The startup cost no new freelancer should go without

June 4th, 2009

Got an email from some mystery reader the other day asking, “Is this site still active? I haven’t seen a post from Michelle in many months.” (Actually it’s been just under two, but who’s counting?) In an upcoming blog post, I’ll explain why I disappeared from the blogosphere for such a long stretch. But first, some fresh content…

Work It, Mom! just ran a new Q&A with me and I wanted to share my favorite question of the bunch:

If you were just starting out as a full-time freelancer and had just enough money each month to pay for ONE of the following things, which would you choose, and why? (1) Hosting for your own website. (2) Mobile web and e-mail on your cell phone/Blackberry. (3) Membership in a paid job listing site like FreelanceSwitch. (4) Four Americanos.

My answer: Easy: web hosting. It’s criminal to not have a website as a freelancer these days. You need your own corner of the digital universe where people can easily learn who you are and peruse your samples and/or client testimonials.

Number one, it makes you look like you’ve joined the twenty-first century (if you forego a site, don’t expect potential customers to be impressed). Number two, it saves you extra time you might have spent explaining your work/approach/MO to a new client. Number three, you can make a one- to four-page WordPress site in a morning. Number four, Web hosting costs less than $10 a month. Number five, in the time you spend scouring those (often crummy, $10/hour) ads on freelancing job sites you could have sent your new URL to everyone you’ve ever met in your life, started schmoozing with other freelancers on Twitter, and drummed up your first client by word of mouth or the power of SEO. I’m a big fan of joining a community and cultivating relationships rather than bidding into the void on projects advertised on job sites, unless it’s a really, really kickass-sounding job.

As for options (2) and (4), I don’t use a smartphone and I don’t drink coffee.

Bonus answer: Yes, you can build a site with an address like for free, but having your own URL is so much easier for people to remember and looks a bit more serious.

Yes, coffee makes the deadlines go ’round, but it’s expensive. If you drink it, brew your own.

Yes, a cool smartphone + data plan will liberate you to work anywhere, but as a new freelancer you should be watching your pennies. Besides, do you really need to be online 24/7?

And yes, some people swear by using freelance job hunting sites like Elance, oDesk, and Guru to land their first few gigs or to supplement their freelance income, despite all the cons they themselves are all too happy to admit (wading through all the crap-pay listings, giving the site a cut of your earnings, the preponderance of bidders willing to work for slave wages). But on freelance email list after email list I subscribe to, people regularly say that they haven’t found such race-to-the-bottom bidding frenzies worth their time.

I can’t speak to the job listings on Freelance Switch specifically; if anyone has a review to share, by all means please do. I’d love to find a job listing site serving multiple freelance disciplines to recommend to new freelancers. As for writers, I hear wonderful things about the publication editors and the freelance listings they post on Freelance Success, which costs about $100 a year.

Entry Filed under: Ask the Cubicle Expat,Money honey,Q&As,This freelance life

13 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Thursday Bram  |  June 4th, 2009 at 1:00 pm

    I may be a little biased — I write for FreelanceSwitch — but I consider the job listings on the site to be far different than other options. There’s no bidding or anything like that, and the jobs typically have respectable pay. It leans more towards design gigs than anything else, but the jobs I’ve found on there don’t really show up anywhere else.

    I definitely do agree with you, though — a website should be a first step for a beginning freelancer over anything else. Furthermore, a website is a business expense and tax deductible, unlike those Americanos some freelancers are thinking about chugging.

  • 2. Michelle Goodman  |  June 4th, 2009 at 1:59 pm

    Thursday, thanks for the comment. I knew the FSw ads didn’t have bidding (sorry if I didn’t make that clear — people, Freelance Switch’s ads don’t require you to submit a bid into the cybervoid! you just contact the potential client and take it from there!), and it’s great to hear that you find the pay respectable. Good deal. In fact, I’m going to send your comment to a friend who’s trying to land her first design client right now.

  • 3. Zey C.  |  June 4th, 2009 at 2:21 pm

    Good post, and welcome back!

    As for the Web hosting, having your own site is absolutely essential. Most of the hosting companies out there are pretty mediocre, but there are a few good ones. I use Sightground for all my clients, and they’ve proven quite reliable.

    As for the job sites, most of them are no better than craigslist, which unfortunately is mostly populated with bottom feeders. Finding legitimate gigs is one of the toughest hurdles facing freelancers.

    Good luck, everyone!


  • 4. Ananda Leeke  |  June 4th, 2009 at 9:10 pm

    I voted for a web site too. And no I don’t have a smart phone yet.

  • 5. Denise  |  June 5th, 2009 at 1:29 pm

    Ack! This post reminds me I need to update my website. Michelle, got any tips for the best ways to link published online content to one’s website? Linking via url doesn’t seem ideal, because websites and urls can change.

    By the way, I went and looked at oDesk after you mentioned it in a previous post, and was dismayed at the low rates. On the other hand, I realized I probably could hire someone from that site to job hunt for me, given how low the going rates were.

  • 6. Michelle Goodman  |  June 5th, 2009 at 1:38 pm

    Denise, color me playing with fire but I just save a copy of the IE/HTML/graphics file to my hard drive for posterirty and use the link on my site (though, I, too desperately need a site upgrade). Some people don’t use links when they don’t have them. Others use PDFs. If you have a lot of current-ish clips online, they should stick around at least until you get some even-fresher clips. I’m sure someone more techie than me will weigh in with a better option though.

  • 7. Scott Rutt  |  June 9th, 2009 at 7:55 am

    My vote also goes for the website. After getting laid off last month, I have to admit, my first inclination was to jump on the freelance sites and start bidding away. But then reality set in and told myself that rather than picking up a few quick gigs, I’d better spend my time building a long term business for myself.

    So I started Graphic Makeovers, a site that offers free design ideas and daily makeovers, as a way to get the word and and build my little niche. I’ve been following all of the advice mentioned here, talking to everyone, networking, etc. It’s been slow going so far, I’ll let you know how it goes.

  • 8. links for 2009-06-09 R&hellip  |  June 9th, 2009 at 9:03 am

    [...] The startup cost no new freelancer should go without "It’s criminal to not have a website as a freelancer these days. You need your own corner of the digital universe where people can easily learn who you are and peruse your samples and/or client testimonials." – the same could be said for any journalist starting out these days. Buy your name. Now! (tags: business freelance tips) Share and Enjoy:These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages. [...]

  • 9. Traci Feit Love  |  June 13th, 2009 at 7:52 am

    Michelle, you are 100% right about needing a website. And I also agree with you about the “how low can you go” bidding sites – there are a few gems to be found (with clients looking for actual quality as opposed to 1000 articles for $2), but it takes forever to find them. Better to invest the time in a website, networking, etc.

  • 10. Freya  |  June 15th, 2009 at 9:11 am

    I find it ludircrous that some freelancers or businesses still get by without a website. IT is the only place for you to control your own webspace completely.

    And thanks for the info on Freelance Switch. I love the blog and had been looking at joining. Glad to see a little info.

  • 11. Amy S-Denver, CO  |  June 26th, 2009 at 10:10 am

    I admit I have been sending hundreds of applications to jobs–mostly through Craigslist and occasionally mediabistro or but with no success…
    it’s hard not getting discouraged and I’m not sure I want to commit/pay for Freelance Success or Switch…

    Michelle, I think I need to take your advice and build more contacts and networks…Does anyone know of freelancer communities in Denver, CO area?
    Also, I’d be interested in tips/tricks/sites that helped people score freelance gigs!

  • 12. Michelle Goodman  |  June 26th, 2009 at 10:21 am

    Amy, I know a book that’s loaded with tips. ;) If you’ve already read My So-Called Freelance Life, just keep plugging away at networking online and off with freelancers in your field and others. We’re all over the web on twitter,, and linkedin groups, etc. Like I say in the book, many of us get our best leads from other freelancers we’ve established a relationship with, discussion lists, and freelancer happy hours. Check mediabistro or the freelancer meetups listed on to see if any freelancers are meeting in your area.

  • 13. Freelancedom » Blog&hellip  |  June 27th, 2009 at 7:59 am

    [...] Anti 9 to 5 Guide’s The Startup Cost No New Freelancer Should Go Without Pass it [...]

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Who I am

Hi, my name's Michelle Goodman and I've been freelancing since 1992. I'm author of My So-Called Freelance Life and The Anti 9-to-5 Guide. Read my full bio here.

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