The Way We Work
July 15, 2009 by Josh Breinlinger

A few months ago, we listed out the Top 100 Freelance Blogs. The blogs on that list are people who have found success through freelancing and are kind enough to share the tips and tricks they’ve learned with the rest of us. Many of the top blogs – Freelance Switch and Freelance Folder, among others – also tap into the expertise of many freelancers in diverse fields for a comprehensive view on the freelance experience. In the spirit of those blogs, we’ve asked freelancers to take part in a panel to discuss the factors contributing to their freelancing success.

Thousands of people try to get started with a freelance career every month, but find that it’s hard to promote themselves, get jobs, and build a strong reputation for securing ongoing work. While many dip their toes in the freelance waters, only some rise to the top. These individuals surveyed below are some of the best from around the world – including freelance software developers, freelance designers, and virtual assistants.

Top providers were surveyed on the following factors to freelancing success and the results compiled for you. Each factor was scored on a scale of 1 – 4 for importance to success and the consensus or standard deviation of answers is displayed alongside each factor.

The freelancers that contributed to this post are from several different countries and include programmers, designers, writers, and virtual assistants. All of them have exceptional feedback scores and have been very successful in their freelance careers. Meet the Panel of Experts.

Top 10 Factors to Success Bottom 10 Factors to Success
3.87 – Communication 2.00 – Low Number of Candidates on Job
3.81 – Feedback Scores 2.19 – Portrait
3.80 – Attitude 2.29 – Large Job Size
3.80 – Responsiveness 2.56 – Experience of Client
3.73 – Quality of Deliverables 2.94 – Tests
3.73 – Meeting Deadlines 3.00 – Hourly Rate
3.69 – Cover Letter 3.19 – Profile Title
3.56 – Detailed Job Description 3.19 – Skills Section
3.50 – Portfolio 3.38 – Getting Contacted by Clients
3.50 – Apply at Right Rate 3.40 – Availability

Profile Factors

Feedback Scores
3.5 Valerie Martin Feedback is probably the most important first impression you will make on oDesk. Great feedback comes from working closely with your Buyer and insuring they are happy with the end result.
Extreme importance Jay Jaro Always asked the buyer for feedback before ending a job, its like saying “goodbye” and see you on the next project… good communication means good feedback score.
0.54 Kim Extremely important that you keep your profile very clean without ‘feedback’ blemishes.
High consensus

3.50 Jay Jaro For designers, upload all your best work. If your having second thoughts on one of your designs, do not upload it.
High importance Yaroslav Zagorui This is the most important thing in getting a job. Even if you have 50 projects done, don’t put all of them online, just take the most attractive 10.
0.73 Matt Show only your best, and preferably recent, work. Quality here, not quantity. And make sure you have samples for download or hyperlinked.
Medium consensus

3.19 Teodolfo Write as truthfully as possible. No need to exaggerate your qualifications. But be as detailed as possible.
High importance Krishna Acharya Mention all your skill sets, review the skills from time to time whenever you feel you have updated yourself by the time.
0.91 Thanh Nguyen Focus on your strong skills. Better if you can have some real samples to show up to the buyers.
low consensus

3.19 Matt Short, to the point, and free from errors!
High importance Jay Jaro Make your title simple but direct to the point and SEO friendly
0.75 Margie Miguel Add your best skills & show a little personality
Medium consensus

3.00 Milan Kaneria Do not be afraid of the competition while deciding your hourly rate. But make sure you deliver quality and timely work which compliments your hourly rate.
Medium importance Teodolfo Study your market. Get a feel of how much other providers, in the same field as yours, are charging for their services. Then structure your hourly rate accordingly. Never ever shortchange yourself by submitting low bids. Most good buyers do not mind paying a little more for quality service.
0.75 Thanh Nguyen To find your first work, I think your rate should be lower. Then you can increase it after some good feedbacks.
Medium consensus

2.94 Atul Arora Pass as many as you can according to your skills with good ranks and percentile.
Medium importance Tamara Bentzur Take every available test for your field. Retake ones you did not score high in.
1.00 Yaroslav Zagorui I don’t think that qualification tests pay a big role in getting your first job.
Low consensus

2.91 Valerie Martin Keep it simple. Buyers want to see your smiling face!
Low importance Teodolfo I, for one, asked my son to draw a “cartoonized” picture of myself. To my mind, a portrait is just a way to catch the attention of potential buyers.
0.75 Yaroslav Zagorui Show buyer that you’re not a BOT programmer or designer but also a good person to communicate with.
Medium consensus

Job Selection Factors

3.56 Matt One factor I take into account is how much time the buyer has taken to write a clear and detailed job description. If the buyer has only provided a short one or two-sentence description (especially for larger projects), I have to wonder about the quality of communication I should expect when discussing requirements, timelines, etc.
Extreme importance Valerie Martin If there is not much information posted, then the Buyer may not know exactly what they want. Contact the buyer and ask questions before committing to the project, especially if it is a fixed rate job.
0.81 Victor Carefully read the job descriptions and don’t be afraid to spend a lot of time reading these specs to make sure you’re a good fit.
Medium consensus

2.56 Atul Arora Always see the history of the buyer before bidding.
Medium importance Tamara Bentzur I have had wonderful experiences with first time buyers. I don’t really think it is important.
1.03 Milan Kaneria If buyer already has other successful jobs then you are sure of his work ethics and look forward for a great business partnership.
Low consensus

2.29 Teodolfo It doesn’t matter if the job is large or small, as long as you can contribute significantly to the buyer’s bottomline, that is all that matters.
Low importance Krishna Acharya Being selected for the large size projects is much easier than to accomplish the small projects successfully.
1.24 Yaroslav Zagorui If you don’t have much experience, don’t take jobs that take much time. Better take 10 jobs in 1 month than working with 1 big project for 4 months. This will help you to make a protfolio.
Low consensus

2.00 Jay Jaro Go for it! You have a 50/50 chance of getting an interview.
Low importance Thanh Nguyen Dont care about this factor, as long as you think you are good fit for the job
0.73 Krishna Acharya Only low number of candidacies doesn’t imply that there is higher possibility to get the job.
Medium consensus

Job Application Factors

3.69 Liz Mendiola In your cover letter, show the buyer how you can help him achieve his goals and why you think you are the right person for the job. Also, before even thinking of applying, do your research and try to find as much information as possible about the buyer and the job requirements.
Extreme importance Henricus Wendy Make it simple and detailed, write things that are related to the job you are applying. Don’t do a cut and paste letter.. it’s annoying and it shows no respect to the buyer.
0.48 Krishna Acharya Your cover letter should make a buyer review your profile. Include: 1. Your Brief introduction 2. Your statement of understanding of the task 3. Your probable solution/sugestions for the assignment 4. Mention your experience about the similar type of tasks if there are any. 5. Mention the URLs of your portfolio.. 6. Let your prospective client know about your timezone and working hours. Ask the buyer for her best time to contact. Finally, be polite. Review your cover letter before sending it.
High consensus

3.50 Teodolfo Don’t shortchange yourself by engaging in price wars with other providers. Charge what you feel is right for your service and don’t go lower than that.
Extreme importance Yaroslav Zagorui Even if there are 5 candidates with low amounts it’s better to put higher amount. And try to explain in your cover letter to buyer, why you’re worth it. Inexperienced buyers may just take the smallest bid. The experienced buyer will pay more for the good specialist.
0.73 Hernicus Wendy Your job should have a reasonable value. Therefore, don’t take long jobs with low rate. It will show that you’re not worth higher wages.
High consensus

3.38 Yaroslav Zagorui Try to answer as soon as possible if you’re contacted for an interview. Clients won’t spend more then 1 day waiting for you.
High importance Margie Miguel Reply ASAP; make sure they know how they can contact you and at what time you are available for an interview.
0.63 Teodolfo Be prompt and responsive. When being asked questions by buyers, answer in a very detailed and clear manner.
Medium consensus

Freelance Work Factors

3.87 Matt Make sure you establish and confirm communication methods (e.g. IM contact details, email addresses, phone numbers) at the beginning of the project. You don’t want to spend valuable time trying to chase down the buyer to have a critical question answered.
Extreme importance Valerie Martin It’s extremely important to openly communicate with your Buyer. Before you begin, ask questions until you and your Buyer are on the same page with the project direction and always stay open to suggestions.
0.35 Tamara Bentzur Keep them completely informed. I have a client who specifically mentioned that he doesn’t need to know all the time, but appreciates that I update him regularly.
Highest consensus

3.80 Liz Mendiola I always believe in the 3 H’s: Humility, Honesty, Hard work. I have always believed that these comprise the basic foundation of a good working relationship.
Extreme importance Tamara Bentzur As you work with your buyers, you’ll know which ones you can show more of your personality to (with chat symbols etc.) which kind of helps to build a relationship. It’s hard sometimes not to come across cold with only remote communication.
0.77 Jay Jaro Be open-minded and graciously accept critiques regarding your work, if there are any.
Medium consensus

3.80 Valerie Martin I do my best to respond to Buyers within an hour during business hours.
Extreme importance Teodolfo Be as responsive and cooperative as possible. Your buyer will sense it and will reward you appropriately.
High consensus

3.73 Liz Mendiola In anything that you do, always do your best and don’t settle for anything less.
Extreme importance Teodolfo Always deliver quality services. There is no other way but for you to always aim for superior results.
0.46 Krishna Acharya Prepare a brief document with your final project delivery. Explain the outcome of your task to the buyer. Try to meet globally established standards. Perform quality assurance tests on the outcome before delivery.
High consensus

3.73 Krishna Acharya Meeting deadline is important. This doesn’t mean that you and just you should deliver the agreed work within the deadline. All stake holders of the project are responsible for this. You may face some never known issues which prevent you to complete the task on time. In such cases, let all stake holders of the project know about the circumstances and possible solution in advance so that the team can come up with some resolution
Extreme importance Valerie Martin I do my best never to miss a deadline. If you see you will miss a deadline, honesty is the best policy.
0.46 Thanh Nguyen Keep client posted, report as per client’s request. If any problems, need to tell him in advance to look for workaround.
High consensus

3.40 Yaroslav Zagorui Before starting job, determine your hours of availability. And be online in these hours 😉
High importance Tamara Bentzur Working in different time zones, I never know when a client will need to reach me. I keep my IM clients open at all times.
Medium consensus

Meet the experts and take their advice if you’d like to succeed in the freelance arena.

Margie Miguel
Virtual Assistant
Quezon City, Philippines
1,061 hours – 28 clients
Yaroslav Zagorui
Lugansk, Ukraine
2,402 hours – 54 clients
Jay Jaro
Cavite, Philippines
2,714 hours, 69 clients, 4.96 feedback
Henricus Wendy
Henricus Wendy
Data Entry Professional
Serpong, Indonesia
1,249 hours, 43 clients, 4.90 feedback
Valerie Martin
Valerie Martin
Graphic Designer
Lafayette, LA, USA
1463 hours, 64 clients, 4.94 feedback
Teodolfo L
IT Management Professional
Paranaque, Philippines
2,135 hours, 25 clients, 5.00 feedback
Atul Arora
Website and GUI Designer
Patiala, India
5,402 hours, 189 clients, 4.81 feedback
Matt U
Freelance Writer
Vancouver, Canada
1,501 hours, 21 clients, 4.99 feedback
Krishna Acharya
Web Developer
Kathmandu, Nepal
1,315 hours, 29 clients, 4.98 feedback
Milan Kaneria
Milan Kaneria
WordPress Developer
Pune, India
1,087 hours, 17 clients, 4.90 feedback
Victor P
Victor P
PHP / Ajax Developer
Tiraspol, Moldova
1,628 hours, 13 clients, 4.99 feedback
Liz Mendiola
Liz Mendiola
Online Researcher
Quezon City, Philippines
1,560 hours, 35 clients, 4.97 feedback
Tamara Bentzur
Tamara Bentzur
Jordan Valley, Israel
2,147 hours, 57 clients, 5.00 feedback

Thanh Nguyen
Web Developer
HCMC, Vietnam
1,620 hours, 63 clients, 4.91 feedback
Cornel Iakobcsuk
Cornel Iakobcsuk
SEO Specialist
Timisoara, Romania
3,381 hours, 28 clients, 4.98 feedback

Josh Breinlinger

Senior Associate at Sigma Partners

Josh joined Sigma as a Senior Associate in 2010, bringing six years of startup experience building exceptional teams, products, and communities. He has a black-belt in online marketing and a strong track record of success in user acquisition and retention. Prior to joining Sigma, Josh was the Director of Product and Marketing at AdRoll, an online advertising company, where he helped grow revenue 4x in… read more