Deciding How Often to Look for Projects
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In the preceding topics we discussed methods for conducting the project search, and then the trade-offs associated with deciding how many sites to look through for potential jobs. The next related issue is the frequency of the job search: deciding how often to hunt for work.
As with the preceding factors, there is no single right answer here. However, this matter isn’t a straight trade-off as is the case with search method or number of sites. In general, the old expression that says “the early bird gets the worm” applies to online freelancing: the more often you look for new projects, the more projects you will win and the more money you will make. There are two reasons for this: rush jobs and satisficing, which I’ll examine in detail in the subsections below.
Of course, looking for work frequently also has some costs and drawbacks, and we’ll look at those as well.
It is quite common to encounter clients who are in a rush to get their projects completed. This may be for a variety of reasons, ranging from an unexpected need or problem that has cropped up; to failure of a previous contractor to complete the work; to simple poor planning on the client’s part. Whatever the reason, these clients are strongly motivated to select a freelancer quickly once their project is posted and the bids start rolling in.
If you only check for new projects once a day, you will likely never even see many of these projects, because they are posted and filled within hours. Since people in a rush are often willing to pay more to get their work bumped to the top of a freelancer’s priority list, rush jobs can be quite lucrative. However, they also have risks and dangers associated with them.
Many freelancers believe that all clients are trying to find the optimal contractors for their projects. They think that clients post projects, wait for a period of time until they receive a number of proposals, then sift through all of them and pick the best one. This is essentially the online version of an employer looking through a stack of resumes, then conducting interviews, and choosing the best candidate.
But while this is true of some clients, it is definitely not the case with many of them. A large number of hirers use not an optimizing strategy, but rather a satisficing one. This term is a portmanteau of the words “satisfy” and “suffice”, and was invented by polymath Herbert Simon in the 1950s to refer to a problem-solving strategy that emphasizes adequacy over optimization. The idea is not that you try to find the absolute best solution for a problem, just the first solution that seems like it has a reasonable chance of success.
The key advantage of satisficing over optimization is time. Even with projects that aren’t rush jobs, clients understand that time is money, and most would—all else being equal—prefer to get their work done sooner rather than later. Thus, many will not set a period of time over which to collect proposals and then read them all at once. They will read proposals as they come in, and as soon as they find one they like, they’ll award the project to that freelancer.
Sometimes clients won’t grant a project outright to the first “good candidate” they encounter, but they will start discussing the project with that individual. By bidding early, you can “get your foot in the door” and establish a relationship with a client, giving you a chance to expand on your proposal and ultimately win the job. Even if you aren’t selected, getting this chance to make quality contact with a new client is valuable self-promotion. I’ve lost projects in these circumstances, then later had the client contact me with other work.
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