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Finding Legitimate Freelance Opportunities: The Dos and Don’ts of Applying for Online Freelance Jobs

  • By Adela Belin
  • December 6, 2020

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.

DO –

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 are often filled with freelance listings. Besides, they provide freelancers with sites that 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 offer secure payment options and other protective measures to freelancers being hired for virtual assignments (Fiverr, for example). 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’s 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. You can use  AND.CO Freelance Contract to build fair relationships. 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 website 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, websites 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.

– DO NOT –

Apply to Vague Listings

Job sites, especially those that do not require payment to post a job, will often include listings that provide very little information about the freelance opportunity. Be wary of those job listings that do not give either a company name or a detailed description of the project. These same types of listings may simply say they are hiring freelancers and then provide an email address asking you to reply in order to get more information. It is possible that this type of opportunity is for some type of illegal or unethical activities, or is a way to collect personal information from individuals to be used illegally.

Respond to Low-Pay, No-Pay or Revenue-Share Opportunities

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to see job listings from companies or individuals who want cheap, or free labor. Is this illegal or unethical? No. There are certainly legitimate opportunities that are simply low paying. However, these types of clients often turn out to be slow payers, too. Or, they become overly demanding clients despite the fact they are not paying well.
The same can be said for those freelance projects that offer revenue-sharing opportunities instead of straight pay. In this case, there is no guarantee you will get any money for the work you complete on a project. This can be particularly frustrating when you have little control over how money is earned or profits are managed. And, if there is little or no tracking capabilities for revenue in-take, or you have limited access to it, you may never know if or how much money you are actually entitled to receive.
Be cautious of freelance job listings that offer “experience”, the ability to “build a portfolio”, or a “share of revenues in an exciting start-up company” in exchange for work. While there are times when working for free is a good way for a new freelancer to gain work samples and references, you may want to look for those opportunities through people or companies you know personally.

Pay for the Opportunity to Work

You should never directly pay a client for the opportunity to work on a freelance project. There are job or project sites that charge a membership fee to view available projects. However, these sites usually offer a lower-level membership that is free. Additionally, sites such as this one are offering a particular level of service in exchange for fee, including verifying the legitimacy of the hirer (so you do not have to) or for offering safe-pay options and other features designed to assist the professional freelancer.

Allow Direct Deposit of Funds into a Personal Bank Account

When applying for a freelance opportunity, you should not immediately sign up for, or allow the hirer to deposit funds into your bank account. This is especially important when working for an individual or a company that you are not familiar with. Be particularly cautious if the hirer asks for you to complete a direct-deposit pay form before you are even awarded the work.

Give Personal Information or Sensitive Data to a Client

As with your bank account, there is little reason to provide any other detailed personal information to a hirer, particularly before the project has been awarded and a contract is signed. It is legal for a company to ask you to complete a W-9 Form as part of record-keeping and tax-reporting requirements with the IRS, but again, this should occur only after the project has been awarded and you have been hired.

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