skills you possess vs what you still need to acquire. Directing your efforts to either (or all) of the three freelance marketplaces listed in this post will be a good use of your time and other resources.