This is a guest post by Amy Boyington.
I've heard it an infinite number of times since I've started my freelancing career, and it never ceases to irritate me (and the many other freelancers who understand how to use freelancing sites correctly).
I'm a firm believer that if people learned how to use Upwork and other top freelance marketplaces the right way, they wouldn't feel so pessimistic about them.
A freelance site is something you should always consider as a valuable tool in your business marketing toolkit rather than the only tool you rely on to find clients. When combined with other inbound marketing and outreach techniques, freelancing sites can help you round out your marketing efforts to give you a steady stream of clients.
What are Freelance Marketplaces?
First, let's define the freelance marketplace. Also known as freelancing sites, these websites function as platforms for freelancers to find clients to work with. Although there are many of these freelance platforms with slightly different features, they usually have similar characteristics, like:
- A bidding system that lets freelancers apply for jobs that fit their interests and skills using a set number of bids for a month.
- A payment system that protects both the freelancer and client to ensure paid work is completed and completed work gets paid.
- A feedback system for clients and freelancers that show other members what it was like to work with that person for the length of the project.
Freelance marketplaces can be an excellent source for beginners and seasoned freelancers to find short-term and long-term clients to fill their rosters, especially when they learn to use them as a free marketing tool for their freelance business.
The Big Problem with Freelance Sites
There's a big problem with freelancing marketplaces though, and this is where many of the naysayers get misguided information: Too many freelancers rely on these types of websites as their only source for finding clients, rather than just one patch for client outreach.
It's not really the sites themselves that are the problem, but rather, the way freelancers tend to use them.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of potentially bad clients lurking on freelance marketplaces. Upwork is notorious for low-paying clients who expect only the best work from freelancers who don't mind working for $5 an hour. The thing is, these clients are everywhere; it just happens to be easier for them to find desperate job seekers on a marketplace that magically matches freelancers and clients in a more concentrated fashion.
When freelancers use only these platforms to find clients, they're likely going to end up miserable and disappointed by what seems to be a lack of quality connections. They'll end up bidding their lives away on one-off jobs that barely pay minimum wage just to make a living from their business instead of waiting for the diamond-in-the-rough jobs that can give them a sustainable income.
Rethinking the Freelance Marketplace
When you start thinking of the freelance marketplace as another marketing tool for your business instead of your sole client-seeking pathway, you'll begin to see it for what it really is: one valuable facet of your overall marketing plan.
Here's how to make freelance marketplaces work for you:
1. Build a Strong Profile and Portfolio
Your profile on freelance marketplaces sets you apart from thousands of other freelancers who do what you do. It also acts as a portfolio of sorts because you can use it to list other clients you've worked with and briefly explain some of your favorite projects and results. Some marketplaces also provide you with some space in your profile to create a portfolio by linking to or uploading projects you've completed.
Your profile should be concise, but strong. In your headline and a couple of short paragraphs, you should be able to explain precisely what you do so clients won't have to search for the answer. A headline like "K-12 teacher who writes creative, engaging curriculum" will most certainly get more attention than "K-12 curriculum writer."
Other necessary steps to take to optimize your profile on these sites so that clients find you include:
- Narrowing your specialty into a niche. Clients want to see that you're an expert in whatever it is that you do, so be as specific as possible in your headline and your bio.
- Adding a professional headshot. Matching a face with a description is something that will make it easier for clients to remember you. Make sure your picture is something you'd be happy to have associated with your name.
- Letting clients know what you'll do for them. Be specific in your explanation about what you do and what you've done for other clients. They want to see how you'll help them, not what you love about yourself.
2. Get Some Experience and WOW Clients
Creating a long-term marketing plan with your chosen freelance platforms starts with getting some experience on them. It's also one of the toughest things to do when you don't have any previous feedback on the platform to help clients trust you.
To get started, look only for jobs that you know, without a sprinkle of a doubt, you can knock out of the park. Ideally, they should be quick, one-off jobs that will help you build a positive reputation quickly. Most platforms reward freelancers who complete work on-time (or early), consistently get excellent reviews, and are quick to respond to client requests.
Once you have a few jobs with positive feedback on your side, you should start noticing that it's easier to land work on the platform.
3. Only Look for Stellar Jobs
Now, this is where most freelancers fail on freelancing sites. Getting excellent jobs on these sites isn't a numbers game; it's a strategy game. Sending one awe-worthy pitch per day is so much better for you than sending ten so-so pitches a day to try to score a gig.
Feel free to browse the marketplace regularly for jobs, but only apply to those who hit the nail on the head in terms of meeting your rates, aligning with your values, and matching your skills. Most platforms have filters that help you narrow search results, so you can find the right jobs. Upwork, for example, lets you browse by budget, skills, experience level, keywords, and more.
Becoming selective in your marketplace job search leads to you getting jobs that are completely tailored to you and what you do. This means that you'll have no reason not to impress your client, get fantastic feedback, and continue to get seen by other clients.
4. Use Your Profile as an Inbound Marketing Tool
I became a Top-Rated Freelancer with Upwork after about one year on the platform because I followed the steps above. On Upwork, a Top-Rated status means that you have at least a 90% job success score, a complete profile, regular and meaningful activity, and have maintained a Rising Talent status. By being selective and working only with clients I knew I could help, I've had nothing but incredible feedback from every job.
Now I get clients coming to me for work rather than me reaching out to them.
Once you have an optimized profile and become a top freelancer on a platform, it's easier for clients to find you when they want to reach out directly to freelancers to invite them to jobs. I rarely ever to search for jobs anymore; instead, I have a steady stream of invitations for me to choose from.
Freelance marketplaces can become an inbound marketing tool for your business, just like your website and LinkedIn profile, when you start to treat them as such.
How to Use Upwork and Other Freelancing Sites to Market Yourself as an Expert Freelancer
Some people tell you not to step foot inside Upwork, while other freelancers who take freelancing sites for what they are will explain how to use Upwork and similar sites strategically to win more clients, as I've done above. Understanding the many avenues of landing clients for your business is what will set you apart from other freelancers who are on a never-ending scramble for worthwhile clients.
Rethink the freelance marketplace and don't be so quick to judge them before you've experienced them first-hand. By optimizing your profile and holding out for only the best work and clients, you might find that these websites become one of your most valuable, underrated marketing instruments for a sustainable freelance business.
Amy Boyington is a freelance writer and blog manager for lifestyle entrepreneurs and businesses. After working a few unfulfilling 9 to 5 jobs, she took it upon herself to create a career path that meshed with her family life. She now works with clients all over the world in a flexible freelance career that helps her be both a businesswoman and mom to her two children.