Making extra money as a freelancer, without being cheated

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November 07, 2012
Making extra money as a freelancer, without being cheated.

Today I’m going to show you some interesting ways to make money as a web professional.

Before I do, let's clarify something: the best way to make money as a web designer is to develop a portfolio of clients.

However, as a professional in this saturated industry, you know as well as I do that there will be times when there’s a drought of work. There are so many designers, developers, freelancers, studios and so on, that there's only so much work to go round.

But fear not my young Web Jedi, there are many ways in which you can earn yourself some extra cash during those down-times until the work rolls your way again.

I’m going to show you several ways to make money when the phone isn't ringing, ordered from the most worthwhile, to what in my opinion is the least.

What? 50 cents an hour... I don't think so!

You're probably thinking, "Who works for 50 cents an hour?" Well, it's been done over and over on the sites I'm about to show you. The first way to make some extra money as a web professional is job boards. After a lot of research, my opinion is that the best job boards to look for Freelance work are and


Elance has a lot of competition, but it also has possibly the most jobs posted on a daily basis, so go ahead and check it out, you might be surprised how easy it is to find work.


oDesk is the perfect site for any Freelancer to find work. The amount of jobs posted compared to Elance is negligible and the competition isn’t nearly as stiff.

First of all, it's important to note that you'll find plenty of competition on both of these sites. It's not going to be easy to simply waltz in, create a snappy portfolio and have clients rush to hire you at your normal hourly rate.

Most people will tell you that these sites are about bulk bidding to land jobs, I disagree.

Sure, you can bulk bid and get some mediocre jobs, then mess up your reputation as "the guy who'll do anything for 50 cents an hour". Much better to submit strong proposals and if they've provided information about themselves or their company, do some research and reflect your knowledge about them personally and what they need to accomplish, in your proposal. Canned messages are easily spotted and usually find the delete button real fast, don't use them.

Another thing to watch out for are job postings that are incomplete. If they have no information, then it's unlikely that they even know what they want, or they're just trying to collect data and not really looking for a worker. An example of this would be, "I need a logo that's cool" vs "We need a logo for our company and here's what we're looking for," followed by a list of details.

The final thing to be wary of on sites like these are the clients who ask to see finished mockups before awarding a job. 9 times out of 10 they want you to do the work, which they'll then decline and take your mockups to Mr. Fifty-cents-per-hour and have him build your designs for a fraction of the cost.

Be professional, don't be too trusting, and don't appear desperate (even if you are). Follow those simple rules and job boards can be a great source of income.

If you're all about "free markets", then you'll love this!

Well we're not really talking about a free market because the prices are controlled by a marketplace company rather than driven by supply and demand. It's a free market in the sense that you can post your products for free and make money on each one!

This is probably one of the best and most worthwhile ways you can use your skills to make money in your spare time, simply because it’s passive income.

However, it's also one of the hardest ways to do it.

There are lots of marketplaces on which you can sell your products. Some of the most popular are in the Envato network, which includes CodeCanyon (for utilities created in Javascript, php and even CSS) and Themeforest (for templates in Wordpress, HTML, Expression Engine and many more).


Themeforest is easily the most used Marketplace in the Envato network and brings in the most sales, particularly in the Wordpress category. I recommend doing some research on the site to find out what sells before posting your product.

After creating your first project, it’s very possible to simply sit back and let the residual income roll in (I’ve been making money on two products that I haven’t touched since 2010). There’s easily no better way to make money while work is slow than by doing nothing at all; after some initial work, of course.

The Envato marketplaces also offer badges for your contributions, which is awesome. Almost everything you do can be turned into a badge, which is great for keeping up motivation, having something other than money to work towards and simply comparing with your friends.

Before you begin to sell on any marketplace, make sure you read the fine print. Some companies demand an extremely high cut of any money made. Most will offer a substantially improved rate if you are prepared to sell exclusively through them, so it pays to shop around for the best partner.

Remember, just because one site is weighed down with a particular type of product, doesn't mean the others are. Look for the holes in the market to really exploit this option.

Be a participant, not a troll

To make money in the arena that is Community Marketplaces, the biggest thing you need to do is participate. Your goal is to get your name out there and to show off your work in a meaningful way, meaning instead of making a thread saying “Here’s my work”, it’s much better to join in an existing thread and contribute your designs and/or snippet of code without any expectations of getting something in return.

Some of the best places to participate are Sitepoint and Digitalpoint Forums.


Sitepoint is one of the oldest and most credible Community Marketplaces on the web. If you’re a meaningful member of this community, you can instantly become a highly regarded and respected professional in the industry.


Digitalpoint is also one of the oldest and most respected Community Marketplaces on the web. Similar to Sitepoint, to be a valued member of this community is to be a valued member in the web industry as a whole.

Why are these important? Because by becoming a member of the community and showcasing your work by participating, work and money will come your way. You just need a genuine desire to help others, then let the law of nature work itself out until your contributions come back ten fold.

It's like a mall filled with products nobody will buy... except one

Crowdsourcing is possibly the most debated concept for “ways to make money” as a web professional. You're not the shopper here, you're the provider with a Kiosk directly in the middle of the mall. You're guaranteed to get some sales now, aren't you? If only that were true…

Crowdsourcing sites are different to Job Boards because on crowdsourcing sites you do what is traditionally termed "spec work". You complete the job, and then the 'client' may or may not choose to pay you. More often than not, you're competing against hundreds of other aspiring designers and developers, thousands of (wo)man-hours are wasted in this fruitless merry-go-round every week.

At these sites you participate in contests to design logos, web sites, icons, and so on. The 'contest holder' may then deign to award a minimal fee to one of the participants; everyone else wasted their time.

The problem is that even if you win one or two contests, you'll never win enough to recoup the time invested. If you could, the sites simply couldn't operate. It's a little like gambling on a horse race; sure, somebody hits it big, but on average the punters lose. The only one who makes money is the bookie.

I'd go so far as to say that crowdsourcing can be detrimental to the design industry as a whole, I recommend that you only consider this direction 'at your own risk' and fully prepared to work very hard for very little reward.

If you must go down this route then the two best places to go are 99designs and DesignCrowd.


99designs is probably the most well-known Crowdsourcing site with easily the most contests being held on a daily basis, so you can participate in projects to your heart's content until yours in chosen.


DesignCrowd do offer a money back guarantee which means that even if you are picked as the winner, you can still lose. However unlike 99designs, every competitor gets some type of compensation whether they win or not.

Remember crowdsourcing isn't set up to benefit you, it's set up to benefit the 'client', a person whose primary goal is to get something as cheaply as possible, is that really the kind of work you want to be doing?


The best way to make money is by building professional relationships with good clients. Do your job well and they will come back for more, they might even bring their friends.

If you have to augment your income then there are some smart ways, and some not-so-smart ways to go about it. We all have bills to pay, and sometimes our choices are limited; but they're never so limited that we have to allow ourselves to be cheated.

If work is thin on the ground, the best long term solution may well be to start reaching out to prospective clients. Maybe it's even time for that portfolio redesign you've been promising yourself.

How do you find extra work as a web professional? Any pitfalls that you'd like to share? Let us know in the comments.

Featured image/thumbnail, making money image via Shutterstock

Justin Hubbard

Justin Hubbard has been helping businesses since 2007 by creating timeless, memorable logos as part of a branding package and modern, user-friendly websites.

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