What do you do if you want to get into the freelancing line but don’t have many contacts to start with? You could proactively attend networking events and slowly build up a potential client list over time. Or you can get into online freelancing, where there are ready customers waiting to engage freelancers straight away.
That’s exactly what Azlina Abdul Jalil, a mother of two from Kota Kinabalu, did when she decided to become a freelancer around three years ago.
She had previously worked as a university lecturer and had stints in the advertising and publishing industry. When Azlina was about to give birth to her second child, she decided to find a way to work from home. After Googling for ways to make money online, she came across a blog that had a list of major online freelancing sites.
“I checked out one of the sites, signed up, submitted my first proposal and got my first job three months later,” Azlina (pic) recalls. “When I received my first payment, I realized this was something viable. I kept submitting proposals and won more jobs.”
Of course as a freelancer, she could do offline freelancing and still largely work from home but the problem was she did not have a network of potential clients to tap on. “I wouldn’t have minded offline freelancing work at all but I did not know where to start or how and where to look for offline jobs,” she says. “Working through online freelancing sites means that the jobs and clients are already there and they are looking to hire.”
There are several well-known online freelancing sites, such as Elance, oDesk and Freelancer. Many of them operate the same way, says Azlina. “You need to register for an account – it can be a basic free membership or a paid membership. You then need to complete your profile – your basic information, your qualifications and experience. You can upload your CV and samples of your work for your online portfolio. You can also take online tests to verify your skills. Once your profile is set up, you can start browsing for jobs, submitting proposals and then, wait and see if your proposal is selected. You can submit as many proposals as you want at any one time (though there may be a limit based on your membership plan),” says Azlina.
Although there are many clients offering freelance work through these platforms, there are also many freelance workers competing for those jobs. Establishing a niche can be a smart move. It’s what Azlina did. “I realized there wouldn’t be as much competition if I did work in Bahasa Malaysia,” she says. “And that’s how I got into translation work”.
She adds that you can further differentiate yourself from competitors by taking online tests (the results of which will be posted on your profile) and joining groups (though you must have the required certifications to join specialized groups).
You also need to be proactive. For example, keep submitting proposals. “On Elance, for example, clients can invite you to submit proposals for their job. Even if you are very busy, you should still respond to invitations,” Azlina advises. “If your response rate for job invitations falls below 50%, Elance will stop sending you invitations – which may mean missed opportunities on future jobs.”
Almost all of Azlina’s freelance work is done online. She has tried offline freelance work before – for jobs obtained through friends’ referrals but she finds them to be quite a hassle. “I prefer online freelancing because it is straight forward and there is a set process involved. The client is required to fund the project beforehand – meaning your payment is already there. You also have the opportunity to vet clients, meaning you can check out the client’s profile and their hiring and payment history before deciding if you want to work with them. There is a timeline when payments are released. Invoicing and bills are automatically generated and submitted to the client once the job is complete. With offline freelancing, I will have to manage all of the above myself,” she says.
As a successful online freelancer, Azlina is somewhat of an evangelist for this method of working and even worked briefly as an Elance Mobilizer where she conducted monthly gatherings to talk about freelancing opportunities through that platform. “I don’t conduct such gatherings anymore but am always happy to help if anyone needs pointers on working online.”
She noted that during her time as an Elance Mobilizer, in 2013, there were over 25,000 Malaysians register on Elance, which is both surprising and encouraging. Perhaps it’s time you consider trying your hand at online freelancing too?
Oon Yeoh is a new media consultant.