How to look for (and find) kickass freelance gigs
The big question of the hour when you first start a freelance business: how am I going to find work?!
Since I started freelancing a lot of people have asked me how I actually find gigs. Ain't that the question of the hour.
The short answer is the same way you look for a full time job. There's no hidden secret garden or magical portal new freelancers need to know about. There is no right or wrong place to look for gigs. The more important part, usually overlooked, is making sure you stay consistent and apply for new jobs every day.
An application a day keeps the bills at bay
The difference between a successful freelancer and a struggling one is a full pipeline. Your pipeline is the number of open opportunities you have at any stage of the sales process: introduction, qualification, proposal, negotiation, won or lost.
Keeping a pipeline full means gig hunting every. damn. day. If you already have an anchor client, apply to at least 2 new gigs a day. If not, shoot for 4-5 new applications per day.
Gig hunting is not like job hunting. Things move a lot quicker. Jobs are on demand and get filled within 2 weeks, usually less. When your applications are falling out of the funnel at that pace you need to make sure you’re replacing them. Don't get caught with a dry pipe!
I highly recommend reading (or listening to) Fanatical Prospecting by Jeb Blount for more on this topic. Yes, it’s a sales, book. But as a freelancer, you are the sales team for your business. You should start thinking of yourself (and behaving) as such.
The nitty-gritty: where to find gigs
I use Upwork as my main source for gig hunting. It’s a freelancer-focused platform which makes it super easy to find the type of work you’re looking for with filters for gig length, expertise level, and budget.
Upwork certainly isn’t the only freelancer-friendly gig-hunting platform. It’s just the one that seems to work for me. (I was recently hired to work for the LA Chargers through Upwork. ~squee!!~)
Google Job Alerts
As the all-seeing-eye of the internet, if you don’t have Google Job Alerts set up yet, do it now. It’s super simple to turn on and it automatically pulls relevant jobs based on your criteria like location, experience level, and more.
You can then choose to receive the alerts instantly, daily, or weekly.
Even if you don't turn the alerts on, just saving your searches and using this to hunt consolidates a lot of effort. In my example above you can see results from ZipRecruiter, LinkedIn, and Glassdoor in one go.
To get to the Google Jobs platform, type "google jobs" into the search bar and click the blue bar inline in the search results.
A little secret place I also like to look for gigs is Twitter. It’s not widely used as a job hunting platform, so there's way less competition than traditional platforms like Upwork. I use advanced search tricks to help sift out conversations from people looking for my skills.
In the search bar I might type a few formulas that look like this:
“freelance copywriter” ? -filter:links
This will show any tweets with the exact phrase "freelance copywriter", asking a question, and filtering out links.
"freelance copywriter" hire OR hiring
This will show any tweets with the exact phrase "freelance copywriter", and includes the words "hire" or "hiring".
squarespace AND designer -filter:links
This will show any tweets with the words "squarespace" and "designer", but not necessarily as an exact phrase while filtering out links.
You get the picture; there are so many ways to skin this cat. It's simply a matter of fine tuning with your own keywords until you find a solid stream of activity that regularly updates. (Make sure you're on the 'Latest' tab, not 'Top'.) Check out this handy dandy guide for more advanced search tips.
I recommend trying "looking for a freelance", "need a freelance", or other common hiring phrases as search terms.
When you find someone asking for help, reply to their tweet and send them to your website or ask to DM them for more details.
Quora is another great, unsaturated place to find gigs if you know how to look. You can use similar tactics as Twitter and find questions relating to a service you provide or a product you know really well. The more specific you can get, the better.
For example, "social media" is super broad. But, "social media strategy" will have better results--likely people actually interested in the business end of social media and who are much more likely to actually get in touch with you rather than some 14-year-old concerned if her crush will know if she clicks on his picture.
Think about your target client: what kinds of questions might they be asking? What are they struggling with? Start there, plug in a few phrases, and see what you get.
A fair warning: it is against the ToS to be “sales-y”. You can't just run amok plugging your business everywhere. You gotta actually answer the questions. At the end of your answer you can say something like, “If you need any more help, feel free to reach out at [your contact info].”
Check out what I did here for someone asking about their blog traffic.
May your funnel runneth over
If there's one thing I've learned from all this: keep my pipeline full, no matter what. I'd much rather be turning down offers because I am booked up than scrambling when something falls through the cracks last minute.
If you have some hot tips for managing your pipeline or cool places to look for gigs, drop them in the comments below.