Working Online: Self-Employed Contractor

Working online is a growing phenomenon and offering your skills through an online freelance business is a great way to start. It is becoming ever easier for people to find work online or to start an online business, with little cost for companies and clients to communicate. The trend is growing and is across a diversity of industries, and at all levels from professional services to untrained skills.


As the famous management guru Peter Drucker wrote:

“The new information technology, Internet and e-mail, have practically eliminated the physical costs of communications.”

An online freelance business

One of the easiest ways to get started is to create an online freelance business.  You can offer your services for the skills you know you do well and enjoy doing.  By accepting small jobs initially you aren’t committing yourself for any ongoing work or time frame to begin with.  Therefore it’s a great way to find out if you actually enjoy having an online business.

Freelancing is a wonderful choice for many people who want to supplement their income but don’t want to work for someone else or find it difficult to gain employment. It’s also great for those who want control over their own time, working in the time slots that suit them.


There are many appealing aspects to the idea of working online. There is no boss, flexible working hours, flexible location, you can work on the projects you choose therefore working online can be done anywhere. A client who took the plunge six months after he retired, summarized some of the benefits:

“It’s great. I can work when I want to. I love that I have time for the things I want to do, but I’m still earning and using my brain.”


Of course, there are some disadvantages to having a online freelance business. There is no paid holiday or sick pay. The hourly pay is not necessarily great, depending on the sort of work you do. There is also the worry of finding enough work to get by. And working online is not without its risks. The two worries that most freelancers have are: “Will I get paid?” and “What if this is a scam?” One of the best ways to avoid both of these issues is to use a reputable website to find clients. But how is this done?

Bidding Websites

In the past ten years, countless websites have sprung up, which hook up those seeking work with those that have projects to offer. Some of the bigger names, international and Australian, include:

The top Australian site is Airtasker and it is definitely worth a look. I have used Airtasker repeatedly for tradesmen and odd-jobs around the house, but not for professional jobs yet.  However their list of professions is impressive too, and if you are looking for some work it is worth having a look at their site. ServiceSeeking is another Australian site that seems to have expanded from just manual labour into online freelance work in several fields.

What’s a bidding site?

These websites and others like them are known as “bidding sites” and they are an essential marketing tool for anyone with an online freelance business. You sign up, create a profile that promotes your skills, talents and experience, and then you are ready to bid on jobs. “Buyers” post jobs that they want completed. You place a bid based on cost and time you think you will take to do the job. If the buyer is interested in your bid he/she may contact you with questions, or just select your bid. Some such sites allow you to place as many bids for work as you like, for free. Others charge you for bids, and some apply a fee to be a member of different work areas and apply for work.

The work that can be found through such websites varies from writing and translation through customer service, administrative tasks, marketing web development, design, accountancy and a lot more. The different websites have varied types of work online freelance work available.

These websites run on a system of reviews in which both the employer and the freelancer leave feedback for each other, which is publicly visible. To know if an employer is genuine you just have to look at their reviews. The same applies to freelancers.

If you are a newbie you will have no reviews for the employers to see whether you are reliable and provide good service or not. This is where you have to do some extra effort to make you stand out from all the other freelancers.

How to gain a good reputation

Create a great profile:  Don’t be shy about your qualifications and experience.  Potential employers need to know about what you can offer. I can assure you from personal experience that a great freelance worker is an invaluable asset to a business. As an employer I read the profile in great detail and try to find people who can complement my own skills while being someone I can work with easily.  Therefore as a potential employer I want to know about your experience, your ability to communicate clearly, your education, your level of responsibility and your diverse skills.

Cost leadership: You may have to offer low rates for your work initially to beat the competition and make the employers notice you. Offer a bit lower than the usual standard rate to attract attention. Don’t go too low or they won’t believe that you have the experience and qualifications you have put in your profile. Make it clear that you are offering a lower cost in order to establish yourself as a valuable freelancer.

Show your work and your credentials: Send a sample of your work to the employer to show them your skills and your talent. Your excellent work can help you create a place for yourself in the industry.

Accept more menial tasks initially: Accept any kind of work in your field (just for a short time) even if it is for very low rates. Consider it an investment of time for your freelancing business.  Show your value to secure some good reviews from the employers. When people recognize you for your good work, then you can always select the work you want to do.

Do your best work: Be communicative and always answer employer’s queries. Update them on the status of work regularly and deliver high quality work on time. Show initiative to make yourself invaluable to a busy employer.

Once your reputation has been established you may find you are as fully employed as you want to be, but remember that you have control over how many hours you work.

Human Intelligence Task Sites

Have a look at websites where you can do “human intelligence tasks” or HITs to get paid. One of the best examples of these is Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. Here, you would be working online on tasks such as completing surveys, tagging photos and analyzing text for a few cents per task. While this isn’t going to bring in the big bucks, it can serve to supplement your income while you get started.

Other sites cater for just one task.  A friend of mine recently did some work for Rev who connect transcriptionists and captioners with people needing those services. You are paid per video/audio minute at a low amount per minute, but that adds up once you get used to the task. She said she particularly enjoyed transcribing Scottish accents for the challenge!  You can choose the jobs you take, so she used to choose the jobs that were on topics that interested her.

Quality of life

If you use these websites effectively, they can be lucrative both in terms of finances and quality of life. A client described his experience in this way:

“My job was made redundant when I was 54 and not ready to retire, psychologically or financially. I found long term, full-time, well-paid web development work for a large US corporation through a bidding website. I can work wherever I like. This arrangement suits them, and it definitely suits me!”

Getting paid

Bidding websites can reduce the risk of not getting paid or getting scammed. Payment for the project occurs through the company, with clients setting up their automatic payment arrangements before they are able to use the site. Once the work is completed to the client’s satisfaction payment occurs.

A riskier path

It can be risky to accept work outside of a site that offers a payment framework.  But, with caution, it can still be worthwhile. One place to look for work is the Australian site Gumtree or the US based site Craigslist.

Of course, scams here are widespread. Use common sense to reduce your risk. You might consider asking for a proportion of the pay upfront. That way both you and your client are taking some risk. Alternatively, break the project down into small chunks. Organise a payment plan for each milestone. That way, you don’t get to the end of a large project, hand in your work and find that your client drops off the face of the earth.

But if you are serious about your online freelance business it makes sense that you would work within a more secure framework.  This gives guarantees to both the client and the worker.

You can also use general Social Media (other than LinkedIn) to make it known that you are available for work. This could work well if you are well connected with people who know your capabilities.

In general, an online freelance business can have risks, but it can also be extremely worthwhile. By taking a few steps to protect yourself, you can build your online business from home, safe in the knowledge that you will be paid.

Do you need help starting a home based business? BoomersNextStep can guide you. Contact Us

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