Starting out as a freelancer can be a challenging time, and it's easy to fall into the trap and rely heavily on freelance marketplace platforms to find work and grow your business. While these platforms can provide opportunities to find clients and build experience, it's also important to focus on developing your non-platform business for long-term sustainability.
Many new freelancers struggle with the decision of whether or not to use Marketplace Platforms. Unfortunately, like most important decisions, there is no clear-cut answer. There are both advantages and disadvantages to using a Freelancer Marketplace. Based on my experience working with freelancers and service providers, the best approach for most is to find a balance between using freelance platforms and building a non-marketplace business.
Using a marketplace platform can provide several benefits compared to working alone, including:
1. Access to a larger pool of clients: Freelancer platforms typically have a large number of clients looking for freelancers. This means you have a greater chance of finding work than if you were working alone.
2. Easy payment and invoicing: Freelancer platforms often have integrated payment and invoicing systems, making it easy for you to get paid and manage your finances.
3. Built-in project management tools: Freelancer platforms often have tools to help you manage your projects, such as task lists, time tracking, and collaboration tools.
4. Support and guidance: Freelancer platforms may offer support and guidance to help you navigate the platform, find work, and manage your projects.
5. Reputation and trust: Freelancer platforms often have a system for clients to leave feedback and ratings, which can help build your reputation and increase your chances of getting more work.
6. Legal protection: Freelancer platforms often have terms of service and contracts in place to protect both freelancers and clients in case of disputes.
While there are many benefits to using a freelancer platform, there are also some potential downsides to consider. Here are a few:
1. Fees: Freelancer platforms often charge fees for using their services, which are often calculated as a percentage of your earnings. These fees can add up and cut deeply into your earnings.
2. Competition: Competition for jobs is intense due to the high number of competitors on these platforms. This often leads to lower prices for services and extra fees for standing out in a sea of listings.
3. Limited control: Freelancer platforms have rules and regulations that you must follow, which can limit your ability to negotiate rates or work on projects outside of the platform.
4. Limited communication: Some platforms may limit the amount of direct communication you can have with clients, which can make it difficult to build relationships or provide personalized service.
5. Lack of stability: Freelancer platforms may not provide a steady stream of work or income, which can make it difficult to plan for the future or maintain financial stability.
6. Quality concerns: While most platforms have systems in place to ensure quality work, there is still a risk of working with clients who may not provide clear instructions or have unrealistic expectations.
7. Your Business vs. Platform’s: When you use a freelancer marketplace platform, you may be building a business, but it's important to consider whose business it is. In reality, you may be building the platform's business rather than your own.
So, the answer to the question is both Yes and No, you could leverage the marketplaces while you are starting out but focus on building your own sustainable business beside the platform. Many of our successful freelancers tell us that 80% of their business is direct and off marketplace while they use the marketplaces primarily to fill in the quiet times.
Here are some tips for leveraging a freelance platform as you start out, while also taking steps to simultaneously build out your own direct business.
1. Create a standout profile: Your profile is the first thing potential clients will see when they search for freelancers on a platform. Make sure your profile stands out by highlighting your skills and experience and including samples of your work.
2. Be proactive in applying for jobs: Don't wait for clients to come to you - actively seek out and apply for jobs that match your skills and interests. The more you apply, the more likely you are to get hired.
3. Build relationships with clients: Once you land a job, focus on building a relationship with your client. Communicate regularly, deliver high-quality work, and be responsive to feedback. This can help you build a strong reputation and gain repeat business.
4. Be mindful of fees: Freelance marketplace platforms typically charge fees for using their services. While these fees may be worth it when you're starting out, it's important to keep track of how much you're paying and consider whether the fees are eating into your earnings too much.
As you build your business, you can take steps to become less dependent on freelance platforms and focus on growing your non-platform business:
1. Build your own website: Having a professional website can help you showcase your work and attract clients outside of the platform. Be sure to include a portfolio of your work, a catalogue of your services, and contact information.
2. Automate your scheduling: No client wants to chase you by text or email to try to book your time. Let them book your time, buy your services, and interact with you through your website.
3. Automate your billing: You don’t want to spend hours each week doing invoicing and chasing receivables… and guess what… your clients don’t really want to pay you the old-fashioned way either. Make it easy for them to pay you and will make it easy to get paid. Both you and your clients will be happy campers.
4. Simplify Client Engagement: Prioritize Self-Service: When was the last time you stood in line at a bank to speak to a teller? In our own lives we recognize that self-service is the best service. Make client engagement easy by prioritizing self-service options online. This saves time and money, while providing efficient service to clients.
5. Embrace Subscriptions: Customers love the convenience and predictability of regular services while your business benefits from predictable staffing and revenue streams. It’s always a win/win.
6. Leverage social media: social media can be a great way to connect with potential clients and build your brand. Choose one or two platforms that align with your business and use them regularly to share your work, connect with others in your industry, and build your online presence.
7. Network with other freelancers: Connect with other freelancers in your industry and build relationships with them. This can lead to referrals and collaborations outside of the platform.
8. Ask for referrals: Referrals can be a powerful way to grow your business and gain new clients without relying on freelance platforms. Read more about how to ask for referrals here.
9. Focus on building your brand: Building a strong brand can help you stand out from the competition and attract clients who value your unique skills and approach. Consider your target audience and what makes you unique and focus on building a brand that reflects those qualities.
10. Offer additional services: Consider offering additional services that complement your core offering. For example, if you're a graphic designer, you could offer branding or social media management services. This can help you diversify your income and build a more sustainable business.
In conclusion, while freelance marketplace platforms can be a great way to get started as a freelancer, it's important to also focus on building your non-platform business for long-term sustainability. By following these tips and taking a proactive approach to building your business, you can create a successful and sustainable freelance career.