Here’s the thing about being a freelancer: there are a lot of gigs out there. However, many companies see the gig economy as a way to get professional services at the lowest possible prices. If you’re a full-time freelancer with expert skills, this can be incredibly frustrating.

Over the past few years of freelancing, I’ve developed some of the best practices for engaging with high-paying clients. In my experience, sites like Upwork, Fiverr, or Freelancer have not been fountains of high-quality, high-paying clients. Here’s my advice on how to utilize these sites to your advantage and take your freelance game to the next level:

1. Find Your Niche

Developing a unique specialty can do wonders for your income potential. As a former engineer turned writer, I knew that my bread and butter would come from the technology industry. Tech companies are always looking for writers who can understand complex topics and craft outstanding content. Whatever service you offer, dig deep into your work and educational history to find what makes your perspective unique and valuable.

2. Cold-email

The idea of cold-emailing or calling potential clients used to seem absurd to me. Can you really just ring up a stranger on the phone and ask them for a gig? The truth is, once you’ve established your credibility in your chosen niche, this can be one of the most effective ways of getting new business. Be sure to do thorough research on the prospective client and craft a proposal for how you can bring value to their mission.

3. Dedicate Time to Cruising Job Boards

While I’m not a huge fan of sites like Upwork or Fiverr, some job board sites can be worth your time. In fact, I found my first writing gig on Craigslist. Now, that’s the only decent gig I’ve ever gotten from Craigslist, but there are some other amazing sites that I rely on heavily for leads. Contena (paid), Problogger, and Indeed have been my lifelines for finding new work. Whatever your industry is, find out where the good jobs are posted and spend a few minutes every day browsing them.

4. Don’t Be Afraid to Reach Out to Your Existing Network

Every now and then, check up on your friends via LinkedIn. One of my recent clients happens to be a former schoolmate of mine from university. As luck would have it, we had both made a career transition from the aerospace industry to writing. Crazy, right? Well, he was looking for someone to help him with his latest project and hired me almost immediately. I’ve found that when you know someone personally, they are less likely to lowball you.

5. Offer Free Samples

Use this tidbit with caution. I’m a huge advocate for knowing your worth and standing up for yourself. I never advocate for offering free or cheap labor for the sake of “exposure.” However, sometimes a small sample of your work can be just what the prospective client needs to make a decision. If you’re a writer, this could mean a short 500-word writing sample that’s highly-tailored to their needs. Whatever the prospective client needs, show them how you can help them.

P.S. Whenever I offer samples to clients I’m courting, I always maintain all ownership of the product. So, if they don’t hire me, I can always add the mini-project to my portfolio.

Overall, freelancing full-time can be incredibly liberating and rewarding, but also stressful and uncertain. If you’re struggling to filter through the riff-raff so you can pull in a decent salary, I feel your pain. Some things can only be learned through experience, but I hope these tips can help you grow your business more efficiently.

This piece originally published on September 16, 2019.