Updated November 20, 2019
Alternative workers account for about 10% of the nation’s workforce, according to surveys done by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2005 and 2017, with the numbers holding steady during those 12 years. As of 2019, the 2017 survey is the most recent data. These are workers who do not hold consistent or permanent employment with a single employer and instead earn income through contract work, temporary jobs, or freelance work. This often is referred to as part of the gig economy.
Among this segment of the workforce are those who obtain freelance work online, which can be a great way to earn money on the side, perhaps get a foot in the door in the tech industry, or maybe build up a portfolio of work with the hope of securing a permanent position elsewhere.
One thing that most online freelance sites have in common is the need to build up a portfolio over time and to develop relationships with clients in order to get the best and highest-paying jobs. Don’t expect this to happen overnight. Be willing early on to take some less appealing jobs for lower pay in order to show the quality of the work you can do. In time, this will help you to get better jobs for more money. Ideally, along the way, you’ll make connections with some clients who will wish to go back to you for future jobs because they know they can count on you to be reliable and to do quality work.
Freelancers on Upwork create profiles outlining their skills and experiences, along with their job histories and portfolios. Clients post job listings detailing their projects and what they’re looking for in a freelancer.
From there, freelancers submit proposals for projects they’re interested in doing. Clients can review freelancers’ proposals, profiles, and portfolios, choose the one that best fits their needs, and place project funding in escrow.
Freelancers and clients then collaborate through an online work station, typically with no off-platform communication.
Guru first emerged in 2001 as a passion project. The company is based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and caters more to U.S.-based freelancers.
It is designed to attract a more expert base of clientele and freelancers, rather than mixing in a lot of cheap job listings.
Similar to Upwork, you can make a freelancer profile and start bidding on jobs posted by clients.
Freelancer.com boasts more than 29 million users as of 2019. However, it can be difficult to find high-paying work there.
It’s a good choice for those who prefer to work remotely and get their feet wet in freelance marketplaces.
Mechanical Turk is Amazon.com’s foray into the online freelance marketplace. Similar to Upwork, Freelancer, and others, Mechanical Turk connects freelancers with businesses who need small jobs—called human intelligence tasks (HITs) on the site.
Toptal, short for top talent, is a marketplace geared toward elite, experienced freelancers, with most freelancers being paid between $50 and $250 per hour. The vetting process is more involved, requiring experience checks and an interview.
Jobs posted on Toptal typically are geared toward finance and software development.
In 2016, Toptal acquired Skillbridge, another online freelance marketplace.
All jobs on Fiverr cost—you might guess this—$5, or in increments of $5. Fiverr is perfect for those just starting out and looking to build a portfolio fast.
Unlike some other platforms, clients and freelancers can post listings—so a client might have a job titled “Write one 300-word article” while a freelancer’s version would say “Will write one 300-word article.”
Fiverr focuses on microjobs, like writing or editing short articles or customizing bits of WordPress code.
Freelancermap focuses on IT projects only. It includes web development work, game development, and even social media. Many, but not all, of the projects there are remote.
Focusing on flexible job opportunities, FlexJobs screens job postings before putting them on its site. This means jobs are almost guaranteed to be legitimate, which, unfortunately, is not always the case everywhere. Large and reputable companies like CNN and NBC use FlexJobs to hire talent.
Designed to save job seekers time, FlexJobs can be a great choice for people looking to make extra money, those with nontraditional schedules, and others.
This UK-based company offers entirely remote listings, which is perfect if you prefer to work from home.
Listings emphasize design and web development roles. Other options include video editing, online advertising, social media, and copywriting.
OnSite is a bit different from other platforms because to become a member, you have to be invited. Freelancers have to provide work samples and have a complete and active profile to be approved by the community.
A different approach to connecting freelancers with work is the membership model at iFreelance. Employers can post jobs for free, and freelancers pay a monthly fee starting at $7 per month, depending on benefits. Beyond that monthly fee, freelancers keep 100 percent of their earnings.
This can be a beneficial model for freelancers who do a high volume of work because the fixed monthly fee likely is lower than the percentage of earnings paid on other sites. If you do only an occasional job, this might not be the most cost-efficient site.
Craigslist is not what people traditionally think of when considering freelance work online, but a lot of businesses and entrepreneurs who need to hire help for specific tasks would prefer to find someone locally.
For instance, designers should search terms like “Photoshop,” whereas backend developers should search “SQL.”
When using Craigslist in your job hunt, make sure to thoroughly read the posts and follow the instructions for applying. If there are none, send an email with a cover letter and resume to the email address next to “Reply to this post” at the top.