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It’s a big work world out there, and while freelancing may seem like the ultimate way to escape the confines of an oppressive work environment, there is always the possibility to get lost…especially with more bills coming in at the end of the year while their clients are on vacation. Yet, now that freelancing is becoming increasingly popular, there are more and more ways for freelancers to get the most out of their time and skills. We at Deskmag would certainly say that working at a good coworking space is the best environment for a freelancer to be able to flourish, yet there are also some additional options out there. This first article in a serie to be written is about the big players of online workspaces.
By Amanda Gray - Tuesday, 04 December 2012

Many people dream of a job with a secure income, with which they can plan for the future and no longer have to live paycheck to paycheck. For most people, this will remain only a dream. The situation for many employees has visibly changed, especially in regards to income and job security, while - one the other side - the number of freelancers is rising.

One of the key components behind this increase is called outsourcing, although it does entail a set of advantages and disadvantages. The best option for the freelancer is to find a position, which works well for them in this process. The more clientele you have, the less dependent you are on one client or company.

Where to begin: how to find work and clients?

Of course, we recommend joining your local coworking space. That way you can interact with other freelancers and small companies, especially in the creative industries. Apart from informal exchanges and the chance to find job opportunities, many coworking spaces also host job boards or internal member systems where you can offer or find new projects. These spaces also support you in many other ways. 

However, there are a variety of websites offering jobs, which can be used as a additonal tool for freelancers to create a solid base of clients that they enjoy working with. In an article written earlier this year for Mashable, author Sarah Kessler discussed the amount of work that started to require freelancers. The article notes that websites like odesk and Elance, which serve as platforms that allow freelancers to apply and look for jobs, have seen a very large increase of participants within the last year. “Both companies say about 1.5 million contractors have registered for their sites” said Kessler.

ODesk, for example, “doubled its gross revenue every year since 2007", while Elance saw more than “100% year-over-year growth in the number of businesses that have posted a job on its site”. Freelancer.com takes over portal by portal, now having 6 million members on their websites. During their newest shopping tour, they bought VWorker, which came with 2,5 million members. Thus there is no question that these portals are working, not only for the freelancers but also for the websites themselves. 

So what does this mean for the working movement? Elance, an online company that caters to freelancers “estimates that by 2020, one in three workers will be working online.” These results not only show an increase in numbers, but a change in how we work, interact and produce. Thus it’s good to explore the various options and tools you can access as a freelancer.

The advantages & disadvantages of online workplaces and how to deal with them

The beauty of freelancing is that you have more choices. You can find side jobs through these databases, widening your market, while making connections without being tied to a long-term contract. You can work where you want while your clients are asleep, probably on the other side of the world, not having to worry about someone watching over you and constantly interrupting you.

On the other hand, you will be competing with a lot more people, which can have an impact on the prices you charge (however, these people do exist anyway). While it's true that many suppliers of projects and jobs use these portals to reduce their cost, it's not entirely true that all clients are looking for the cheapest options.

In many ways, it's about the employers you accept and how you present yourself. Instead of trying to compete with the cheapest price, make a difference in your portfolio by highlighting your skills and knowledge. Attempt to discover a niche that's in high demand. The more specialized your skillset (and the better your ratings will be), the more you can earn.

When offering your service, also consider a variety of costs, which are not included in your rate, such as transportation and materials. Then there is the risk that something unexpected will happen because you're not familiar with the company or client you work for. Meetings between contractors and providers are often more difficult when working from different countries due to different cultural and linguistic backgrounds, for example. This can put both employers and freelancers at a disadvantage. 

If you start offering your services, start with small projects in order to gain more experience. See these smaller jobs as good opportunities that could lead to bigger and better ones. The following online portals can work to your advantage if if you learn how to use them. The key is to balance the off- & online worlds. In the following paragraphs, we summarized some key features, which make each one of these freelancer portals different.

>> Next page: A list of major online workplaces

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