Deciding How Many Internet Freelancing Sites to Use
Having decided on the approach that you want to take in searching for projects, you now have to determine how many freelancing sites you want to apply it to. As with the matter of search method, there is no single correct answer here—there’s a fundamental trade-off, and it’s the same basic one we looked at in the previous topic: coverage versus time. Searching fewer sites takes less time, but you’ll see fewer potential projects; more sites gives broader coverage, but takes more time. There can also be cost issues associated with using many sites, depending on whether or not they charge membership fees, so that is something to take into account as well.
Starting Small and Expanding
One technique that works well for many new freelancers is to begin with a single site. Review my freelance marketplace site comparison, and then select a site that appears to be the best fit for your field and freelancing style. Begin searching that site regularly for projects and submitting proposals on some of them. This will help keep things simple while you are familiarizing yourself with the bidding process.
Once you feel comfortable with the first site, add a second one. Choose either a site that you feel is similar to the first—thus, likely to be a good fit—or one that you feel complements the first one in terms of its coverage or clientele.
Continue the process until you are getting enough work, you don’t feel there are any more sites that are likely to improve your prospects, or you believe you’ve reached the point of diminishing returns.
This is the opposite of the preceding approach: instead of starting with one site and adding more over time, you start with several and weed out the ones that aren’t producing results, or that aren’t a good fit for any other reason.
This is the approach that I recommend for those who really want to hit the ground running. Investigate the various freelancing sites and then sign up to all of the ones that seem at least moderately promising. Begin using them all, and you’ll quickly learn about the types of projects, clients and freelancers present on each marketplace. Drop the ones that aren’t performing for you—but be sure to give each site a few weeks before writing it off. Due to the inherent randomness in project listings, you don’t want to generalize from a short spell of bad luck.
Of course, this more aggressive approach has some drawbacks and risks. It is more complicated to manage, and can be a bit overwhelming for those new to freelancing. More sites obviously takes more time, and by including a large number, you’re more likely to be spending time on sites that will turn out not to be a good fit. There can also be a higher monetary cost, because there are some sites you can’t really get a good feel for unless you sign up for a monthly membership.
Incidentally, while I wouldn’t let monthly fees dissuade you from trying out multiple sites, you should do what you can to keep the cost manageable. Don’t sign up for premium membership programs until you are sure you want to stick with the site. The same applies for long-term “locked in” memberships (anything more than three months). You can always go for these later on, once you’re sure you want to stay with that company.
I know I said there was no single correct answer as to the number of sites you should use, but I do believe there is one wrong answer: the number “one” itself. I strongly advise against using just a single freelance marketplace site, for the same reason that financial advisors caution against putting all your money in one stock: your future becomes too dependent on a single company.
The danger here, though, is somewhat different than it is in the stock market. Most of the large freelancing sites are successful, and the chances of them going out of business is small. The concerns here are power and fairness. Freelance marketplace sites set their own terms of service and can change them at any time: raise fees, redo their site, change what sorts of projects they’ll accept, modify the number of projects you can bid on each month, or anything else. When they do, your only choices are to agree with the changes, or leave the site. You have absolutely no power in your relationship with a freelancing site. If you’ve put all your eggs in one basket, leaving becomes impossible, and you essentially become a slave to the marketplace site: probably the last thing you were aiming for when you set out to be a freelancer!
Sometimes it is even worse than just changing terms. Freelancing sites have the right to terminate contractors for cause, or even for no cause. I personally know several people who have had their memberships on particular freelancing site revoked, sometimes for valid reason, sometimes not. If you’re only using one site and this happens, you’ll almost be starting over again from scratch. This can be truly devastating to freelancers: some even quit online contracting entirely when this happens.
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Last Site Update: February 1, 2012
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