Where to find freelance web work online?
March 14, 2009 8:39 PM   Subscribe

I'm a web developer and have been working the same job for 9 years. Recently, due to challenging economic circumstances, I've decided to start looking for freelance work to supplement my income, if not replace it. Are you a freelance web developer or designer? If so, where do you go to find work online?

I've had some success with local Craigslist listings, and I'm continuing to look there, but the volume of ads is quite low at the moment (I'm in Detroit, you see. Yes, I know I'd do better elsewhere).

I'm aware of GetAFreelancer.com, but it seems like almost all the listings there are highly unrealistic in terms of both price and scope. "I want someone to build me a site like Youtube.com. I have a budget of $75 and it needs to be done by Saturday" is typical of the ads I've seen there.

I'm also aware of AuthenticJobs, Sitepoint's Marketplace, and of course Metafilter Jobs. Those places tend to have much higher quality listings, but they are few in number and the competition for them is fierce.

I've heard about Guru.com and Elance.com. I've yet to try them, but I'm afraid they'll be a lot like getafreelancer.com. What experience have you had with them?

I've read some of the older Metafilter questions that are similar to this one, but I wonder if the answer might be different in 2009.

How can I find work using the internet? Are there any other online sources I should look into?

Thank you for your help!
posted by Vorteks to Work & Money (13 answers total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
I consult for some web firms (helping them manage people and projects more effectively) and can confirm that the bad economy is hurting all new work -- clients simply not spending as much this year as last year, projects on indefinite hold and so on, so it's not just you and not just Detroit.

I suspect that you're seeing those 'unrealistic' quotes because the ratio of web developers looking for work to web-development buyers has turned into a many-to-one number. With so much development talent looking for so little work, the market prices are bound to drop to ridiculous levels.

Try to find a niche where you can provide value that still has strong value, maybe? This is not a good time to be in a business-service industry, unless you're doing something to reduce their costs.
posted by rokusan at 8:51 PM on March 14, 2009

Most of the online job boards a la elance, rentacoder, guru, etc are a race to the bottom. Complete waste of time. The listings you're seeing there aren't an artifact of the current economy, they've always been that way.

I'm afraid the real answer is that finding jobs cold online is a real crapshoot. I've been freelancing for a decade and have gotten exactly one job that way, which as it turned out I shouldn't have bothered with. Networking and word of mouth are really the only way to go.

(Paradoxically I've had an increase in demand over the past few months; I suspect that some companies were a little overzealous with the layoffs and now have nobody around to do the work in-house, so they're turning to freelancers to fill in the gap. For whatever reason I know a few designers who have more work than they can handle, while coders seem to be sitting around with nothing to do. Probably just turbulence.)
posted by ook at 9:07 PM on March 14, 2009 [3 favorites]

99designs.com has been mentioned a few times before here at AskMe. I've heard anecdotally that a few people are making good money there, but have not tried it myself. Might be another race to the bottom.

After I was laid off last fall, I got a lot of freelance work by emailing old bosses, co-workers, vendors, friends, etc, telling them I'd been laid off and was available for freelance work. You'd be amazed how many people have a next-door neighbor who needs a website for a small business. Personal recommendations count for a lot, and it's a win-win for both of you; you can make a good hourly rate and still charge less than half of what an agency would cost them.

And speaking of agencies...there are lots of advertising and marketing groups that would rather contract out web design or development than hire another fulltime staff member in lean times. I know a couple of freelancers who regularly pick up work from agencies. Again, making a personal networking connection is the best way to get in, but ook is right, a lot of places got overzealous with layoffs and are turning to freelancers to pick up the overflow. A strong portfolio and a nice intro letter or marketing piece can get you work from agencies that need you.
posted by junkbox at 9:19 PM on March 14, 2009

Response by poster: @junkbox: My understanding of 99designs.com is that it's a contest site where only the winner gets the prize money, and the client walks away with the design. So if 20 people enter a contest, 1 person walks away with a reasonable amount of money, and 19 get nothing at all. I'd be very hesitant try invest a lot of effort into something that very likely would have no return on investment.
posted by Vorteks at 9:31 PM on March 14, 2009

You could try LinkedIn, adding contacts you know (if they're on there), then setting your status to 'Looking for a job'. It was through some old work contacts who noticed that and have since started their own start-up that got me a contract with them.

My other prospect at the moment was a short-term roommate who has ambitions and once he asked me what I did became enthusiastic. So, yeah, networking and talking to people you meet. I'd always heard it said, but never really believed it until now, and am starting to see the point of going to conferences (which I've always hated).
posted by hungrysquirrels at 10:18 PM on March 14, 2009

I'll spare you the obvious "networking" answer and say:

Maybe expanding the way you currently use Craigslist now? Perhaps posting your services in different cities (assuming you post under Services-> Computer)? Or bartering? Or posting under Resumes? Or posting under Design Services? Or under For Sale category?
posted by crustix at 11:26 PM on March 14, 2009

Response by poster: @crustix: That's a really good idea. Somehow it hadn't occurred to me to market myself on Craigslist. Up until now I've only responded to ads that other people have placed. So, web developers generally advertise their services in Services->Computer?
posted by Vorteks at 11:32 PM on March 14, 2009

I've had decent amounts of luck on Rent-A-Coder even as a very casual bidder. Design and writing tend to be undervalued, but if you know your way around languages like PHP and Javascript, you're set.
posted by Phire at 12:08 AM on March 15, 2009

I'm a full-time freelance web developer. I use GetAFreelancer and a few other sites to hire others to do my extra work, but I get most of my jobs these days through existing contacts (some of them I got thru GAF). My main source of income currently is a local web design business who passes a lot of work my way. You could try to contact some companies like that, and tell them how you can benefit their business (e.g., a good selling point of freelance work is that they can give you work at 5:00PM and you can do it that night and have it finished and in their inbox by the time they get in the next morning, giving them faster turnaround times for their clients). See if they'll pass some work your way.

Prices on GAF are often low because a lot of third world freelancers and companies bid ridiculously low amounts. However, as someone who buys services from there, I don't always go for the lowest bidder. I always make sure the person knows WTF I'm talking about before I hire. I actually end up outsourcing the majority of my work to the US (I'm in Australia, by the way) but I've also hired people from places like India, Russia, Bulgaria, and Peru.

You might like to investigate Odesk. I've hired through it, but never gotten work from it, so I can't comment on being a provider on it. But, it has a unique system that attempts to guarantee work will get done and payment will get made and it's fairly successful I think.
posted by Eastgate at 5:50 AM on March 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've had success getting freelance work by participating in local entrepreneurial associations and software development organizations and the small business community. Check out meetup.com for web design or development groups.

It's something of a long-term process using this method but it can also be good for your long-term career (I ended up giving up the freelancing to work with a good company).

It looks like you're in a relatively small part of the world (as in, not NYC or Silicon Valley) so there's a decent chance you could own the Google AdWords for '[county] web development' and similar combinations for quite low bids. Set up a small site and portfolio pieces, emphasize that you're local on the site and in your adwords.
posted by cCranium at 5:57 AM on March 15, 2009

Man you could eat off the WORDPRESS, WPMU, Drupal communities for years. Whenever I find myself with free time and in need of a spare thousand dollars, i hit the forums. Now i pass on 3 of every 4 jobs that comes my way. Wordpress and Mu sucker people in with the ease at which a simple site is thrown up. Then people start wanting cool functionality and the cut-in-paste PHP promoted by WP no longer hacks it. If you're looking for easy work that will never run out, check out the one-click-blogging communities.
posted by Davaal at 9:00 AM on March 15, 2009

I've just seen your website and Davaal is right, take some time to get very familiar with Wordpress and more work than you can handle will be yours for the taking. With fluent Japanese too? Man, what are you waiting for!
posted by ceri richard at 1:14 PM on March 15, 2009

So where do you go to find all this Wordpress work?
posted by kpmcguire at 12:29 AM on March 16, 2009

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