Freelance Work Online

Working freelance online can be very challenging to those new to the process. One of the best ways to start design work is getting involved in freelance bidding websites. These sites allow you to build your portfolio, get real experience, and some money in the process – and if done correctly can lead to full-time work.

One thing to point out about this type of work is that it is often times work-for-hire contracts. This means that any work you create for a job the client/employer owns the copyright and all rights to the work. You can read more about this at Wikipedia.

I did a interview regarding my freelance work on oDesk by Jo Buckly, read the article at her blog Writing for Money & Success. Besides my article, there are several others so this can give you a look at freelance bidding jobs by many freelance workers.

I have provided a quick step-by-step overview of the typical hiring process on the job sites so you know what to expect.


  1. You need to search to find the job/contract you want then submit a job bid – apply to the job/contract.
  2. If the client/employer is interested they will request to interview you.
    • The interview process is often done online in messages or Skype, or offline via a telephone call.
    • If the client/employer is interested you will be hired.
  3. Once hired you will ask any needed questions and create the work, and if possible log the time using the job site software.
  4. You will complete the work and give the client/employer the work.
  5. With everything finished the client/employer will pay you, end the project, and leave you feedback – you will need to leave feedback as well.
  6. The job site will then pay you according to their pay schedule.

First Things First

The first thing is to set-up an account at a freelance website you are interested in. There are many online, so feel free to look around, but my recommendations are using oDesk, Elance, and iFreelance. Please notice each has different policies, definitions, pay rates, or even require you to pay a subscription fee.

If you are using another site than the ones I recommended you should make sure the freelance website actually has jobs and not “contests”. You can do this by searching for jobs you are interested in before getting a account. You can learn more about contest sites and spec work at my Spec Work article.

Set-up Your Freelance Account

Often you will need to verify your personal information once the account is created. Once that is done you are ready to set-up your account to help drive potential clients/employers to you. I have listed the main areas below of what you need to set-up first.

  • Upload your portfolio images and descriptions so that others know the work you can do. Read the YouTheDesigner article on setting up your portfolio.
  • Complete your resume listing any previous clients/employers related to your freelance work
  • Add a strong objective – description about yourself
  • List your education and add any certifications
  • Create your list of skills
  • Take online tests! Proving your skills go a long way to show clients/employers you are right for the job.
  • Have the job site verify any information that you can

Another area is your pay rate after the job site fees. If you have no or horrible tests, little portfolio work, or simply priced yourself out of work – you need to set your pay rate accordingly. The best way to get started is to offer a lower rate to get feedback then slowly raise your rate. Read the oDesk article Setting Your Rate.

Again – Take online Tests! It is something that is overlooked by many or simply despised as they require time to do. If you complete a test and receive a top score I can guarantee you it puts you ahead of other freelancers for that job.

Finding Work

Once you have your profile completed and are looking to find work where do you start? Read through job postings in your area of work, and if necessary click options to make it a more specific job list.

Open any jobs that interest you and check if you meet the requirements, can meet the deadline, will agree to the pay amount, and are truly interested in the job. If after opening the job you are not right for the job simply move on to the next posting. Here is a article from oDesk related to reading job posts, Understanding and Decoding Online Job Posts.

Sometimes getting your first jobs will be easy, most of time they are not. Improve your profile and cover letters and continue applying for jobs, it will happen sooner or later. If you want more help read the article How To Win Jobs On Freelance Job Bidding Sites.

Apply To The Job

After you read the entire job posting and you decide you found one you want, the next step is to apply to the job. You will submit a cover letter to the client/employer which needs to include information about the specific job and your abilities.

Cover Letters

  1. The first thing is to greet the potential client/employer with a warm greeting. For example if they include their name in the job posting then use it to address the message to them.
  2. If the job posting included directions be sure to follow them, including adding words to the beginning of the letter.
  3. Tell them why you are right for the job and what you can do for them if hired
    • Include the amount of time to complete the job
    • How many hours or fixed price you will need and why
  4. Give them a link to your profile on the job site and tell them to visit your portfolio. If you have a portfolio on your website give them a link to that as well – if it does not violate any of the job site rules.
  5. Tell them of any highlights of your work history or skills
  6. Keep to the point and brief

There are other things to consider when writing cover letters – the main thing is to make it specific to the employer and do no simply copy and paste saved cover letters. Using a copy/paste cover letter can actual get you into trouble on many job sites.

You can read more about making cover letters from oDesk – How To Write a Cover Letter, Present a Complete Application, 5 Steps to Be a Top Candidate Every Time.


If the employer is interested in hiring you for the job you will be asked to interview. How the client/employer does this is up to them; however, in most cases it is done via messaging on the job site or using a service like Skype.

Be sure to keep professional during the interview and answer all questions the best you can. Also take the opportunity to ask any questions regarding the job you have. Before the interview you may want to write down any questions you have and print out the job posting.

I have found one article that goes into more depth on this topic; however, I have not had a interview like those in the article. Most interviews are to simply convey more about the job and what are your thoughts on them. The article is 5 Steps to Interview Success, Every Time.


Once you are hired there are a few things that seem to be missing on most job sites regarding work – where do you start?

  1. The first thing is to verify you were hired in your job/contracts area. Find the current job and check the contract is correct – such as job hours, fixed-price amount, and everything else.
  2. You will need to communicate with your client/employer to get any information, files, or job brief to begin work.
  3. Next if the job site has time tracking software use it as you begin work (oDesk uses oDesk Team client software).
  4. Create the work and communicate with the client/employer as needed. If you have any more questions, need to show design comps, or more.

Now that your work is nearly done the last thing is to give the client/employer the final designs. Be sure to do so in the file formats they want. In many cases they will need to be zipped due to size. You can attach them to a job site message or make other arrangements.

If the client/employer is satisfied that work is completed the next step is to politely remind them to make payment, close the contract, and leave you feedback. You would be surprised how many clients/employers do not know this or simply wait around and forget about some of the steps.

Once you verify on the job site you were paid (pending in most cases) and the contract is closed – you will need to leave feedback. Most of the time you can not read/tell if they left feedback until you leave feedback.


There are many other things that may happen during the course of your freelance work on bidding sites, which are beyond this introduction article. If you have any questions or problems, specifically with the client/employer, contact them. So many things can be cleared up with a simple message.

If you have questions or problems with the job site, using the job site, or perhaps the job/contract you can also get help from the job site. Be sure to search the help/information area, forums, blogs, and whatever else they have available. If you still have a problem you can contact the job site support team for more help.

For example oDesk has a Help Center, Learning Center, Community Forums, and Blog. Of course their direct support team can be reached at their Support page as well.

I would recommend you read more about the various topics on the job site help/information area. There is much more available about specific areas that it often fills pages all their own.

The freelance bidding websites can be a great start for designers and others looking to get some money while building their portfolio. Often you can also find long time clients/employers as well or enough work to keep you busy full-time.


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