As established freelancers know, there is no shortage of work for talented professionals. In fact, finding a freelance job is often a matter of conducting a few quick online searches. Yes, the Internet provides easy access to quality freelance opportunities, but it can also lead to many scams, or prospective clients who are simply looking to get something for nothing. How do you protect yourself? Finding legitimate freelance work online is easy, if you follow these basic tips for staying alert and choosing jobs wisely.
- Search established well-known job sites.
A quick search on Google for freelance jobs will return thousands of links to listings for potential opportunities. As a general rule of thumb, it is safer to search for jobs on only those sights that are well-known, or have been around for a while. Traditional job sites, such as Monster.com are often filled with freelance listings; and sites such as Guru.com are dedicated to working with independent professionals and have a track record of providing legitimate freelance and consulting projects.
- Look for listings from recognizable companies.
Companies of all sizes use freelancers today to complete both short and long-term projects on an outsourced basis. When possible, reply only to the freelance listings that are from recognizable firms, or from companies that can be readily verified. While many individuals do hire freelancers, this is a riskier proposition unless you are using a third-party job site. Sites, such as Guru.com and Elance.com typically offer secure payment options and other protective measures to freelancers being hired for virtual assignments. These features can minimize the risk of working with both individuals and lesser-known organizations.
- Schedule a conference call to discuss the job.
Although there are times when virtual freelance assignments require little more interaction than a few emails, you miss an opportunity to interact with the prospective client. Having conversations in person (whether face-to-face or over the phone) goes a long way in helping to reinforce the legitimacy of the situation. Whether the client is across the country or on a different continent, do not hesitate to request a conference call so that you may meet the client via phone and discuss the job in greater detail. The fact that they are willing to talk with you over the phone is certainly a good sign and this gives you the chance to make a direct connection with your client. Even so, be alert for signs of questionable behaviors or unusual requests during the discussion; and pay attention to your own gut instinct that says something is not quite right.
- Use a contract/agreement for the work.
When you work with clients that you have met personally, you do not think twice about submitting a formal quote or statement of work, followed by a signed contract detailing the agreement between you and the client. The same should hold true when working virtually. Just because you answered a request for work from an online job listing does not mean that you cease to conduct standard business practices. Having the virtual client agree to a statement of work and sign a contract is an important tool in guarding against future misunderstandings, and protecting your business interests. This also helps to ensure that you have proper contact information for the client, including a full mailing address and phone number – as opposed to only having an email address.
- Conduct background research on the company.
It is not unusual for a client to want detailed information about you, your company, your work, and references from past clients. When responding to an online freelance listing, it is also not unusual for you to seek information about the company hiring you. Your goal is to determine, as best you can, that the client is legitimate. In addition to searching for a company web site for verification, check with the Better Business Bureau to see if there have been any unresolved complaints with the company. You can also ask the client for professional references of companies for whom they have done work, or vendors with whom they currently do business. If you are uncomfortable asking for this type of information, you can request that the client pay a percentage of the total cost of the work, in advance, as a protective measure to ensure you are paid something. Again, web sites like Guru.com show feedback and payment history of clients who have previously used freelancers on their site. This provides you with a verified track record that the client not only is legitimate, but they pay well, and, on time.
Part Two will discuss the “Don’ts” of online freelance jobs and how to avoid getting scammed.