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How to Freelance Online and Work Anywhere in the World

Posted By in Freelancing and Location Indepedence | 22 comments

How to Freelance Online and Work Anywhere in the World

Transitioning to full-time freelancing has easily been the most challenging thing I’ve done since I first worked up the courage to leave Canada and travel long-term.

freelance and work from anywhere

Last week marked my one-year anniversary as a freelance writer. I was still teaching in Japan when I decided to start aggressively and consistently seeking out freelance projects. Teaching English and participating in work exchanges were (and still are) fantastic ways to travel slowly and steadily without breaking the bank, but I knew I wanted the independence of working for myself and the freedom of being able to do that work anywhere in the world.

I think every person goes about finding clients and building a portfolio in their own way, but I also suspect a few aspiring freelancers – in any field – might learn something from  my own bumpy road to…success? On good days, I might describe it as such. So here it is in one compact post: Everything I’ve learned over my last year as a freelance writer.

How to Find Jobs

I quickly realized that finding freelance job boards was simple, but figuring out where to focus my attention was difficult. Elance was the first site I went to, and it became the site I’ve stuck with. I wouldn’t say it’s particularly superior to other freelancing sites, but for me anyway, monitoring the hundreds of jobs that are posted on dozens of different freelance sites everyday was a bit too overwhelming. In the beginning, I found it easier to work on building my reputation on a single site. Freelancer.com and oDesk (which supposedly merged with Elance, but I haven’t seen any changes to either site since this was announced last year) are also good starting points.

freelance and work from anywhere

I also recently signed up on Write this Moment which, as the name suggests, focuses exclusively on writing opportunities; in contrast to the other three sites, where jobs range from writing to graphic design. Lastly, at the risk of exposing myself as some kind of closeted-creeper, my other tactic is to browse other writers’ and bloggers’ ‘portfolio’ pages to check out the companies they’re writing for. It’s hit-and-miss, but it’s not a bad way to narrow down a few companies that might be looking for more writers.

Over-Deliver on Everything

I’ll be honest, starting out on Elance can be a little disheartening because hundreds of people often apply for a single job and, as you may have heard about Elance, a lot of those people are willing to work for a few dollars an hour.

For weeks after registering on Elance, I applied for dozens of jobs everyday and received no responses. At the time, I was still teaching and I was more concerned with building my portfolio than with making money, so I started making low bids on projects. I’m a little hesitant to admit this or recommend it, because writers who are willing to work for ‘exposure’ or ridiculously low fees are the bane of any freelancer’s existence – they bring wages down for all of us. Ultimately, however, I had stepped into a market where I felt like I had to prove myself before anyone would take me seriously, and the only way to do that was to get a few people to hire me, however I could. It also helped me gradually build confidence in my writing abilities. The more positive reviews I received, the more I knew I deserved more money than I was asking for.

freelance and work from anywhere

I was writing articles for pocket change, but I wrote as if I was getting hundreds of dollars. I delivered nothing less than my absolute best, even though I wasn’t getting paid to give it. The result? I received ecstatic reviews from my clients and suddenly my Elance profile was starting to look pretty damn competitive. Now, when I send out pitches requesting a rate that I can actually live on, clients read those glowing reviews and most recognize that my work is worth those rates.

Be Persistent

The bottom line is there are two kinds of clients on freelance job boards: 1) Clients looking to pay a dollar an hour for someone with the ability to fill space with semi-coherent sentences, and 2) clients that are looking for someone who can create high-quality content.

I didn’t take me long to recognize the difference between the two, and focus on the job postings that were worth applying for.

Once I had a decent portfolio of writing samples and some great reviews, I was able to coast a little more. Some jobs were one-off projects, but many have led to subsequent projects with the same client, or even a steady flow of regular projects.

Besides gaining a few long- term clients, new clients come to me now. When clients create a job on Elance, they have the option of sending messages to appropriate freelancers, inviting them to submit proposals for the job. I usually get a few of these invites every day, plus clients sometimes even create ‘invite-only’ jobs specifically for me, and reach out to me directly. My (now more-reasonable) hourly fee is listed on my profile, so when clients contact me, they know they’re not going to get me for $5 an hour.

Beyond the job boards, the more you write and the more people you write for, the more your work is out there online for other clients to find. One of my best clients – who I still work with – emailed me after reading my work on another site. I’ll admit that, coincidentally, some of my projects trailed off over the past week and I went back to the Elance job board, but it was the first time I had to actively look for new work since last June.

Reality Check

I won’ be the first or the last person to say it, but freelancing (especially freelance writing) is rarely the route to riches. In my most profitable months (so far anyway), I make about the equivalent salary of my first entry-level job back in Toronto. I have aspirations to earn more, (although that’s a story for another day) but for now freelancing gives me the freedom to travel  and if you’re willing to work hard for it, it’s something anyone can do.

 

Do you have any tips for taking your job on the road?

22 Comments

  1. Steph (@20YH) November 13, 2014

    Congrats on making it one year into your new lifestyle, Jessica! I'm so glad that the freelancing lifestyle has been working out for you, even if it hasn't always been easy. I agree that working for yourself (especially as a freelance writer) is generally not going to get anyone rich, but I think by traveling and working along the way, you learn that there are more important things to living life than money. Being able to live the life that you want and having the time to actually enjoy it is something you just can't put a price tag on!
    My recent post Pigging Out in Paris (AKA “That Time We Ate All the Cheese”)

  2. Charlie November 13, 2014

    Excellent article! I went through exactly the same process when establishing myself as a freelancer writer, and working for that pocket change really made a big difference when a few good reviews came in. At the time, I was on a break between teaching in Taiwan and just living at home visiting my family for a few months, which meant I had a good amount of free time to set myself up, which I also think is essential. In the beginning it's certainly not a liveable job.
    My recent post How Teaching in Taiwan Prepared Me for Long-Term Travel

  3. rebecca November 13, 2014

    Great post! I am currently working on my elance portfolio as well but within graphic design. Much like yourself i find the starting part very daunting but your article here is pretty motivational! Time to go pitch some jobs 🙂
    My recent post Dear expat it gets better

  4. Dale November 14, 2014

    Congrats! Really great that your helping others to see the whole picture and process of freelancing, especially as an option whilst travelling or being location independent. Here's hoping the success keeps coming.
    My recent post Guggenheim Museum & ‘The Bilbao Effect’

  5. Sam November 14, 2014

    Very encouraging, Jessica and thanks for being honest about how this works. It's something I'm keen to work on more myself, but I never really knew where to start, so thanks for the kick up the butt!
    My recent post Guide to Eating Vegan in Lübeck

  6. Mariana November 14, 2014

    Thanks for this! Good to read honest tales of the freelance lifestyle. And congrats on your one year anniversary 🙂

  7. Avalon November 28, 2014

    Some great tips here – especially the pointers on what sites to use and what to *realistically* expect when you start out. Congrats for making it work and getting to your first year!

  8. @AdventureList December 2, 2014

    Great post. Gives me encouragement as I'm trying to do the same thing you have already done. Its nice to hear how someone starts out. Thanks!

  9. @travelling_type December 4, 2014

    Thanks for this Jessica. Yes, I've been reluctant to write for low rates but I guess you've gotta get your foot in the door somewhere right? Good on you for always giving your best in this instance. You've gotta prove your worth. Way to go I reckon.

  10. pre ink stamp December 22, 2014

    congrats for your one year anniversary and also your freelance life……. 🙂

  11. Interior design December 22, 2014

    congrats for your anniversary with straggle of your freelance life……. 🙂

  12. Bobby Anderson March 26, 2015

    Congrats on finding your direction.

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  16. Computrad July 20, 2016

    A very encouraging and informative site for every freelancer. This post will inspire them to work more seriously to achieve success. And I also appreciate what you have said; freelancing is the way to be rich. Well it proved to be Very helpful to me thanks for sharing.

  17. Raushan Gullivant July 21, 2016

    Great point on the low wage bidders being the bane of the freelancing world. They drag you to their level and at first beat you with their experience. Or so I heard. Great article on kicking off your freelancing life.

  18. Sandrine September 28, 2016

    Thank you for this article – I’ve been looking for motivation to write more for the past few months now, and this really has me inspired to dive into it!

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