As I’ve made the jump into freelancing, one of the questions I always have for industry veterans and pros is fairly simple: “where do you find work?” It’s a make-or-break piece of advice if you’re trying to get started, and if you’re like me you need concrete steps to follow to get your feet in the water. Once you’ve actually made the jump into a freelance lifestyle and you’re past the honeymoon phase, one of the never-ending sources of stress is consistently finding work. Your friends and family might think that work just rolls in and all you have to do is occasionally check your e-mail. It’s hard enough if you’re already well-established and have a network of people who you can reach out to work, and it can be overwhelming if you’re just trying to get started.
There is no one-size-fits-all technique to finding work apart from always having your ear to the ground about new gigs. It varies from industry to industry, and of course, it also depends on your availability. Thankfully, there are things you can do to try and make the process a little easier.
#1: Use job boards effectively. There are a lot of different job boards out there today, some of which vary in utility. You might think about using Craigslist, but more often than not it’s going to be especially useful, and some of the better aggregating services will search Craigslist posts for you. Upworkis an easy place to get started and at least get in the habit of searching for gigs on a daily basis. If you’re interested in more volunteer-based work, Idealistfrequently posts freelance opportunities. If you’re more interested in magazine articles or blogging, sources such as Pitchwhizcan be your friend. Not every website is equally useful for every freelancer, so it’s a matter of finding what’s out there and then playing around with it.
By the same token, using them effectively also means learning to be judicious about the jobs you apply for. It takes some time to decide what makes for a good job versus a bad job, and in trawling through job aggregators, you will likely see a great many bad jobs. Use the experience of searching to think about the kinds of jobs you would like to take and conversely the kinds of jobs you will not take under any circumstances.
Other websites are useful, but not necessarily directly for finding work. At least in my experience, I see relatively few postings in LinkedIn’s job marketplace, but I do see people from companies post when they’re looking for freelancers. For this reason, LinkedIn can be useful once you’ve built up some connections and can then keep up with them.
#2. Professional networks. I’m always struck by the friendliness that most freelancers embody. For people that depend on hustling to survive, they can actually be very willing to share tips, best practices, and above all, sources. I’m an education writer, so these are the sources that I gravitate toward, and I’ve found there is a community of us online. One of the best services I ever stumbled across was the Writing for the Education Market, a Slack group where people post different kinds of education writing opportunities, but it’s not the only one: EduJobshas become a new favorite of mine, too.
You also need to share and share alike. I come across a lot of gigs that aren’t useful to me: as a social studies education writer, for example, I’m not going to be applying to math assessment writing jobs. However, just because I can’t do something with it doesn’t mean that somebody else couldn’t do something with it, and I’m more than happy to pass on what I find. In case being a nice person isn’t enticing enough for you, it’s also handy to build relationships with people who might just do the same for you.
#3. People you’ve already worked for. I try to approach every freelance job I take on as the beginning of an ongoing relationship, at least when it’s clear that our working relationship is a good one. People who hire freelancers tend to need them off and on. I try not to be overly pushy, but if I liked working for somebody once I’ll reach out them to periodically just to let them know I’m looking for work and see if there’s anything in the wheelhouse.
There’s a second component to this, too. If the work you’ve done for somebody was good or you helped them out in a pinch, they might just recommend you to somebody else. Cultivating those relationships is critical for long-term success.
#4. Be vigilant. If you want work, get used to looking for it pretty regularly. This does not mean e-mailing people every couple of days unless you want to be flagged as a pest, but once you’ve found your online sources for work, keep going back to them. Some of them like Idealist will let you set up e-mail alerts to keep track of what might be interesting, but others don’t. It’s become such a routine for me that I treat it the same way I do a cup of coffee in the morning. It’s easy to do and doesn’t take too much energy or brainpower, and if you do it consistently it doesn’t take very much time.