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How to Find Freelance Work Online

No one needs to be told how bad this economy is. Every week it seems thousands more are losing their jobs while countless more are having to scale back their rates or the hours that they work. Incomes everywhere are being choked, causing families to cut corners and miss bills.

This has led many to consider seeking a second job. From flipping burgers to delivering pizza, no job has been above consideration. However, in many cases, one might find it more lucrative to seek freelance work online.

Where a "traditional" second job might pay barely above minimum wage, which averages about $7 to $8 per hour, and a "good" part-time job might pay $10-$15 per hour, freelance work on the Web can easily double or triple that. More money per hour means less time needed to spend working and more revenue, essentially creating both time and money.

Though there are drawbacks to online freelance work, namely that it is not as steady of work as a traditional hourly or salary position, it can be more lucrative and easier to find, especially in a soft economy. After all, with online work, there's no need to look for work in just your local market, you can get a job with someone half a world away just as easily as the store down the street.

However, finding online work isn't as simple as updating a resume and sending it out. There are many considerations that need to go into effect before one jumps in to it.

Deciding What Kind of Work to Do

There are an almost unlimited number of paths one can take when looking to earn a part-time living on the Web, choosing which one is right for you can be difficult.

For example, on the Web you can find writers who are paid to blog or post articles, merchants that run home-based online shops, consultants who are paid to advise, virtual assistants that function like part-time secretaries, designers who build Web sites and much more. It seems that almost every job in the bricks and mortar world has an online counterpart.

When it comes to deciding what you want to do online, typically it is best to look honestly at what you do well offline and find a way to translate it to the online world. When brainstorming ideas, consider the following:

1. Your Day Job: Many people find a way to simply take what they do during their regular job and earn extra revenue from it online. Secretaries, for example, often become virtual assistants or HR personnel might become resume consultants.

2. Your Hobbies: Take a look at what you do for fun and see if there is a way to translate that into an online business. If you love toy trains, you may be able to set up an online store for such trains or help people price and value their collections. Likewise, a book collector may wish to sell rare books on Amazon or eBay.

3. Your Unpaid Talents: What do people ask you to do for them? Do friends constantly ask you to help them fix their computers? If so an online computer advice service may be a good idea. Do you get constantly roped in to writing the company newsletter or other odd jobs? If so, a freelance writing job may be the best approach. What others ask you for is often the best indication of which of your services are most in demand.

All in all, it is usually better to find a way to market your existing talents than to try and learn a new skill solely for the purpose of working online. Not only will it help you get started more quickly, but you'll be better at the job and it will most likely be something you enjoy, making your online work much less like actual "work".

Avoiding Scams

Sadly, as with every economic downturn, there are a slew of individuals that are working to scam would-be job seekers through a variety of online and offline "work at home" scams. It is important to be aware of these scams and understand how to avoid them.

1. Do Research: It pays to do your research and understand who you are doing business with. Before signing a deal with any company, look up information about the company, in particular with the Better Business Bureau, and the person you're dealing with. Often times, a simple Google search can expose a scam before it goes too far.

2. Be Wary of Grand Claims: Any site or email that promises to help you "get rich quick" or make what seems to be far too much money for the work is probably a scam. Things that sound too good to be true almost always are.

3. Don't Pay Money: For the most part, with legitimate employment, job seekers are paid to work, they don't pay for the privilege to work. Many work scams are based on upfront fees such as "initiation fees", "information fees", etc. Be very wary of any job offer that requires you to pay some upfront fee as, most likely, it is just an attempt to take your money without giving you any work.

For more tips on how to avoid self-employment scams, you can check out the National Consumer League's list of advice and tips.

Where to Find Work

Where you search for work will depend heavily on the kind of work you want to do. For example, if you're looking to use the Internet as a tool to find business for a more traditional, offline, business (odd jobs, computer repair, etc.) you will likely want to use classified ads on Craigslist or your local newspaper. If you're looking to do online consulting, social networking sites, especially business-oriented ones like Linkedin, will probably bear the most fruit. Those looking to sell material goods will likely want to participate in eBay as well as other auction sites as they have a large, built-in customer base.

For most online freelancers, the first step to finding the best places to look for work is to join communities and associations for others in your field. For example, virtual assistants have the International Virtual Assistant Association and freelance writers have, a community and forum dedicated to helping writer's succeed.

By reading and interacting with others in your field, you not only give yourself the chance to learn the best places to seek work or post for information, but you also get to see what the best practices in all areas of the field are as well as help with many of the technical details such as billing, contracts and so forth.

However, any effort to promote yourself is, almost certainly going to involve creating your own personal home page. Whether it is simply a business card-style page to offer your contact information, a full blog or even a store front, a Web presence is a virtual must for anyone seeking work on the Web. Though the old adage of a Web site being a "24-hour salesperson working on your behalf" is true, it is more important to have it as a hub for all of your other online interactions.

To set up a site, decide the type of home page, you first need to secure both hosting and a domain name. Many companies, including Godaddy, Hostgator and 1&1 can provide you with both at very low prices. Once you've done that, you will need to determine the kind of site you want and choose the correct tool to manage it.

If you want just a static site, virtually any HTML editor, such Evrsoft's free First Page, can handle the task and do a reasonable job with minimal work. If you want a blog, you'll likely need to download and install WordPress or Movable Type. Likewise, if you're planning on opening a store front, PrestaShop and osCommerce will be better choices.

One final consideration, once you have your site set up, is the possibility of buying advertising through Google Adwords or Yahoo! Search Marketing. These services allow users to run advertisements against both search results and on pages within their publisher network. The amount they charge is based on the clicks that your ad gets, the price of which is decided by an auction. Because of this, these systems work best for fields with limited competition or narrow keywords as they charge significantly less per click, though such keywords drive less traffic. Competition for the most popular keywords can be fierce, resulting in very high cost per click rates.

Once you've got your site and have studied your community some, you can then go about promoting yourself and finding new customers using the best practices in your field, advertising, social networking and whatever other tools you have at your disposal.

Getting Paid

Deciding how much to charge for your services is one of the most difficult parts of being a freelancer. Many jobs pay by the hour, such as consultants, others by the piece, such as writers, and others still pay a percentage, such as sales. Deciding how much to charge can be difficult, especially when you're breaking into the field. However, if you're involved in your community, you probably already have some idea about the average rates and can adjust your prices accordingly.

However, if you still have no idea what you need to charge, you can always use a freelance rate calculator that looks at your expenses, your income and decides how much you need to earn per hour to break even. Obviously, you'll likely want to charge a bit above that to cover for hours that you are not working.

Once you've decided on your rate and have gotten clients to agree to it, collecting on them can be another matter altogether. Most online freelancers accept PayPal and many clients expect to have it available as an option, especially since it is the easiest way to accept credit cards and bank account transfers via the Web. Signing up for an account is free and PayPal only charges a small fee for certain transactions.

For invoicing, if you don't have a stand-alone system such as Quicken already, will likely best be handled by a Web-based solution such as Freshbooks. Freshbooks is free for a basic account but has paid versions that let you track more clients. Best of all, it interacts with PayPal, letting the two work together seamlessly.

When used together, Freshbooks and PayPal make it very easy to get paid for your services while keeping your transaction fees relatively low.

Additional Help

For additional help and advice about going freelance, here are a few links to consider:

  1. Gofreelance: A combination of a freelance job board, support community and hub for helpful articles about freelancing.
  2. iFreelance: A site that matches companies needing to hire freelance workers with willing providers.

  3. IRS Self Employment & Small Business Center: The official government resource on taxes, for the self-employed.

  4. Self Employment Section: A government resource on how to get started with your own business as well as other legal issues.
  5. A Guide to Self-Employment: A great article in BusinessWeek about finding self employment work after a layoff. Contains a slide show with "20 Steps to Self Employment".
  6. Freelance Writing Gigs: One of the oldest communities of freelance writers online with daily job postings and active discussion in the comments.

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