Somewhere around 2010, after I learned a little bit of jQuery, I decided to give Freelancer.com a shot.
In hindsight, things worked out quite fine for me. However, I know that the space has gotten more crowded, and that a lot of people – developers much better than myself – struggle and can’t seem to crack the Freelancer.com’s code, no pun intended.
So here are my top 5 pieces of advice on how to land more projects on freelance websites.
Note. You don’t have to be the best developer around to be successful with this. That being said, this is not some general freelance advice that can be applied to everything. This works best for small- to medium-sized projects on sites like Freelancer.com or Upwork.com.
1. Be fast, and adjust to the timezones in the US
There’s one particular category of clients that you will come across on freelance websites – clients that are in trouble.
They might be late for a deadline, or stuck with their own clients, or they might simply need their websites online ASAP for whatever reason.
Those clients won’t care all that much that you’re charging more, or that you are from a non-English-speaking country, or that you don’t have hundreds of reviews. None of that matters when there’s urgency involved.
So just start your work at 8AM EST, take a look at the gigs available, and message the person with a small plan and an “I can start working on this right away and have it ready in the next 5 hours” kind of message.
2. Don’t try to compete on price and don’t get discouraged by low bids
The problem with low-end/mass freelance websites is that there are a lot of clients that are looking for the cheapest developers. This causes the competition to elevate sky-high and the prices to go down dreadfully low.
In that scenario, competing on price isn’t going to work because there’s always going to be someone cheaper than you.
What you can do, however, is refer back to advice #1 and rely on your response time and your ability to complete the task fast. At the same time, make your bid higher. That way, if you’re bidding as one of the first freelancers and the client is in a hurry, they’re likely to choose you.
Still, if you miss your window and you’re bidding a bit late, message them with relevant questions and possible solutions. This should get their attention too.
But whatever you do, don’t compete on price!
(Bidding extra low attracts clients who don’t actually have the money to spend on a project, which might cause some payment problems later down the road.)
3. Differentiate yourself
Okay okay, I know you’ve heard that before, but please bear with me.
One day I did this small experiment. I posted a small job in the niche where I was looking for new projects myself. I just wanted to experience things from a client’s perspective.
I studied what sort of messages other freelancers responded with. I learned from them and adopted some of them to my own way of handling things. I encourage you to do the same. And here’s why:
You can only realistically differentiate yourself from the competition if you know what your competition is like. You need to understand their methods in order to make yours different. Simple.
And believe me, you need to differentiate somehow when there’s 30+ other people bidding on the same project.
I did the same thing when I started CodeinWP.com. I got in touch with 20 competitors and tried to figure out what they were doing, and thus what we can do better. I looked for some sub-niches that were not well covered yet.
One final note on differentiation (albeit a bit unusual, and I know that not a lot of people will go through with it). If your name isn’t very English sounding, use a pen name that is. For instance, I’m testing some cold emails right now and using 2 senders: “Ionut from CodeinWP” and “John from CodeinWP.” The latter gets 5x the response rate. I’m presuming the same thing would happen if I “changed” my country, which I’m not planning to do since I don’t feel very comfortable with that. Anyway, here’s more on what sort of impact this can have, by Adii Pienaar of WooThemes.
4. People look for solutions, not “code”
Even though their project descriptions might suggest otherwise, clients actually look for solutions more than anything else.
They have a problem, and they need it solved. And you need to be the one who provides them with the solution.
Although I wasn’t the best developer around (I didn’t even know PHP), I was good when it came to providing solutions. I was honest about my methods, and I always told my clients that I can solve their problem in X hours, but I might be forced to take some shortcuts in terms of code quality. Most of them didn’t mind that at all. What they cared about was getting something that worked.
Example: After doing a bunch of jQuery projects for a client, I saw that he had another PHP-related job opened (for a site dashboard or something). I told him that I don’t really know PHP, but I am sure that I can figure things out if he’s not in a massive hurry. He gave me 2 weeks. During those 2 weeks, I worked really really long hours, but eventually I did the job.
5. Don’t be afraid to learn new things
While I didn’t know how to code really well, I wasn’t afraid to experiment. And I really do mean it when I say I wasn’t afraid.
For instance, I got some good projects related to things that I had no idea about. I managed to land those just because other developers were afraid to do anything new.
This was the thing with jQuery UI, for example. At one point, a bunch of clients started asking for those nice animations, but not so many freelancers worked on this kind of projects yet. I took the leap. Some of those projects turned out to be really easy, even fun, and definitely profitable.
It was the same thing with HubSpot CMS. Back in the day, no one submitted bids for HubSpot-related projects. It was an enterprise-level tool, and people doing freelance jobs for a few dollars simply didn’t have access to it. This was my case as well, but then I figured … “it’s just a template, how difficult can it be?!”
So I asked one client if he’s willing to let me have a look, I won’t charge him anything, I will just give it a try as a test. I did quite a few projects like that, and soon realized that it wasn’t rocket science.
So that’s how I did it. At the end of the day, it’s a combination of fast response times, fast delivery, differentiating myself, and willing to experiment heavily.
Again, some of this advice may not apply to you, or may not be in tune with your personality type. But those are the things that I did, and they really worked great for me, considering my particular situation and skill set. I guess what I’m trying to say is that you should feel free to pick and choose, and try adopting only those methods that “sound right” for you.
I hope you will find those helpful. I would love to hear from you in the comments. Have those strategies worked for you as well, or maybe you have any other advice?