This post is from Careful Cents contributor Kayla, who owns the blog Shoeaholic NoMore. Over the next six months she’s documenting her journey to quitting her job and taking the leap into self-employment.
When I was just starting out as a freelancer I was actively looking for new writing and VA jobs to add to my portfolio. I sought out and read lots of blog posts and articles with tips about how and where to get new jobs. Most of what I read suggested using job boards, like Upwork (formerly Elance and Odesk) as well as Fiverr.
After reading these articles I did what most new freelancers probably do, I went to job board websites to see if they were legit. Honestly, I had no idea how to make sure they were real opportunities, I just knew I didn’t want to get scammed in my eagerness to find new freelance jobs.
Why freelance job boards don’t work
I set up a profile on a couple of the job board sites and started looking through the available gigs. I couldn’t believe they had so many pages of open jobs! But instead of exciting me with all the possibilities, the whole process really turned me off.
As I read through a few ill-written job descriptions requesting writers who don’t make mistakes, despite all the mistakes in their job posting, I decided job boards weren’t for me.
Freelance job boards like these are only a good place to start if you don’t have any leads or a network built at all. Personally, I was never comfortable using them to start my business.
Searching through the job openings on boards like these is a very time intensive task and there’s no guarantee you’ll find a job that’s a good fit. Likewise, you may not even get any job you apply for as these job board websites are used by thousands of hopeful freelancers to start building their businesses.
But the biggest reason I decided not to use job boards to build my freelance business is because I decided I’d rather build slowly and have the opportunity to work for clients, and blogs, that I believe in and admire.
Yes, I started freelancing to earn extra money in order to pay down my consumer debt, but I also wanted it to be fun and enjoyable and the gigs on the job board websites were not what I had in mind. Despite not using job boards to build my business, I’ve been able to grow from $0 up to just over $2,000 gross each month in less than a year.
Here’s where how to find well-paying freelance gigs without using job boards.
1. Reach out to colleagues and friends
When I decided to try my hand at freelance writing, I’d already been blogging for just over 6 months. My inspiration came by reading the income reports that other entrepreneurs published on their blogs.
It was astonishing to see how much money some people were making via their blog and their online business. My first thought was that it was too good to be true. My second thought was, “how can I make this happen for me?”
After stalking a few influential bloggers, reading their content, and following them on social media, I reached out to a few different bloggers who I wanted to work with. I asked them if they, or anyone they knew, were hiring freelance writers.
Asking a fellow freelancer to give you job leads might sound risky as they are technically your “competition” for jobs, but there truly are more than enough freelance gigs to go around. As Carrie says, “Work is abundant!”
Plus, after a while some of your colleagues and fellow freelancer will be so busy that when they are approached about a new job, they are more than happy to give it to someone else who is still looking to expand.
2. Just ask for referrals
Referrals from current and past clients are a freelancer’s best friend. One of the first jobs I got was with Cat Alford and I still swear that it’s the best job I’ve ever had, including my “real” jobs outside the home.
Most freelancers, whether they’re veterans or beginners, are afraid to ask for the work they need. But how will people know you’re looking for a new gig if you don’t tell them?
Shoot your friends, colleagues and fellow freelancers an email giving them details about your expertise. Explain the kind of clients you’re looking for and how they can easily refer you to others.
The key here is to make it easy for your network to send you referrals, so you’re the first person who pops in their mind when they meet a potential client. Don’t underestimate the power of asking for what you want!
3. Be proactive with networking
Another great way I’ve gotten freelance jobs is by being proactive. Part of blogging and being successful as a freelancer is building connections through industry meetups and private groups.
Therefore I do spend quite a bit of time reading other people’s blogs in my niche so I can build relationships, learn new things, and stay up on the latest news of what’s going on in everyone’s lives. In other words, always be networking.
Occasionally I’ll read a post where someone mentions being “too busy” or “trying to find a way to balance freelance work with life” or something along those lines. Whenever this happens, I send out a short, friendly email offering my writing and VA services in a non-pushy way. This technique is actually what landed me this job working with Careful Cents!
Additionally, whenever a staff writer for a large site mentions that this post is the last submission for the site, I immediately reach out to someone on the blog’s staff to find out if they are hiring a replacement writer.
Generally these sites are impressed by my proactive approach and interest in writing for them. It doesn’t always get me the job, but it never hurts to make a good first impression. They will often remember this gesture, and even if you aren’t hired for the current position, they may tap you on the shoulder later when another job opens up.
4. Work under a mentor
As I mentioned, I worked with an excellent mentor in Cat. She’s an “old pro” and getting on their good side is key because people in her niche really trust her word and her opinion when she gives out your name as a referral. Plus I know I can always ask her to send a referral email to someone if I’m in contact with them about a job and they are undecided.
Find your “old pro” or someone within the community that’s respected and connected, and then see if you can work under them. Carrie did this in the beginning of her career by working with Alexis Grant, who’s an established entrepreneur. Thanks to her mentorship and connections, Carrie was able to build her business to what you see today.
As time goes on you too can leverage a relationship like this into more referrals that you could ever possibly have time for.
The best way to get on someone’s good side to garner future referrals is to underpromise and overdeliver. When your clients are impressed with your work, you’ll continue to get new jobs and eventually you’ll be in the position where you call the shots about the jobs you want to accept or turn down.
5. Join Facebook groups
One of the best ways to leverage social media to find more jobs is to use Facebook Groups. Seek out groups within your niche (trust me, you’ll find lots of them) and ask to be a part of them.
The key that makes a Facebook Group successful is the fact that you have to continue engaging with everyone on a weekly (or even daily) basis. Connections are the way to turn leads into gigs, so use this platform to develop relationships, offer advice, and interact with fellow colleagues in your industry.
If you’re a writer and need a few ideas of what kind of groups to join on Facebook, check out this post from The Write Life that offers 12 groups for writers. Or join the Careful Cents Club for free and start connecting with like-minded solopreneurs.
Do you find freelance gigs without using job boards? What other tips do you have for other freelancers who are just starting out?