Sometimes, when jobs fall in your lap or your inbox is full of inquiries, freelancing feels like a walk through the park. You know, the kind where bluebirds tie your shoelaces and beautiful people with adorable dogs wink at you as they jog by? Those are the times when it’s fun to tell people, “Hi, yeah. I’m a freelancer.”
Other times, it’s like walking through an eerily empty park. During a storm, in the middle of a horror movie… and you’re hungry the whole time.
Those are the times when you don’t care what you tell people, so long as they buy you dinner or spot you $20 for your website hosting.
I’ve written before about finding freelance jobs, but it was a pretty broad overview. This time, I’m getting specific, and focusing on the best freelance sites available online. I promise, I’m not going to tell you to just “try UpWork!”
I mean, obviously you can give UpWork a shot… but I want you to know there are more options out there. A lot more options.
Go for your ideal freelance work niche.
You want to get noticed, right? Throwing your talents out into a pool of a million people trying to get hired for a million different kinds of freelance work is going to make that difficult. Throwing your hat into a smaller ring of similar job-seekers, however, is a much easier way to stand out.
Be aware of the types of freelance work sites out there.
Once you’ve nailed down the niches you want to explore, you’ll also need to think about the type of site you want to deal with. These sites can get confusing and overwhelming, so let’s walk through them.
Even the lines between some of the best freelance sites can get a little blurry, so I’m going to break them down into four categories: Paid, Unpaid, Screened, and Unscreened. There are different terms I can use, like “Job Board” or “Job Directory,” but I want to keep this as simple as possible, so here we go:
Certain sites will cost you a little bit of cash in order to get you work. Now, I know that nobody likes spending money if they don’t have to, but these sites can have their advantages. Some ask for a monthly membership fee (and sometimes offer a money-back guarantee), others take a percentage of the earnings you make from any freelance work found on the site. Many of these sites actually manage the financial transactions, adding a layer of protection to both you and the people looking for qualified freelancers.
There are also plenty of options out there for totally free sites. Just like anything, though, these come with pros and cons. It’s likely that the free sites will be flooded with freelancers looking for work, and for businesses looking for cheap work. Again, it’s all up to you and your situation. When you’re scrounging pennies, even a $10 can be a big deal.
Prepare yourself, friends, because I’m coming at you with more pros and cons.
Some sites have a screening process tied to their services. This means that a team of people will comb through applications to ensure that featured freelancers (and sometimes even the entities looking to hire the freelancers) meet a specific set of standards. This makes it a little harder to get your work onto the sites… but if you do make the cut, it’s likely that the jobs you get hired for will be of higher quality (bigger jobs, higher pay).
Just like with the free sites, an unscreened site leaves room for lower-quality (smaller jobs, lower paying) clients… and sometimes that’s exactly what you need to get through a rough patch.
Alright, alright, already. Here’s a list of the actual sites.
I’m going to break these down into niche, and let you know whether they’re paid/unpaid/screened/unscreened, as well as any other info I find pertinent.
Ready? Let’s do this.
Web Development and Design:
Codeable — Codeable is a screened option that applies a 15% service charge to your final estimates. Remember, this screening process can be a big benefit to you, should you get accepted. This is what Codeable CEO, Per Esbensen, has to say about it:
“Online outsourcing has been bleeding for a long time (and still is) due to the bidding process and the lack of quality control. Codeable addresses both these aspects by providing estimates to customers and a thorough quality control approach. Actually, we recently renewed our original vetting process, which combines language and communication screening, test projects, as well as live code testing, to an extent that 2-3% of all applicants make it past the screening.”
Envato Studio — This is another screened option, and the company takes 30% of your final project earnings. Payment is collected by Envato and managed through an earnings account.
Smashing Jobs — This one’s a “job board,” which means that employers and business owners looking to hire freelancers pay to get their job listings posted on the board. Freelancers can look through the ads and contact the employers of their own accord. Not screened, and of no cost to you.
Behance, Dribbble — These two are fairly well-known portfolio/job board sites. Since I’m rounding up some of the best freelance sites that aren’t quite so talked about, I’m not going to spend a lot of time on them… but they’re definitely worth a mention.
ProBlogger — ProBlogger is a prominent blogging resource started by blogger Darren Rowse. The “jobs” section of the site is an extensive job board, similar to Smashing Jobs. There is no screening process for for freelancers or hiring companies, so ProBlogger warns applicants to use “due diligence” when applying for jobs.
Scripted — Scripted is another freelance marketplace, but specifically for writers. There is a screening process in order to become a Scripted freelancer, and you would receive payment from Scripted, rather than straight from the client. From what I can tell, there isn’t an official percentage taken from freelancers’ earnings, but there’s a chance that the payment transactions might incur some fees.
Krop — Krop is a combination between a job board and a marketplace. Clients looking to hire freelancers post jobs on Krop’s website, and the freelancers can contact the client themselves. Freelancers do, however, get to create a profile and add it to Krop’s database. No screening, no charges or percentages taken from earnings. Krop is a resource for almost all freelancers, with jobs in web design, copywriting, SEO, graphic design, and more.
Flexjobs — Flexjobs is a subscription-based job board. For a monthly, quarterly, or yearly subscription, you get access to Flexjobs’ job board, job search tips, and portfolio options. One notable aspect of Flexjobs is the company’s focus on the freelancer’s ease of use, rather than the entities posting the jobs. I always like that in a company, you know?
AwesomeWeb — The folks at AwesomeWeb offer a paid service, but with a bit of a twist. For $27 per month, you can upload your portfolio to their “small, exclusive freelance marketplace,” with the safety net of a 90 day money-back guarantee if you don’t earn anything during that time.
Nicholas Tart, the man behind AwesomeWeb, believes fully in his model, and here’s why:
“AwesomeWeb is the site that I wanted as a freelancer. Every other platform was bloated with free accounts, restricted client communication, and wasted my time with cheap proposals.
We believe the client should contact you, instead of you contacting them, based on the quality of your work. This minimizes bidding wars. Then every project should start with a call. 100% open communication. And successful projects should lead to long-term relationships with regular retainers.
Freelancing should be a warm, human experience. That’s why we built AwesomeWeb.”
Toptal — This is a marketplace with a heavily-screened acceptance process. They accept applications from both Graphic Designers and Developers. Toptal handles all financial transactions, but there isn’t any copy detailing costs or fees.
Coroflot — Coroflot is a free job board that allows you to directly contact the parties looking to hire.
Authentic Jobs — Another job board that’s free to the job seeker, and from what I can tell, the freelancer communicated directly with potential clients. The sister site, Authentic Jobs, is a directory that allows you to create a freelance profile.
AIGA Design Jobs — This is a job board available only to AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts) members. Once you’ve become a member (memberships begin at $50/year), you’ll have access to a job board of listings that hiring companies have paid to list.
SEO & Marketing
Growth Geeks — This is a screened option for freelance marketers that allows you to become part of the company’s “network of experts.” You must submit an application and make it through the screening process, but since the site’s pricing structure is quite regular and package-based, you’ll likely have a consistent working rate. (There’s also a DesignGeeks and WordGeeks option.)
Inbound Jobs — Another job board, but with a fairly thorough application to fill out, if you find a job worth contacting.
GrowthHackers — A job board in which you directly contact businesses to apply.
We Work Remotely — Another straightforward job board that puts you in control of communication with prospective clients by applying directly.
Take a deep breath. Don’t freak out.
I realize this post, for a few reasons, might be a little… overwhelming. One, a whole lot of sites just got thrown at you. And, two, now you’ve actually got to sit down, create profiles, fill out applications, and go through screening processes.
This is a good time to remind yourself of why you’re a freelancer. You want flexibility, and you want to do what you’re good at. Sometimes, that takes a little leg work… or a lot of extra typing. Remember, being a freelancer means that you’re not isolated to the small handful of companies hiring in your area; there are roughly a million bajillion places you can find work, as long as you’re willing to put forth the effort.
Isn’t it a beautiful thing to have options?