How to find work: marketplaces

I’m posting the last few pieces of my series about how to find work as a freelancer. Here are the ideas I’ve written about in the series so far:

Now it’s time to talk about the one option that many newbie freelancers think is the place to turn to find clients: marketplace sites like Upwork and Fiverr.

Over the years a wide array of sites like these have sprung up with the goal of connecting freelancers to employers. It seems that it’s difficult to find a profitable business model for this; they’ve all been structured in slightly different ways, but few of them have lasted long.

The big one right now on this front is Upwork (formerly Elance), along with Fiverr and Freelancer. I have found work on some of these types of sites over the years; I once long ago found a gig on Guru that has led to a variety of follow-on work that continues to this day.

However, the problem with them tends to be downward price pressure. And competing on price is never going to be the right way to make a sustainable freelance career. There are apparently ways to make these sites work for you. (Some people are making whole careers training people how to leverage Upwork successfully.) And those who are just starting out and willing to take lower-paid work to build up a portfolio may find these sites very useful.

But veteran freelancers don’t tend to use these sites; high-quality big-ticket clients simply aren’t browsing Upwork to find their talent. No, those clients are turning to their networks, or using high-profile agencies, or looking for appropriate pros working in high-profile contexts. For content marketing writers, exceptions to this rule are Contently and Skyword, where many major corporations troll for writers. However, they are notorious for not being a reliable source of ongoing work month in, month out.

That all being said, you can certainly use marketplaces — especially the higher-quality ones or the ones you’ve figured out how to use effectively — as a part of your larger work-finding strategy. It’s best to use as many avenues as you can, as long as each has potential for bringing you work that matches your needs and goals.

If you’re spending too long seeking work on these sites for not much return, or if you’re only getting very low-paid job options there, then look at putting more of your time and energy into other strategies. And even if you are finding success on Upwork or other sites, beware of depending too heavily on sites that serve as the middleman. Learn how to do your own hustling, prospecting, communicating, and negotiating, and the better off you’ll be for setting up a sustainable, successful freelancing career.

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