3 Top Freelance Platforms (and How to Stand Out From the Crowd)

By Jackie Lam, Contributor, on June 19, 2018

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If you’re new to the world of freelancing, you may be deeply curious about all the different freelance platforms out there. At the same time, you may be overwhelmed and intimidated by the variety of possibilities. At a glance, you can see a slew of job postings in every field imaginable, alongside an abundance of other freelancers bidding on the same gig. But with a bit of know-how, you’ll feel more confident about dipping your toes into this exciting space.

Here’s an overview of some of the top freelance platforms, plus a few pointers on how you can stand out and land consistent work as a freelancer.


Formerly known as Elance-oDesk, Upwork is the largest freelancer platform. It covers major categories such as web, mobile and software development; IT and networking; design and creative; legal and customer service. Upwork boasts clients such as GoDaddy, Dropbox and AirBnb.

Highlights: Of the major freelancer platforms, this is the one I’ve had the most experience using. I created a profile a few months ago, and I’m starting to get a few nibbles. The interface is super easy to use, and you can opt in to receive updates on jobs that might be a good fit. I know many freelancers who have had positive experiences landing clients on this platform.

Best For: Freelancers who offer a specific set of skills or have expertise in a given industry can thrive on this platform. Experience ranges from amateur to expert. You can send proposals for one-time gigs, short-term assignments or long-term projects.

Fees: Upwork charges its fees based on the cumulative range of income you’ve earned with each individual client.

  • $0–$500: 20 percent
  • $500.01–$10,000: 10 percent
  • $10,000.01+: 5 percent


Freelancer boasts a network of 28 million professionals worldwide. On this platform, you will be able to find the the categories you have likely come to expect, such as writing, design, media, product sourcing and manufacturing. But you can also bid for local jobs and services.

Highlights: Because Freelancer is such a popular site, you won’t find a shortage of open assignments. The platform is pretty straightforward: You can bid on assignments posted by clients and see the average bid.

Best For: Those who are just starting out and eager to get their feet wet will benefit from this platform. Note that you can only submit up to eight proposals per month before you need to upgrade to a paid account.


  • Fixed projects: 10 percent of the total or $5.00, whichever is greater
  • Hourly projects: 10 percent of the total
  • Services: 20 percent of the total
  • Preferred Freelancer Program: 15 percent of the total


Toptal positions itself a little differently than most other freelance platforms. As its name implies, it accepts fewer than 3 percent of applicants, who are typically seasoned developers, designers and finance experts. Major companies that have hired via the platform include Pfizer, Thumbtack and Zendesk.

Highlights: According to its website, most of the projects offered through Toptal are long-term and high-paying. Both clients and freelancers are vetted carefully, and indys don’t have to bid on projects.

Best For: This isn’t a platform for freelancers who are just starting out in their field. But if you’ve worked in a given industry long-term and are venturing out into freelancing, Toptal could be a good place to land work.

Fees: Toptal charges your client a rate for your services, and provides you with a portion of that rate as payment.

Ups and Downs

Some commonly mentioned downsides to these platforms include low rates, the fact that it can take time to find an appropriate gig and the bidding wars that occur to obtain a client. Plus, you’re competing with a lot of fellow freelancers worldwide, from varying levels of experience — which ups the hustle factor.

That being said, indys who have been on the scene for a little while can benefit from these platforms. Because these sites have a low barrier to entry, they can give you an opportunity to get some experience under your belt and new samples to add to your portfolio. Plus, you can learn the best way to market yourself as a freelancer, how to work with clients and how to create stellar proposals.

Stand Out From the Crowd

There are thousands of freelancers on these platforms: How should you strive to get a potential client’s attention? Here are five ways you can showcase your skills to stand out and land consistent work:

1. Start Small

When you’re first starting out on these platforms, consider going for smaller gigs for which you’re overqualified — so that you can score some great reviews. “Apply to small jobs you can overdeliver on,” suggests Carissa Lintao, an app strategist who’s pivoting to founding her own marketing agency. “And as you get more projects and positive feedback under your belt, raise your rates.”

2. Go Niche

Some of the most successful freelancers will tell you that their success comes from going niche. Lintao observes that the more niche you get, the better. Instead of marketing yourself as a “social media strategist,” hone in on a specific skill set, such as “app strategist.”

3. Get Creative

Add a bit of personality and creative flourish to your profile. Chad Eschman, the Los Angeles ambassador for Upwork and company director of Trap Street, suggests engaging your prospective clients with a story. The classic storytelling rule, “show, don’t tell,” always applies. Or, if you specialize, nix the cover letter-speak and bullet point what makes you qualified and unique, instead.

4. Ask for Detailed Testimonials

When you wrap up a project, ask your clients to leave you detailed testimonials that go beyond “great job.” These public reviews from past customers should ideally include specifics that show exactly what you did to make the project a success — helping you to stand out from the crowd.

5. Have Reasonable Expectations

If you’re just starting out, don’t expect to net $10,000 in income a month landing gigs on these platforms. While there are ways to boost your income — through larger, long-term assignments — you’ll need to be patient and diligent in the beginning.

“It took a little while to really get rolling [on Upwork],” explains Eschman, who joined the platform in 2016. “Once I figured out how to niche myself more distinctly, optimize my profile and send more compelling proposals, things really started to click.”

Seeking out new jobs on a freelance platform is a great way to gain experience in your field and begin working with a range of different clients and personalities. Take some time to test out a few different platforms, and discover which one works best for you.

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