Bidding for work or looking to get tasks done via freelance exchange sites can be an effective way of accessing new resources, but making the best use of them requires more than just quickly posting a project outline or responding "Yeah, I can do that for you". Here's some strategies to make the process pain-free (if you're hiring) and worthwhile (if you're selling your own services).
The following tips are derived from an interview with Matt Barrie, the CEO of Freelancer.com, which rolled out an Australia-specific version of its site earlier this week. However, similar approaches should work with rival freelance exchange sites.
When seeking people to work on a project
Make your project description as detailed as you can. "The more detail the better usually, because there's less room for errors of interpretation," Barrie said. "It's always good to be as detailed as possible." That won't eliminate the need for further communication -- anything but the most trivial of tasks will require follow-up -- but it will save on back-and-forth emails.
Ask for samples of previous work. For designers, an online portfolio of some sort should be a given. For more complex technical tasks, ask for references and examples.
Check feedback systems. "Go for someone who has got high feedback," Barrie said. This is a fairly obvious step, but it can be easy to get distracted by what looks like a low price. On which point . . .
Don't automatically choose the cheapest bidder. "The trick is: don't go for the cheapest price," Barrie said. "The price is going to be so low anyway. Make sure you pick quality first."
Agree to a payment schedule. Freelancer.com allows "milestone payments", where cash only changes hands after some or all of the work is done. Paying before work is delivered can be a recipe for unpleasantness.
Offering your skills as a freelancer
Barrie's own pitch for Freelancer.com draws heavily on the notion that local businesses can get tasks performed more cheaply by drawing on workers from around the globe, which is potentially pretty cheerless news if you're an Australian looking for work. There's also not much of an exchange rate advantage right now, but if you have highly specific skills, Barrie argues there's still a good living to be had.
Make sure your skills is specialised enough. In IT, you're more likely to find work if you can build a system using Ruby on Rails than if you just know how to roll out WordPress installs. More broadly, electrical engineering and electronics skills are in demand from Australians, Barrie said.
Hope for a little jingoism. Contributors are identified by their nationalities, and some projects will favour locals (either because of the nature of the work or because of pre-existing beliefs on keeping things local on the part of the poster).
When responding, avoid being generic. "When you're bidding, in the public section of the bid, put something very clear in there that indicates you've read the description and thought about it and provided a bit of feedback," Barrie said. "Don't just say 'pick me'."
Work in a little humour or novelty "Try and make your bid interesting," Barrie said. "That tends to engage with the employer."
Make your pricing realistic. "Don't under-price yourself," Barrie said. "A lot of people aren't looking for the cheapest price." Working for not enough money is a pretty clear path to unhappiness, so don't be tempted into thinking $20 is better than nothing on a regular basis.
Hired or been hired via a freelance exchange site? Tell us what worked for you in the comments.
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