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Freelance Designer Earns Cash by Sharing Work

French designer Sacha Greif had too much work. It was a problem he had been battling ever since becoming a freelancer four years ago. The Web and mobile apps he created for clients would be seen by users who hired him for their own similar projects. He was also active on Dribbble, a design forum that allows designers to show off their work in progress, and which generated a steady stream of new leads.

The end result was that I was receiving more project offers than I could possibly take on myself,” he says. “I started looking for a place where I could share those offers with other good designers.”

Unable to find that space he decided to build it himself.

Folyo began as a simple jobs newsletter that Greif would send to selected designers. Between June and September 2011, he registered as many talented designers as he could find, then contacted startups and incubators to suggest that they send him their design needs. A number of companies posted projects and some were able to find freelance help, satisfying both sides.

Greif’s incentive was clear enough. A full schedule book and every billable hour covered might look desirable for any freelancer but when more work is coming in than can possibly go out, pressure builds, deadlines slip, clients feel let down and your reputation starts to sink. And giving a flat (if apologetic) no hurts. When someone has demand that we know how to meet, seeing that job disappear over the horizon feels like a terrible waste that benefits no one: you don’t get the work and the client doesn’t get the work completed.

That first newsletter Greif sent helped to solve his clients’ problems and it brought jobs to a number of fellow freelancers but the list was free and apart from relieving some pressure did little for Greif himself. So after a month of bringing together designers and companies, Greif began work on a Web app that could incorporate a business model and capitalize on his contacts.

Sharing the Work

Folyo now works as a newsletter-based jobs board. Freelance designers upload their profiles. Companies submit their job offers. Greif reviews those offers, weeding out the submissions with low budgets or which fail to provide enough detail about the work. Once approved, the company pays Folyo a $100 submission fee, and once a week, Greif sends the offers out to his list of subscribers. Designers who want to take on the work are then free to show the companies their profiles and the companies make their selection. If a company doesn’t find a suitable designer, Greif refunds their fee.

As a recruitment process, it’s a little clumsy. Companies have to wait up to a week before their jobs are sent out, then wait longer before they receive replies. Of the fifteen to twenty job offers submitted each week, only five or ten make it through the approval process. Nor is there an open bidding process, like that often used by freelance sites, that would drive down the budget, lowering the cost for companies and reducing incomes for designers.

As a designer myself I created a site I would like to use, not a site that tries to sell me out to companies,” explains Greif. “I also believe this approach turns out to be the best for companies, too, since what they really want if they’re using Folyo is access to the best designers in the world, not getting the cheapest possible price.”

All Designers Are Pre-Selected

The focus on quality helps Folyo to fulfill a demand for pre-selected designers. Folyo now holds about 230 designer profiles, and the newsletter goes out to a further 80 who signed up before the website launched and who haven’t created profiles. Greif receives new applications from about 100 designers every month, but rejects about 60 percent of them. Most of those who make it onto the list were invited by Greif on Twitter or Dribbble. Unsolicited submissions have a rejection rate closer to 90 percent.

Greif looks for two assets in designers he approves: a record of working for real clients, understanding their requirements and recognizing that design is about “more than making things look pretty”; and creativity, or “spark.”

“It means you’re always pushing yourself, and are willing to give the client what they need, and not what they asked for. It means every project you produce is your best work so far, and you care about every little detail,” Grief says.

For a start-up that’s just a few months old, Folyo is doing well by already having a revenue stream. But it’s yet to show a profit. In a blog post submitted at the beginning of the year, Greif revealed that he had spent $2,640 on development (believing that outsourcing was a skill he needed to learn too, he hired a designer to create the site for him). He spent another $640 on StumbleUpon and InfluAds, and had generated total revenues of $1,870 from an average monthly income of $623.

Greif notes that while building a service that allows him to earn from his overflow was easy, making it work is proving much harder. He concedes that if he’d taken investment money or had employees who needed to feed their kids, he’d be obsessing a lot more over conversion rates and business plans. Running Folyo as a side project though, he’s able to look for long-term growth, enjoy the time he spends interacting with other designers and bask in the warm glow of thanks from satisfied advertisers.

But there is a cost, of course. When your inbox is overflowing, spare moments are rare. The $1,870 that Greif had earned by the beginning of the year hasn’t just failed, so far, to cover his investment in the site. The income may also fail to cover the money he loses when he checks designers and reviews submissions instead of filling billable hours. Trying to turn your overflow into a source of revenue may be an enjoyable solution but don’t expect it to pay off fast.

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