Tl;tbtr (Too long; too busy to read):
If your home office is now the book report poster making station and you’re trying to print out reports for tomorrow’s meeting and you just don’t have the time to read, here’s a summary:
- Job boards aren’t evil if you follow your existing processes.
- They’re just another source of leads.
- Use your qualification process on each lead, just as you would if they came to you from other sources.
- You are in control!
If you run a service-based business, you may be tempted at various times to try out the online job boards. They get a ton of bad press from freelancers who grumble about the low paying jobs and rude clients. But that’s because those freelancers don’t know how to pick the right clients.
I’ve really had a different experience entirely, and I wanted to share in case you’re wondering whether you should try these boards out, OR if you’re already using them with sub-par results. I’ve really only used Upwork, so this article is focused on the type of board that lists client jobs, allows professionals to apply for jobs, and allows clients to invite professionals to apply.
I can honestly say that I have only had one terrible client from a job board. That only lasted for about 2 hours before I pulled the plug (she started yelling at me over the phone, angry at me about things someone else had done). It was entirely my fault though. I didn’t have a qualification process and I ignored some (now looking back) pretty obvious red flags.
If you treat the folks who list jobs as leads, take them through your qualification process, and remain on the lookout for red flags, you’ll find some wonderful clients with interesting work. Although most of my work these days is from referrals, I still do take some of the job board jobs I’m offered. They are great when I need some quick cash or want to try out a new process or service!
If you’re interested in checking out some of the job boards, Millo.co has very comprehensive article listing out and describing 68 Freelance Job Sites. Some of these will be geared only to freelancers, and some list jobs appropriate for agencies, and they cover any manner of industry.
Millo.co – 68 Freelance Job Sites
Job Board Pros
Quick to hire
When I need a job quickly, I head to the job boards. Most would-be clients don’t post until they’re very close to ready to hire. Whereas referrals and leads who fill out my Project Planner Worksheet may still have a good bit of research to do before they’re ready to get started.
Last spring, I injured myself while trying to exercise (I should know better, right?). I spent a good deal of time in PT, trying to avoid surgery, but I knew it could be scheduled at any time. Because of that, I really hesitated to take on a long-term project. I never knew if I would be interrupted. Instead, I headed to the job boards to find short, quicker turn-around jobs. Those jobs were a blessing and led to a few quick referrals, helping to offset the expense of all that PT!
Great for getting started in business
Job boards can be good when you’re getting started as well. It’s a quick way to start working with clients and refine your working processes. Because of the speed of these jobs, you can build a portfolio up that will help you get additional jobs.
It may be tough to get that first job board job, simply because you don’t have a work history. This is a major thing I see haters gripe about. Here’s how I look at it though. If you’re new, you have to play by their rules. You may be an expert in your field, but you’re brand new to the job board. So, you might have to take a very simple, lower paying job to start.
I see a lot of forum complainers whine about 100s of hours of work and only getting paid pennies. Again, that’s their fault, not the client’s or the job board’s. If you’re going to bid a low rate on a job, bid on a an easy job that will take only a couple of hours, not a ginormous project! Get a great review, update your portfolio, raise your rates, and move on.
Great for changing focus
If you’ve been working for a while and want to change your focus or try out a new process, a job board is a great place to go. At any given moment, there are tons of people wanting just what you want to offer. This is especially true after you’ve built up a nice history on the board and have good reviews.
Even if you don’t have a portfolio piece to show for your new service, clients will see your history of positive feedback. Clients’ biggest fears usually aren’t that you’re not the best of the best. They’re worried you’ll flake on them, steal their ideas, break their systems, leave them with a mess, or fail to deliver on time. The feedback from previous jobs, even if unrelated, shows that you can be trusted to do what you say you will.
Job board clients usually have a specific problem that needs fixing
Clients on job boards often have a smaller, defined problem that they need solved. You can pick and choose what you apply to work on, depending on the timescale you’re looking for. Not only are most clients ready to get started, a lot of clients post smaller jobs that can be wrapped up quickly too. This happens for two reasons – clients just want to hire contract work for a small specific skill that they don’t have or don’t have time for, And, they’re testing the waters too. Many times, a small job that I bid on turns into a longer term private job (meaning, they didn’t even invite anyone else to apply).
And if the job description is vague and not at all defined? Skip it. It’s not for you. Seriously, though, that’s a red flag and you’ll need to stay away from those.
Can forge relationships with other professionals
The most interesting pro to me is that you can build relationships with other professionals. Many larger agencies or firms hire freelancers to do white-label (unbranded) work for them. This can be a good source of ongoing, steady work.
You can also find other professionals that are in different spots along a continuum of service. This can lead to partnerships or referrals. For example, a career consultant might team up with a financial consultant to build a product to guide clients in how to approach their 401K.
Can be discouraging
It’s true that you’re not going to get every job you apply to. That can be a bummer. But you can’t worry about that. Just keep trying. Too many folks quit because they don’t get a job right away. You can’t do that because you have zero idea why you didn’t get the job. It could be that the client received 100+ applications and was lazy and never even read yours.
That’s why you have to keep applying. If you had another source for quick clients, you’d be using that, right?
Tons of low cost competitors
Yep, I saw a graphic designer on Upwork charging $4 per hour, bless her heart. Before you get mad and declare that you can’t possibly compete with that, think for a moment. This low cost designer doesn’t have everything you have. You both will be competing for different jobs if you’re smart about it.
Focus on the jobs that want what you have. Are you a native and/or fluent English speaker? Great – that sets you apart from many others, and clients often want that. Are you awesome at building logos for construction companies? Apply for those and highlight your expertise. Clients who want specific skills or traits are willing to pay for them.
And when they’re not, instead of wasting time with them, politely move along to the next job. There are too many out there to fuss over the clients who want Mona Lisa for a stick-figure price.
Forced to use the job board’s process
Being forced to use the job board’s process is a complaint I have myself, even though I’ve been able to work my own process where it counts. For the qualification and the work itself, I do use my own processes. Where I have trouble is when the job board confuses a client. That’s often hard to navigate and does take additional time.
The other complaint is that the job board’s process can change on you at any time, and you have no recourse at all. For example, Upwork continually changes its pricing for both customers and professionals. Their latest is charging job seekers to bid on jobs. Ick. But THEY own the marketplace, so they can set the rules. It’s a good reason not to make a job board your only source of leads.
The truth is that if you properly qualify job board leads before you take them on, you’re not likely to get a nightmare client. The job boards are full of jobs from delightful clients. You just have to find them!
Once a job has started, though, if a client seems to turn into a bad client, that’s probably on you. Clients who have potential to be good clients can turn bad because of your lack of process. Sometimes these jobs from the boards don’t feel as much like your “real work” as leads that come through your regular channels. Don’t treat them any differently. From the application itself, use and enforce your way of doing things. Tell the client what to expect and when, and keep regular communication. That way, the client won’t have any need to veer off track and try to run things on their own.
Qualifying a job board lead
The biggest thing on a job board is to be seen by leads as an expert. This positioning will turn away clients who just want someone cheap. Once you have this down, you won’t ever be talking with the folks who want a $50 website anymore.
- Fill out your job board profile fully. In the same way you do on your website and other marketing materials, position yourself as an expert in the work you want to do. Include a strong portfolio with work that reflects what you want to be hired for.
- Make sure you have a couple of positive reviews. If you’re just getting started, take a few small jobs and smash it.
- Set your price to reflect your expertise – you’re not competing at all with the 10/hour folks. You will be going for entirely different jobs. The clients you want don’t want cheap, they want expertise.
- Don’t act like you’ll be grateful for any scrap of work thrown your way. Instead, act like the expert you are, and the clients are coming to you. I’m not telling you to be rude or snotty. I just mean that if you’re desperate, it shows. Be confident in how you can help a client. Your right client will
- Don’t accept a job until the client has been through your qualifying process – the one you use for any leads coming your way. You might need to adjust your process a bit to fit a job board, but you don’t abandon it.
Still use your qualifying questions, though you may ask them over the phone, or send a document for the lead to fill out.
Still do your research on the lead.
Just like you would for other leads, politely decline if they don’t pass your qualification criteria.
You’re in control
So I’ve written all this, and as I was thinking how to wrap it up, it came to me. Approach these job boards as if you’re in control.
Because you ARE in control.
That’s what bothers me so much about the job board haters out there. They rant about what was done to them and how unfair the job boards are. Nearly every situation they complain about is their own fault. They didn’t think about qualifying their leads, and they didn’t think about positioning themselves properly.
And I’m not saying they didn’t have negative experiences. I am sorry about those – it’s no fun. I’m also not saying that there aren’t some rude and terrible clients out there. I just don’t think they’re exclusive to the job boards. You have to do the same due diligence with the job board leads as you do for leads from other sources.
A job board is just one of many sources for leads, and in some situations can be very helpful for certain types of jobs.