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How to get low-paid freelance and consulting work—I’m not being sarcastic!

I recently wrote some articles about fiverr.com and other low-paying job boards. I was rather negative towards the practice.

However, it occurred to me that some people may need the money and believe that it makes sense to look for work there. I’ve been thinking about this, and I agree—it may make sense for a limited number of people.

Some people have done no professional work. They need their first paying assignments so they can legitimately call themselves paid pros. Others need work samples immediately for their portfolios or resumes. Still others need a few bucks simply to survive and can’t afford to invest substantial time in marketing before they earn a little subsistence money.

I tend not to think about how to bring in minimal sums of cash, but today I am inspired to help out by giving this some thought.

When you read my headline, perhaps you expected a list of “hints” that are actually putdowns of solopros willing to work for minimal pay. You anticipated such points as:

  • Don’t choose a niche. Specialization limits the number of assignments for which you can apply.

  • Do sloppy work. People expect to get what they pay for, and if they are not paying much, they don’t expect—or deserve—much.

  • Miss deadlines. They are merely suggestions, not drop-dead due dates anyway.

Instead, I’m going with advice you may actually find helpful.

First, if you need small amounts of money on a consistent basis, fast-food and other retail or service industries pay just as well as the lowest-paying job boards. Furthermore, the work is steadier, the pay-date is certain, and you expend no unpaid time on marketing.

If you sincerely desire freelance / consulting work in your niche(s), there are better ways than low-paying job boards to achieve this that serve your longer-term goals more effectively. Here are some suggestions on how to proceed:

  • Identify a sound reason that you are open to low-paying assignments. “I have low self-esteem” and “I’m desperate” are not good reasons. “I want my first paying assignments” or “I need samples for my portfolio” or I want to test myself with professional assignments” or “I want client feedback on my work” are all more positive reasons. “I want to work in industries I’ve never been exposed to” or “I want recommendations to post on LinkedIn or my website” also work.

  • Let people know what you are looking for. Try meetings at your local chamber of commerce or live MeetUp and LinkedIn local community events. If these events include self-introduction opportunities or round-the-room elevator speeches, tell everyone explicitly what you are looking for and why. Ask them to spread the word. Admit that your fees are rather low and acknowledge the reason they are low.

  • Follow up. When someone is interested, be proactive in initiating further conversations. Get their business card and call them. Follow up at each stage of the process, whether getting the assignment, having them clarify the specifics of the project, and delivering the deliverables.

  • Obtain your desired benefit. Since you have made it clear why you are working cheap, follow through on actualizing your goal. If you want a recommendation, ask for the recommendation and help them write it if necessary. (This is perfectly acceptable if they endorse your words willingly.) Want feedback? Request it along the way. Let them know you will be adding the work to your portfolio both as the assignment commences and as it winds down.

Your reasons for accepting low-paying work may be valid, but if you follow this advice, you may still earn quite a bit more than the bottom feeders using some of the less desirable job boards. Sorry . . .

Originally posted 10-14-13

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