The Definitive Guide to Winning Jobs on Freelance Marketplaces

Online freelance marketplaces like Guru.com, Freelancer.com etc. connect service buyers with thousands of freelancers like web designers, programmers, writers, business consultants, photographers and more.

Here is how you can distinguish yourself from the other freelancers and win more projects:

1. Registration

All freelance marketplaces have free registration. Major sites like Guru.com, Freelancer.com and Upwork.com also have paid membership which have more features or advantages. One major advantage is that the number of projects you can bid on is much higher in case of paid plans. E.g. guru.com allows you to bid on only 10 jobs per month if your membership is free / basic, but it increases to 50 if you are a paid member. You may ask that aren’t these 10 bids enough? Theoretically, yes. And if you are an expert in a field for which there is almost no competition, then you have got it made! But practically you will see that all your bids will be exhausted, especially if you are just starting. Also the probability of you landing a job increases with more number of bids. Moreover, when a buyer sees that you have ‘invested’ some money by getting the paid plan, s/he understands that you too have put your money & reputation on the line unlike some free members who simply vanish and register again. This further increases your chance of getting selected for projects. Paid plans also enable you to upload portfolio files, get featured in search results and provide marketing opportunities to increase your business. Therefore, it makes sense to get paid membership. You will also need to enter details of your bank account or Paypal where you want to receive your project payments. So, be ready with the bank account number, SWIFT code etc. TIP: Register for a PayPal account, as it can be used for getting payments from repeat / long term clients when you start getting projects outside the marketplaces.

2. Create an Appealing Profile

(a) First Impressions Count. Just like your profile on social media, your profile contains information about you, your qualifications / certifications, experience and feedback ratings from previous work on the marketplace (of course as a newbie one will not have any ratings / feedback). You should use your profile to hook potential employers and lure them to learn more about you and your work. When you enter details like your skill set and your qualifications, don’t go overboard and list a  lot of them – only list what you are really good at. E.g. a graphic designer can mention logo design, cover design, brochure design as the skill set, while the toolkit can be Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator etc. Upload your photo in professional attire (no wild party photo please!) and if possible a video grab of you / your staff explaining your services. This will help humanize the freelancer, who without the photo / video is simply a username or company name. This helps reassure Employers and build trust and respect. The bottom line is to make the client think – I should hire him /her since I can trust them to complete my job.

(b) Post an Impactful Portfolio. If you have done some projects in the past, exhibit details of these in your online portfolio. If you have not done before, create something good and list or display them – you can use them in future projects or sell them on digital stock marketplaces. Your online portfolio is proof that you’re the real deal. Portfolio files are usually in the form of images which is pretty easy for graphic artists / website designers etc. since their work is in graphical form. In case of writers, transcriptionists, web researchers etc. screenshots of your work are a way to showcase your work / experience.

(c) Show Your Expertise in Skills. You should prove you are knowledgeable in the field you claim by getting tested for your skills. Majority of clients surveyed indicated that they are more likely to hire a freelancer with tested skills relevant to their job. Freelancing marketplaces offer skill testing for a fee or free for paid members. These tests are multiple choice questions which you answer online in a span of about 40 minutes. You take this test and the scores are posted automatically to your profile. Needless to say, you need to score above the average in your category to win projects.

3. Winning Work

The above mentioned steps are required to setup your account initially. But you must review and revise your profile regularly. Now that your account is setup, let us see how to consistently win work online:

(a) Bidding Stage. In this stage, a registered buyer posts a project (e.g. Web Design for Restaurant) with detailed description, budget and other terms. The most recent projects are usually posted at the top, followed by older ones. You can sort, search with advanced parameters so that you narrow down to the category of work you are interested in. Then, you the freelancer places bid on the project with fees, project proposal, experience or list of past projects done, and perhaps some samples and turnaround time. Place a detailed bid proposal and not just a simple 2-3 line statement or a copy-paste from somewhere. I have written another post on writing a winning bid proposal – check it out.

(b) Project Discussion Stage. Buyer and freelancer discuss the requirements and other details before project is awarded. e.g. buyer may ask some questions regarding the deliverables or the freelancer may have a query regarding the buyer’s deadline. As a freelancer, you must clarify all aspects to avoid frustration and wastage of time later. When discussing the project, be polite and never ever write a message when you are angry or frustrated. Cool down, think and respond to the buyer’s message or question. Simple things, but it is surprising how it is often overlooked and becomes the source of misery for most freelancers. All the freelancing sites have their own message board sometimes called the PMB (Private Message Board) – an internal messaging system. In fact most of them stipulate that you must communicate with your client on the provided message board only and not outside of it (no emails). This helps in dispute resolution if and when it arises. Moreover, some freelancers started asking for payments outside the marketplace to avoid paying commission – many scam buyers take advantage of this and get work done for free. Any freelancer who indulges in such activity will not only lose money, but will also be banned from the marketplace for ever.

(c) Project Award Stage. Like you, there will be other freelancers who have placed their bids on the project. After reading all the proposals and perhaps discussions, the buyer finally decides to go ahead with a freelancer and awards the project to him/her. The selected freelancer accepts / rejects the project. Some sites like Guru.com require you to submit an agreement before you ask for the money to be paid into escrow (explained in section below). Your bid is accepted: Now what? Of course, get on with the job, that’s what. Right…? Wrong. First thing is to write a note via PMB, thanking the client for awarding the project. It may be a small matter, but it goes a long way in getting good feedback rating or winning a long term client and further business references. Next, complete formalities like submitting an agreement and / or escrow request, and then ask for required information from the client to complete the work.

(d) Escrow Stage. Escrow is an account held by a third party (in this case the freelance marketplace) wherein the fees due to the freelancer are paid by the buyer in advance i.e. before the project begins. These funds are held in escrow account and not released till the successful completion of the project. This is done in order to protect both – the buyer and the freelancer in a transaction. You can skip the escrow for long term clients, but it is certainly advisable for new clients (who are yet to win your trust). It is a good idea to begin the work only after the client has funded the escrow, especially with new clients.

(e) Work in Progress. Once the escrow is funded, the freelancer gets on with the job. During the project, one can and should ask for any clarifications, more information etc. which will help you in completing the job. The freelancer may send drafts / image composites for approval. In turn, the buyer may ask for changes or could change the scope of the project midway. For small changes or amendments, usually no amount is billed. Now this should have been discussed before the project award stage and should be included in the project agreement. In case of scope change it may or may not attract additional cost depending on the mutual agreement. The freelancer should provide regular feedback to the client / buyer about the progress of work. This feedback goes a long way in reassuring the clients that the work is on. Just a few lines of feedback can do wonders to make the client happy. Most freelancers avoid this aspect of feedback, but it is one of the points which separates great freelancers from others. And please don’t lie or give lame excuses for delay in projects – it will become a habit and will adversely affect your ratings / ranking.

(f) Project Completion. Once the work is completed by the freelancer s/he submits the project deliverables. The buyer reviews the work and may request some changes before finally accepting the project as complete. Do not take a stubborn stand on the changes – if you need to bill for additional work, explain in a polite manner. Now do you see the importance of having an agreement before the project begins?

(g) Payment Release. If and when the project is deemed complete by the buyer, s/he releases the payment in escrow or pays the invoice as the case might be. Be sure to acknowledge the payment, thank them for it and request them to rate your services on the site.

(h) Rate / Provide Feedback. Here the buyer as well as the freelancer provide feedback about each other and rate them (usually a stars or thumbs-up system). This is vital for the freelancers in winning future projects as employers in most cases will look at your ratings first. So do request your clients to provide the feedback – don’t badger them for it. After this, you should send a follow up message to again thank them and mention your email address as also the other services that you offer. This is also a good time to ask for permission to enter their email address in your mailing list and maybe request for a testimonial to place on your website. All of these, so-called minor stuff gets you to the top of the ladder by endearing you to the client since research indicates that a client is 250% more likely to employ the freelancer they have worked with before.

While the exact process might vary to a degree for some sites, the aim of this post was to point out the soft skills you need to win more projects and more clients.