Seven Tips for Freelancers: Looking for Work Online

My colleague Cynthia Haggard is a medical writer who is brilliant at demystifying science for general readership (and other writers.) Before you categorize her as purely left-brain, you should know she also writes historical novels. I love this balance and I think the historical research informs her scientific mind and abilities. Cynthia let me reprint this piece on improving your chances of finding work online.

Here is her article for freelancers:
You are new to freelance writing and you don’t have much money to spend. You’ve heard the Internet is brimful of interesting jobs, so you start surfing. You find an overwhelming number of sites targeted at freelancers who are looking for work.

Typically, the sites offer several levels of services.  For a minimal cost, they allow you to look through jobs that are more than two weeks old.  For significantly more money, they offer a “professional” level, where you get to see new jobs as they come in.  Then there are the “business” or “business deluxe” levels that claim to provide extra services for a fee. You are overwhelmed with information.  Where should you put your money?  Which sites can you trust? Here are seven tips that might help.
Try to get as much stuff as you can for free. Some sites will let you download e-books, tip sheets or job reports for free for a trial period.  Pay attention to how long that trial period is and time it so that you can do some serious downloading. It sounds obvious, but don’t end up paying for more than you need to. Company A cost $29.95 per month, which was discounted to $2.95 for the first trial week.  The site offered an e-book, a list of freelance web-sites, and free job reports.  When I tried to sign up for the free job reports, I was never able to get this service. I was forced to go to the web site and wade through all the jobs they had listed. Very time consuming and frustrating.

By this time, my one-week trial period had expired and I was paying $29.95/month for Company A’s services. This seemed a lot for a little, so I cancelled.

Do the math. Always convert the rate they give you, so you can see how much you are being paid by the word or by the hour for easy comparison. Company B allowed me to post my profile and résumé online and provided me with organizational tools for managing projects.  I signed on at the basic membership level for free, but the basic membership was so restrictive it was useless.  So I upgraded my membership to the Professional level at the cost of $74.95 per quarter. After I upgraded, the jobs started to flow in.

The problem?  I was swamped.  As I scrolled through, I noticed one job that wanted you to do 40 reports for $10 per report. It didn’t sound too bad; I would be making $400. However, when I did the math – 250 words per page at a penny a word for 4 pages equals $10 – that job translated into less than a penny a word. How many reports do you know that are four pages long? They’re usually much more. Facing a daily deluge of useless jobs, I discontinued my subscription after six weeks.
Join e-lists to meet people and get jobs. Many professional organizations have electronic discussion lists of like-minded people looking for jobs that are free.  Rather than paying expensive fees, join one of these lists, lurk for a couple of weeks to check it out, and then make a decision about staying or quitting.

Remember, the point of these lists is to get you in touch with good jobs.  If you’re being subjected to lots of gossip that fills up your email inbox and your time without generating paying projects, then you should quit.  Never fall for requests for extra money. Keep records of how much you spent and how long the subscription lasts and put it in an easy-to-use format, such as a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet or a table in Word that you can keep in a handy place like your desktop or your Documents folder.

Company C cost $25 per quarter.  The site worked by soliciting bids on projects from its freelance members. You had to be able to estimate how much time it was going to take you to do the project.  (This is difficult to do if you are starting out and learning your market.)  About a month after I’d joined, I was in the middle of bidding on a job when I received a request to bill my credit card for $75 to “automatically continue my service”.  I checked my records and confirmed that I was up-to-date with my dues.  So I stopped the bid cold and wrote an email to Company C asking them about this.  I got no response.  But at least I had not spent any extra money.  Needless to say, I stopped my subscription.

Always check out the website before you put money down. Check the name of the website on Google.  Has it been endorsed by the Wall Street Journal? Or Fortune magazine?  Who is the founder? Has this person worked for a well-known organization in your field?  How long has it been around?  What is its mission?
Stop surfing; start networking to get well-paying jobs.

Meeting people can be the most valuable thing you can do. Go to networking events held by your professional associations.  I found my first client by networking at a local American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) event.  I found my second client when a medical writing colleague gave me a job she did not want.  By going to the annual AMWA conference and talking to people on the exhibition floor, I learned there was a great need for medical writers who prepare documents for the FDA.  Further investigation revealed that it paid well, so I decided to make that my niche.
Make it your business to find out what the going rate is. Many professional organizations provide salary surveys.  Before you join, ask if the organization provides this service to its members.  Knowing the rate for your kind of work is invaluable in deciding whether you want to take on a job.

Remember that spending time doing badly paid work costs you, not only in the actual time you spent doing the work, but because you were prevented from seeking out a better-paid opportunity.  Knowing the rate will give you the confidence to ask for decent pay.

Remember also that under-charging hurts everyone. Your expertise and time should be valued and paid for accordingly.  Giving time and expertise to clients effectively takes food off the table for other hard-working professionals.  Making a living doing freelance writing is hard enough as it is; so don’t make it more difficult! Never work under your rate.

(c) Cynthia Haggard, 2008. All rights reserved.

–Quinn McDonald, who hosted this article but did not write it, is a life coach who helps people through change and transitions. Visit her website, QuinnCreative.

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3 thoughts on “Seven Tips for Freelancers: Looking for Work Online

  1. Hey Quinn. Happy new year and thanks for the nice gift of freelance resources. Yes, despite the nightly news ghouls there is still gold in them thar hills. We just have to dig a bit harder for it.

    • You are welcome. There is still lots of work to go around. It takes effort to find it. And you know me, I don’t believe in “luck,” I believe we make our own luck. Go get ’em Grendel! —Q

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