The opinions on online freelancing websites are very divided. Some hate them, some love them. Despite all their flaws, these portals are often the first starting point for many aspiring digital nomads. I managed to find almost all of my long-term clients on these platforms. That’s why I want to share a bit of my experience on how to land your first remote job with them.
Benefits of Freelance Platforms
- The payment process is automated and usually very fast. You don’t need to write invoices or chase after your money.
- There are thousands of jobs of various types available. A great range of open positions where probably everyone finds something they can do.
- It is easy to set up a comprehensive profile on most of these platforms to display your skills and experience.
- In case you have any difficulties with one client, there are usually dispute processes, to help you solving the issue.
- Some platforms offer useful tools, like a time tracking software or communication apps, which make your work easier and help you being more productive.
Downsides of Freelance Platforms
- The competition is overwhelming! Especially, when you offer common skills like translating, programming, data entry or virtual assistance you will find hundreds of other freelancers with the same of even better qualifications.
- Since there is so much competition, rates are often super low. Some freelancers offer their work for 3-4 USD per hour. It’s hard to compete with them, especially, when clients are on a tight budget and you have similar skills.
- Another massive downside are the fees these platforms charge you. Upwork, for example, keeps between 5% and 20% of your income. A whole lot of money!
Tactics to Land Your First Remote Job
Ok, if you have decided that despite of the admittedly big disadvantages you want to give freelancer platforms a try, there are some things you can do to increase the chances of scoring a job.
Build a Perfect Profile
Your profile picture is very important. Make sure it looks professional and is not pixelated. It doesn’t need to be a suit & tie photo, but it shouldn’t be a beach snapshot either. Smile. Look like someone you’d want to work with.
Improve Your Title
What is your main skill? What would potential clients search for? For example, don’t simply call yourself “Writer” if your experience and skills go deeper. “SEO Copy Writer / Proofreader / Editor” covers more potential job areas if that is what you can offer.
Skills and Tests
Depending on what freelancer platform you want to use, you can add skills and tests to your profile. It helps a lot to land your first remote job, if you make sure these areas are filled in.
Be selective: Only show tests if your results are very good. If an English writing skill test shows that your skills are only average, hide it. It won’t help you to succeed with all the competition around. If you can re-do the test to improve, do so. It’s worth the time.
Make sure to add only your very best working examples to your portfolio. These should give potential clients an idea about your writing style, design skills or whatever you have to offer. But again: quality over quantity.
General Profile Information
If you are unsure what to write in your bio, have a look at other profiles of very successful freelancers. I’m not talking about copying them! Never do that, it’s unprofessional and won’t reflect your own skills.
But see what they offer, how much experience they have and how they sell their service. Get inspirations. This also helps you to get an idea of what rates you can ask for. If the majority of similar skilled freelancers ask for $20 and you have much less to offer or no experience, you won’t be successful with charging more than that.
Most important: be honest! Yes, you can tailor your experience to the desired position. But never lie. Your client will find out if you are experienced or not. And a terrible review is the last thing you want to have when you try to land your first remote job.
Check out this list with 40+ very popular digital nomad jobs and get inspired.
Apply for Jobs
First and foremost, read the job description carefully. In your response, show that you understood the requirements. It should be obvious, but I want to emphasise it again: Never send a standard response and simply change the name! That’s not going to get you anywhere. These kinds of mails end in the trash, guaranteed.
Don’t just write about your experiences and what you’ve done and what you can do. But make it about the client. How can you help him or her with your task? How would they profit from your skills? Place the client and his issue in the centre, not you.
Since I source my freelancers, who are working for me on various projects, on these platforms, too, I also like it when someone gives me his potential approach to the task. I find answers to these kind of questions very useful:
- Do we sit together in the beginning and talk about it all in detail or will the freelancer start working and we make corrections from a first draft?
- How often can I ask for adjustments?
- What kind of outcome can I realistically expect?
- How long will he or she possibly take for the job?
- Will the different time zone affect the collaboration somehow?
Also make sure to not write too much. Be on point. 2-3 paragraphs should be enough to get a potential client’s interest. You can, of course, also reference to your profile, where they can see your education, skills and portfolio.
The Right Timing
Again, the competition is massive. Make sure to update the job boards daily or even twice a day and send out applications straight away. If a client receives 50 or more proposals to a job posting, he usually reads the first (or best) ones and contact these freelancers for more information.
If you see that a job posting that is online for 4 weeks and has received hundreds of proposals already, there is not much point in spending time and effort on an application.
Also make sure to apply to many, many different jobs. This will take up a lot of time, but you can’t send out 2 proposals a week and expect to land your first remote job anytime soon. Send out as much as you can with a great quality.
I know it can be frustrating in the beginning. But be patient, don’t give up. Hang in there and soon you will land your first remote job.
Follow Up Without Being a Freak
So you’ve send your proposal and the client replied, asking you something about the job. He is about to narrow down the applicants. So your answer is super important. Make sure to respond in a timely and professional manner.
If you don’t hear back after that, send a follow up a few days later. Ask if there are still things that are unclear or if there are any open questions. Let them know you are happy to help whenever needed.
However, don’t be annoying! Don’t send out daily mails, begging for work. That is unprofessional, looks very desperate and definitely won’t get you any job.
I had a freelancer once who sent me more than 10 messages after the first contact. Every day again. He even hit me up on my social media profiles, begging for work in the comments of my Instagram photos. Not cool! I had to block and report him. Don’t be like that.
What to Charge for Your Service?
I know, the question that you are most interested in. Unfortunately, I have to give you the standard answer and say: it depends! It depends on the service you offer, your experience and skills, your daily expenses (after all, you want to survive on that income), and your competition.
When you want to land your first remote job, you shouldn’t set your rates too high. I know it’s hard, but you need good reviews in the beginning. Once you have a reputation, you can still adjust your rates.
My first job I got on a freelance platform was a proofreading job. 2 pages of terrible German (probably machine translation) for a fixed price, $8, minus the platform fees. It took me more than 2 hours to get the job done, because I was very detail-oriented and wanted it to be perfect.
Although, it was frustrating and I only made about $3 an hour, I received a fantastic review from the client, who was very happy with the result. That helped me a lot in getting other clients.
When it comes to setting your own hourly rates, be realistic. Asking for top end rates with absolutely no reputation probably won’t work.
But you definitely don’t need to go down to $5 per hour only because that’s what other freelancers charge. Their situation, skills and experience might be completely different.
On a long run, don’t sell your service under it’s real value. And never work for free! I understand that some clients want to see your writing style etc. before they hire you. But I think asking for free work is disrespectful and unprofessional. You are investing your time and effort and that should be compensated.
Asking for a small test to evaluate skills or compare potential freelancers is totally ok. But I always tell them beforehand that this is only a test run and I pay them for it.
If you have a client who is asking you to lower your rates and you feel like you can’t or shouldn’t decrease them, explain, why your charge your rates. Why you think they are justified. If he or she is still asking for a cheaper price, be brave enough to say “No, thank you.”
Your First Job
You’ve managed to land your first remote job? Yay, congrats! And well deserved.
Now it’s your time to shine. Go above and beyond to deliver great quality. This is going to be your first review, so make sure your client is happy with your work. If you get a great feedback it will be way easier to find other clients because they know you are reliable.
Of course, keep up the great quality. I had several small jobs for about 2 or 3 months before one of my clients decided to work with me on a long run. Soon after, I found another long-term client. These two kept me busy full-time, so I didn’t need to look for other clients anymore. Jackpot!
Stay Positive, You Can Do It!
I know it’s hard. The huge competition makes it hard to land your first remote job and the low rates and high platform fees don’t help.
But if you keep your profile in a good shape, write on point proposals and constantly apply to new job postings, you have a great chance of scoring a job on a freelancer platform. Once you have a few great reviews, it gets easier.
It is definitely not impossible to be successful on these platforms today, but you need to put in much effort, patience and persistency. I personally wouldn’t be where I am today without freelancer platforms.
However, if you want to find out what other possibilities of landing a digital nomad job you have, check out the linked post and get some inspirations. If you are still at the very beginning and are not even sure what type of job you could do, check out the linked post. It will help you to find a job that makes you happy and generates income.